Sunday, June 11, 2023

What God Thinks of You

[Below you'll find the text of the message shared during worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio today, as well as live stream videos of both services. Have a good week!]

Matthew 9:9-13

Years ago after worship at one of the churches I’ve served as pastor, a woman asked if she could speak with me briefly. She was a young woman, active in the church. I could tell she was uncomfortable, but trusted me and after a while, got to what she wanted to discuss. “Pastor,” she said, “I’m gay.”

I could see what her question was. She wondered what God thought of her.

I knew her to be a person of earnest faith who understood the will of God regarding sexual intimacy. She was troubled by her feelings. There was no way I was going to pour heaping coals on her. She needed the Gospel Word of Jesus. I touched her hand and, calling her by name, told her, “God loves you.”

I went on to remind her that Jesus died and rose for sinners, whatever sin they may be oriented to commit, and that He calls all of us to repent–to turn our backs on our sins–and believe in Him. I went on to assure her that God stands by those who struggle with their temptations and will always forgive the repentant.

We talked for about an hour. She continued to be an active member of our church and I prayed for her regularly. That conversation happened a long time ago. Since then, I’ve lost touch with that woman. So, I don’t know what’s going on in her life these days.

But, fellow sinners, this incident and our Gospel lesson for this morning bring to the fore an important question for us all: What does God think of us?

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus is in Capernaum, a town on the Sea of Galilee. He’s just come from forgiving the sins, then healing, a paralytic man. He catches sight of a tax collector named Matthew. We know just a few things about Matthew. We know that he was also known as Levi, telling us that he was from the tribe of priests, the Levites, and because of this, that his life has apparently gone off the rails. We know that he was one of the two apostles–John being the other one–to write one of the Gospels that appear in our New Testament. And we know he was a tax collector.

You’ve heard me speak often about the tax collectors of that time. They purchased franchises for the privilege of collecting taxes and tolls in a given region from the Romans or the Romans’ agents. Tax collectors like Matthew routinely charged the people in their region way more than the Romans expected to be collected and the Romans ignored their extortion. Tax collectors were dishonest. They were hated. Unlike most of their fellow Jews, they were extremely wealthy. Usually, they were unafraid to flaunt their ill-gotten wealth.

Jesus tells Matthew, “‘Follow me,’...[and] Matthew got up and followed him.” (Matthew 9:9) Now, rather than bogging ourselves in questions about why Matthew immediately responded to Jesus and whether Matthew knew Jesus already, I think the more important question to ask is where Jesus led Matthew?

We might think that Jesus would lead Matthew off for a time of intense discipleship training. Instead, Jesus seems to lead Matthew to Matthew’s house, where Matthew is going to host a dinner for “many tax collectors and sinners.” (Mathew 9:10)   

You see, Jesus doesn’t walk away from sinners. He goes to them. That’s how Jesus is able to call them–it’s how He is able to call you and me–to turn from sin and turn in faith to Him for forgiveness and new life with God.

Jesus also doesn’t call His disciples, people like Matthew and you and me, away from sinners. He calls us to them.

That’s the only way we can be, in Saint Paul’s phrase, “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20), representatives of Jesus Christ in a world under the dominion of sin, death, and darkness.

And it’s the only way we can, as Saint Peter puts it, “give the reason for the hope that [we] have” because of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:15)

The gospel–the good news–is that, “[w]hile we were still sinners, Christ died for us” and has done everything needed for we sinners to be, despite our sin, the saints of God Who will, on the day Jesus returns, be called from our graves so that we can live with and serve God “in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” (Romans 5:8; The Small Catechism, Article II)

Not everyone is happy that Jesus is eating with notorious sinners, of course.

The Pharisees, the members of a prominent first-century Jewish sect, are offended. Now, the word pharisee comes to us from both the Hebrew and Aramaic languages and means “one who is separated.” The Pharisees separated themselves from others both because they thought their adherence to God’s Law was greater than that of others and to avoid getting polluted by others’s sins. The Pharisees are self-righteous. They’re also people Jesus called “whitewashed tombs” and “hypocrites.” “Why,” the Pharisees ask some of Jesus’ disciples, “does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11)

Jesus hears this question and answers: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Matthew 9:12)

Look, friends, if you think you’re righteous because you’re a good person, Jesus has nothing for you. He has nothing to say to you.

But if you know that you are, by nature, inclination, and action, sick with sin, filled with an inborn resistance to love for God or love for others, Jesus has everything for you: forgiveness, eternal life, the assurance of His constant presence by your side!

“For I have not come,” Jesus tells us today, “to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)

Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, God revealed through the prophet Isaiah what He would do for sinners who are reached by Him and His grace, in eternity. He announced His intention to host a feast that never ends:

“...the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines…he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.” (Isaiah 25:6-8)

During dinner at Matthew’s house, Jesus was giving the notorious sinners around Him a foretaste of the heavenly feast that awaits all who, by the power of His Gospel Word, turn from sin and trust in Him. It’s a foretaste of what He does on the cross to save us from sin, condemnation, and death.

He does this same thing when He gathers us repentant believers at His table each Sunday to give us His body and blood. Jesus does again what He did at Matthew’s house: He takes our sin into Himself and gives us His righteousness, He erases the power of sin and death over us and makes us whole and new in His grace.

So, what does God think of you?

For you, “God made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

That’s what God thinks of you and everyone else born sick with sin. He thinks you are worth the sacrifice of His sinless love to give you life with Him.

Friends, today receive, cherish, tastes and see, and hold onto this promise from Jesus, God the Son: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)

And rejoice that He has called you. Amen