TITLE: Winning with A Loser SCRIPTURE: Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Jesus had a special place in his heart for losers. It was winners, after
all, who put him on the cross.
Do you remember what Jesus said when a scribe promised to follow him.
Keep in mind that scribes were winners -- not losers. Scribes were
bright, dedicated men -- leaders.
You would think that Jesus would welcome such men. After all, the scribes
were well-educated overachievers who could be expected to contribute
significantly to Jesus' fledgling ministry. But do you remember how Jesus
responded to this scribe who wanted to be his disciple? Jesus said,
"Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has
nowhere to lay his head" (Matt. 8:20). Instead of welcoming this
attractive candidate, Jesus pushed him away.
Only a short time later, Jesus saw a tax collector sitting at his tax
booth. Jesus said, "Follow me" -- and the man, Matthew, followed him.
Now there is one sense in which a tax collector was a winner -- not a
loser. Tax collectors worked for Rome, so the person who argued with a
tax collector risked finding a Roman soldier knocking at his door. Tax
collectors enjoyed power and status because of their ties to Rome. And
they made lots of money too!
But there was another sense in which a tax collector was a loser. People
hated tax collectors. I suppose people will always hate paying taxes --
and will sometimes hate those who enforce payment. But it was even more
complicated for tax collectors in Jesus' day. They worked for Rome, and
the people of Israel hated Rome. They hated having Roman soldiers
garrisoned on their soil. They hated paying taxes to Rome. They hated
having the likeness of the emperor emblazoned on their coins. They hated
Rome's insistence that they acknowledge the emperor as Lord.
The tax collectors were not Romans. That would have been bad enough. The tax collectors were Jews working for Romans, and that was even worse. They were Quislings -- traitors -- men who did the Romans' dirty work for a
So Jesus turned away the scribe who offered to follow him, but called
Matthew, the tax collector, to become his disciple. He rejected the
winner and called the loser. Why would he do that?
I think that he rejected the scribe because he knew that the scribe would
never really be his disciple. The word "disciple" in Greek means
"learner," and Jesus was looking for people who would follow him and learn
from him. The scribe promised to follow him, but Jesus knew better.
Scribes were at least half-again too smart for their own good. They had
studied Torah and knew all the answers. They might look to Jesus for new
insights, but were not likely to acknowledge him as Lord. Ultimately they
became Jesus' bitterest enemies. I believe that Jesus pushed this scribe
away because he knew that the man was too proud to be his disciple.
But what about Matthew? Why invite a scoundrel like Matthew to become his disciple. If a scribe was not a perfect candidate for discipleship, a tax
collector was worse. But Jesus said, "Follow me!" -- and Matthew
I believe that Jesus invited Matthew to make a point. The point was
simply that nobody is so bad as to be outside the circle of God's love.
That doesn't mean that God approved of Matthew as he was, but it does mean that God had not written him off.
I believe that God had been loving Matthew -- wooing Matthew -- for all of
Matthew's life -- but I doubt that Matthew realized it. Matthew must have
felt as far from God as he could be -- like a gang member or a drug
dealer. His fellow Israelites certainly thought of him that way. They
thought of him as the scum of the earth, and Matthew probably agreed. He
lived in a nice house and dressed well, but he knew that his gains were
ill gotten. He could see the way that people looked at him. He knew what
they thought. One cannot live as a pariah year after year without being
But Jesus, knowing Matthew's reputation and seeing the depths of his
heart, said, "Follow me!" -- and Matthew left his tax booth and followed
Jesus' invitation to Matthew should give us hope. Paul says that we have
all sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and that is
true. If someone had a videotape of your life -- your whole life -- how
would you feel about having the tape aired publicly? Would you be
embarrassed? Would you be ashamed? Would you be humiliated? Paul said that we are all sinners. Unfortunately he was right.
To be honest, I wouldn't want to view such videotapes. Most of our lives
are pretty ordinary, and ordinary starts to look boring after the first
hour. But I don't want to view your embarrassment either -- and I don't
want you to view my embarrassment. We have all done things that we are
not proud of. We are all sinners.
But when Jesus called Matthew to be his disciple, he was acting out a
parable of grace -- a parable that tells us not to be afraid -- a parable
that assures us that we are never hopeless -- a parable that assures us
that God loves us regardless. Regardless! If Jesus had room in his heart
for Matthew, he has room there for you -- and for me.
You might imagine that you are unworthy of Jesus, and you would be right
-- none of us is worthy of Jesus. But that is not the way that Jesus sees
us. Jesus uses his X-ray vision to reveal, not our unworthiness, but our
possibilities. He is like a friend of mine who has an old Ford Model T in
his garage. That old car doesn't look like much, but my friend is so
proud of it. That car sat for decades in someone's barn. Then someone
began to restore it. Then he died and my friend bought the car. It will
take lots of money and midnight oil to bring that car back to life, but my
friend sees it all shiny and beautiful in his mind. It is fun to see his
excitement when he talks about it.
That is how Jesus sees us. He doesn't see rust and worn paint. He
doesn't see rotten gaskets and flat tires. He sees beautiful lines and
wonderful possibilities. It isn't that Jesus is naive. It isn't that we
have him fooled. But Jesus knows that God created us right, and Jesus can
hardly wait to begin the restoration.
When Jesus saw Matthew sitting at his tax booth, he knew that Matthew was
a scoundrel. He knew that Matthew had cheated people. He knew that
Matthew hardly had a friend to his name. But he also knew that Matthew
was sick of the life he had been living. He knew that Matthew was sick of
himself. He knew that Matthew was ready for change. And so he said,
"Follow me!" -- and Matthew followed.
That was quite a decision for Matthew to make. When Matthew walked away from his tax booth, he left his old way of life behind. He cut his
bridges behind him. He knew that his fellow Israelites would hate him for
having been a tax collector. He knew that the Romans would hate him for
leaving. He knew that he would have only one friend, and that friend was
But that was good enough for Matthew. He knew that he needed to change,
and he sensed that Jesus could help him do it. And so, when Jesus said,
"Follow me!" -- Matthew followed.
I wish that I could tell you that the rest of Matthew's life was easy, but
I can't. Life was not easy for Jesus' disciples. But I am confident that
Matthew went through the rest of his life with head held high -- not
because he was a great man but because he served a great Lord. And I am
confident that Matthew never again had to ask himself whether life was
worth living. Once they had seen the resurrected Christ, the disciples
all lived lives full of fire and purpose.
That is what Jesus has to offer you -- a life full of fire and purpose.
He will not offer you a bed of roses. He will not offer you wealth and
privilege. But if you place your life in Jesus' hands, you can trust him
to rebuild you from the ground up. You can trust that he will make you a
new person and give you a new life -- a life full of fire and purpose.
Let me encourage you to do that. If you have not been baptized, that is
the place to start. Present yourself as a candidate for baptism. Begin
your journey with Christ.
If you have been baptized, recommit yourself to Christ. You walked with
Christ in the past -- be sure that you are walking with him now. Read
your bible. Pray. Worship. Become a servant to people in need. I can't
promise you a comfortable life -- but I can promise you a life full of
fire and purpose. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Stand
up -- and leave your tax booth -- and follow Jesus today!
CHILDREN'S SERMON: Have Mercy
Each one of us, at some time in our life, has made bad choices. We are
not perfect; we make mistakes. It may be that we did something that
displeased our parents or a teacher. Perhaps we did or said something to
hurt a brother, sister, or friend. You know the feeling - it feels awful.
When you have been in that sort of situation, it may be a surprise to have
someone say, "I love you, but I don't like what you did. Let's see what
you can learn from this." When you are expecting punishment and your
parent or teacher helps you understand that what you did was wrong and
then teaches you how to make better choices - that's called mercy. Mercy
is receiving kindness when you don't deserve it.
We find an example of what Jesus thought about mercy in the book of
Matthew. Jesus was having dinner with his disciples. Many tax collectors
and sinners (people who had done bad things) came and sat with him. A
group of people, called Pharisees, asked the disciples of Jesus, "Why does
your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
Jesus heard the question and replied, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."
While Jesus lived on earth he showed mercy (kindness) to many people who
had done bad things. He understood their weakness and taught them how to
make better choices. He continues to offer mercy to each one of us today.
We have only to recognize our mistake, ask for forgiveness, and be willing
to receive his mercy.