Summary: This is the third of a 4 part series adapted from Willow Creek's Contagious Christian Evangelism Training course.
BE CONTAGIOUS: WEEK 3
Scott Bayles, pastor
Adapted from “Rubbing Shoulders with Irreligious People,” by Bill Hybels
and “Friend of Flops,” by Max Lucado
One day, while walking the streets of his home town Nazareth, Jesus came across a young man named Matthew sitting in his tax collector’s booth. Jesus paused for a moment, and then spoke those precious words that every young Jewish boy hoped to hear from a respected Rabbi but so few did: “Come, follow me” (Matthew 9:9). And Matthew did just that. He left his booth and his business behind and set out to follow Jesus.
What makes this invitation so surprising is the one invited—a tax collector. Combine the greed of an embezzling executive with the presumption of a hokey television evangelist, throw in the audacity of ambulance chasing lawyer, stir in a pinch of a pimp’s morality, and finish it off with a drug peddler’s code of ethics—and what do you have?
A first-century tax collector!
To be fair, I’m painting with a rather large brush. Not every tax collector was as slimy as the rest. But, according to the Jews, these guys were about as crooked as corkscrews. Caesar permitted these freelance IRS agents to tax just about anything—your boat, the fish you caught, your house, your crops. As long as Caesar got his cut, these tax collectors could overcharge as much as they wanted and line their pockets with the leftovers. They could tack on 10, 20, 30, 50 or even 100 percent—whatever they wanted—for their own profit. And if anyone didn’t pay up, they could dispatch a cohort of Romans soldiers to do their dirty work. They literally had a license for extortion.
But all that aside, Matthew—whatever his past—must have been ripe for the picking. Jesus hardly had to tug. “‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him” (Matthew 9:9 NLT). Within a punctuation mark, Matthew throws a huge party for all his tax-collecting buddies to announce that he’s closing up shop and signing up for a tour of duty with a Rabbi named Jesus! In the process Matthew—as well as Jesus—teach us some very important lessons in becoming a Contagious Christian! What I want to do this morning is dive right into this story and see what we can learn about being a contagious Christian.
• THE PARTY
It all begins when Matthew decides to throw a party. The Bible says, “Then Levi gave a big dinner for Jesus at his house. Many tax collectors and other people were eating there, too” (Luke 5:29 NCV). Let’s back up a step before we go any farther. What do you suppose led up to this party? Can you imagine Matthew going back to the tax collectors booth and packing up his office? Maybe his co-workers start asking him questions… “Where ya head Matt? The Missus kick you out or something?” Matthew doesn’t know what to say. Maybe he mumbles something about a career change, but he can’t get over the thought that he’s going miss these guys.
They’re not much. I mean, parents warn their daughters about guys like this. Salty language. Mardi Gras morals. But a friend is a friend, right? And being a disciple, meant leaving your friends, your family, your business (and in Matthew case, that was a very lucrative business) behind—in exchange for a life of following in the footsteps of some respected Rabbi.
Later that day, he meets up with Jesus and shares his problem. “It’s my buddies—you know, the guys at the office and the fellas at the tavern.”
“What about them?” Jesus asks.
“Well, I’m gonna miss those guys! I mean, nothing against Peter, James and John, Jesus… but they’re Sunday morning, and my buddies are Saturday night.”
I don’t know who thought of it first, but I’m inclined to believe that this little going-away party was Jesus’ idea. With a smile on his face, Jesus tells Matthew, “Well, how about we get the whole gang together one last time, I’d like to meet your friends!”
That night Matthew’s house is overflowing with both sinners and saints. And the best part is—no one is trying to determine who is which. And this was more than just a going-away party; it was a getting-to-know party! An evangelistic mixer. What I like to call an “outreach party.” Matthew was hoping and praying that Jesus and his fellow disciples might influence some of his tax-collecting buddies by just rubbing shoulders with them in a social setting. Maybe they could build some bridges. Maybe some hearts might be opened. He knew he was heaven bound and he wanted to take as many of his friends with him as he could!
• THE PHARISEES
But, wouldn’t you know it? An hour or so into the evening and the doors opens, and an icy wind blows in. Enter our party crashers—the Pharisees. The Bible says, “The Pharisees and their religion scholars came to his disciples greatly offended. ‘What is he doing eating and drinking with crooks and sinners?’” (Luke 5:30 MSG).