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If you are someone who likes the status quo – who likes things to continue on as they always have – this message should be unsettling to you. If you like to live in the bubble of your own little comfort zone … if you have some legalistic tendencies based around religious traditions handed down from generation to generation, this message should raise your blood pressure. Certainly the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day took offense at some of His surprising practices. These self righteous religious leaders were characterized by separatist prejudice and legalistic tradition.

James Edwards: Jesus is in a standing debate with Pharisaism, primarily over the issue of tradition. The essential difference is especially evident in Mark 7:1-23, in which Jesus accuses the Pharisees of overvaluing oral tradition and undervaluing the intent of the law itself. By Jesus’ day the original fervor and vitality of Pharisaism had calcified into a formalism at myriad points of practice and observance, in which conformity to legal prescriptions replaced the disposition of the heart, thus distorting the true intent of the law. Believing that Torah was prescriptive for all of life, the Pharisees wove an increasingly intricate web of regulations around it, whose purpose may have been to honor Torah,. But whose effect was a confining and even crushing burden on human existence.

Our passage today finds us in the middle of a series of incidents showing the increasing intensity of attacks against Jesus as He ministers in Capernaum – his home base of operations on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The authority of Jesus continues to be demonstrated on a variety of fronts as He casts out demons, heals the sick, teaches with power, heals the outcast leper and then emphasizes the priority of the forgiveness of sins in the healing of the paralytic.

Life will never be the same in this new Messianic Age. There is certainly continuity in terms of the people of God in OT times being children of Abraham by faith just as under the New Covenant the only way to come to God is by repentance and faith. But with the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the introduction of the New Covenant we have progressed to a new understanding of what it means to be devoted to God in this Messianic Age. Certainly in contrast to the unsaved religious leaders of the establishment, the teaching and practices of Jesus were shocking.


Transition (:13) – Expanding Public Ministry / Priority on Teaching Ministry

“And He went out again by the seashore; and all the multitude were coming to Him,

and He was teaching them.”

Crowd control issues forced Jesus to find venues that could accommodate His public teaching ministry

Continued to put the priority on teaching and preaching

A. (:14-15) Practice of Jesus Regarding Close Association with Exploiters and Sinners

1. (:14) Calling of Levi the Tax Collector to Discipleship

“And as He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax office, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he rose and followed Him.”

Toll booth on the road that ran from Damascus through Capernaum to the Mediterranean coast

No going back for a tax collector to his prior profession (not like a fisherman who could easily take up his craft again)

Goins: Levi is almost universally identified as the author of the gospel of Matthew because there Matthew identifies himself as the tax collector who is called by Jesus and who responds to the invitation (Matthew 9:9-10). . .

Levi has tremendous need. If anybody struggles with sin issues, it’s this guy! First, he is a tax collector. Tax collectors were despised by the Jews because they turned against their own people and collaborated with the army of occupation, the hated Romans.

Second, tax collectors gouged their fellow citizens, and because of that most of them were very wealthy. They were hated, so they were isolated from normal social life in Israel.

Third, tax collectors were outcasts from synagogues and the temple because they were unclean. They weren’t allowed to take part in any of the spiritual life in the nation. They were rejected by all the religious leaders.

Constable: The Jews despised tax collectors because they worked for the Romans and because they often extorted money for Rome from their fellow Jews. Levi worked for Herod Antipas since he lived in Capernaum. . . The taxes Levi collected at his “tax booth” included: export and import fees, sales and custom taxes, and various tolls. Levi gave up a lucrative business when he chose to follow Jesus. A fisherman might return to fishing, but a tax collector could not return to his job, since many people competed for this career—even though it involved social ostracism.

Stedman: Levi evidently was Matthew’s given name. It is likely that Jesus is the one who changed his name to Matthew. He renamed several disciples. He said to Simon the son of Jonas, “You shall be called Peter,” i.e., “rock”. He nicknamed James and John, the sons of Zebedee, “sons of thunder.” So it is very likely (although Scripture does not say so) that it was Jesus who changed Levi’s name to Matthew, which means “gift of God.” Perhaps that is how Jesus thought of him.

2. (:15) Eating and Drinking with Tax Collectors and Sinners

“And it came about that He was reclining at the table in his house,

and many tax-gatherers and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples;

for there were many of them, and they were following Him.”

Best way to take the pronouns — Jesus was reclining at the table in Levi’s house (Luke 5:29) – “Levi made him a great feast in his house”

Jesus was actively showing Levi how to be a fisher of men – on the job training; not text book study

Many disciples present here – not just the five He had called as part of the inner apostolic circle

Stedman: This evidently was a farewell dinner Matthew gave for his friends, his tax-collecting buddies. He was saying farewell to his work and friends, and leaving to follow One who would travel from place to place. It was also an opportunity to introduce them to his new found Lord. It was therefore a normal, natural occasion of festivity and joy as they gathered together for this feast.

Constable: Eating a meal together meant something in Jesus’ world that it does not mean today in the West. Hospitality was a sacred duty in the ancient Near East. When someone invited someone else to eat with him, he was extending a pledge of loyalty and protection to that person. To accept an invitation to dinner implied a willingness to become a close friend of the host. Jesus’ acceptance of table fellowship with “sinners” (i.e., outcasts) conveyed by action the forgiveness that He gave verbally in 2:5.

Scott Grant: Tax collectors and sinners are outcasts from the synagogue, the place of worship. They can’t go to the synagogue, and probably wouldn’t want to, anyway. Jesus, however, goes to them. He enters Levi’s house and dines with his people. He steps into Levi’s world.

B. (:16) Complaint of the Jewish Religious Leaders –

Erroneous View of Separation and the Blinders of Prejudices

“And when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers, they began saying to His disciples, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?’”

MacArthur: Well, the call of Matthew in the community of sinners leads, thirdly, to the contempt of the self-righteous…the contempt of the self-righteous. The Pharisees can’t let this go, they’re always around, always dogging the steps of Jesus. You do remember, of course, that they never leave Him alone, they are absolutely relentless.

There will always be certain groups or certain individuals that you have great difficulty connecting with – people that you can’t imagine will ever come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ – You will be surprised at how God specializes in saving the Unsavable!

I don’t like churches that limit their target congregation to one particular group of people:

– Church of converted Jews

– Church of mainly college age students

Church needs to be all-inclusive – no distinction in Christ between Jew and Gentile; all races and economic statuses are welcome; not a place for prejudice

Van Parunak: Don’t confuse with NT command not to eat with sinners (1 Cor. 5:9-13), where the motive is not our own purity but the reform of the sinner (v.5).

C. (:17a) Proverb by Way of Illustration

“And hearing this, Jesus said to them,

‘it is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick;”

This doctor makes house calls! He takes the initiative to reach out to the sick.

Can’t always be preaching to the choir; can’t stay in the holy huddle; can’t just immerse ourselves in the fellowship bubble

Jesus not associating with sinners in such a fashion that they corrupt His life; but rather as a physician must come in contact with the sick and hurting in order to heal them

Also can’t expect to have much of an impact on the self righteous religious experts until God breaks them in some form or fashion

Stedman: We meet people today who are “self-sufficient,” who think they do not need God at all. I have long ago learned that the best way to treat them is to smile and be friendly, and let them go their way. Life itself will teach them they are wrong. Sooner or later the bottom will drop out and all their dreams of self-reliance will collapse about their feet. Then is the time you can talk to them; then they will be listening.

Goins: Jesus turns the question back on the Pharisees in the last phrase in verse 17. He is saying repentance is impossible for self-righteous, respectable, spiritually self-sufficient people. You see, the gospel has nothing to say to people who really believe they have it all together spiritually. Jesus is suggesting that tax collectors and sinners are much more open to truth. They know their need better than the well-trained professional religionists.

Wessel: Jesus’ call is to salvation; and, in order to share in it, there must be a recognition of need. A self-righteous man is incapable of recognizing that need, but a sinner can.

D. (:17b) Rationale

“I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

Stedman: I love the words of C. T. Studd, that brilliant young Englishman who gave away a fortune, that he might go out to the forests of Africa. He put his philosophy this way:

Some like to dwell

Within the sound

Of church and chapel bell.

But I want to run a rescue shop

Within a yard of Hell.

That was the philosophy of Jesus, too.



A. (:18) Practice of Disciples of Jesus and Complaint of Jewish Religious Leaders –

Erroneous View of Ascetic Practices and the Baggage of Tradition

“And John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they came and said to Him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?’”

MacArthur: Now frequently, conflict with Jesus and the leaders of Israel, the Pharisees and the scribes, is built around questions. Those questions seem most of the time to have to do with Jesus’ contrary behavior. Either He’s violating one of their laws, traditions, or He’s doing something on the Sabbath that He shouldn’t be doing, or there’s some behavior in which His disciples are engaged, which is a breech of their tradition. This launches the conflict, and that is the case here. . .

In Luke’s version, Luke says the disciples of John often fast and offer prayers and the two were linked together. And the disciples of the Pharisees do the same. Why don’t You do that? But the truth of the matter was, there was only one fast in the Old Testament required. That’s right. In the entire Old Testament, there’s only one required fast. According to Leviticus 16:29 to 31, it was required that on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, they fast. In fact, it says in that text, “You’re to humble your soul, or afflict your soul, and the Hebrew word used there is commonly used of restraining or refraining from eating. Only one fast is prescribed, only one fast is demanded.

However, there are many occasions in the Old Testament where people fasted voluntarily, and always connected with sorrowful, heart-breaking prayer. You read about that in Esther 4. You read about it in Isaiah 58 . . . You read about it in 1 Kings 21; Joel chapter 1. And through the years, the Old Testament and the intertestamental period, and up until the time of Jesus, people did voluntarily fast to pray, as people do even now. Christian people do when they are exercised over something that captures their heart to such a degree that they have no interest in eating. But in the Jewish history, you can find one day fasts, you can find three-day fasts. You can find seven-day fasts. You can find twenty-one day fasts. You can find even 40 day fasts, such as Exodus 34, Deuteronomy 9, and 1 Kings 19, and that’s what Jesus did. He was fasting 40 days when He was tempted in the wilderness. So there are examples of voluntary fasts.

Grassmick: the Pharisees promoted voluntary fasts on every Monday and Thursday (cf. Luke 18:12) as an act of piety

Hendriksen: possible that both groups were fasting for the same reason – John was an ascetic . . . He emphasized sin and the necessity of turning away from it. It is not inconceivable, therefore, that he may have encouraged fating as an expression of mourning for sin, the very reason which the Pharisees probably also gave for much of their fasting (cf. Matt. 6:16).

Goins: Fasting in the Old Testament was a very private and personal thing before the Lord. But in the first century religious tradition, the legalism of the Pharisees has gone way beyond that. They fast often and publicly because they want everybody to know it. They make everybody else feel inferior to their zealous, religious discipline. John’s disciples are in mourning because of his imprisonment, and they are very impressionable. They look up to these spiritual giants, the Pharisees, and are influenced by this carnal religiosity that requires fasting.

B. (:19-20) Rationale – Wedding Feast Metaphor

“And Jesus said to them, ‘While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom do not fast, do they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.’”

John 3:28-30

Goins: Relationship to Jesus brings joy. A love relationship with the bridegroom means spontaneous devotion to him. Love doesn’t demand performance of religious ritual or observance. Jesus is saying, “You can’t make my disciples fast.” He says the behavior of his disciples isn’t motivated by duty or obligation or Pharisaical legalism, but by love and devotion to him.

Religious law demands external piety, but God’s love creates internal authenticity. Religious law controls behavior, but God’s love changes hearts. When the love of Jesus Christ is what constrains us, then life becomes a beautiful tapestry in which the good and the bad, the difficult and the wonderful, the tears and the laughter, receiving and giving, repentance and celebration are all woven together. There is a balance in all these things in the Christian life. It is absolutely normal and respectable to be spontaneous, because God’s amazing, joyful blessings are being poured into our lives.

Scott Grant: The prophets predicted that the coming of the kingdom of God would be like a wedding in which God, the bridegroom, would marry his people (Isaiah 54:5, 62:4-5, Hosea 2:14-20). With the presence of Jesus, the kingdom is coming, and the divine-human wedding is imminent. The day that Jews had been fasting for has come. If ever there was a time for joy, this is it.

Early prediction of Christ’s death on the cross

Wiersbe: Jesus was not suggesting that His absence from earth would mean that His followers would have to replace the feast with a funeral! He was only pointing out that occasional fasting would be proper at a future time, but that joyful celebration should be the normal experience of believers.

C. (:21-22) Two Illustrations (Metaphors)

1. (:21) Old Garment vs New Garment

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results.”

Scott Grant: The final two illustrations both concern something old being unable to adapt to something new. . . The prophets not only compared the new age to a wedding, they also said it would feature new garments and new wine (Isaiah 52:1, Joel 2:18-19).

Goins: He says, “You don’t patch this new arrangement for living in me onto the old arrangement of living under religious tradition and law. You always wear new, good-looking clothes to a party. New fabric isn’t used to repair old garments. It would be silly. It would look bad, and you would eventually ruin the garment anyway, because it is very old and weak, so you would have wasted a perfectly good piece of brand-new fabric in the process.” Jesus came to clothe us in new garments.

In a beautiful Messianic prophecy, Isaiah anticipates the new party clothes that we get to wear, because we are the bride and Jesus is the bridegroom. Isaiah 61:10 (NIV):

“I delight greatly in the LORD;

my soul rejoices in my God.

For he has clothed me with garments of salvation

and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,

and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

Edwards: Both parables are about the relation of Jesus, of Christianity indeed, to traditional Judaism. The parables illustrate the radical posture and presumption of Jesus. Jesus is the new patch and the new wine. He is not an attachment, addition, or appendage to the status quo. He cannot be integrated into or contained by preexisting structures, even Judaism, Torah, and the synagogue. He is, of course, neither ascetic nor anarchist, and thus he participates as a human being in human structures. . . The question posed by the image of the wedding feast and the two atom-=like parables is not whether disciples will, like sewing anew patch on an old garment or refilling an old container, make room for Jesus in their already full agendas and lives. The question is whether they will forsake business as usual and join the wedding celebration; whether they will become entirely new receptacles for the expanding fermentation of Jesus and the gospel in their lives.

2. (:22) Old Wineskins vs New Wineskins

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

Constable: the messianic age that Jesus would introduce would render the old traditional forms of Judaism obsolete. Judaism had become “old,” and Jesus was going to set up a “new” form of God’s kingdom on earth that would be similar to a new garment (cf. Heb. 8:13), the messianic kingdom.

A “garment” symbolized the covering of man’s sinful condition in Old Testament usage (e.g., Gen. 3:21; Isa. 61:10). The Jews were to lay aside “the old garment” of the Mosaic dispensation, and put on “the new” of the messianic age. Judaism had also become rigid and inflexible because of the traditions that had encrusted it, like old goatskins that contained wine. Jesus’ kingdom could not operate within those constraints. It would be a new and more flexible vehicle for bringing joy (“new wine”) to humanity.

Goins: In the Old Testament wine is a symbol of joy. At the final Passover meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples, he chose wine as a symbol of this New-Covenant arrangement for living in relationship to God. This new life that he offers, life in the Holy Spirit, is powerful, dynamic, exhilarating. It’s like new wine, which is still in the process of fermentation. It is much too volatile and active and strong to be enclosed in stiff, rigid, old forms of traditional religion. There is a basic incompatibility between the old and the new. Hebrews 7:18-19 contrasts the old arrangement and the new arrangement: “On the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope through which we draw near to God.” Religious prejudice and tradition restrict and inhibit. In the traditions of religion you keep God at arm’s length. But God wants to draw us close to him. And he wants to help us learn to live a life of acceptance and openness to other people no matter what their lifestyle choices, to embrace a life of freedom and flexibility in Jesus Christ.


Doug Goins: Hopefully, we’re becoming more and more like Matthew. You have only two choices. You follow Jesus like Matthew, which leads to celebration, or you end up being like the Pharisees, standing outside looking in, being grumpy, critical, judgmental, and accusing. It’s a pretty simple choice. You follow Jesus into a life of increasing freedom and joy and spontaneity and flexibility, or you become stiff and rigid and resentful and resistant to the work of the Spirit. I want to be more like Matthew, this converted tax collector, and the great thing is that God really does have wonderful plans for our lives if we choose to follow him that way.