TO WHOM DOES GOD FORGIVE?
Our text is directly linked to the previous narrative in verse 1 to 8, which reveals the greatest evidence of the supreme authority of Jesus, namely, his power to forgive sins. And our text continues to follow that particular theme, and it is from our text we shall hear the answer to the question to whom does God forgive. In addition, there are also other important lessons found. Hence, from our text I want to point out several critical lessons for us.
I. No man can withstand the effectual call of Jesus (v. 1).
Contrary to the popular view that suggests salvation is simply the exercise of one’s will or choice in which the power of salvation lies with individual who makes a decision or prays the prayer, the biblical view of the gospel teaches that the power of salvation lies with God’s sovereign choice, not man’s choice. This does not discount the importance of making decision for Christ or crying out to him in prayer of repentance, but the biblical view of the gospel teaches that even before that would take place it is God who moved the heart of a sinner to make such choice for Christ and pray the prayer. In fact the biblical gospel takes a step even further by teaching that even before God would move the heart of a sinner, he has first elected him, chosen him even before the foundation of the world. And the basis of God’s choice of his elect is not based on any good thing that his elect would do later, but purely by his sovereign grace. All that is to say, God has first elected, and those whom he has chosen he calls. And when he calls, his chosen would effectively respond, hence the effectual call.
- NAU John 6:37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.
- NAU John 10:27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;
Here Jesus called Matthew to follow him. In fact, in Greek the verb is in imperative. That is to say, such a call is not a suggestion but an effectual command that his elect would not resist. Here’s a case in point. When Jesus commanded Matthew by saying, “Follow me,” the immediate text reads, “And he got up and followed him.” All that is to say the effectual call is a call that brings about its desired effect.
In history of theology the effectual call has sometimes been synonymously referred to as spiritual regeneration or spiritual awakening. It is often described as someone awakening a sinner from a deep sleep, and someone’s voice penetrating a sinner’s conscious. It is also liken to a dead person receiving life or light shining first time on a dark mind.
It is also equally important to point out that before God effectually calls his elect, such person has no desire, will, or inclination to seek God. Unless God calls or until God sovereignly and effectually calls, such person is spiritually dead and such a person cannot hear and responds to the gospel on his own. This was true of Matthew. Before Jesus called him, Matthew had no inclination to follow Jesus. But when Jesus commanded Matthew to follow him, he responded to the call of his Lord.
II. Following Jesus may mean giving up your job and comfortable living for what no money can buy and no world can give.
Unlike the man in 8:21 who wasn’t willing to pay the cost of following Jesus, according to Luke’s account Matthew “left everything behind” to follow Jesus (cf. Luke 5:27-28). More likely, the “everything behind” refers to his lucrative tax collecting job.
Being a tax collector at that time meant wealth. But at the same time, tax collectors were hated by almost all Jews. This is because they were considered traitors and greedy. They made their living by being dishonest and ripping off their own countrymen. For example, they served the interests of the Roman Empire in that they collected certain percentage of the tax from the people for Rome. But instead of collecting the required percentage of tax, they would also tax other items so that they would have a huge profit margin for themselves. Hence Matthew was making living by sitting in a dishonest position. But when Jesus called him to follow him, he left his dishonest vocation.
- NAU Psalm 1:1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
Following Jesus may mean giving up your job and comfortable living for what no money can buy and no world can give, namely being available to be used by Jesus in whatever he sovereign chooses and wills. For Matthew, Jesus sovereignly chose him to write the first Gospel book of the NT. He was chosen to help people to see Jesus. He was chosen to provide convincing evidences that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Christ, and the anointed King. Such opportunities to make the name of Jesus famous are too glorious in that no money can buy and no world can give.
III. Genuine Christians do not think of themselves as better than other people (vv. 10-11).
If you understand that the gospel is the complete work of God from beginning to end, namely it is God who has chosen, it is God who calls, it is God who redeems, it is God who grants the gift of faith and repentance, it is God who justifies, it is God who seals, it is God who sanctifies, and it is God who glorifies, then there is absolutely no boasting by those who are saved.
- NAU Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Notice the question the Pharisees raised in verse 11: “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” This question that Pharisees raised was not a sincere question, but intention to vent their hostility and falsely to accuse and defame the character of Jesus. In fact they didn’t ask such question directly to Jesus, but to his disciples (v. 11), which implies that the Pharisees were trying to cause the disciples to undermine their own leader. And that’s how Satan often operates to divide the unity among the body of Christ, namely to undermine its leader and have people turn on their leader.
The problem with the Pharisees was that they thought they were the ones who were righteous, meaning having the right standing with God, because they observed the interpretations of the traditions of men. And as you recall by the Sermon on the Mount, they would often display their false piety outwardly to be seen by people. They loved getting attentions and recognitions. According to Jesus such superficial spirituality is what religious hypocrisy is. And what self-righteousness and pride often produce is religious snobbery by looking down on others. With that in mind would you please turn your Bible with me to a classic example that is found in Luke 18:9-14?
According to D.A. Carson, “Christians can never afford to adopt haughty stances toward other sinners. They are never more than poor beggars telling others where there is bread.”
IV. Jesus saves the ones that are broken, not the proud (vv. 12-13).
The Bible makes a strong argument that one of the strong evidences of saving grace is humility. If there is absence of humility or repeated demonstrations of pride, it is a good indication that there is no genuine conversion. After all, one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is humility (Gal. 5:23). Also it is one of the Beatitudes that describe a kingdom citizen, namely “Blessed are the meek.”
If you recall our expositions from the Beatitudes you recall that “Blessed are the meek” is the third beatitude. And Jesus mentioned that beatitude after he mentioned about “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are those who mourn.” And Jesus intentionally put that in that particular order.
If you truly understand that you are a wretched sinner who were on your way to eternal judgment in hell, but by the grace of God and of his mercy he provided the way in which your sin can be forgiven by the sacrificial death of his Son Jesus Christ, by which he gave you the gift of faith to believe and to be reconciled to God, then there is no boasting whatsoever. Hence, Matthew 5:5, the third beatitude is the only logical order from the first two beatitudes. You first recognize you are nothing in the sight of God, which is exactly what being poor in spirit means and that would naturally lead you to mourn over your sin. And humility then is simply the byproduct of the first two.
And this is what Jesus is implying here. A genuinely humble person recognizes his true spiritual condition, namely that he is sick and need of help. On the contrary, a genuinely prideful person does not recognize he needs help because he doesn’t think he is sick. And that’s a fundamental problem with many people, especially those that are in churches. They don’t think they are spiritually sick and need help. Like the Pharisees they are conceited, self-righteous, hard, and unbroken. Hence Jesus saves ones that are broken, not unbroken. According to 1 Peter 5:5-6, “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.”
- NAU Colossians 3:12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;
D.A. Carson writes, “Our growing awareness of the magnitude of our sin can only result it growing thankfulness for the richness of the pardon we have received. When we are reminded that Jesus said, ‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,’ far from being offended, we are relieved.”
Such was Matthew. He was considered one of the most hated and socially outcast individuals by his own countrymen. In fact the religious leaders of his day classified him on the same level with prostitutes and adulterers. Yet, Jesus chosen and called him to follow him. Like Matthew, that too is a redemptive story of us.
In the four Gospel accounts, you would find that Jesus is generally gentle and merciful toward individuals that are broken, yet harsh toward the proud, especially the religious leaders. Hence I follow his ministry philosophy, that is, comfort the broken and break the comfortable.
Here’s a case in point. Notice the rebuke by Jesus in verse 13 – “Go and learn.” This phrase was commonly used by rabbis to rebuke those who did not know what they should have known. Perhaps, this is why James said, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (3:1). In the four Gospels, Jesus shows no sympathy to religious leaders who should have known better. The point is if you don’t know and can’t live then don’t be a leader. O how I wish many church leaders would take heed to this truth!
Regarding verse 12, listen to the words of John Calvin on this:
Hypocrites, being satisfied and intoxicated with a foolish confidence in their own righteousness, do not consider the purpose for which Christ was sent into the world, and do not acknowledge the depth of evils in which the human race is plunged, or the dreadful wrath and curse of God which lies on all, or the accumulated load of vices which weighs them down. The consequence is, that they are too stupid to feel the miseries of men, or to think of a remedy. While they flatter themselves, they cannot endure to be placed in their own rank, and think that injustice is done them, when they are classed with transgressors.
V. Mercy toward the broken ones is a fruit of humility.
And who is better example than our Lord Jesus Christ?
- NAU Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
Jesus says, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” which he quotes from Hosea 6:6. The fact that this quote is from Hosea is itself a direct rebuke to the Pharisees. The religious leaders fully knew the context in which Hosea 6:6 is found. The story of Gomer’s unfaithfulness to her husband Hosea was a powerful illustration of Israel’s unfaithfulness toward God. And Hosea’s continual forgiveness for his unfaithful wife was a mirror picture of God’s mercy toward unfaithful Israel. Hence if there was one group that should have shown mercy and demonstrated humility to other sinners should have been the Pharisees, the religious leaders. That is why Jesus rebuked them to go and learn what this means, namely “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” The point is they neither knew what it said nor what it meant in Scripture.
The implication is much is given, much is required. Let me ask you this question. Has God given you much mercy? If so, then be merciful to others. Don’t look down on others as if you’re better or somehow you’ve earned God’s mercy. Be quick to forgive and demonstrate mercy; and that truly is an evidence of one’s humility.
For a person who acts as a fellow recipient of God’s mercy, yet demonstrates cold, hard, and indifferent attitude to others simply denies the genuine faith. As the people of Sovereign GraceBibleChurch, live and demonstrate God’s grace. It is inconsistent to speak of God’s grace when we fail to grace others who are weak and broken. Remember, comfort the broken, and break the comfortable. Again, mercy toward the broken ones is a fruit of humility and a living evidence of saving grace.
Furthermore, I would like to say that the greatest demonstration of your love, mercy, and compassion to fellow sinners, especially, the ones that are broken is to speak the truth and give them the gospel. In fact I would say that withholding the gospel or failing to speak the truth for fear of men is most unloving, uncaring, and selfish thing to do.
The quote from Hosea 6:6 implies that God is more concerned about a person’s merciful attitude and action than following mere external religious and ceremonial laws. The problem of the Pharisees was that they followed the regulations and the rituals of Judaism with great fervency while their hearts were hard, cold, indifferent, and merciless toward people that perhaps needed mercy the most. That’s why Jesus rebuked them with a challenge to go and learn the meaning of “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” Although God had instituted the sacrificial system in the OT, what Jesus implies is that God does not want religious rituals to become a substitute for inward righteousness and holiness.
Yes, the Pharisee did fast often (vv. 14-15). In fact the Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), but it was not commanded by the Law. They were required to fast only once a year, in the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). And that’s exactly what works-centered salvation and sanctification looks like. Legalism is essence adding to Scripture to gain right standing with God.
To understand what Jesus says in verses 16 and 17 require a little history background. In ancient time goat skins were used to hold wine. As the fresh grape juice fermented, the wine would expand and the new wineskins would stretch. But used skin or old wine skin, already stretched, would break when the new wine goes in.
Some see the new wine as a symbol of the-new-life-work of the Holy Spirit. It is “new” as opposed to old because Jesus brought the new revelation that refers to himself as the authority. There is also the new form of God’s covenant community, namely the church of Jesus Christ, which includes both Jews and Gentiles, as opposed to only ethnic people of Israel in the OT. There is also new expression of worship that excludes ceremonies and rituals.
Hence Jesus brings new life that cannot be contained in the old forms, the old rituals, the old structures, or the old traditions of men. So what Jesus says in verses 16 and 17 is that when there is genuine conversion, especially from religious legalism like Judaism one cannot go back to the old religious system. The new wine is likened to the new life or the new covenant of Jesus and the old wineskins is likened to old ceremonial and ritualistic religion like Judaism. The point is both cannot coexist.
So whom does God forgive? The one who humbly recognizes that he is a sinner and sinful and sees an urgent need of forgiveness from God alone.
And whom does God not forgive? Simply the proud.
With that in mind I would like to conclude this message by pointing out three marks of genuine follower of Jesus Christ from our text.
First, a true follower of Jesus Christ follows the Lord. Like Matthew when Jesus commanded him to follow him he obeyed the words of Jesus. In other words, obedience to the words of Jesus is a wonderful indication that one is a genuine follower of Christ. According to John Calvin, “The true rule of obedience is, that we being content with a bare command, should persuade ourselves that whatever he (God) enjoins is just and right.” Also to quote my good friend Pastor Phil Siefkes, “Obedience is not always easy, but it is always right.”
When you follow Christ, you have to go all the way, not just partially. According to the Puritan Richard Sibbes, “Partial obedience is not obedience at all.” Moreover, I would like to add that when you follow Christ, you have to go all the way joyfully!
Second, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ is merciful toward the unsaved and especially, the broken ones. According to John Blanchard, “Mercy does not insist on its rights, but is prepared to forfeit them for the sake of the greater good [of others.” And this requires a cross-centered humility.
Third, a true follower of Christ forsakes legalism, ritualism, and external traditionalism. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Traditions may be good, but when they become traditionalism, they are bad.”
- NAU Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
 D.A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World (Toronto: Global Christian Publishers, 2001), 211.
 John Calvin, “Harmony of Matthew, Mark, and Luke,” translated by William Pringle in Calvin’s Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 401-2.