And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?
A Friend of Sinners
Jesus came to the sick, not to those who need no physician, at least in their own eyes anyway (Matt 9:12). The Pharisees had just criticized Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners, but they didn’t go to Jesus to tell Him to His face, rather they went behind His back and told His disciples about it (Matt 9:11). Jesus heard about it and told them that those who are sick need a physician, but those who are well have no need for one (Matt 9:12). Jesus wasn’t saying that the Pharisees were sinless. They wrongly thought that they were righteous before God; however, those who acknowledge that they are sinners are the ones Jesus seems to be drawn to because God resists the proud and gives grace to only the humble (James 4:6). Remember that Jesus said He came to call not the righteous, but the sinners (Matt 9:13).
Mercy over Sacrifice
Jesus told the self-righteous Pharisees that God desires mercy over sacrifice (Matt 9:13) and that Jesus came to save sinners and not the righteous or, really, the self-righteous who don’t think they need forgiveness. Mercy is God not giving us what we really deserve (His wrath) as opposed to grace, where He gives us what we don’t deserve (His pardon). Grace is unmerited pardon for unworthy sinners, but mercy is withholding the punishment that sinners deserve, which for some reason the Pharisees, and indeed all today who believe that they’re a good person, don’t believe they deserve. The fact is that all of us have sinned (Rom 3:10-11, 23), but only those who acknowledge their sins can be forgiven. How can God ever forgive someone who doesn’t think they need it?
Not Giving Us What We Deserve
Some people say that God isn’t fair, but do we really want God to be fair? If He were completely fair, then none of us could be forgiven. Rather than asking God for justice, we must ask for mercy because if He were really to give us all what we truly deserve, not one of us could possibly be saved. For all of those who refuse to believe in Jesus, they will get justice, but it’s not the justice that they really want. Jesus said whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, but whoever rejects Him has the wrath of God still abiding on them (John 3:36b) and will have this wrath delivered someday (Rev 20:12-15).
A Closing Prayer
Great God in heaven, You are so merciful to me, a sinner, who deserves nothing but Your wrath, but You placed Your wrath on Your Son so that I could escape the wrath that is really due me. That’s why You are such a merciful God and why I desire mercy over any sacrifice, too, because I could never be good enough to be saved except by Jesus’ sacrifice, and it is in His precious name I pray.
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