“I did not come to call the righteous.” See commentary on Mark 2:17.
“to repentance.” That Jesus said that he was with the sinners to call them to repentance is huge in light of modern culture. Genuine “repentance” involves a recognition of one’s sin and guilt, confession (publicly or inwardly) of one’s sinful ways, and the decision and action that must be made to change one’s heart and life. For the sinners at Matthew’s feast to repent meant leaving old sinful ways behind and living a life that was acceptable and righteous in the sight of God. It also often meant changing one’s friends. Genuine repentance that involves a change of lifestyle is seldom easy, but each person must decide for themselves how valuable everlasting life and everlasting rewards are.
In today’s culture, there is pressure to believe “I’m ok, you’re ok” and to accept everyone just the way they are no matter how they act. In fact, if you say that how someone lives is not acceptable to you or to God, then you are often accused of “judging,” and not “being loving.” Then, to show that Jesus did not judge, liberal Christians will often bring up how Jesus ate and drank with sinners and accepted them just the way they were. But did he? Actually, Jesus did not accept people “just the way they were.”
Some 2,000 years ago Jesus told the group he was speaking with, “You are in error, because you do not know the Scriptures…” (Matt. 22:29). That is still going on today. When we read the record of Jesus at Matthew’s house, a couple of things jump out. Obviously, Jesus ate and drank with sinners, and we should follow the example of Christ…but we should follow his example completely, not just an edited down version of it.
When the religious leaders asked Jesus’s disciples about eating and drinking with sinners, Jesus told them, “Those who are in health have no need of a physician, but those who are sick do.” When Jesus said that he made his position clear about the people with whom he was eating: they were “sick.” The people were not “ok,” and Jesus did not accept them just as they were without trying to help them. Of course, the people there at the feast were not actually physically sick, but they were sick in a way that they needed a physician, a healer. They were “sick” in the sense that they had turned from God and His ways and were on the path to eternal death. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Prov. 1:7; 9:10), and those who do not obey God are neither wise nor knowledgeable, and in that sense they are “sick,” that is not well, not thinking rightly.
That the people were on a path towards death is why Jesus said he came to call them “to repentance.” Jesus did not come to tell people that they were okay just the way they were. He came to call people back to God, and for those people who were at the feast that meant repenting and changing their lifestyle. For an example of the kinds of things Jesus would have said to the crowd at the feast we need only to read what he said to the crowds at the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-7:29).
Christians need to be careful and wise about those who preach as “God loves you just as you are so you don’t have to change” message. God does love people just as they are, which is why He gives every person, no matter how sinful they are, an open door to change and come to Him. Sadly, those people who are fooled into believing that they don’t have to come to Christ to get saved will find out on Judgment Day—too late to change—that it is not God’s love that saves people; it is Christ’s blood that saves people, which is why each person has to come to Christ and be saved (Rom. 10:9).
[For more on the calling of Matthew see commentary on Matt. 9:9 and commentary on Mark 2:17].