I am reading this week from the NKJV. You might notice that last week I used the ESV and the week before I used the NIV. I am deliberately switching between different translations of the Bible when reading the passage. This is to reinforce that there are a number of decent English translations, and as long as you stick with the main ones, the best translation to use is the one you will read. My suggestion is that you avoid weird ones, paraphrases, translations created by just one person and so on. NIV, ESV, NLT, NKJV, and so on are best for study. The Message, The Passion Bible and others are not suited to Bible Study. They may give a different take on a verse or passage, but they are NOT translations, they are interpretations (which is different), and I would say that are unsuitable Bibles to use.
So, I am going to read this account in all three gospels it appears in, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So, he arose and followed Him.
Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Then He went out again by the sea, and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them. As He passed by, He saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So, he arose and followed Him.
Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
After these things, He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So, he left all, rose up, and followed Him.
Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Some brief points before I get into the meat of what I think God would say.
Matthew is described by Mark as the son of Alphaeus. There is another disciple who is also named as ‘son of Alphaeus’—James the Less. If this is the same Alphaeus, then Matthew and James are brothers. As are: Peter and Andrew, and James and John. We can’t do anything more than speculate about this, but it is an interesting thing to ponder. Does faith run in families?
We also note that he has two names: Matthew and Levi. We don’t know whether he was always known by two names or whether, like Peter, the name Matthew was one given to him. This morning I will refer to him as Matthew, which is the most well-known and used name.
What I sense God would have men talk about this morning comes in two parts. The first part comes from the calling of Matthew.
Matthew left his booth.
In paraphrase, Matthew is sitting at his tax-collector’s booth, Jesus calls him, and he leaves his booth to Follow Jesus.
- He had nothing but an invitation.
- He left the old life behind.
- He did it straight away, no hesitation.
Just an Invitation.
Many people will express this attitude—or something like it: ‘I won’t follow Jesus unless He can PROVE to me that He’s real’
Setting aside what they mean by proof, and what kind of proof they are talking about and exactly HOW MUCH proof they are talking about, most people won’t do something until they have some kind of convincing reason to do so. This is what they mean by ‘proof’ – convince me with some kind of physical sign. Nothing has changed since Bible times, here are just a couple of Biblical examples:
In Judges 6, Gideon is given a task by the angel: to free his people from the hands of the midianites. What does Gideon do? Hew lays a fleece on the ground and says to the angel that if there is dew on the fleece in the morning, but not on the ground, he’ll know it is God. He does this twice—on 2 consecutive nights (the second night, he swaps the request to fleece – dry and ground – wet). An instruction/invitation is simply not enough for Gideon—he needs a sign, proof (if you like) that it is God speaking to him.
Matthew 12:38-42 records an event where some pharisees and teachers of the law come to Jesus and ask him for a sign. A sign of what? Are they asking him to prove who he is? The gospel doesn’t say, but whatever the motivation was, Jesus’ response is that, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign!
After Jesus is raised from the dead, one of the disciples isn’t with the others when he appears to them. Thomas doubts and says, ‘I won’t believe unless I see and touch him’ (John 20:25). What is Jesus’ response to Thomas? It is:“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”(John 20:29).
Last week when we looked at the time Jesus fed 5,000 people, we noted that the crowds followed Jesus not because they saw the signs, but because they ate the loaves and had their fill. John the Baptist, when he was in prison, sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask: ‘are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’. Jesus sent them back with evidence of the things He did.
All of the above are examples where someone needs some kind of proof, something tangible, before they will believe or follow the Lord.
Matthew required no such proof. What about us?—What about You?—What about me? What ‘proof’ dog YOU need?
Our modern culture which places such value on ‘proof’ has infected us in all sorts of ways we don’t even recognise. Sometimes have what we might describe as a ‘downer’ on people who won’t believe without what they might describe as evidence (the modern equivalence of ‘give me a sign’). In fact, the modern mantra of many I meet is that Christians are stupid because they believe in God despite the evidence (they cite things like evolution as ‘proof’ God doesn’t exist). But what about you and me? Are we likely to jump into asking God to ‘give us a sign’ before we’ll follow Him?
Even as Christians, we all seek to hear God’s voice, to help us as we try to live out our lives as Christians. From asking God something like ‘which church should I go to, Lord?’ Right through to ‘who should I marry?’ And even asking for God’s guidance about where to go on mission and so on. How do we hear God?
And then, even if we DO think God is speaking to us, how do we respond? What do we do if we sense God is asking us to do or say something? Do we act in simple obedience, or do we go down Gideon’s route of demanding proof it is God? There is a place for discerning whether something is God or not (and there are different ways of discerning), but there comes a point in the process where I think we just have to bite the bullet and follow him.
Leaving the old life.
Jesus says several things about leaving the old life. He says: no one who looks back to the plough is fit for service (Luke 9:62), and go and sell all your possessions, give your money to the poor and then come follow me (Matthew 19:21).
He even talks about leaving family. He says: Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:37-38).
The point here is that one of the biggest barriers to faith is the love of our current life and an unwillingness to leave it behind.
To illustrate this, my friend Dave (not his real name) had in the past been a Christian, but sadly, as is all too common, he had drifted away from the church and from Jesus. When I was working with him, he had no intention of ever being a Christian again. After a couple of years working alongside him, and talking to him, I remember one occasion when he said this “I know that following Jesus again is the right thing to do, and that I should do it. The problem is that I know there are some things in my life which are incompatible with doing that and frankly, I am not ready to give them up. I don’t WANT to”.
Dave understood that to authentically follow Jesus, there are things which we all enjoy which are incompatible with our faith, which we must leave behind. Certain habits and attitudes, actions and things in our lifestyles which we have to get rid of. Many people are like Dave, they are not prepared to pay the price of peace with God.
Paul was in that place, but when confronted by the Saviour, the choice he made was to pay that price. Looking back on all the things he used to do, the type of person he was, he can reflect on them and say But whatever were gains to me, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).
Matthew did not hesitate to follow Jesus. Interestingly, the people who hesitate in the Gospels are those who have something to lose, either materially, or in terms of social standing. So, for example, the rich young man who came to Jesus and asked what he must do to be saved, had too strong a love of his wealth and his status, so he went away sad. We have the description of people who say to Jesus “I will follow you Lord, but first …” So for example, in Luke 9:59-62, Jesus said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.
“Almost an Angel” is a secular film in which the actor Paul Hogan plays a man who dies and is sent back as an angel for a second chance at being good. Setting aside the ridiculous idea that angels are dead people sent back to help humans in need (which couldn’t be more unbiblical if it tried). Ignoring how the film portrays what he sees after he has died, and how God is portrayed (by Charlton Heston), it makes a number of very interesting comments on faith, the church, and spirituality in general. One thing which Paul Hogan’s character says is, “I was planning to get religious right before I died”. This is the default of so many people all over the world, but the massive weakness of this approach is that no one knows when they are going to die! The only way to be certain is to come to Christ NOW.
There will come a time when it is too late to follow the Lord, Even though Scripture tells us that The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), the very next verse says that when he comes it will be swift and unexpected, and it will be too late for those who have refused: the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare (2 Peter 3:10). As Augustine said in the third century, “it’s never too early to come to Christ, but at any moment it could be too late”.
The second thing I want to touch on this morning is the fact that Matthew had a party.
Luke describes it as ‘a great feast’.
Matthew threw a party.
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them (Luke 5:29). Interestingly, Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus also centred around a meal.
Eating food together is something which has a significant impact on people. Sharing a meal lies at the heart of what it means to be friends, to be in fellowship with one another.
It is not without reason that food played a significant role in the establishment of the early church, or that hospitality is listed as one of the ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’ that we read about.
What points about food do I want to make today?
Feasting as Celebration.
Have you ever wondered why people almost always have a meal at a wedding reception? Or why is it that at a party, people feel obliged to put on a buffet? In every culture, celebration is accompanied by food and eating together. We can’t seem to help it.
The first thing Matthew did was throw a feast for people. Was he celebrating? The text is silent about this, but I think it’s likely, Matthew had met Jesus, his life had changed, and he wanted to celebrate it and tell his friends.
The ultimate celebration, of course, is the final one. The one which we will attend in heaven—and it will be a feast beyond reckoning!
The image of heaven which is presented in film and television is the most ridiculous one we can imagine. We most frequently see it shown as some kind of bland colourless ethereal place, harps playing in the background, everyone dressed in white. There is little or no atmosphere. Christians, however, don’t see heaven like that. The most common metaphor for heaven I hear Christians use is that of worship, almost like the best, most wonderful worship service we have ever experienced. However, the most common picture of heaven the New Testament paints, and the one Jesus uses most, is that of a party or a feast! Neither of which is bland and colourless!
The image of feasting crops up all over the Scriptures:
The parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:15-24 describes heaven as a great feast, and the king (God) sending an invitation out to all who will come. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins, which describes a great wedding banquet. Revelation also describes heaven as a banquet, Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God (Revelation 19:9).
Isaiah describes being in the presence of God in this way: On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines (Isaiah 25:6). Luke 13:29 tells us that people will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.
David describes God preparing a table for him in the presence of his enemies (Psalm 23:5).
In Revelation 3:20 John records Jesus saying, Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Note, “eating” depicts relationship and fellowship. Heaven will be a banquet, a celebration, a party!
Jesus describes rejoicing in heaven whenever a sinner comes to faith (Luke 15:7,10), and our eternity will be a blast!
The great news is this … Everyone is invited to the feast. The only thing that will exclude you from it is if you reject the invitation. So, the question we must each answer for ourselves is, “have YOU accepted the invitation?”
Feasting in Evangelism.
We call it evangelism, Matthew wouldn’t have used that word. The point though is this—Matthew used a meal at his home to introduce people to Jesus.
Meals are a great forum in which to create a relaxed atmosphere to introduce people to Jesus. This was a Middle Eastern culture of 2,000 years ago, but if you read books, and diaries of explorers from the past, you will notice that regardless of the circumstances, people see hospitality as being particularly important.
The Alpha course is delivered around a meal—or at least the most effective alpha courses are. It’s in the curriculum, as it were. In fact, they strongly say that the meal is probably one of the most essential parts of the evening.
Some short points about the feast that Matthew threw:
It was at Matthew’s home.
We seem to think that the best place to share the gospel is on the streets or in an arena somewhere. The truth is this. It is in the home, it is in the small, personal acts of hospitality and kindness, that the message of the gospel is most powerfully presented.
When we invite people into our homes, we are showing them honour, and we are making ourselves vulnerable to them. We talk about shutting the front door and shutting the world out, but welcoming people into our homes goes against that impulse and lets them in.
It is in the home that such evangelism is most effective. If you want a better chance of your friends, work colleagues, or neighbours responding to the gospel, the best thing you can be is hospitable and friendly. You will get MUCH more response if you invite them round for a meal than if you preach at, argue with, and/or criticise them.
When we read about the growth of the early church in Acts, it is noticeable that proclamation and ministry was not only done in the public square, but also in homes:
- Acts 2:46 describes the believers breaking bread in ‘their homes’.
- Peter proclaims the gospel to Cornelius in Acts 10 and his household. In his home.
- In Athens, Paul visits the home of Titius Justus, proclaims the gospel and Crispus the Synagogue ruler becomes a believer (Acts 18:7,8).
- In Corinth, Priscilla, and Aquila, use their home to further instruct Apollos: ‘He (Apollos) began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.’ (Acts 18:26). It is also clear they held the church at their home, which is referred to by Paul in both Romans 16:3-5 and 1 Corinthians 16:29.
Priscilla and Aquila are not the only people to host a church: Colossians 4:15 says, ‘Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house’, Philemon clearly hosts a church in his home: ‘Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:’ (Philemon 1:1-2).
My point here is never ever underestimate the importance of your home in your arsenal of ministry and proclamation.
Matthew’s friends were there.
We often seem to think the only way to ‘do’ evangelism is to ‘go’. We see memes which shout out slogans like ‘Jesus said GO! He didn’t ell us to ask people to come’ which perpetuate this belief. One of the things about modern ways of doing this is that when we ‘go’, the likelihood is that we won’t know the people we are going to. This is especially true for traditional “go” missionaries, who will typically have the task of learning a language and culture as well as getting to know the people they feel called to.
I am not belittling this aspect of proclaiming the gospel. The Bible does indeed command believers to ‘go into all the world’ to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. But in their rush to ‘go’, many Christians and churches neglect the mission field on their doorstep. There are unbelievers in our families, in our neighbourhood, and in our workplace—all of whom need to hear the Gospel.
The Gospel writers don’t actually call the other tax collectors and ‘sinners’ Matthew’s friends, but given the reputation of these people at the time, and the way they were clearly regarded by others, it is highly likely. In any event, the tax collectors at least would have been work colleagues. Zacchaeus also had friends around when Jesus came to his house.
In the account of Peter preaching at Cornelius’ house, we read that ‘on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends’ (Acts 10:24). These people heard the gospel and responded to it—v44 records that ‘the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message’.
The last thing to note about this feast is not only that Matthew’s friends were there, not only Jesus was there, but also the pharisees, who were watching and standing in judgement over everything.
Remember that there will always be critics for the way you ‘do’ evangelism, and for the way you live out your faith. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been criticised for being a Christian.
It’s relatively easy to shrug off when it’s people who are atheists, or people who don’t claim to be Christian. After all, so very often all they are doing is repeating slogans they’ve heard from others. What is hard, is when others who really should be encouragers and partners in ministry criticise you.
A couple of examples from my own life:
- In my first pastorate, one of my habits was to go to the pub with some of the men and to try to encourage them to build relationships with each other and with the other people there by going regularly. That was frowned on by the other leaders of the church because it was a pub and alcohol was involved. In fact, I was accused of encouraging them to get drunk. They put pressure on me and actually threatened my job unless I agreed to stop.
- In another church, Wendy and I were criticised for being open about who we were. By not hiding some of the struggles we were going through. Apparently, leaders aren’t supposed to show weakness.
What would Jesus’ response to people who criticise us for the efforts we make to proclaim our faith?
‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick’ (Matthew 9:12).
We all need the gospel, and the best place to find Jesus should be in a church. But many millions of people in the UK alone won’t ever meet him unless we share the gospel with them. Millions of sick people who don’t know where the physician is. And to go back to what I said about friends and family, we don’t have to go far or try very hard to find and connect with them. How will they ever hear unless we tell them? And how will they understand unless we tell them in a way which they will understand? Looking at the culture around us, do we really think people understand the Gospel? We get pre-judged and mis-judged far more frequently than understood and disagreed with (as an aside, note that when someone pre-judges us, it is THEY and not we who are guilty of prejudice).
My take home from this meal Matthew threw is this: let’s change the way we do evangelism here. Let’s not even try to put on an ‘event’. Let’s try to start small, invite a few friends around for a meal (or a barbecue this summer). Perhaps, just perhaps, we’ll get to share our faith with them when they come.