As we read through the gospels we make some surprising discoveries about Jesus – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are written by those who were with Jesus and we get to see how Jesus lived, engaged with people, who he was friendly with and who wanted to spend time with him. Scripture tells us that large crowds would regularly follow Jesus to listen to him teach and preach. This passage of scripture details Jesus invitation to Matthew to follow him.
Read Matthew 9:9-13
Matthew was a tax collector; tax collectors were despised because they were partnering with Rome to collect taxes. This system led abuse by those collecting taxes. So when Jesus called Matthew, he called someone whom all men hated. Here is one of the greatest instances in the New Testament of Jesus’ power to not only see what a man was, but also what he could be. No one ever had such faith in the possibilities of human nature as Jesus had.
Matthew then holds a dinner with his friends that Jesus attends. To eat with someone in this culture signifies friendship and acceptance; this led the religious people, and the Pharisee’s to question why Jesus would engage with this group of sinners. Jesus response demonstrated that His ministry is directed toward those who realise they have a need - “only sick people need a doctor”. The Pharisees did not think they were sinners (sick) so they would never have sought out the Lord (the Physician). The Pharisees always brought the proper sacrifices, but they were totally lacking in compassion toward sinners. Jesus corrects their attitude by telling them to ‘go and learn’ because their whole religious system was based on knowledge and Jesus was telling them they had missed something important –“when mercy is lacking, then religious formalities are meaningless”. Through this Jesus was not discrediting sacrifice and knowledge rather he was elevating the attributes of mercy and compassion.
What does the story of Matthew teach us?
Implied in Jesus’ call for Matthew to “follow” was an invitation into a relationship. Jesus called his disciples to be “with him”. So often we think of being a Christian in terms or ways that would have been foreign to Jesus.
How do you think that Jesus have answered the question, “What is a Christian?” (take a moment to reflect on this)
Some think it is about “accepting him into our heart so that our sins are forgiven so that we can go to heaven when we die”. Others think it is about trying to be a good person and do the right thing (pray, read our Bible and go to church). Although there is nothing wrong with any of these things, they all miss the core of what is meant by Jesus when he talks about being one of his disciples. His primary call was into RELATIONSHIP with him – personal, close and on-going. Jesus saw following Him as a relationship.
Jesus primary call was into relationship. He called people to BELONG and in the process they would most likely come to BELIEVE and then the transformation of their heart would affect the way they BEHAVE. Notice the order. If we focus only on Christianity as a “system of belief” or a “set of behaviours” we miss its heart, which is about relationship with a very real and personal God.
Once we begin a relationship with God, as we journey with Him, he begins to shapes our beliefs and behaviours, both of which are very important. How easy it is for us to get this process all mixed up and the wrong way around?!
Although there was a sense of unconditional acceptance that Jesus offered to Matthew, there was a sacrifice involved. He left everything he had been living for and he knew that following Jesus as a Rabbi would involve a cost.
We shouldn’t be surprised about hearing this word sacrifice – whatever becomes important to us in life will naturally include sacrifice (study, fitness) you stop doing one thing in the pursuit of another.
It was the goal of every Jewish boy to become a teacher or Rabbi; this would bring great honour to their family. It was well known that a disciple had the potential to one day replace their Rabbi, so whenever a Rabbi took on a new disciple he was identifying the potential within the individual.
When Jesus called Matthew he showed Matthew’s potential to one day do everything that Jesus did (what an act of mercy!). Jesus wanted to make sure that his disciples knew what he knew and would do what they did. So when Jesus calls any disciple (including Matthew) He shows confidence in him that with the help of the Holy Spirit we can continue to advance the cause of the teacher and in this cause advance the Kingdom of God. This would be one of the greatest examples of Jesus believing in who an individual could become, no one ever had such faith in the possibilities of human nature than Jesus. This would literally transform Matthew’s life and change the paradigm of who could follow Christ. We too, act in mercy when we identify the potential within individuals and believe who they can become in Christ.
Jesus was clear in his purpose; he came for people who were ‘sick’. Jesus did not call disciples into an exclusive holy club. He had a purpose for their lives, which included becoming like Him.
Matthew discovered a new purpose, he left his job but found his destiny. He took his skills and used them to write the book that bears his name in the New Testament; he found new purpose and used his skills to benefit the Kingdom.
Disciples of Jesus do not wander aimlessly, we may see changes take place in our lives but we all join in the purpose of being on mission with Jesus, looking for steps, activities, opportunities to live beyond ourselves and be His ‘hands and feet’, to share his love – our purpose is Jesus purpose ‘to help people who are sick’
“The Church exists for no other purpose but to draw men to Christ. To make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.” – C.S. Lewis
Like Matthew, everyone is invited to be a follower of Christ that will lead to relationship with God.
1. What did you learn from this story? What similarities do we see today?
2. Share how you became a follower of Christ and how you have grown in your relationship with God.
3. How can we show mercy?
4. Spend some time praying for those who have not yet responded to the invitation to follow Jesus.
A great DVD resource is available: Nooma ‘Dust’ by Rob Bell. Available in the Resource Centre and from Network Pastors.