To Invite Sinners
February 8, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Surrounding The Lord's Table
1. A table is placed and left out in the sanctuary of the church. We call it a communion table, the Lord's Table. The worship service in church is held as we surround the communion table. Usually it is hard for us to see [how we are focused around the table], but at the time of the communion ceremony we understand it clearly. [We], to be precise, all of you and myself included, assume this shape in which we surround the table together. Recently, the church has increased [in size], so for us to understand this more clearly, for us to surround the Lord's Table, the congregational seating has been re-arranged. But even if the arrangement of the chairs were not like this, we must constantly keep in mind that we always do worship surrounding the Lord's Table [spiritually, if not physically].
2. In our church during communion, we eat a small [piece of] bread and we drink [some] grape juice from a small glass. However, in the primitive church, this was done just like a typical meal. At the last supper of Jesus and his disciples, they certainly did not eat a small [piece of] bread like we do. The later church, also, had a typical meal. That meal was called, "The Breaking of the Bread" or "The Lord's Supper." Memorializing Christ like that and having a meal together was, more specifically, the service. It has changed shape and turned into the communion service like we have today. But even though the shape has changed, the change is not in its being a meal. The service is definable as "an invitation to a dining table to share with the Lord." It is the same even on the weeks when no communion service is held. Therefore, the communion table is still left out even on the weeks when no communion is held.
3. Well, in this way then the church has been honoring the meal known as "The Breaking of the Bread" and "The Lord's Supper," and "stuff on the supper" appears repeatedly in the scriptures and those messages are not unrelated to [the church's respectful methodologies]. Some stuff on the supper appears even in today's passage of scripture. These messages like this on the meal were not documented in written words from the very start. It had been passed on by being spoken and heard. In what places had this been done? It was in worship services. It was in the places where they surrounded the Lord's table. Thus, we can probably imagine with what kind of experiences the messages, like in today's passage of scripture, have been spoken and heard. A meal being had with Jesus. People surrounding a table with Jesus. With this experience, like seeing yourself in it, this narrative has been spoken and heard.
4. The narrative read for today begins from when the tax collector, Matthew, was called by the Lord. He was one of the twelve disciples. Three weeks ago, we read the story on Simon and Andrew, and on James and John, being made disciples. Jesus said, "Come and follow me! I will make you fishers who catch people." That story is written in chapter four. Today is the story of Matthew being added to the group of disciples thus formed.
5. The time of Simon Peter and today's passage both seem [similar], though, in that the relationships between Jesus and the disciples are very different from that of the teacher-student relationship we normally think of. Do you see what I mean? For example, please consider the case of when we take up some learning program. Normally when a person wants to become a disciple, he or she chooses the teacher and does the enrolling into the training. It was the same way back then in the world of Judaism. The person who wanted to apprentice to a teacher of the law (a rabbi) would choose the rabbi under whom the individual ought to study. They would listen carefully to the words of the rabbi whom they had chosen, emulate their lifestyle, and learn how to live abiding by the law. But yet, the discipleship entering scenes of Jesus' disciples seem completely different. Peter and John did not choose Jesus. These lives of theirs, when they used to fish, were intruded upon by Jesus. As Jesus called them out he made them disciples. It was the same way even for Matthew, which I read to you today.
6. The scripture says, "Jesus was standing there," (verse nine). That is, this is a continuation from the previous scene. Jesus went back to Capernaum, his own town [where he had lived as an adult]. When that became [widely] known, large crowds gathered around Jesus. There were also some folks who brought a man with paralysis still lying down in a cot. That's the story written in the text. But, of course, not everybody had gathered for Jesus. There were some people with no interest at all in [coming to him]. Matthew was one such person. Matthew did not go. He could care less that Jesus of Nazareth had come back to Capernaum or anything else about him.
7. When Jesus was passing by, [Matthew] was sitting at the tax-collection office. He was a tax collector. In today's passage of scripture, tax collectors are repeatedly put in the same line as sinners. There was some basis for that. The work of collecting taxes from one's countrymen and women for the Gentile Romans was not only despised as something that went against God; but, in fact, there was a lot of room for dishonesty to creep in in that line of work, and the storing-up of ill-gotten gain had actually been practiced. Therefore, it may be expressed seemingly innocently as "he was sitting in the tax-collection office," but one could make the case that that expression implicitly points out that the man named Matthew was at that time sitting plumped down in a truly sinful day to day life. And he felt that the works of God that Jesus of Nazareth was performing and the word of God that he was speaking had nothing at all do to with him personally. He felt that the gathering of these folks was of a totally different world from where he was at.
8. Yet though, the eyes of Jesus caught Matthew in his situation. The voice of Jesus called out to him, "Follow me!" Everyone, when you think back, didn't this very same thing happen to us as well? What did Matthew then do? The scripture says, "He stood up and followed Jesus." The word, "to stand up," is also the word used with the meaning of "to rise from the dead." Matthew stood up. This was also the resurrection of Matthew. When he was living with the attitude that "I got nothing to do with God's love. I got nothing to do with eternal life," and he was sitting plumped down in a lifestyle of sin, that was a spiritually dead condition. But he stood up, he rose up from there. He began living a new life. I think we can certainly express that as "a resurrection."
9. But that's not all. Matthew, who had thus followed Jesus, would soon see the cross of Jesus and would be able to see the risen Christ. He would come to know that his sin had been atoned for by the work of Christ, that he was already in the perfect love of God and eternal life was given to him, and that he was being guided to "the resurrection" at the end of days. Matthew, who had been called by Jesus on that day, had gotten up, and who had begun to walk brand new with Christ, had truly started to walk towards the resurrection, towards perfect salvation. In this figure of Matthew, generations of Christians have compared their own figures. They have declared that "What had happened to Matthew has happened to me as well." That's what our living and believing in Christ means.
The Reason I Came Is To Invite Sinners
10. When we keep in mind that this is how Jesus called Matthew and how Matthew stood up, then we can see the significance of the scene later with the meal. Please look at verse ten. "It was the hour when Jesus was having a meal in that house. Tax collectors and sinners came in large numbers and sat with Jesus and the disciples," says the text, (verse ten). Jesus is having a meal in this place with Matthew's peers. When we read a passage like this, we are prone to turn it into a story that says, "Jesus did not segregate and discriminate against anyone." Jesus did not discriminate those rejected by society. It's easy for us to turn it into the message, "Emulate this kind of Jesus!" But, this is not that kind of story or message.
11. The Pharisees asked the disciples, "Why does your master take meals with tax collectors and sinners?" At that time, Jesus did not give the answer, "Because it is wrong to discriminate." That's not the answer Jesus gave, rather he said, "The ones who need a doctor are not the well, but the sick. Go and learn what [the scripture] means by, 'What I seek is mercy and not sacrifice.' The reason I came is not to call the righteous, but to call the sinner," (verses twelve and thirteen).
12. Matthew, who wrote this gospel, must have understood very clearly what that means; because Matthew was also one of the sinners who was called by Jesus; and because he was one [of the people] who had been brought back to life by Jesus.
13. The reason Jesus invites sinners is in order to save them from sin. Just like Jesus compared himself to a doctor, Jesus calls sinners in order to heal them of the sickness of sin. Because they are dead in that state, because they are destroyed by sin, Jesus calls sinners. As a result, the called sinners have prayed to Christ the true doctor from of old, saying, "Oh Lord Jesus, please have mercy on me a sinner!"
14. This is the dinning table of the Lord to which Jesus calls us. We worship each week by surrounding this table. Those who marvel that there are so many sick persons in the hospital do not know what a hospital is. Those who marvel that there are sinners in the church do not know what the church of the Lord is. If you find yourself saying, "Why is there a person like this in church? If the church is like that, I'll quit going," then you are not placing yourself in the position of the called sinner, but are placing yourself in the position of the Pharisees. It's the same as saying, "Why are there tax collectors and sinners there?"
15. The message, that "'Christ Jesus came into the world in order to save sinners,' is true, and it is worthy to be received, as is, unchanged. I am the worst sinner from among them," (First Timothy 1:15). That's what Paul wrote. The person, who truly feels that "I am a sinner, and unless I receive mercy from Jesus, I will be destroyed," is highly likely to assemble together before the Lord, rejoicing from the heart over the Lord's invitation as he or she prays for others to be healed. This table is that kind of table.