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  • Chad Werkhoven

Matthew 9:9-13 - The Apocry-What?

The Bible is not the only ancient book you're called to learn from!


Matthew 9:9–13 (NIV)

9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”


Listen to passage & devotional:


Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 6: The Difference Between Canonical and Apocryphal Books

We distinguish between these holy books

and the apocryphal ones,

which are the third and fourth books of Esdras;

the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Jesus Sirach, Baruch;

what was added to the Story of Esther;

the Song of the Three Children in the Furnace;

the Story of Susannah;

the Story of Bell and the Dragon;

the Prayer of Manasseh;

and the two books of Maccabees.

The church may certainly read these books

and learn from them

as far as they agree with the canonical books.

But they do not have such power and virtue

that one could confirm

from their testimony

any point of faith or of the Christian religion.

Much less can they detract

from the authority

of the other holy books.



Unsurprisingly, the Internal Revenue Service is the least liked agency within the Federal Government (and I'm sure Revenue Canada enjoys the same distinction up north!). Nobody ever has or ever will like paying taxes. Still, most of us would gladly welcome an employee from one of these agencies into our congregation and rejoice to hear them profess their faith in Christ.

So we get why the first century Jews had disdain for guys like Matthew, who were collecting taxes on behalf of an occupying government, but it's hard for us to appreciate just how deep this hatred ran. This is where Apocryphal Literature helps out: it sheds light on the historical, cultural and religious aspects of these ancient times. It helps us appreciate the gospel accounts through first century Jewish eyes.

Look at the background that 1 Maccabees paints for us on why the Jews hated their occupiers so much. It tells the story of what happened in Israel approximately 170 years before Jesus.

1 Maccabees 1:41–50 

41 Then the [Greek] king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, 42 and that all should give up their particular customs. 43 All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. 44 And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, 45 to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals, 46 to defile the sanctuary and the priests, 47 to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, 48 and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, 49 so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. 50 He added, “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.”


59 On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. 60 According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, 61 and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks.

62 But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. 63 They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. 64 Very great wrath came upon Israel.

It quickly becomes clear that the Jewish people didn't hate their occupiers because of some cheap nationalism, but because they openly and wantonly desecrated the Lord and His temple, and horrifically killed anyone who stood in their way.

Dig Deeper

Our confession encourages us to "learn from" these books, but also makes it clear that these apocryphal books do not carry the authority of inspired scripture. Yet we really can't appreciate how stunning it is that Jesus chose to associate with guys like Matthew and Zacchaeus - men who sided with the God hating and infant murdering occupiers - without reading accounts like this in 1 Maccabees (and there's lots more there!).

Jesus famously says in v12 that "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." As we see Him call Matthew to "follow," we see God Himself reach down into the sickest of cultures - people who heartlessly hung infants simply because they bore the sign of the covenant - in order to bring them Spiritual healing, forgiveness and eternal life.

In a day and age in which it seems our Western culture is rapidly disintegrating, renew your hope and confidence that God's grace can overcome cultures and ideas to which the word 'sick' seems woefully inadequate. Realize this is the same grace which has triumphed in your life, and never make the mistake that the Pharisees made upon seeing Matthew's conversion, by assuming a person is too sick even for the greatest of Physicians.

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, whose grace brings new life to the people who hate Him the most;

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray for the faith to stand as resolute as those ancient Jews who resisted the evil king, and for the grace to share Christ's forgiveness with the very same people;



Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Acts 15


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