Summary: Continuing in a series about the purposes of our church. This is about outreach.
Matthew 9:9-13 – The Reach
Today I want to tell you a story. It’s a good story, too. It has conflict and underhanded dealings. It has redemption and the promise of a bright future ahead. Plus, it’s true. Today’s story comes to you from Matthew 9:9-13. The same story is also in Luke 5. These passages tell about what happened when someone met Jesus. Let’s read.
This story from Matthew took place early in Jesus’ ministry. He’d already been preaching, including the sermon on the mount. He’d already called out to some fishermen named Peter, Andrew, James and John, and they’d been following Him. He’d already healed many people. Jesus had been getting His name spread around town.
And then he showed up to this booth owned by a tax collector who has 2 names: Levi or Matthew. Tax collectors were hated in those days, and I’m not sure things are much different now. In the land of Israel, the governing Romans hired Jewish men to be tax collectors. So, they were from their own people, but working for the enemy. Plus, they were known to hike taxes and pocket the extra.
So this Matthew fellow wasn’t really a guy most decent people would want to spend time with. But I think we already know Jesus was not like most decent people. There’s a Petra song that honestly prays, “And I am glad that You are not at all like me.”
So Jesus came up to Matthew and said, “Follow me.” Very simple, but it changed Matthew’s life. Matthew was a sinful man, and he knew it, and when he was given the chance to leave it behind, he did. That’s just how it was. Matthew heard Jesus calling him, and he got up and obeyed, no questions. Too many people respond when they hear Jesus calling. “Sure, forgive my sins, that would be great!” But when it comes time to follow and serve and obey and leave behind the old things… that isn’t so easy, and they aren’t so willing. And you find the paradox of Christians who aren’t following Jesus. I’ll leave that to Him about whether that’s even possible.
Now, even though Matthew was willing to leave his old ways behind, he was wanting to bring his old friends with him. So here’s what he did. Luke tells us he threw a great banquet in honour of Jesus, and he invited all his old friends: tax collectors and various other sinners. Matthew wanted his friends to meet Jesus, so he organized an event where his friends could rub shoulders with followers of Jesus, over some food and fun, and maybe meet Jesus Himself.
You know, that sounds a lot like what we’re trying to do here at Centreville, when we have games nights, or youth drop-ins, or picnics. It’s not just about food or fun, but about following in Matthew’s footsteps, and as we’ll see, ultimately in Jesus’ footsteps.
Now, what’s interesting is that the naysayers showed up too. Well, maybe they complained after the fact, but they had much to say about Jesus’ antics. They came to the disciples and asked them questions: “This so-called teacher of yours… what business does he have fraternizing with low-lifes? What right does he have socializing with sinners?”
Notice they didn’t ask Jesus. They asked His disciples. They figured they could undermine Jesus’ following by asking tough questions to His followers. It’s no different today. The naysayers will complain to you today. They’ll ask you questions they don’t want the answers to; they just want to undermine your faith. They’ll ask questions like, “Why does God hate gays?” and “Why did God want His people to commit genocide and ethnic cleansing?” and “Don’t you think it’s narrow-minded to say that Jesus is the only way to heaven?” and so on.
What’s neat is that Jesus didn’t make his followers answer these naysayer questions. He stepped in with the answer. Folks, I really don’t think you need to try to answer all the questions that people ask you. You’ve heard me say: You don’t need to attend every argument you get invited to. And there will be questions that you maybe don’t know the answers to. I really think that’s OK. Some people like Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel – or the apostle Paul – delight in answering questions, and if that’s you, go ahead and be you. Others, like the blind man in John 9, try to avoid philosophical and intellectual arguments, and just say, “There’s lots I don’t know, but I know this: Jesus changed me.”
Christian author Donald Miller said this: “My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don’t really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn't exist, and there are some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.” I like that.