“How Does the Divine Physician Treat the Sick?”

(Matthew 9:9-13 – Pentecost 3 – June 21, 2020)

Matthew 9:9-13 – 9As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. 10Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. 11And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Dear Redeemed by the grace of God in Christ:

For centuries, no one had been able to find a cure for Yellow Fever. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Yellow Fever epidemic had struck population centers, leaving many thousands dead. Scientists knew the symptoms of the disease, but not its cause. In 1900 an army physician, Major Walter Reed, was appointed head of a team to investigate the cause of Yellow Fever. They suspected the virus was transmitted by a certain mosquito, but it was hard to test. So at a time when most people were doing their best to avoid contact with the disease, physicians on Reed’s team, along with other volunteers, let themselves be bitten by infected mosquitoes. In the process, one of the physicians came down with a severe case of Yellow Fever and barely survived. Another was bitten and died after a week. Such sacrificial work on their part provided proof that Yellow Fever was transmitted by the mosquito, and led to countless lives being saved.

How much greater is the sacrificial work of Jesus. As our divine Physician, He did not avoid sickness, for He came to bring the ultimate cure. For example, at a time when most people were doing their best to avoid contact with the incurable disease of leprosy, Jesus was not afraid to reach out and touch a leper saying, “Be cleansed”; and at once the man was cured (Matthew 8:2-3). Before our text, Matthew has reported Jesus healing many who were sick and demon possessed; and this was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah: “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses” (Matthew 8:17).

As our text shows, the primary sickness our divine Physician came into the world to cure is sin. While the self-proclaimed spiritual doctors of the day – the Pharisees mentioned here, the self-righteous teachers of the Law – wanted to have nothing to do with sin-sick people, thinking they were clean of sin’s disease; there was Jesus rolling up His sleeves, getting down to the dirty work, saying: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (vs. 12). There He was, volunteering Himself as the one who could bring the only cure for sin and its horrible death – even though it meant sacrificing His own life to end the plague and save countless lives.

So let us consider this question today: “How Does the Divine Physician Treat the Sick?” As our text shows, it is 1) Not by avoiding the sick, 2) But by bringing His cure.

1) Not by avoiding the sick

Jesus made it clear that He did not come to avoid the sick. He was not afraid to associate with sinners in order to cure them of their deadly sin disease.

Just look at the kind of person Jesus called to follow Him. “He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ So he arose and followed Him” (vs. 9). Considering the reputation of tax collectors in that day, most people would have done their best to avoid any contact with the likes of this sin-infected man. The tax collectors were local Jews, employed by the Romans to collect taxes from the Jews. They were known for their greed and dishonesty, collecting excessive payments from their own countrymen. For after collecting the amount Rome demanded, they got to pocket the rest. Only the lowest kind of Jew would carry out such legalized extortion against his own people, working for the Romans who ruled and oppressed their land. It is no wonder the rabbis banned tax collectors from the synagogue, excommunicating them as lost souls. Matthew was such an outcast sinner when Jesus came to him.

Most likely Matthew already had some knowledge of Jesus, who had been ministering in this area for some time. Maybe he had heard Jesus preaching, speaking gracious words of forgiveness in the name of God to other sinners. Under that hardened, businesslike veneer of a tax collector, Matthew still had a conscience. His sins weighed heavily on his heart. Could he hope for a word of pardon from Jesus? Would this rabbi speak with him whose sin was as public as his office? When Jesus walked up to the tax collector’s booth, looked Matthew in the eye and said, “Follow Me,” those were the most welcome words he had ever heard. It literally changed his life forever. Luke’s account says: “So he left all, rose up, and followed Him” (Luke 5:28). In following Jesus’ call Matthew counted the cost in worldly loss, but he rejoiced all the more in his eternal gain. He rejoiced in Jesus’ cleansing words of forgiveness. He rejoiced in the gift of eternal life Jesus came to win for him. He rejoiced in the Savior of sinners, who made all things new for him.

The divine Physician did not come to avoid the sin-sick, but to heal them. He made this all the more clear by attending a feast at Matthew’s house (Luke 5:29). There it says: “Behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples” (vs. 10). Eating together expressed close association, especially in Jesus’ day. The “sinners” He ate with were known for public offenses, perhaps ranging from prostitutes, to thieves, to those guilty by association with the greed and dishonesty of tax collectors. The newly converted Matthew had invited his coworkers and outcast friends to come to the feast at his house. He wanted them to meet the Savior. As he left behind his old life of sin, entering a new life of repentance and healing in Jesus’ forgiveness, he wanted to introduce his sin-sick friends to the gracious Physician of the soul.

Now the Pharisees did not get the beauty of this scene. They were spying on Jesus, looking for any way to find fault with Him. “And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'” (vs. 11). In other words, “Can’t you see that your teacher must Himself be corrupt, if He is willing to eat and associate with such sinners?”

Now Scripture does warn that bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33). In 2 Corinthians 6:14 the apostle Paul says: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” We do not want to join the sins of others; nor do we even want to give the impression that we are encouraging or excusing sin.

There are appropriate ways to associate with those lost in sin and unbelief, to help them repent and be saved. Here Jesus was not joining in their sin, nor was He giving any impression of excusing or encouraging their sin. His message was always one of repentance and renewal through His forgiveness. The divine Physician was associating with the sin-sick only to bring His healing to them, just as He had done for Matthew.

But the Pharisees did not get it, for they did not understand God’s grace for sinners. They thought they kept themselves clean and holy by avoiding contact with the likes of these tax collectors and “sinners.” They did not want to become infected by the disease of these. But they had forgotten the merciful purpose of winning the sinner back to God.

Therefore, Jesus now turned to the Pharisees and explained: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (vs. 12-13). If the Pharisees truly were as spiritually healthy as they thought, wasn’t it God’s will that they use their health by helping those who were sick? But they were so wrapped up in their outward sacrifices and observances of the Law, trying to prove their own holiness, that they neglected the more important matters of the heart, like showing mercy to those in need and caring for lost souls.

How do we do in this regard? It is easy to be annoyed by the immoral and filthy lives we see in others and think, “Can’t they clean up their act?” And we should detest sin, as God Himself does; but we should detest it just as much in our own life. Do we not show symptoms of the same sinful nature we are sickened to see in others? How often must we confess with the apostle Paul in Romans 7:19-20: “The good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”

As believers, we do not think we have become perfect. But by the grace of God and the work of His Spirit in our hearts, we have been brought to repent of our sins and trust only the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We depend on the same forgiving and healing grace of God in Christ each and every day – the same grace of God by which we were first saved. It is the same grace and mercy of God in Christ that we truly want to share with our fellow sinners, that they may receive the same healing in Jesus’ name.

What a good example we see in Matthew. As he was leaving behind his old sinful way of life, entering a new life of repentance and healing in Jesus’ forgiveness, he showed true love and mercy. He cared enough to invite his sin-sick friends to come and meet Jesus, the Physician of the soul. He wanted them to find their cure in the Savior’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life too.

2) But by bringing His cure

We can all be thankful that the divine Physician does not treat the sin-sick by avoiding them, but by bringing His cure. Like Major Reed and his team of physicians treating Yellow Fever, Jesus came to the scene where we were dying of our sin disease. The Lord examined us and found that there was only one way to bring us His cure. He Himself volunteered to be bitten and infected with our deadly sin. On the cross, He who had no sin took all our sin on Himself. He took all our bad blood, all the lack of love and lack of mercy we have shown to others. He took on Himself the viral contamination of our sin. He took on Himself the painful, feverish death of the damned, bearing the burning guilt of our sin. “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses” (Matthew 8:17). And in laying down His life for us, He gave it to us. For our divine Physician did not remain in death, but He rose again to give us His full cure for eternal life.

Today, there is an effective vaccine for Yellow Fever. People with the disease are being saved. We also pray for an effective treatment for the latest disease, the coronavirus pandemic. But Jesus has brought the ultimate vaccine to heal a world infected and dying in sin. He is saving sinners everywhere. His cure is not given through some highly technical process of holy living on our part. His cure is not given through a vaccine available only to those who have means. The divine Physician offers His cure freely, as a gift of His grace to every sinner. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).

Christ’s Church is a hospital for sinners. Through His Gospel in Word and Sacrament, He brings us His healing forgiveness and eternal life. As we come before Him confessing our sins with repentant hearts, He declares His Absolution: “Your sins are forgiven you” (Matthew 9:2). In Baptism, He cleanses us of all sin “with the washing of water by the Word”; to present us holy and healthy in His sight (Ephesians 5:26-27). In the Lord’s supper, He gives us His Body and Blood, the very antidote given and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins (Matthew 26:26-28).

When we think of the man in our text whom Jesus called to follow Him, we think of him as Saint Matthew. So he was, a sinner called a saint by the grace of God, through faith in Christ. The same is true for us. Sinners though we be, the divine Physician has come to us with His full healing cure. Through faith in Christ, God is calling us His saints, forgiven and holy in His sight for Jesus’ sake. Like Matthew, now we have the privilege of inviting fellow sinners to the feast of salvation in Jesus’ name, even as we sing the hymn:

Come, ye sinners, one and all, Come, accept His invitation.

Come, obey His gracious call; Come and take His free salvation!

Firmly in these words believe – Jesus sinners doth receive.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be. Amen.