SERMON: No, I Don't Think St. Matthew Ever Wrote About Jesus Talking About Penguins We Have To Emulate (Matthew 9:9-13)

Now, please don't misunderstand me here.

Illustrations can be a useful tool to Pastors, especially those who know how to use them effectively and properly.

However, far too often, the illustration becomes the idol, and the congregation's focus is diverted from "Christ For You" to the preacher's penchant for wanting to be cool, funny, and relevant.

The reasons for me starting out this way will become painfully evident in just a moment. See, I didn't get to attend the Worship Service at church yesterday since I was home with my daughter who was sick.

My dear wife and son did though. I'm paraphrasing a bit, but these were the first words out of her mouth when she walked in the door...


 
"I'm sorry, but it was a horrible sermon today! You know me, and you know I have a hard time keeping up and understanding what the Pastor's talking about, but today was just awful! He pulled out a stuffed penguin and kept talking about how we need to act like the penguins do. I even wrote down some comments and questions on my church bulletin as I was listening to him. I wrote down things like, 'What does this even have to do with Jesus!?!' and I think he maybe mentioned God or Jesus once or twice the whole time too! The whole thing was about penguins and how we can learn a lot from them and how if we acted more like them then maybe we'd be better Christians like God wants us to be."


While our church is very H-E-A-V-Y on the Law (a.k.a. "You Have To Do More To Be More Like Christ!" types of events and sermons all the time), I've never heard of penguins being used as a prop to preach a false gospel like this. You?

Unfortunately, I can't say I'm surprised about that though. I mean, this is precisely why I've been aggressively searching for a more faithful church for us to attend.

I can say that I was very pleasantly surprised to hear my wife say what she said though. I've picked my spots carefully over the past year, but I think she's finally starting to see why I've been so upset at the end of a church service, and why I keep mentioning that we need to find a new church to call home.

In any event, here's the type of sermon I wish my wife, son, and fellow brothers and sisters at Trinity would've heard yesterday.

Did you know that yesterday, September 21st, on the church year calendar, is the day for commemorating St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist? Me neither!


"Following Jesus With St. Matthew" (Sermon On Matthew 9:9-13) 
By Pastor Charles Henrickson

Matthew 9:9-13 (ESV) 9 As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

On the church year calendar, September 21 is the day for commemorating St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. And since this year September 21 falls on a Sunday, today we are celebrating the Festival of St. Matthew
Who exactly was this St. Matthew, you ask, and why should we remember him? Well, first of all, as to who he is, as I mentioned, we refer to him as St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. Each of those terms, apostle and evangelist, puts Matthew in pretty select company. St. Matthew is an apostle, and there were only twelve of them–Peter, James, John, Andrew, Matthew, and the rest. Twelve apostles, twelve disciples of Jesus, called and chosen by Christ and sent out by him to carry the good news into the world. Besides being one of the twelve apostles, St. Matthew also has the distinction of being one of the four evangelists, that is, the four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So being both an apostle and an evangelist makes Matthew a very significant person in the history of the church. 
But we don’t honor St. Matthew simply for his own sake. No, and Matthew wouldn’t have it that way, either. Indeed, as an apostle and an evangelist, Matthew would not point people to himself. Rather, he would point us to his Master, his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And that, really, is why we are remembering St. Matthew today: for how he helps us to follow Christ. And so our theme this morning: “Following Jesus with St. Matthew.”  
Following Jesus with St. Matthew: in repentance; in faith; in service; and into everlasting life. That’s where we’re going with this. So let’s begin. Following Jesus with St. Matthew in repentance. You know, St. Matthew did not get to be a saint until he first was a sinner. And that’s what repentance is about: being called by Jesus, as a sinner, to come and follow him and receive his mercy and belong to him alone. That, in turn, is what it is to be a saint, a holy one, that is, one of Christ’s set-apart people. So St. Matthew the sinner, first of all. 
Hear again our text: “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”’ But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”  
So this fellow Matthew was a tax collector. Big deal, you say. Why make a point about that? Well, to be a tax collector in those days carried with it some particular associations. Tax collectors were seen by their fellow Jews as traitors of sorts, collaborators, since they were working for the hated Roman government, the pagan empire that occupied the land of Israel. And besides that, tax collectors generally had the bad reputation of being corrupt, crooked, lining their own pockets at people’s expense. And so Matthew, as a tax collector, would have been looked down upon by more moral folk as a sinner. 
And yet Jesus calls him. “Follow me,” Jesus says. And he says this to all sinners. Do you qualify? I hope you can say yes. Because, like St. Matthew, you don’t get to be a saint until you first are a sinner. The Pharisees in our text didn’t think they were sinners. And perhaps they did lead more respectable lives than tax collectors and other more blatant, more obvious sinners. But they were just better at hiding their sins–sins of pride, of self-righteousness, sins of lack of mercy toward others. But those sins are not hidden from God. He sees. He knows. The truth is, we all, each one of us is a sinner. Each one of us needs to repent, to acknowledge our sins before God, to turn in contrition and confess our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Jesus does not come to call the righteous, but sinners. And that’s you and me. 
And that was St. Matthew, a sinner called to follow Jesus. The call of Christ carries with it the power to make it happen. And that’s what it did for Matthew. He rose and followed Jesus, in faith. He sat at his Master’s feet and learned from him. He followed Jesus around in his ministry and witnessed all that he was doing, preaching and teaching and healing. He heard the authority in Jesus’ words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He heard the the wisdom in his teaching, as Jesus unfolded the true meaning of the law. He heard the authority in Jesus’ commands: “Rise and walk.” “Storm, be still.” Matthew heard Jesus’ parables and began to understand the secrets of the kingdom. Matthew, like the other disciples, was mystified, though, when Jesus began to say that they were going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man would be betrayed and handed over and be killed. That did not make sense to him at the time. But still, Matthew and the other disciples kept following Jesus. God kept them in the faith, and even brought them back when they fell away and were scattered. All the glory goes to God. 
And so will we follow Jesus in faith, as his disciples. Like St. Matthew–in fact, through St. Matthew’s gospel–we follow our Master and hear his voice and grow as his disciples. As we hear and read and study the Gospel according to St. Matthew, as it is preached and taught here in church–as we hear and read and take to heart the rest of Holy Scripture–we grow as Christian disciples. Our faith and life are strengthened. St. Matthew the Evangelist does us the great service of giving us his gospel account of Christ, which draws us into the life of Christ, and through this gospel we follow Jesus in faith. 
And just like it did for St. Matthew, the call of Christ leads us into a life of service. For Matthew, it was the unique service of ministry as an apostle and evangelist. What are the areas of service God has for you? Well, where has God planted you? Start there. Are you a husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter? Each of those situations has its own set of responsibilities. Are you an employer, an employee, a butcher, a baker, a candlestick-maker? Well, then, be the best candlestick-maker you can be. Are you a citizen of this community, this state, this country? You have civic responsibilities to carry out. Are you a church member? How can you better serve in our church, supporting this congregation financially, generously, speaking well of our church out in the community, inviting your friends and relatives and neighbors to join you at church? These are all areas of service you already have, just to begin with. And God will help you to fulfill your various vocations, as you live a life of service, following Jesus, the Servant par excellence. 
Following Jesus, with St. Matthew, in repentance, in faith, in service. And now one more: Following Jesus, with St. Matthew, into everlasting life. And this is what it all comes down to. It’s not what you do for Jesus. It’s what Jesus does for you. It was that way for St. Matthew. It is that way, thank God, for you and me. Even as we follow Jesus in repentance, in faith, in a life of service–none of that, as our doing, could accomplish anything for our salvation. No, it is all a gift. It’s what Christ does for us that counts. It is Jesus, the Son of Man, the Messiah, who goes the way of the cross for us. Jesus himself says, in St. Matthew’s gospel, “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” There it is! That’s it! That’s what the gospel is all about! Jesus giving himself for us! He is our Redeemer, the holy Son of God who sacrifices his life to set us free from our sins and death and everlasting condemnation. Jesus is our Redeemer, who purchases our release and our forgiveness; Christ our risen Lord, who leads us into everlasting life. That, my friends, that is what St. Matthew was so eager to record in his gospel, so eager to tell us today. 
Matthew the Evangelist has been telling us this from the get-go. “And you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Yes, Jesus is God with us–with us in mercy, with us in forgiveness, with us in bringing in the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Jesus is God with us, here in the church. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I with them.” Jesus is God with us, here in the Sacrament. “This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus is God with us, through all the days of this life, until he comes again. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” And when he comes again, then we will follow Jesus on into the eternal age to come, with St. Matthew, with all the saints, with all those redeemed by Christ and given the gift of everlasting life. 


But why stop there?

Why not look at another excellent sermon and give you two for the price of one (in case you found yourself sitting in church yesterday hearing about something other than Christ crucified for your despicable sins)?

This is an old one from 2008 by Rev. Eric J. Brown that keeps things in their proper perspective (as well as being a "Penguin Free Zone" too!).


The Feast of St. Matthew – Matthew 9:9-13 
In the Name of Christ the Crucified + 
So, here in our Gospel text we get to see the call of Matthew. It’s one verse – As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed Him. Seems quite simple – Jesus walks by and summons Matthew to follow Him. But do we really pause and see what is going on? Matthew is there – he’s working a tax booth. He’s got a good, well paying job. He’s probably got everything that a person could want in this life – a big house, wealth, good food. Luke records for us that this dinner that takes up the rest of the text is actually hosted by Matthew. And yet – when Christ calls him, Matthew simply and willingly leaves that behind. There would be no more wealth coming from the cushy government job. The house would be abandoned in order to follow Jesus around wherever he went, and Matthew is given over to a life of teaching and proclaiming Christ, whatever the cost to himself. 
When we look at Matthew, we should be impressed and humbled. When Christ commanded Matthew to follow Him, it meant that Matthew had to give up all that he had, all that he was. And Matthew goes. No fuss, no bluster – simply, “he rose and followed Him.” Now, ponder this. We too, have been called to follow Jesus – all Christians are to take up their cross and follow their Lord. We all indeed have things that we are to do as Christians – but don’t they pale in comparison to what Matthew is called to, the burden the Lord places upon him? How many of you here have had to leave everything to follow Christ – how many have had to give up family and friends, leave your job, your home to serve Christ? Tradition even holds that Matthew died a martyr’s death – that following Christ for Matthew meant torture and death. Do any of us reasonably expect to face that in our following of Christ? Yet how often do we grouse and grumble about the simple things that we as Christians who follow our Lord are to do? Daily devotions and study of Scripture seem a burden. Coming to Church is often less appealing than finding something more entertaining – to say nothing of coming to bible study. Our Lord’s command to love the neighbor can fly out the window when that neighbor is difficult. Whereas Christ demands of Matthew that he give up all, Christ lets you serve, lets you follow Him right where you are – and yet – how often can there be grumbling or complaining? The call of Matthew, the fact that he willingly gets up and goes, leave his home and a life of luxury behind should humble us – and encourage us pay attention to how we are supposed to be following Christ even in our own life. 
However, on that day when our Lord called Matthew – the Pharisees were not impressed – not impressed with Matthew, and not impressed with our Lord’s decision to have Matthew follow Him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” So, not only does Jesus end up calling Matthew, but He sits down and eats with sinners and other tax collectors. You have to remember that there was a rather large hatred towards tax collectors – I’m sure we’d give someone who worked for the IRS today a bit of grief over their job, especially every April. But it was worse in Jesus’ day than just taxes. Imagine the US was conquered by a foreign government, and then that government, Russia, China, whoever, sent tax collectors who would take your stuff, often demand bribes, and just all around bilk you. That’s what the situation was in Jesus’ day – and that’s who this Matthew is that Jesus calls – even if Matthew were an honest tax collector, he was a sell out to the Romans, taking good, hard earned money away from Jews and giving it to Pagans. And then, to eat with sinners? To actually talk to “bad” people. Jesus must be out of His mind! 
But note what the Pharisees do. They don’t talk to Jesus – they bad mouth Him to His disciples. Eh, your “teacher” seems pretty dumb to us – look at what He’s doing. It’s sneaky, it’s rude, it’s tricksy. They are definitely not putting the best construction on things or explaining things in the kindest way – rather, they complain behind Jesus’ back. Nasty business, that. 
But, at any rate, their snide comments get around to Jesus. So. . . what will Jesus do? How will He respond to these complaints about Himself? Will He defend Himself? “I’ve done nothing wrong here!” Will He defend Matthew? “Hey, this Matthew is a fine, up-standing citizen, don’t besmirch him.” Will He chastise the Pharisees – “if you have a problem with Me, come to Me, don’t pick on my students!” No, what Jesus says is something that is interesting and wonderful. But when He heard it, He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Why am I here – why would I eat with sinners? Precisely because they are sinners and need Me, need My teaching, need My preaching, and most of all, need My forgiveness. And note how blunt Jesus is – yeah, these folks are sinners, they need help, and they were humble enough to know it. Even virtuous Matthew, who by rights could make us blush – just another sinner in need of Christ’s healing. And Matthew even writes it down – how do we meet Matthew? We meet him as a sinner – but Matthew isn’t ashamed of that – for Matthew is a sinner whom has been healed by the Great Physician, Christ Jesus. Do you see what Jesus is teaching with this – that while your sin may be great – the God who cures you and heals you of that sin by His death upon the Cross is greater. 
In fact, Jesus spells it out in more detail. He says to the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means – ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ Jesus quote Hosea at them. You Pharisees should have known what I’d be doing here – because what does God desire – God desires to show mercy, to show love. God is more pleased showing mercy to a sinner than listening to you bleet on about how wonderful you are and all the sacrifices you offer up, how hard you work for God. And this is something we need to remember. God desires to be a merciful God. God loves mercy, God loves showing mercy – so the fact that you have sinned, God handles that – He gladly shows mercy. If anything, what upsets God more than just sinning is when you reject forgiveness, when you brush off His mercy – when you would rather toot your own horn than focus on His mercy. As Christians, you are to do things, and you should always strive to do better – but the Christian faith isn’t about what you do – it is about the Mercy God shows you because of and through Christ’s death upon the Cross. And this is what we are to learn – it is what Matthew learned as one of Christ’s disciples, and it is the heart of what we learn today – so that we don’t become like these backbiting Pharisees complaining about everyone else and puffing ourselves up with vain works. God is merciful – and He desires to show you mercy. Confess your sin and receive that mercy. 
And friends – this isn’t an optional part of being a Christian. To be a Christian, to be in relationship with God is nothing less than to receive His mercy. Our Lord says, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Who does Christ call? He calls sinners. Matthew is called – and his sins are forgiven, and Matthew learns and grows in the faith, and even writes Scripture. Who else is called? All those sinners there, called to repentance – called to receive God’s mercy. And who is left out – the Pharisees, the ones who think that they are righteous – the ones who think that they aren’t sinners. Christ calls them to the carpet – when you’ve realized your need for mercy and forgiveness, then we can have a relationship – but until then – there’s nothing here. If you are smug, if you are self-righteous – there is nothing here in this place for you. If you trust in your own works, that you are just such a wonderful Christian – what good would preaching of the Cross, preaching of forgiveness do you? Until you know that you are sinner – God will have nothing to say to you other than a word of Law to show you your sin. 
But you are a sinner, and you know that. You may not like to admit it all the time, or you may like to sort of off-handly admit it – well, sure, we’re all sinners – but so-and-so did this, and man are they bad! Repent. You are sinner. Period. But now see and understand what Matthew so desperately teaches throughout His Gospel. See what Christ invites you to, what He calls you to. He has called you to His house, to hear His healing Word of forgiveness preached to you. He has called you into His family in the waters of Holy Baptism – this is not just a once in a while social visit – but you are called into His family now. You, sinner, are called even to His Table, to His meal, His Supper, to receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. This is what we all have in common – we are all sinners called to receive together Christ’s life giving and forgiveness giving Supper – called to be healed of our sin by the Supper of the Great Physician – called to be given His strength. And this is what our Lord shall continue to do for you – whatever your station in life, your job, where you live – even if you don’t get to be an Apostle – Christ calls you to join in His holy feast with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. 
Dear friends in Christ – do not be afraid to strive against your sin – to strive to be every day a better and better Christian, to live as God has called you. And when you fail – for when you set yourself to Christ’s standards, you will see your failures – remember that God desires mercy, and indeed He calls you, a sinner, to His house to shower that mercy upon you. This is what God did for Matthew, it is what He does for each and every one of us. God grant that we remember this all the days of our earthly life and remain faithful unto death. Amen.


I know these Sunday Sermon Series post tend to be a tad longer than normal, but my heart is thinking about others like me who are desperate for good, old Lutheran Law and Gospel preaching, which is why I've sort of adopted the style of including two sermons each week instead of only one. I hope you don't mind.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, Pastors should preach Christ crucified for my despicable sins instead of preaching about penguins I have to emulate, because the former is a sermon that offers forgiveness for my sins while the latter is a sermon that just breeds confusion by perverting Law and Gospel.

No, I don't think St. Matthew ever wrote about Jesus talking about penguins we have to emulate. As an apostle and an evangelist, Matthew would not point people to anything or anyone other than his Master, his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that aren't that big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!

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