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Matthew 9:10-13



        The English surgeon Lord Lister was known for the sensitivity and compassion he displayed.  If a student who was assisting him would be careless in handling a fractured leg, the doctor’s kind face would grimace as if he himself felt the pain.

        John Henry Jowett, speaking of our Lord’s even greater compassion, said, “With what infinite gentleness He ministered to bruised reeds and broken hearts!  He was never rough, never in a hurry!  His loving approach was part of the cure.  Many who sorrowed were unusually comforted by His presence even before their lives had been made whole.”

        In the New Testament, we are allowed to view the compassion of Jehovah God as it is demonstrated in the life of Jesus Christ, His Son:  God manifested in the flesh.  We see this compassion particularly when Jesus acts as the Great Physician.  Let’s observe the action of Jesus in this regard in Matthew 9:10-13.  Would you turn there with me please?  Would you follow along in your Bibles as I read this for us?

        Over the course of my preaching ministry, I had never felt comfortable preaching about Jesus Christ.  I never felt I had the right format to convey the necessary information.  After reading a book entitled How To Read The Bible As Literature, by Leland Ryken, I was able to see why I felt what I felt.  I was treating the stories of Jesus Christ as doctrinal texts to exegete and expose, rather than narratives to be explored.  Narratives are an invitation to share an experience, as vividly and concretely as possible, with the characters of the story.  The function of doctrinal texts is to impart information.  The function of narratives is to draw the reader into the experience.  The logical, detailed, perfectionistic side of me has enjoyed, for a long time, exegeting doctrinal texts.  But now the feeling, emotional, sympathetic side of me enjoys a spiritual experience.  So, I have devised a format for preaching the narratives of the Bible that is much more appropriate and that helps me feel much more comfortable.  We shall use this format to explore the narratives of the Bible that deal with the compassion of God that was displayed in the life of Jesus Christ.

(Let’s get familiar with this format by using it to explore the narrative before us.  The first element of a story that we need to be aware is:)


The setting of this narrative seems to be in the house of Matthew the tax-gatherer immediately after his conversion.  Jesus had just given the gift of salvation to Matthew and perhaps Matthew invited him to His home.  At Matthew’s home Jesus and His disciples were reclining at the table eating with the friends of Matthew who were still tax-gatherers and sinners.

(It is very important, in exploring a narrative, to get to know and understand the characters in a story.  So, let’s do that now!)


The main characters in most stories are the protagonist and the antagonist.

1.      The Protagonist in this narrative is Jesus Christ.

He is portrayed in this story in a number of ways:

1)      By the responses of the Pharisees, disciples, tax-gatherers and sinners.

You can tell a lot about people, by how other people respond to them.  When people retreat from someone in hurt, it tells you something about that person.  When people flock to be in a person’s presence, it tells you something about that person.  The Pharisees were often confused by Jesus and hated Him, while the tax-gatherers and sinners loved Him and flocked to Him.  The religious legalists hated Jesus, but the common people loved Jesus.

(The protagonist in this story, Jesus Christ, is also known and portrayed:)

2)      By His own words and thoughts in verses 12-13.

We shall consider these in detail in a few moments.

(And the character of the protagonist in this story, Jesus Christ is seen:)

3)      By His actions which included having dinner with the sinners and rebuking the self-righteous Pharisees.

(We shall consider these portrayals in more detail later on, but before we do that let’s take a look at the antagonists in this story.)

        2.      The antagonists in this story are the Pharisees.

The Pharisees were always in opposition to all the Jesus taught, did and represented.  They were trying to discredit Jesus and refute His claim to being the Messiah, The Son of God.  The Pharisees were a religious party or school among the Jews at the time of Christ.  The word ‘Pharisee’ means ‘separated’.  This was one of the chief religious parties among the Jews.  The Pharisees believed in being separated from anything that was common or unclean.  They considered the tax-gatherers and sinners as unclean and had no dealings with them.

        When the Pharisees saw Jesus eating with the tax-gatherers and sinners, they asked their question.  The character of the Pharisees is portrayed through their words,

“Why is your Teacher eating with tax-gatherers and sinners.”

The nature of the question makes it a statement.  We have learned that “why” questions sit judgment of another person’s motives.  Therefore, the Pharisees were questioning the rightness and the motive of Jesus eating with tax-gatherers and sinners, whom they considered as practically and ceremonially unclean.

(Now that we know the circumstances and the characters, we are ready to explore:)


Suspense is generated in this story by the Pharisees putting the actions of Jesus on trial.  Are the Pharisees right or is Jesus right?

(There are various themes or elements of conflict in any narrative.  By reviewing these themes, we can classify and understand the nature of the action, plot or conflict in the narrative before us.  First we see:)

1.      The Character Conflict.

The particular genre or class of plot represented here is a character conflict.  The conflict is between the Pharisees and Jesus.  This is one of the constant conflicts in the life of Jesus Christ.  He probably came into conflict with the Pharisees more than any other group.  They were violently opposed to His ministry.

        If you love people with a godly love, you will run into this conflict.  The Pharisees are alive and well in our churches.  I face them all the time.  There are a number of people who do not understand and do not believe in my ministry, because I lift relationships over rules, love over the law, people over ceremonial policies.  That’s all right because I’m in good company!!!

2.      The Moral/Spiritual Conflict.

There is also represented here a moral/spiritual conflict.  I say it is moral/spiritual, because in this case what is moral is spiritual and vice versa.  The moral/spiritual conflict is between legalism and compassion, harshness and grace.  Which will Jesus choose?

(We also see in this particular narrative:)

3.      The Testing And Choice Conflict.

The prominence of testing and choice in the Bible is instructive.  The particular test or choice in this story is between legalism versus compassion.  Our hero, Jesus Christ always makes the right choice.  He always pasts the test.  So, there is a valuable lesson to be learned by observing the choice that Jesus makes in this test.  Not only because it illustrates the nature and person of Jesus Christ, but because it leaves for us a model or example to follow.  We are to occupy until He returns.  The word ‘occupy’ means to fill His shoes or walk in His footsteps.  Therefore, we must pay close attention to what He chooses as important in life.

(It is important in our analysis of the conflict or plot that I introduce you to a new term:)

4.      The Foil.

A foil is a thing which sets off or heightens that which is most important in the story.  The foil in this story is the Pharisees.  The attitude, actions, and assertions of the Pharisees are in stark contrast to those of Jesus Christ.  The compassion and kindness of Jesus Christ stands in stark relief against the lack of compassion and severity of the Pharisees.  Therefore, the attitude, actions, and assertions of the Pharisees heighten the attitude, actions, and assertions of Jesus Christ.  The conflict between these two opposing value systems draws immediate attention to the importance of the teaching.

(And finally, it is interesting to note that the narrative before us is an admiration story.)

5.      The Admiration Story.

An admiration story is one in which a sympathetic hero successfully masters one threat after another.  All that we can do is admire and learn from our Hero, Jesus Christ!!!  In this day and age I have to ask the question, “Who is your hero?”  We tend to value program after our heroes!!!  I hope that Jesus is your Hero?

(Now we are ready to explore the most exciting part of the narrative:)


The morality of this story, i.e. what constitutes good and bad behavior, is seen in Jesus fellowshiping with the tax-gatherers and sinners.  Jesus’ ministry was to the sinners.  He had to deal with the sinners to have an impact upon them.  He did not run with the sinners, nor did He run away from the sinners.  He ran with the disciples, but He ministered to the sinners.  By way of contrast, the Pharisees shunned the sinners as unclean and beneath them.  Their behavior was discriminatory and hateful.  They were in no position to minister to the sinners.

        This particular story concludes with the words of Jesus Christ.  We must take these words as an implied comment on the characters and events of this story.  Jesus, in His words, tells us what He desires and what the Pharisees did not have.  His words also tell you of His motive for ministry, as opposed to the Pharisees.  It was not those who were healthy who needed a Physician, but those who were sick.  The Pharisees were concerned about those who were healthy, i.e. their self-righteous-selves, learned in the law of Moses, culturally refined, etc.  Jesus came to heal those who were sick, i.e. sin-sick sinners.  We know this is the correct interpretation from verse 13.  Thus, the Pharisees’ energy and compassion were directed towards other Pharisees, while Jesus directed His ministerial energy and compassion towards the tax-gatherers and sinners.  So, the target group for ministry was the tax-gatherers and sinners; the proverbial scum of the earth.

        These, likewise should be the target and passion of our ministry.  This is one reason you often find me helping some ordinary person, rather than spending my time with the religious leaders of the day.  I will be doing more of that by the leading of the Lord, not by natural inclination.  My passion is for those who are sick!!!

        Narratives usually comment upon one of the great issues of life:  values, or what really matters and what matters most.  What really matters most to Jesus, and consequently should matter most to us, is compassion and salvation!


        The world is in crying need of Christians who have a burden for souls.  Yet many of Christ’s followers are complacent about the fate of the lost and the need of pointing them to the Savior.  As David Augsburger expressed it in the book Witness Is Withness, we must have a “passion born of compassion.”  Augsburger went on to cite some worthy examples:

“It is the cry of John Knox, ‘Give me Scotland or I die’...;

of George Whitefield, ‘Give me souls or take my soul’;

of David Brainerd, ‘I care not where I go or how I live or what I endure so that I may save souls.  When I sleep, I dream of them; when I awake, they are first in my thoughts.’  Brainerd continued, ‘No amount of scholastic attainment, of able and profound exposition, of brilliant and stirring eloquence can atone for the absence of a deep, impassioned, sympathetic love of human souls.’”

        And the human souls that we have been called to love are those who are sick, poor, broken-hearted, imprisoned, enslaved, blind, abused, hopeless, and miserable!!!

(But remember:)

        Even as there were those who were opposed to the ministry of Jesus Christ, there will be those who will oppose us when we choose to do the will of the Father.

        Our own Christian lives involve moral/spiritual choices everyday!  Will we choose leniency or legalism?  Will we choose harshness or grace?  Will we choose hardness or compassion?  The moral/spiritual choice is compassion!  The Pharisaic, self-righteous choice is harshness.

        You will have to make this choice more than once in your life.  You will be constantly tested until your persistent, Spirit-controlled choice becomes a way of life for you.  Your spirituality, maturity and Christian witness will be highlighted by the stark contrast between you and hard-hearted, Pharisaic Christians that will surround you.  I don’t have to do anything to advertise my ministry.  Those who are around me and opposite to me highlight my ministry for me!

(As I have already stated, in many narratives the climax gives an implied comment on the characters and events of the story, but this narrative ends with a commandment or moral.  Let’s investigate:)


The moral or principle of this story is stated directly by Jesus Christ, when He commands the Pharisees to go and learn the meaning of the moral

“I desire compassion, and not sacrifice.”

This appears to be a quote from

Hosea 6:6, “For I delight in loyalty (hesed) rather than sacrifice,”

which is a quote of Jehovah God to Ephraim.  The Hebrew word translated “loyalty” is hesed.  This is the steadfast, covenant, grace, mercy, kindness and love of Jehovah God.  God wanted covenant love instead of ritualistic sacrifices offered up to Him.

sacrifice 2378 thusia

1) a sacrifice, victim

When Jesus quotes this Scripture in the Koine Greek, He chose the word eleos 1656, which is translated “compassion” two times.  Once here and again in Matthew 12:7, but the word is translated “mercy” 25 times.  So the predominant meaning of the word is mercy.  Mercy is a synonym of compassion.  Compassion is usually a more general term denoting a deep feeling for and understanding of the misery or suffering of anyone, while mercy is usually extended to an offender or subject.  In this particular context, mercy is the actual relief of distress, i.e. the love demonstrated to victims of misfortune.


        In his book Dropping Your Guard, Charles Swindoll tells of an incident that occurred in Massachusetts in the late 1920s.  “It concerned a man who had been walking along a pier when suddenly he tripped over a rope and fell into the cold, deep waters of that ocean bay.  He came up sputtering, screaming for help, then sank beneath the surface.  For some reason he was unable to swim or stay afloat.  His friends heard his faint cries in the distance, but they were too far away to rescue him.  but within only a few yards was a young man lounging on a deck chair sunbathing.  Not only could the sunbather hear the drowning man plead, ‘Help, I can’t swim,’ but he was also an excellent swimmer.  The tragedy,” Swindoll went on, “is that he did nothing.  He only turned his head to watch indifferently as the man finally sank and drowned.”

        What a picture of those of us who know how to rescue the unsaved yet casually watch as they sink into a Christless eternity!

        Jesus desires His children to practice mercy towards any victim of misfortune that they should encounter.  Jesus desires that we relate to and relieve the misery of suffering people, and  the greatest misfortune of any human being is sin; and the greatest mercy or love that we can show to that individual is to lead them to deliverance or salvation through Jesus Christ!!!

        Here Jesus has identified Himself with Jehovah God and has demonstrated one of the supreme characteristics of Jehovah God:  mercy or compassion, but mercy is one of the hardest and last virtues to develop.  Why?  Because it grows out of love and maturity.  We need the power of the Holy Spirit and crises to make us spiritually aware of the needs and suffering of others and to prompt us to understand and attempt to promote the alleviation of both.

        At the end of this narrative, Jesus states His purpose and mission again,

“...for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

sinners 268g hamartolos


        I am so glad that Jesus took time to save a worthless wretch like me.  When others passed me by on the freeway of life, Jesus saw me, loved me, stopped to show me compassion, ministered to me, picked me up, turned me around, put my feet on the rock, established my goings.

        Jesus had tremendous compassion on sinners.  Shouldn’t We?

(Now is the day of Salvation.  Come to Jesus, now!)


Call to Discipleship

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