“Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice’: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
God’s ways are infinitely far above our own (Isaiah 55:8). When Messiah Jesus came into the world and began recruiting disciples, upon whom He would bestow the honor and privilege of apostleship, His choices were very surprising. One of the men he called was Matthew, a despised tax collector. Matthew tells us that after the Lord recruited him, he hosted a dinner in his home to which many of his collages and were invited. This reminds us of Elisha, who was called to be the successor to Elijah the prophet. Like Matthew, Elisha held a great dinner to mark his break with his old way of life (1 Kings 19:19-21). The Pharisees, uninvited but present nonetheless, scrutinized the Lord’s conduct and then questioned His disciples. “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” they demanded. The Lord interjected, “they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” In other words, Jesus was not celebrating or endorsing sinful behavior, rather, He was drawing sinners to Himself for cleansing and forgiveness. The Lord went a step further, commanding the Pharisees to learn the Old Testament Scriptures in order to judge the situation rightly. How offensive this would have been to the self-righteous Pharisees, who prided themselves not only as scholarly interpreters of the Scriptures, but as flawless observers of God’s law. “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,” said the Lord, citing the Old Testament prophet, Hosea (Hosea 6:6). The meaning is plain. God is pleased to see genuine love for others come to visible expression in our outward conduct. On the other hand, He is thoroughly unimpressed by cold, sterile, heartless religious ritual. Elsewhere the Lord had a scathing rebuke for the religious but unloving. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees,” He said, “hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23:23). Religious customs, traditions, programs and schedules are fine of course. In the local assembly a structured service better postures the saints to honor the Lord in corporate worship and to receive biblical training and instruction. The danger, of course, is that we, like the pharisees of old, may forget that God’s law isn’t fulfilled by sterile, religious ritual, but by genuine love for God and for our fellow heirs of the kingdom (Matthew 22:35-40; Romans 13:8, 10). May our genuine, unfeigned love glorify God, bless the saints, and give powerful, irresistible witness to the world also.
God bless and encourage you today,