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“Who Is Worthy?”
Matthew 9:9-13


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost—July 31, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is today’s Gospel Reading, especially these words of Jesus: “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.”

Twenty years ago the world was saddened by the unexpected death of Jim Henson, creator of the popular Muppet characters used on television’s “Sesame Street” and in many other television shows and movies.  His death was all the more shocking because it was so sudden.  Henson came down with mild flu-like symptoms on a Friday, went to the doctor on Saturday, and died in the hospital on Sunday, the victim of a rare, fast-acting bacterial infection.  Already on Friday Henson was an extremely sick man, but he didn’t go to the doctor then because he thought he just had a mild case of the flu, he didn’t realize how sick he was.

That was the problem with the Pharisees.  They didn’t think they needed a doctor, because they didn’t realize how sick they were—spiritually sick with the deadly disease of sin.  The Pharisees thought they were spiritually healthy, because the Pharisees thought they were righteous.

“If that’s how you feel,” Jesus says, “Then I have nothing to offer you.  It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. . .  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”  To the Pharisees, who thought they knew it all, Jesus quotes from today’s Old Testament Reading in the book of Hosea and says: “Go and learn.  You don’t understand.  Your pretentious good works mean nothing to God.  Your sacrifices are meaningless, unless accompanied by inner faith, and mercy toward your fellow man.”

Jesus puts it even more bluntly in the 23rd chapter of Matthew: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! . . . You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. . . You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and rotten filth.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Like a man who doesn’t go to the doctor because he doesn’t realize how sick he is, the Pharisees didn’t think they needed a physician for their souls, because they had themselves convinced they were spiritually healthy and righteous.  But, inside they were really spiritually sick, full of hypocrisy and wickedness.  That was the problem with the Pharisees, and that is our problem too.

For, we also are living under the mistaken impression that our spiritual sickness isn’t all that bad.  Like the Pharisees, we have deluded ourselves into thinking we have just a mild case of sin, that basically we are spiritual healthy and righteous.  After all, don’t we lead outwardly upright lives?  Aren’t we much better than all those wicked sinners out there in the world?  The symptoms of our sin really don’t seem all that bad.

“If that’s how you feel,” Jesus says, “Then I have nothing to offer you.  It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. . .  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

We are not righteous; we are not spiritually healthy.  We are spiritually sick with the deadly disease of sin.  Like the sick man who must first realize how sick he really is before the doctor can help him, we must first acknowledge and confess our sin, before the Physician of souls can cure our spiritual ills.

Sometimes in the process of curing their patients doctors end up catching the illness themselves.  The Physician of our souls cured our spiritual ills by not just catching what we have, but by actually taking our sin-sickness upon himself.  He was naturally immune from the deadly disease of sin, but for our sakes he took our sin from us, and suffered for it himself.  As Isaiah says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows . . . by his wounds we are healed.”  Paul puts it this way in today’s Epistle Reading: “He was delivered over death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

“Who Is Worthy?”  The Pharisees thought they were worthy because of their own righteousness.  They deluded themselves into thinking they were spiritually healthy.  They didn’t realize just how spiritually sick they really were with the deadly disease of sin.  

“Who Is Worthy?”  Jesus says, ironically, only those are worthy who first acknowledge and confess how unworthy they are: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. . . For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

“Who Is Worthy?”  Christ is the Physician for our sin-sick souls.  And therefore Christ’s Church is not a museum for the pretentious display of those who consider themselves perfect, as the Pharisees thought.  “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. . .  It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  Jesus says his Church is a hospital for those who know they are spiritually sick and seek from the Physician of souls his forgiveness and healing.  Recognize your need for a spiritual healer; acknowledge your spiritual sickness; confess your deadly disease of sin. 

“Who Is Worthy?”  You are worthy, because Jesus came to save sinners like you and me.  You are worthy, because the Physician of your soul took your sin-sickness upon himself.  You are worthy, because Jesus forgives all your sin and heals all your spiritual diseases.  You are worthy, because in God’s sight Jesus declares your soul spiritually clean, healthy, cured, righteous.  Not because of your own works—it is the gift of God.

Just as you commit the care of your body to an earthly doctor whom you trust, trust in Jesus, your spiritual Physician, and commit your soul to him.    “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. . .  It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  By committing yourself to the Physician of souls and trusting in him for spiritual healing you are cured of your sin-sickness, you are worthy for eternal life.

Amen.

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