Sermon 06-11-2023: “More Loved and Accepted Than You Hoped”

Scripture: Matthew 9:9-13;18-26

In April, Jon Rahm, a golfer from Spain, won the Masters Tournament in Augusta. Most of you know that when you win the Masters, you receive the coveted green jacket. All golfers aspire to wear the green jacket! So Rahm was asked in an interview what the “rules” are for wearing the green jacket. Many of you golfers know the first rule: You can only keep the jacket for one year… unless you win it again at the next year’s tournament. One year at a time. Second rule: Whenever you wear the green jacket during the next year, you must wear at least “golf attire” underneath the jacket. Basically you have to at least dress as well as Keith Watson, which of course is not hard to do. But it does mean you can’t wear the jacket with jeans… or shorts… or pajamas… or swim trunks.

Listen, you laugh, but if I won the Masters you better believe I’d be tempted to sleep in that green jacket! I’d be tempted to wear that thing to the beach! I wouldn’t care!

Third rule: before you wear the green jacket in public, you must request and receive authorization from Augusta National first in order to do so. 

Jon Rahm said there are actually many more rules, but those were just a few that came to mind. 1

You’ve gotta admit, the man who currently wears the green jacket, along with those favored few over the past century who’ve worn it… they belong to a very elite, very exclusive, very honorable club. Gaining admission into that club is nearly impossible.

And this club is not entirely unlike the elite, exclusive, honorable and “nearly impossible to join” club that the Pharisees in verses 9 through 13 belong to… It was a club of religious people who, by keeping the Ten Commandments and the rest of God’s law—as they interpret it—have proven themselves worthy of admission into God’s kingdom… or so they believed. 

In the eyes of their countrymen, these Pharisees are men who’ve competed in the “Masters of Moral Achievement” tournament and have won the coveted green jacket!

And at this point in Jesus’ ministry in today’s scripture, most of the Pharisees are ready to bestow the “green jacket” on Jesus himself. The Pharisees mostly admire Jesus and his righteousness.

And then—oh boy—Jesus shows up in the home of Matthew, a tax collector, and shares a meal not only with him but with all of his “tax collector” friends and fellow “sinners.” Any true “green jacket winner” should know better than to do this!

So they ask Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 

And Jesus responds with words that are the heart of today’s scripture: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means”—and here Jesus quotes from Hosea 6:6—“‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’” Then Jesus said, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

This sermon will explore the meaning of these words of Jesus… And to help me do this, I want to borrow a favorite saying of the late Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller—he said this many times over the years and he tweeted it out: “The gospel says you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, but more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.” 

So… Point Number One: “The gospel says you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe.” Point Number Two: “The gospel also says you are more accepted and loved by God than you ever dared hope.” And Point Number Three: See Point Number Two.

Let’s begin by looking at what happened immediately before today’s scripture. It’s a familiar story. If you have your Bibles—and you should—let’s turn to Matthew 9, verses 1 to 8. Jesus healed the paralytic whose four friends had brought him to Jesus. We learn from the other gospel accounts that they had to haul their friend and the bed on which they were carrying him to the roof; they had to break a hole in the roof; they had to lower him down to Jesus… because the house was too crowded for them to take their friend to Jesus. 

And Jesus, you may recall, first forgives the man’s sins and then heals him physically. And the formerly paralyzed man gets up and walks.

Now look at verse 8: “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”

So why are the people in this crowd glorifying God? 

And you say, “Oh, that’s easy! Because Jesus performed a physical healing! Everyone gets excited about miracles, right?” But that’s not what scripture says. They’re glorifying God, Matthew says, because God had, quote,“given such authority to men”—and the man in this case is Jesus. And what authority is that? The authority Jesus mentions in verse 6: “authority on earth to forgive sins.” Do you see that?

The people in that crowd are overjoyed that this man Jesus can forgive sins. Why?

To answer this question, we have to understand what the Pharisees—the Bible teachers of their day—were teaching the people. The Pharisees were teaching that only through strict adherence to God’s law, as the Pharisees interpreted it, could people be saved. And just to be safe, the Pharisees added many, many additional laws to the laws that were written in scripture. And if you followed all these laws, and you did all these things just right, as the Pharisees understood it, then and only then would you be accepted by God… just like the Pharisees believed that they were accepted by God.

Forgiveness of sin and salvation, as far as Pharisees were concerned, required winning the “Masters of Moral Achievement” tournament. 

And up to this point in their lives—up until the very moment that Jesus forgave the paralytic—the people in the crowd knew that they had not lived the kind of righteous lives that would earn them a green jacket.

Most of the people in this crowd knew that they were complete moral and religious failures. They knew, as Isaiah said, that they were “all infected and impure with sin. When [they] display[ed] [their] righteous deeds, they [were] nothing but filthy rags.” 2 They knew, as the psalmists said, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” 3 They knew that “[i]f you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” 4 They knew they couldn’t! They knew they fell far short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness.

So… the fact that Jesus had forgiven a “complete moral failure” like this paralyzed man meant that maybe, just maybe, there was hope for the people in the crowd, who were also “complete moral failures”! They thought, “If even that guy can have his sins forgiven, then there might be hope for someone like me!” 

By the way, you may wonder why the people would have thought the paralyzed man was unrighteous. It’s because of an ancient and unbiblical Jewish belief that the man’s disability was caused by his sin. It’s the same thing we see in John chapter 9, when Jesus heals the man born blind. In verse 2, Jesus’ disciples ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Somebody had to have sinned, otherwise he wouldn’t be like this… The same goes for this paralytic… The same goes for the hemorrhaging woman in today’s scripture.

Anyway, if verses 1 through 8 offered the people a glimpse of God’s grace, well… in verses 9 to 13, Jesus’ words and actions imply a kind of grace on steroids…The idea that God’s forgiveness and mercy would extend even to tax collectors and other notorious sinners was unimaginable! Tax collectors, after all, were considered especially bad people… they were greedy thieves, they were enemy collaborators, they were traitors to the Jewish cause of political freedom. Tax collectors were certainly worse than that paralyzed man! 

Again, if forgiveness of sins and salvation were being offered to men like Matthew, the people thought, maybe there’s hope for someone like me. Jesus seemed to be saying that no “green jacket” of moral achievement was necessary!

See, the Pharisees were wrong because they were teaching people that keeping God’s law and becoming righteous enough to be saved was very difficult… but doable. Difficult but doable… That’s what the Pharisees were teaching.

But Jesus and the New Testament writers and apostles show again and again that keeping God’s law was not merely “difficult but doable”; keeping God’s law was impossible. And only God’s Son Jesus could do it for us—on our behalf. Only God’s Son Jesus could live the live of perfect obedience to our Father that we were unable to live and die the God-forsaken death for us that we deserved to die!

And this was God’s plan all along… for all eternity! 

The main purpose of the Ten Commandments and the rest of God’s law was to show us how far short of God’s standards of righteousness we sinful human beings fall! The main point was to show us that we can never be righteous enough to earn salvation. The main purpose was to show us how desperately we need a Savior!

And that’s Point Number One: “The gospel says you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe.”

But Point Number Two: “The gospel also says you are more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.”

To see this, consider the hemorrhaging woman in verse 20. She knew that she herself was a complete moral failure… a helpless sinner… someone who would never win the green jacket.

But she also knew that Jesus could heal her of this disease! So she thought, in verse 21, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.”

Do you get the picture? Granted, the picture is much clearer in the fuller accounts of this same event that are recorded in the gospels of Mark and Luke. 5 See, instead of approaching Jesus directly and asking him for a miracle, the woman sneaks up from behind Jesus, in secret, and touches Jesus’ garment. She does not intend to make herself known to Jesus. In fact, she’s hoping that she can receive this healing miracle without Jesus even noticing. But Mark tells us that Jesus actually felt his healing power surge out of him. 6 So he stops what he’s doing… and asks who touched him… I think he already knew, of course, but he was waiting for this woman to come forward and identify herself publicly.

My heart goes out to her. She didn’t understand yet that Jesus was God in the flesh; no one, not even Jesus’ disciples, understood that at this point. But she did understand that Jesus was God’s special representative here on earth, that Jesus enjoyed God’s favor, that Jesus was so close to God that to approach Jesus was to approach God himself. And this terrified her… because she knew herself to be a sinner.

She believed that because of her sins, God could never accept her… and therefore Jesus would never accept her. So the best she could hope for was to sneak up on Jesus and steal some grace from him, to steal a little healing miracle from him. Because after all, who was she? She wasn’t righteous. She hadn’t won the green jacket. She was a helpless sinner. 

Because of her sins, she just knew that Jesus, and his heavenly Father, would reject her, if he found out what she was up to!

And Jesus, to her astonishment, proves her wrong… He says in Mark 5:34: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Jesus loved her so much that he made her a beloved and highly favored “daughter” of God. She is a child of God! She now enjoys “peace” with God—because not only has Jesus healed her of her physical ailment, he’s healed her of a far deeper problem: her sin problem… her estrangement from God.

You see, Jesus made this woman realize something that she hadn’t yet learned: And this is Point Number Two: she is “more accepted and loved by God than she ever dared hope.”

And if you and I are in Christ, the exact same thing is true for us. We are “more accepted and loved by God than we ever dared hope.”

Can we comprehend what that means?

I’ve told you before I’m adopted. My mom told me not long before she died many years ago that after she and Dad adopted me and took me home to live with them, she lived in fear—for about two years… she lived in fear that someone from the government, or someone from the adoption agency, or someone from the police department was going to show up at the door, “I’m sorry, Mrs. White… There’s been a mistake. We’re going to have to take Brent back, give him to someone else.”

For most of my life, I never knew that Mom wrestled with those kinds of fears. Maybe some of you who are adoptive parents know that feeling?

But then Mom said, “I don’t know why I was afraid that was going to happen. After all, I wasn’t going to let that happen. No one was going to take you away from me. I would have fought with all my might to keep you! If someone tried to take you away from me, they would have had to kill me first. Because that’s how much I love you.”

Those are almost the sweetest words anyone has ever spoken about me! 

Almost…

Because, brothers and sisters, God says the same thing about you and me… in his Word… God says, “No one is going to take you away from me. I’ll fight for you. And I’ll even die for you. Because that’s how much I love you.”

And then God, in the Person of his Son Jesus, did exactly that. That’s how much God loves you!

Point Number Two: “The gospel also says you are more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.”

And Point Number Three… See Point Number Two

I’m only half-joking… But how desperately we need to remind ourselves again and again of this gospel truth: “The gospel says you are more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.” 

How much needless worry and fear and anger and sadness and depression do we endure because we somehow think that God our Father loves us less than our own very imperfect and sinful human fathers and mothers love us… For most of us most of the time, our human parents love us more than life itself; they would take a bullet for us; they would jump in front of a bus for us. And there’s really nothing we could do to make our human parents stop loving us.

But despite all the promises in scripture to the contrary, we somehow think God loves us less than that!

We think God is mad at us, and he’s holding a grudge against us, and he’s keeping us at arm’s length, and even if he forgives us he doesn’t really want to—because, after all, we stink. We think God must surely love all his other children much more than he loves us—because we’re the worst… We think, even if God made us part of his family, we must be the black sheep. We think God is always disappointed in us. We think God has grown weary of having to forgive us over and over again.

See, maybe we’re not so different from this hemorrhaging woman in verse 21: “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 

“If only…”

What she’s saying is, “Of course I know Jesus doesn’t want to do this good thing for me—because who am I after all?—but if only I do this thing just right, maybe, just maybe, I’ll receive what I need from him… if only I…

Listen, you won’t believe this, but just last week my boys accused meme!—of spoiling my beloved English springer spaniel Ringo… No way! They accused me of letting Ringo get away with murder… They pointed out the many ways that Ringo misbehaves, and they said that I—Ringo’s father—just seems to not even care… They said I’m not nearly as firm with Ringo as I should be… They said I don’t discipline him nearly as much as I ought to… 

And I said, “Why on earth would I discipline him? The dog is absolutely perfect in every way! You’ll never convince me otherwise!”

Look, it’s not that Ringo is perfect; it’s that he can do no wrong in my eyes—and, yes, if I were a more responsible pet owner, perhaps I should take “corrective actions” more often… Okay, fine…

But here’s what I know for sure about Ringo: No wrong that he could ever do would prevent him from being absolutely perfect in my eyes! No wrong that he could ever do would prevent me from loving him to the fullest extent possible! Even if I disciplined him more often—because my kids are right, I’m really terrible at that—but even if I did discipline him more often, he would still be absolutely perfect to me. His misbehavior wouldn’t affect this great love and affection that I feel for him; his misbehavior would affect how I see him. I’m crazy about dog. He melts my heart!

In other words, there is no “if only” when it comes to my undying love for Ringo! If he were capable of thinking human thoughts, Ringo would never have to think, “If only I… dot, dot, dotthen Brent might do this good thing for me.” Are you kidding? If there’s a “good thing” that needs to be done for Ringo, I’ll do it… If there’s some good thing to give Ringo, I’ll give it. He doesn’t have to do anything. He doesn’t have to earn it. He doesn’t have to deserve it. 

Forget “if only”… There is no “if only” when it comes to my love for Ringo… when it comes to my grace toward Ringo… when it comes to my mercy toward Ringo… when it comes to favor toward Ringo… when it comes to my kindness toward Ringo! There is no if only!

And here’s the good news: If you are in Christ, there is no “if only” when it comes to God’s love for you—his grace, mercy, favor, and kindness toward you!

Do we believe it?

If you are a Christian—that is, if you’ve been born again through faith in Christ—God is not waiting for you to get your act together first… to prove that you deserve it, to show that you can earn it… and only then will God show you his favor, or do this good thing for you, or have mercy on you. That’s not how grace works!

Listen, I know that our church is facing an uncertain future right now due mostly to circumstances beyond our control. We don’t know what’s going to happen. And some of you are anxious and afraid. I personally am not anxious about it. It surprises that I’m not—because I’m anxious about plenty other things; but the United Methodist Church and our church’s future in it, is not one of them.

But I do know this: Whether we leave or stay, it won’t be because—unlike those nasty progressives, or unlike those nasty conservatives, we are righteous, we are faithful to God’s Word, we deserve for God to shower his blessings on us… Not at all! We have failed in a thousand-and-one different ways to obey God’s will… and be faithful to his Word… and to love him and to love our neighbor… If we think otherwise, who are we kidding?

The good news is, it doesn’t matter. The good news is, God isn’t holding our past sins and failures and foolish decisions against us. We can pray to our heavenly Father with confidence, knowing that he loves us like a human father, except absolutely perfectly and to the fullest extent possible, and he wants to give us what we pray for!

Do we believe it? Are we praying like we believe it?

And this is true in our personal lives as well…

If only I can quit drinking, God will love me more.” No. “If only I can kick this addiction, God will love me more.” No. “If only I can undo the harm I’ve done to my family, God will love me more.” No. “If only I quit indulging in sexual sin, God will love me more.” No. “If only I can save my marriage, God will love me more.” No. “If only I can stop being lazy, God will love me more.” No. 

“If only I can have a consistent quiet time, God will love me more.” No. “If only I can pray more often, God will love me more.” No. “If only I can have self-control and stop overeating and lose some weight, God will love me more.” No. “If only I can stick to my ‘read the Bible in a year’ plan, God will love me more.” No. “If only I can control my temper, God will love me more.” No. “If only I can pray more often, God will love me more.” No. “If only I can have the courage to witness to that friend at work, God will love me more.” No. “If only I can become more generous, God will love me more.” No. “If only I can become less selfish, God will love me more.” No.

Could I be clearer? When it comes to God’s love and grace and mercy and favor and kindness toward his children through faith in Christ, there is no “if only”!

If you are in Christ—to put it in human terms—God is crazy about you. If you are in Christ, you melt God’s heart. If you are in Christ, of course God knows you’re not perfect, but he loves you as if you were perfect. He loves you to the fullest extent possible, and he couldn’t love you more… How could it be otherwise? 

You’ve been justified. God sees you as if you had never sinned at all. Also, God has imputed the righteousness of his Son Jesus to you—in other words, God sees you clothed in the perfect righteousness of his Son Jesus. 

I’m not saying, of course, that God doesn’t want to sanctify you by his Holy Spirit—to change you from within, even by using discipline… Of course he does… What loving Father wouldn’t? 

Look, Matthew the tax collector changes. He leaves his tax booth behind, and with it, many of the  corrupt and sinful practices that accompanied it. By all means! He becomes one of Christ’s twelve disciples. He changes, praise God. 

But Matthew is saved the very moment he answers Christ’s call to follow. Jesus doesn’t fold his arms and say, “Let’s wait and see how you do.” No, the love, the grace, the mercy, the favor, the kindness that Jesus extends to Matthew does not depend at all on Matthew’s future performance. Matthew doesn’t have to do anything other than to answer the call… Matthew answers the call and he receives every bit of the love, grace, mercy, favor, and kindness that God has for each one of his children!

There is no “if only” with God. If you’re in Christ, God isn’t withholding even the tiniest fraction of his love and favor from you. God is crazy about you. You melt his heart. He loves you as if you were perfect.

“The gospel means you are more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.”

May God give us the grace to believe it, and to rest in that knowledge

Amen.

  1.  Alex Myers, “Jon Rahm Reveals Augusta National’s Super Strict Rules for Wearing the Green Jacket,” 20 April 2023, golfdigest.com. Accessed 8 June 2023.
  2.  Isaiah 64:6 NLT
  3.  Cited from Romans 6:10-12 NLT
  4.  Psalm 130:3 ESV
  5.  See Mark 5:22-43 and Luke 8:41-56.
  6.  Mark 5:30

One thought on “Sermon 06-11-2023: “More Loved and Accepted Than You Hoped””

  1. Brent, I agree that God loves all his children who have chosen him through faith and repentance and won’t stop doing so (unlike some who believe you can “fall from grace”–though there are certainly some passages which could support this last). However, I guess I don’t agree that the extent of God’s love is unconditional as relates to our obedience or not to his commands. I believe Jesus said to the effect in John that if we keep his commandments, he will love us and the Father will love us. Of course, he loves us even if we don’t to some degree if we are his children, but I don’t know why he would have said that if obeying commands was irrelevant to his degree of love for us.

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