CALLING ALL SINNERS
The Rev. Dr. Curtis Leins
Matthew 9: 9-13
CALLING ALL SINNERS
Grace be unto you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
INTRODUCTION: CALLED BY GOD
I am NOT asking you to raise your hands with this first question. However, I am asking you to think seriously about it. How many of you have been CALLED BY GOD? Now, I am going to clarify the question just a bit. Again, no handraising please. How many of you have been CALLED TO A HOLY VOCATION?
The Gospel text (Matthew 9: 9-13) that is before us tonight gives us a wonderful opportunity to learn from Our Lord Jesus Christ an unexpected answer to these questions. In fact, not only will we learn with the Apostle Matthew about a Holy Calling, but we will learn from Dr. Martin Luther a fuller understanding of a HOLY VOCATION.
I. A HOLY CALLING
Jesus had just healed a paralyzed man, while forgiving his sins. You remember that the religious leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy for forgiving a sinner.
In tonight’s text, Jesus continues walking. He comes to a Tax Collectors booth. Jesus CALLS the Tax Collector, “Follow Me.” The very next verse finds Jesus in Matthew’s house. There is a big party. The religious leaders again are critical of Jesus. He eats with Tax Collectors and sinners. The response of the Savior, “I have come not TO CALL the righteous but sinners.”
I have some ideas about this: some of them I am sure about, some I am just wondering. We are sure that Matthew also was called Levi. But, we do not know if this is because he was from the tribe of Levi. We do not know if Matthew (Levi) was from a house of Levitical Priests. We are sure that Matthew is very well-studied in the O.T. Especially, he is highly sensitive to the religious language of Righteousness. Matthew’s Gospel uses the term almost three times as often as all of the other Gospels combined. He thinks and writes about Righteousness a lot!
Also, we are sure that Matthew has chosen to reject the Jewish notion of Righteousness as taught by the Temple Priests and instead embarked on a life that is considered traitorous to his nation and sinful to his religion.
I have a guess about this, or at least a question that I want to ask Matthew when I see him. Was Matthew from the line of Temple Priests? Was Matthew a student of the O.T. and very attuned to Scriptures about Righteousness? If so, was he very aware of those passages that declare that no one is good, not one is righteous, no not one? (Ps. 14) I’ll bet. Did Matthew see the hypocrisy of the Sadducees and Pharisees and did he reject the Priesthood that lay before him? I think so. Did he respond with leaping heart and new revelation when he heard the Word of God through Jesus Christ? Yes.
“I have come to CALL SINNERS, not the righteous.” Matthew understood that there were NO Righteous. Matthew knew that he was a sinner. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Not one is good. No, not one.
But, Jesus forgave sins and spoke and ate with sinners. By His own Word, Jesus came to CALL SINNERS. Did you notice the INSTANTANEOUS NATURE of Christ’s relationship with Matthew? In verse 9, we learn that Jesus has CALLED Matthew. In verse 10, Jesus is in Matthew’s house, reclining, eating, and teaching. There is an immediate relationship. Jesus does not require a probationary period. There is no requirement that Matthew prove himself worthy. Other rabbis and groups have a provisional period of testing and evaluation lasting up to 3 years. Not Jesus! His Word goes out. Grace is given. A disciple is Made.
What has happened here? What is Christ teaching us through the life of Matthew? Let me put this in Lutheran Terms. Matthew has brought nothing to the relationship. He is dead in his sin (Col. 2, Eph. 2). We all are. Matthew is contributing nothing in order to be accepted, received, or redeemed. He has not merited the love of Christ. He has not earned the mercy of God. Everything for Matthew’s favor, forgiveness, and righteousness is provided by Jesus Christ. Satisfatio Vicaria is the theological term. It is the complete and all-sufficient vicarious sacrifice of Jesus Christ to atone for and redeem the sinner. Matthew is the PASSIVE RECIPIENT. Jesus is the ACTIVE REDEEMER. Luther calls this Passive Righteousness that Christ gives through faith. By grace through faith, the Righteousness of Jesus Christ is given to Matthew.
II. YOUR HOLY VOCATION
Now, let’s explore a bit more of what Luther would tell us. The final verse of tonight’s Gospel says, “I come not to call the righteous but sinners.” Pastors have been trained to read this in Greek and recognize the verb Καλéω, to call. What we might not be trained to read, as Luther would, is the Latin of the same verb. “To call” in Latin is the verb Vocare; the noun is vocatio or Vocation.
Christ has Called Matthew and all Sinners to a new Vocatio, a new Vocation. You see, in Matthew’s day, the only ones who were considered to be righteous were the religious leaders. But, Jesus had a powerful Word that changed the understanding of righteousness and sin and forgiveness. In the same way, in Luther’s day, the only ones who were understanding of righteousness and sin and forgiveness. In the same way, in Luther’s day, the only ones who were considered to have a CALL or a HOLY VOCATION were priests. Luther had a Word from God to change our understanding of Calling and Holy Vocation.
First, Luther explained that every child of God has a Vocation or Calling. We are a Holy Priesthood of All Believers. Jesus Christ has come TO CALL sinners. The first VOCATION or CALLING of every believer is FAITH. Are you Called of God? Yes! Do you have a Vocation? Absolutely! According to Jesus Christ and according to Martin Luther, every believer has a Holy Calling. It is Faith in Jesus Christ. This is your first and greatest CALLING, Vocatio.
But, this is not the extent of it. God has CALLED you to Himself; then He has placed you in the world. In the world, you have multiple Vocations. Luther spoke of three institutions that God has established: 1) the pastoral office or holy orders, 2) the household or family, and 3) civil government or society. In other words, a Pastor is given a Vocation from God. But, father, mother, child, parent, brother, sister, husband, and wife; these also are Holy Vocations. They are holy because they are established by God and are lived out through God. The third institution involves judges and mayors, servants and maids, builders and workers. This is a third Holy Vocation because God has established it and blesses it. Instead of your faith removing you from the world, your faith places you in the world, as the hands and heart of Christ.
Luther said, “God is milking the cows through the Vocation of the Milkmaid.” God is at work, working through the farmer and physician, the artist and the Pastor. God is at work through you, using you to bless others. You can see that you have a Vocation, a Calling to represent Christ and to give service to Christ, wherever God has placed you. Christ is working IN YOU, through your Vocation.
Now, we understand Matthew and his great party. Having come into the presence of God (coram deo), he has been sent out into the world (coram mundo). This is Christ at work. Yet, this is Matthew’s Vocation. What an example to every one of us; Matthew is sharing his faith with the world.
III. THE VOCATION OF THE HOLY MINISTRY
By elevating the Vocation of everyone of God’s children, Luther does not diminish the importance of the Vocation of the Holy Ministry. Here again, Matthew is a great example. He is Called by Christ to be an Apostle, one who rightly handles the Word of God.
We give honor to Matthew and to those who occupy the Office of the Word and Sacrament. We give honor to them, not because they are any better or more holy than the rest of us, but because they have been Called by God into the Office of the Holy Ministry. The Pastor is a gift that God gives to the Church. The Pastor is to deliver to the people of God the gifts that Christ has given to His whole Church. The Pastor is rightly to preach the word, both Law and Gospel. He must be apt to teach and so well studied that he is capable of providing us with right teaching and refutation of false and heretical teaching. He is to administer the means of grace in their purity: Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and the declaration of Absolution of Sins.
The Pastor is to provide an example for the flock. The Bible says that he will be judged by a higher standard. There are difficult requirements that a man must meet in order to be Called to the Ministry.
Lutheran doctrine declares that when a Pastor is serving in the Office of Holy Ministry, he represent Christ. When he declares the forgiveness of sin on account of the all sufficient atoning sacrifice of Christ, it is as Christ Himself and should be received as from Christ. When he declares the Word of Christ over the elements of bread and wine, on account of the Word, they are for us the very, true Body and Blood of Christ. When he baptizes a child or adult into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by the Word of God, it is the washing of baptismal regeneration and the forgiveness of sin.
How is a Call or Vocation given and how is it accomplished? The answer to these Questions is Jesus Christ. The Word of Jesus has Called you. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. Christ has not only Called you, and not only forgiven you, and not only counted you Righteous, He Has CHANGED YOU. Jesus lives in you. His Spirit has made you His Temple. Through daily fellowship with Him and regular reception of forgiveness of sins and Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus provides you with renewed faith and strength to serve Him in your Calling, your personal Vocation.
When you stand coram deo, before God, you are a passive recipient of HIs righteousness. This is Passive Righteousness. But, once changed, you bear good fruit because you have good roots, in ground soaked in the blood of the Lamb. You turn from coram deo to coram mundo, before the world. WHO LIVES IN YOU? CHRIST! WHAT DO YOU DO NOW? SERVE CHRIST BY SERVING OTHERS. This is called Active Righteousness, that comes from Christ and is in Christ.
If I were to ask, how many of you have been CALLED BY GOD, (you know that this is a question asking if you have faith in Jesus Christ) how many would raise your hands? If I were to ask, how many of you have been CALLED TO A HOLY VOCATION, (husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, farmers, teachers, artists, and pastors) how many would declare, “Yes, by the help of God!”