Jesus Calls Sinners Sick

Title: Jesus Calls Sinners Sick


Text: Matthew 9:9-13

Date: November 9th, 2008

I just read a study done on how modern pastors and preachers present the Story of the Prodigal Son in the New Testament when they speak on Sunday mornings to their church congregations. The study revealed that in times past, church teachers would outline the passage and then talk about the different ideas found there, like the son’s rebellion, his wild and sinful living, his crisis moment, his humble confession and repentance, his return to his father. Then application would be made in respect to how we all are like the son, yet how eager God the Father is to forgive and take us back. But today, so says the study, pastors are hesitant to talk about the son’s sin and guilt, or about his confession and repentance. Instead, preachers today psychoanalyze the story and present it in terms of human psychology. The son feels trapped at home, seeks to strike out on his own, makes a break with his father, and pursues his own destiny – all value-neutral actions. Then, the son experiences a crisis, he realizes that his choices have not led to self-fulfillment, so he returns home to reunite with his father and family – again, all value-neutral descriptions of the son’s actions. The study revealed that modern pastors were loath to talk too much about real sin or real guilt. They were cautious to not assess blame to the son, but rather tried to explain his choices as “mistakes” or “bad choices” or “failures” but never to use the traditional language of sin or guilt. The study showed that because the culture we now live in doesn’t use the traditional language of sin, neither do many or most pastors when they present the Prodigal Son story to contemporary audiences in church. Instead, the language of psychology is substituted for the language of sin. This is supposed to be a more relevant way to teach the meaning of the story, says the study, because the traditional language of sin and guilt is highly offensive today to most contemporary listeners. To present the Story of the Prodigal Son in terms of his own sin and guilt and selfishness comes across as highly judgmental and harsh. Today, the language of psychology is used to describe the son’s actions because it seems to show more compassion and sensitivity towards the son, rather than the harsh and hard language of guilt and blame. But the study also revealed that something profound is lost in translation when the Story of the Prodigal Son is presented in psychological terms rather than in terms of moral responsibility – the whole point of a gracious father receiving back his prodigal son is minimized, it is trivialized, since if the son’s actions were not really wrong, if he hadn’t really acted selfishly, if he hadn’t really sinned against his father, then his father really forgiving him loses its meaning. And if this key point of the story loses its meaning, so too does the point of application to us lose its meaning also. The point of the biblical story is that just as the father in the story forgives, so too God the Father receives back repentant sinners who come to him. But if we as sinners really haven’t done anything wrong, if we’ve just experienced a crisis of self-esteem, an identity crisis, then God’s great grace is minimized, trivialized. Our real need to confess and repent of real sin for offending a holy and righteous God is undermined. The whole gospel meaning is affected. Instead of saving us from our sins, God is merely healing us of our hurts. That’s how much preaching in churches is presented today – God can heal your hurts, rather than the truly biblical picture of God who saves us from judgment for our sins. So in order to correct this modern tendency to see everything in psychological terms, let’s look at what Jesus really says and the language he uses to describe how he saves sinners. And who are sinners? Everyone — you and me. Three points stand out.

First, Jesus calls people sinners. Matthew 9:13, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” That word “sinner” seems hard and harsh to us today in the 21st century, doesn’t it? But Jesus used that word in speaking to people who sin. Today, people don’t like to hear that word, and they especially don’t like to be called that word. Why? Because it’s a judgmental word; it judges another person. It says that someone has sinned or is sinning. The problem with labeling someone a sinner today is that the whole concept of sin is questionable today for most people in our modern society. Sin is a biblical concept based on there being a holy and righteous God who had given us laws to live by. When we disobey God’s laws we are sinning. Now the problem with the idea of sin today is that more and more people in society question the whole notion that God has given us laws to live by. The idea of God is getting fuzzier and fuzzier in the modern mind, plus the idea of God revealing his will in the Bible in the form of laws to live by is not only fuzzy today for most people but it is down-right offensive. Even if God has revealed his will in a book called the Bible, still, people think today, it’s not fair to judge me because everyone is free or should be free to interpret the Bible and religion in their own way. Nobody has a right to judge me by their own religious beliefs whether they come from the Bible or come from some other religious book. Freedom means freedom to follow my own religion and freedom from being judged by another person’s religion. So sin is seen today as inappropriate in modern discourse. And along with sin, guilt and shame are seen also as inappropriate today because they go along with judgmental religion. As the study I mentioned before reveals, many or even most pastors in churches are careful to avoid using the language of sin, guilt or shame in sermons on Sunday morning. But the interesting thing is Jesus himself doesn’t seem too overly concerned about using the language of sin. He calls people sinners. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Far from backing away from judgmental language, Jesus uses it forthrightly. And so should we. I’m a sinner, saved by grace. You are a sinner, who either is or can be saved by grace. But we are all sinners. We have all sinned. That’s what the Bible teachers from cover to cover. Romans 3, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (23), and “There is no one righteous, not even one” (10), and “There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (11), and “All have turned away . . . there is no one who does good, not even one” (12). We must all come to the place in our lives where we can admit and confess that we are sinners. Masking our sin and selfishness using the language of pop psychology is wrong and harmful. How can we come to the point of humble and honest confession and repentance if we continue to self-justify ourselves by using value-neutral language about our sins? We must understand that we have offended a holy and righteous God by our actions called sin. It is God we have offended; it is against God we have sinned. It’s not just that we’ve hurt ourselves or failed to live up to our best selves, as in the language of pop psychology. Jesus called people sinners.

Second, Jesus says sinners are sick in sin. Matthew 9:12, “On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’” According to Jesus there is such a thing as sin, which is a violation of God’s divine law. According to Jesus there are sinners, or in other words, people who violate the law of God. And finally, according to Jesus, there is something wrong with people who sin, something wrong with sinners. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” And what do the sick people need a doctor to do? To get rid of their sickness. Why do sick people need a doctor to get rid of their sickness? Because their sickness is bad and if it isn’t gotten rid of it will eventually kill them. The problem today is that most people dispute that there is anything wrong with them. They may even admit that they are sinners and that they sin, but they don’t think there is anything wrong with sinning. Take for example the case of homosexuality today in society. Do most homosexuals consider themselves sinners? They might consider that Christians judge them to be sinners. They might recognize that the Bible judges them as sinners. They might even acknowledge that they themselves consider themselves as sinners. But they see nothing wrong with what they are doing because they don’t consider the judgments of the Bible or of the church or of other Christians as ultimately valid. They don’t consider themselves doing anything wrong because their own highest authority is their own opinion of themselves. And they don’t feel it’s wrong what they are doing, so for them, they say, it’s not wrong, but rather it’s right. In fact, they flip it around and judge Christians who base their beliefs on the Bible as wrong. Often today, homosexuals flip it around and try to shame Christians for calling them sinners. Judgmentalism is the real sin, they say. They refuse to acknowledge that they are sick, that they need a physician, that they need cured. Now the Roman Catholic church is perfectly correct when the new pope recently released a statement that considers homosexuality as a disorder. In other words, a sin sickness. Not just a sickness, because if it were merely a sickness like the flu or cold, then it wouldn’t be a moral concern. But according to the Bible, homosexuality is indeed a sickness, but it’s a moral sickness or disorder because people can exercise their will either to pursue it or not pursue it. Just like alcohol, someone can either drink or not drink to excess, to drunkenness. Alcoholism is a sickness, but it’s a moral sickness because it involves the free exercise of the will. All sin is a moral choice. And since everyone chooses to sin, everyone is sin sick to some extend, and everyone needs cured of it or else they will eventually die spiritually. Spiritual death is eternal separation from God in conscious punishment forever. So sin sickness is serious. That’s why today we must not back down in our speaking of sin and also that sin is wrong and needs to be cured. Not only is the language of sin highly offensive today, but so is the idea that sin needs to be cured. But again, Jesus spoke of sin and its need of a cure.

Third, Jesus claimed to be the cure for sin sickness. Matthew 9:12-13, “On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” According to the study I mentioned before, church pastors are reluctant to use the language of sin and guilt in their sermons today because people in our culture are so offended by it and consider it judgmentalism. But as the Bible teaches, Jesus wasn’t afraid to speak the language of sin and guilt because he was trying to save people from the judgment to come. It’s the same thing today. We must continue to speak the language of sin, guilt, confession and repentance in order to save people today. The language of psychology cannot provide the proper context into which people can be saved. Psychology saves people from themselves, from negative emotions and feelings, but not from the judgment of God upon sin. If we give up the biblical language of sin and judgment, if we give up the language of Jesus and the apostles in favor of the language of the psychologists then we leave people in their sins, leave them with nothing on Judgment Day when they’ll face God with nothing but psycho-babble. And that’s just what they’ll be doing – babbling about low self-esteem, poor self-concept, etc. instead of dealing with their sins by coming to Christ by faith and receiving forgiveness. Jesus claims to be the solution to our sin problem. But if we refuse to acknowledge that we have a sin problem, or worse, if we acknowledge that we are indeed sinners, but there’s nothing wrong with that – how can we be saved? How can a sick person be cured of their illness if they refuse to first acknowledge they are sick? Or if they acknowledge they are sick but refuse to go to the doctor to be cured of their sickness, how can they be saved? They can’t. It’s the same way with all of us sinners. We came into the world sinners through the inherited sin of Adam and Eve – original sin. Then we became complete sinners by participating fully in sin individually by choice. As sinners, according to Jesus, we are sick, we are not well, we are in need of treatment and cure. According to Jesus, if we don’t get help we’ll die in our sins and face the judgment of God the Father who will condemn us to eternal punishment forever for our sins. But also according to Jesus, by coming humbly to him and acknowledging our sins and repenting of our sins, we can be forgiven. By trusting in Christ and his righteousness we can be saved from judgment and saved to eternal life. Now this is another point upon which the modern world is offended – that some people go to hell for their sins and others are forgiven and go to heaven. It is considered hate speech that some people go to hell unless they turn to Christ for salvation. Should we then stop offering the gospel because some are offended by it? No. Jesus spoke in term of sin and judgment, of heaven and hell; so should we too. Now let me ask you a question: does it offend you to think of yourself as a sinner? Does it bother you to admit that you need Jesus as Savior? It shouldn’t. If it does, you still have pride in your heart that needs to be humbled before the Lord. The world should be offended by the gospel, but Christians shouldn’t be. Why not humble your heart today and turn to Jesus in faith. He won’t reject you.


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