Following Jesus invites us to live joyfully and to break into new paths and possibilities.
Some of you may remember at the first part of the year, we talked about the call of Matthew. We talked about new wineskins and then we had vision Sunday last week. Now I want to pick back up with the call of Matthew, who was one of the original disciples of Jesus. In my mind, one of the more unique disciples of Jesus, because no one could have anticipated that he would be part of the core discipleship team. I want to make the case that Matthew was actually the most unlikely candidate to be a follower, a disciple, part of that planting team of disciples.
I want to revisit Matthew. It’s interesting because the call of Matthew is discussed in two of the gospels. It’s discussed in Matthew’s own gospel and it’s discussed in Luke. What’s also interesting is that Luke’s gospel gives us an additional detail that Matthew’s own gospel doesn’t include. We’re going to look at that. The goal here is to start with the passage itself, unpack it, to watch how Jesus talks. What He says is important. Watch what happens as His disciples are confronted in Matthew’s house. Matthew is throwing a party. His party has to do with a change in his occupation. He wants his friends to be there. In the course of that, what happens is there’s a lot of exchanges that occur and it’s out of that, that Jesus utters the words that we’re going to look at. Again, it’s so helpful to see it in its context. This really happened and we’re going to talk about it and really dig into it.
So let’s look at verse 27, we’ll pick right up. It says, “After this, He went out and He saw a tax collector named Levi who was sitting at a tax booth. He said to him, ‘Follow me.'” This was the call of Matthew. Sometimes it refers to his other name, the name he uses sometimes. Sometimes he’s known by Levi. So I’m just going to call him Matthew Levi. They were both interchangeable names. It was his moment though, where he was to fully break with his past and follow Jesus. In his case, it was Matthew who was making a complete occupational shift. He was literally transitioning out of a marketplace and into a full-time occupation of ministry. He was going to join Jesus’s core team. As I mentioned, it says in verse 28, “and leaving everything he rose and he followed him.” We’re told Levi made him a great feast in his house. There was a large company of tax collectors and others that were reclining at the table with him.
That would be the way that they ate off the table, in a reclining fashion, typical of the Middle Eastern culture. Remember, the evidence. The evidence suggests this pretty strongly, that Matthew Levi was not just a rank and file tax collector. He was someone who would have been considered an overseer. The word that is used there implies someone who was a chief tax collector. That would have been an overseer of tax collectors. We would say today he was upper management. He had a team that he oversaw.
The group tax collectors, sometimes called publicans in Jesus’s day, were probably some of the most hated people in the culture. They were very despised. They were viewed in many ways as traitors to their people. We’ve talked about this in-depth before. Part of the reason was they would often get a cut that was on top of the legitimate tax they collected for Rome. This was already an issue for a lot of people that they were, in a sense, taxing as representatives of Rome, their own people. On top of that to add a tax for their own. Rome winks, and they get a little more wealthy. The idea is that if they’re going to be despised, they might as well be wealthy and despised. Remember they were considered in some circles no better than the worst of sinners in that regard.
It must have come as a scandal or a surprise when the news spread that one of their own, no less than Matthew Levi, was leaving to join the band of this unconventional rabbi. A rabbi everybody was talking about named Jesus of Nazareth. No doubt it had been a culmination of a process, but I guarantee you when word started to spread that Matthew the chief tax collector was leaving everything behind to attach himself to Jesus, this rabbi who some were calling Messiah, a lot of eyebrows were raised.
Wow. As the word spread amongst Matthew’s friends and associates, “Are you serious?” “Wow,” As the word spread with Jesus’s disciples, “No way he’s joining us?” “Whoa,” as the word spread from John’s disciples, “how could he do that?” “Whoa,” the Pharisees and scribes said, “and he calls himself a holy man.” No one expected it. It was, how can we put it, an extraordinary break with social convention and the mores of the time. I think we really underestimate what a significant development it was for someone of Matthew’s past to become a disciple of Jesus. It really caused a stir.
We’re told one more piece of information here that only Luke’s gospel includes while Matthew’s own gospel leaves it out. One of the things we’re told here is that it was at his house that Matthew decides to throw this party. He’s throwing this party, evidently, because he wants to intentionally introduce his friends, we would say his coworkers and his associates. He wants them to meet Jesus. He wants Jesus to be honored among them. He’s very proud of what’s happening, but he realizes these two worlds have not intersected that much. One of the things that’s helpful to get our eyes around is that he had become a true believer in Jesus. His life had been altered. From a spiritual standpoint, his eyes have been opened. He had truly come to believe that Jesus was everything he said he was. Matthew had agreed to leave everything behind and go, we would say an extended tour of duty, He was going for it.
This was Matthew’s going away party. The career transition party. In a way, it was his opportunity to have his friends meet Jesus. The mix of the feast, when we look at it more closely, was actually quite astounding. I want us in our mind’s eye to try to imagine what we’re being told happens here. It was the most unlikely gathering of disparate groups of people because Matthew was well connected. He had a lot of connections. Matthew no doubt has some wealth, in this gathering he’s created this feast, and in this feast, he’s celebrating. In this group, in this mass of people mixing together in ways that they normally did not do, you have Matthew’s friends, his associates. Again, they were tax collectors and they shared a unique bond. They understood each other. They were fellow publicans as they were called. They had their own way of dressing. They had their own way of talking.
Just like some of us, you have fields that you’re in. Some of us have specific areas where we intersect with our associates at work. We have had training and perhaps we have experience in a particular field, the vernacular, the way we talk in that environment is unique. It’s distinct. A lot of times there are phrases that are being used. This can happen in any place that we start to connect ourselves vocationally. From a career standpoint, there starts to come a language that is assumed, a way of talking, a way of joking, a way of being with one another. It’s different. Part of that is just because we work together in this field or industry. We start to learn the language of that industry. We start to talk and joke that way. These are our friends and our associates. This is what Matthew was dealing with.
So a good group of these people was his friends who did the same kind of thing, occupationally. They were as astounded as anyone that Matthew was leaving. They wanted to meet this man who had grabbed his heart and changed his life. They knew he was a religious man, but it was unthinkable that someone with his background would actually ever be welcomed into anything like this. So it was stunning. Mixed in that crowd, you had other groups as well. You had people there who were officials who had come more out of courtesy than anything else. Perhaps maybe out of self-interest because everyone knew it was just good business. Might as well network. We would call it a networking opportunity. Absolutely I’ll be there. You never know who you’ve met. There were, on top of all these others, these people mixing together, tax collectors, officials, people who were connected to Rome, people in power, people of wealth, and people also known for being corrupt.
In the midst of all of this, you had also Jesus’s disciples who had recruited. They didn’t actually fit in so well, they were more from the north. Most of them, not all, but most of them, in contrast to Matthew, had been fishermen. They were more roughly hewn if you can call it that way. They had a kind of, I don’t know, way of engagement that was rougher at the edges. Not unintelligent, just less urbane. This was not the crowd they mixed with either. Immediately, you have a group of people who don’t normally come together interacting. On top of that, one more thing we know is that there was also another group of people, who although they weren’t necessarily going inside, were kind of lurking on the outskirts. Some of them may have been on the outer courtyard. Others were a little bit further away. But they were the scribes and the Pharisees. The religious leaders who had come, not because they really were interested in what Matthew was doing. That party, it was a no, no, no. Because normally they wouldn’t be there. They had come to watch Jesus. It was the guest of honor that caught their attention. Jesus was the one who really interested them. They wanted to know what he was doing. He was, to them, an enigma, A bit of a riddle. They were trying to figure him out.
That’s the context. I want us to see what’s going on. Imagine in our mind’s eye, all these different people groups mixing together. We’re told some additional details that come out. In verse 30 it says, “The Pharisees and their scribes, they started to grumble.” This is how the Bible describes it. They had a little bit of an argument. They grumbled at his disciples. Perhaps it came out as a murmur, a critique, a criticism, but they said, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors? What is wrong with you? What is your teacher doing? Why are you eating with tax collectors and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” Notoriously immoral people. “I thought you said your teacher was a rabbi. He claims to be one. Does he not care about such things?” This was the confrontation. Now they did not address Jesus directly, but they chose instead to confront his disciples.
Take into account the paradigm that they’re operating on. The question need not be viewed so much as a trap, as an accusation. It did not compute for them. It seemed like a significant disconnect. He calls himself a holy man and yet he engages with these people. How do you explain this? A fair question in some way, but in other words, how could someone like Jesus, knowing the law, allow himself to freely consort with such, how should we say this, upscale rabble? It was unconscionable and almost scandalous in their eyes. They attacked his disciples with this. Jesus answered their question. Maybe he heard it. Maybe he heard it. Maybe he watched what was going on. Maybe he observed, maybe they said it loud enough so he would hear it. Either way, what we know is what follows is this. Jesus answered them. “I’ll tell you why. You want to know why?”
In verse 31 it says, “I tell you this. I’ll answer your question. Those who are well, do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” I love the way the New Living Translation sort of gives us this verse because it adds a slight nuance to it. Both are legitimate. Look at it. This is how Jesus answered them. He said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor. Sick people do.” He said, “I have come to call those.” Look at the phrase. “I have come to call those who,” what? “Think they are righteous. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” Not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are broken and somewhat lost and are open. It’s almost like Jesus is implying that’s who is actually in a better place. The one who thinks they’re well, but is sick, or the one who knows they are sick and is more open to help.
Here’s the thing. He didn’t argue the moral or spiritual condition of the people he was interacting with. He granted the malady, if you will, no quarrel as to the designation. It’s true. They are sinners, but they are sick. I am a physician and every physician longs to heal the sick. I am simply doing what physicians do. I am being with my patients. Caring for them, seeking. Do you understand that? “Yes. We understand it,” said his critics. “But what we do not understand is that you seem to be enjoying yourself doing it. You act like you’re enjoying it.” I am. They said to him, “But, look, the disciples of John,” that would be John the Baptist, who obviously had his own following. They point this out. They said, “Look, the disciples of John. They fast,” it says in verse 33, “often and offer prayers as do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why do you not have your disciples exercise moral, more restraint? Why are you allowing them to engage so freely like this?” This is an interesting question. They were puzzled. They had noted the absence of asceticism, of self-denial, with Jesus in his group. Specifically, the fasting that they had associated with the religious integrity, holiness, and something John’s disciples had adhered to as well. Although Jesus’s disciples fasted, they did not do it regularly.
Let me just ask something very quickly for some of us who may not be familiar with it. It had been noted but has been noted by more than a few theologians and commentators that the annual fast specifically requiring the mosaic law. If you read the older testament, it was really only in the association with the Day of Atonement. By Jesus’s day, a number of fasts had been added and were celebrated as expressions of piety. It had become a normative expression of religious culture, the Pharisees being the chief proponents. In other words, a lot had been added to what was originally required, making the religious life a little heavy and if not onerous, cumbersome.
You might even go as far as to say by the time of Jesus, so much had been added to what was required of the people in terms of commitment, that it almost felt joyless. It almost felt joyless. The question is what sets up the little mini parable that we close this text with? It says, then Jesus said in verse 34. “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” Another version says that “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom?” You’ve been to a wedding. You know what a wedding’s like, Jesus is saying. When the groom is ready and he’s here, it’s not somber.
Look. “My coming into this world is like a wedding. I’m the groom. My disciples are my groomsmen, my guests. It’s time for celebration, not mortification. It’s a time for joy, not gloom. I’m here. God is on the move. Do you see what’s happening? Come on.” A wedding feast, by the way, a wedding in Jesus’s day, contrast to ours, it would last sometimes seven days. The whole community would stop in many ways what they were doing and celebrate a wedding together. Those days were filled with happiness, music, songs, feasting, and celebration. It was a joyous occasion, not a sad one. Everybody knew that. It’s almost like Jesus says, “Besides, my coming is like a wedding. So don’t expect us to be gloom and doom.” He says, and I love this, “By the way, there’ll be plenty of time for sadness by the time you’re done with me.” He was talking about the cross. He knew where it was going. He says, “Then my disciples will fast because their hearts will be grieving by what you have done to me.” That’s powerful. Look at that 35th verse, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them and then they will fast in those days.” Do you see it? The word we translate taken away implies being seized in a violent manner. Jesus is saying when the cross comes, it’ll be a time to mourn and fast, but not now.
I might add, after the resurrection, not anymore either. He’s alive. He died so that we ultimately would not be bound by death. He lives so that we may live. To whoever will receive Him. I have come to give you life. So here are some expansion thoughts. This is where I wanted us to go. I know a lot of us are note-takers and we take it very seriously. We’re engaging in this, especially at the beginning of the year. I’m going to lay some things at your feet as it were. This is not a small thing to me, what we’re about to do, actually. It’s taking what we just learned and applying it to our lives because a faith that doesn’t show up in real life is not much of a faith at all.
But following Jesus, honestly, if you just look at what He says here, invites us to live joyfully. It really does. It’s core. The Christian life is joyful. Now that is not to be confused with problem-free, because in this world of ours there is no problem-free life in case any of us haven’t noticed. Jesus said, “In this world, you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer.” The older version says, “I have overcome the world and you know me,” but it’s not problem-free life. We live in a very broken culture. I think that’s obvious. Now I know on the veneer, I think we recognize this, we are prospering like no other generation probably has ever prospered in the history of humanity up to this point. It is an unparalleled time of technological advancement. People here in the west, in America, particularly, take things for granted that oftentimes people in other parts of the world still have no chance or opportunity to pursue. This is the truth.
Yet what’s fascinating is we live in a very troubled time. People are taking their lives. We constantly read about anxiety and stress. Everybody’s trying to figure out how to be at peace. The recognition that things aren’t working right, that relationships don’t last, they’re melting down, are not equipped. The addictive patterns of a prosperous culture. The confusion that seems to permeate, the anger that seems to separate. All of this is real. The brokenness of the human spirit cannot be actually covered only by what we have and possess. Jesus said it would be so. A person’s life will never consist of the abundance of the things that they possess. He says don’t ever be deceived by that. You cannot, we cannot buy our way into happiness. The joy of the Lord, the Bible says, is our strength.
Now I differentiate between happiness and joy. I know this is minor here, but happiness tends to be in my mind, connected to things that happen to us. It’s circumstantial. If this happens, this is all I’m going to say about this, if the Niners win, I will be happy, okay? If they don’t, I will be unhappy. But my joy is different. It is connected to Christ, truly. Therefore we are actually equipped whether we take advantage of the resource or not to overcome any point of adversity in our life, because the joy of the Lord is my strength. Learning how to appropriate His joy at the deepest place is not always an easy thing to do. It is something we learn to do. We grow into our capacity. I’m suggesting that discouragement, seasons of discouragement, and despair are going to happen in life. Particularly, Jesus did not say it wouldn’t. Think about it. Jesus himself models that. He understood betrayal, separation, suffering, you name it. Abandonment. Shamed and beaten, stripped at the hands of sinful men, as the scripture says. Forsaken even by his father for a moment as he bears the weight of human lawlessness.
It’s normal to have seasons of discouragement and despair. I’ve had them, particularly when things are not going well. It can get hard. Maybe you’re in a hard time right now. But I still maintain that for the follower of Jesus, the Lord never wants His joy to be extinguished out of our life. We are not to live in the domain of the gray cloud. That is not our lot or call, but we are a people of the sun, not the people of the gray cloud if you will.
This morning, I woke up and I came to the church. By the time I got here, the sun was breaking out. I don’t know how many of you saw it, but we had a gorgeous sky. In fact, the team, when we were gathered together, took some time just to look at the beauty of it. Something about the beauty of creation that speaks deep into the human spirit. It’s almost like the creator wired us to be stirred by the beauty of creation in ways that go deep, deep into our hearts. The beauty of it caught my attention, but that’s also a reminder for me when I saw the sun breaking through. It reminded me that Jesus will break through sometimes into our lives like the sun breaks out if we open up our heart, His joy fills us.
Here’s another thing to consider. Being with Jesus is meant to be light. What am I talking about? Not heavy. Deep, deep, yes. But not dark. No moody blues, no brooding. That’s not meant to be the way. Look at your hand out there. In Matthew 11:28, this is the other passage I put right there. One of my most favorite portions of scripture of anything recorded by the words of Jesus. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden. I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart. And you will find,” look at this, “rest for your souls.” My yoke is easy. My burden is light.
By the way, this was one of the few times in all the New Testament that Jesus makes this kind of an invitation. Search the scriptures. It’s unique. His words were always filled with love. There’s a lot of other things that He said in addition to that. A lot of indictments he made as well as assessments. This is a unique invitation. It’s so gentle. It’s relational. It’s tender. A yoke was a work instrument for an ox. He’s saying, my yoke is easy. It says, what are you saying? It’s well-fitting. It sits well on you. It’s not heavy. I love the way Eugene Peterson rendered this passage in the Message.
See how beautiful it is. “Are you tired?: He says, we’ll put this up. “Are you tired? Are you worn out? Burned out, even on religion? Come to me, get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take real rest. Walk with me, work with me, watch how I do it.” This is why we spend time with the Lord in His words, watch His life, welcome Him into ours. Look at this next phrase, “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” I love that. The unforced rhythms of grace. “I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
There are times where I think, “Lord, long life,” maybe. Things we take for granted again. I don’t know. I don’t know how long my life’s going to be. I was reading this really interesting article. I didn’t think about it. I had never, I probably read it. I just didn’t know. In 1900, you know what the life span of a typical person living in this country was? 47 years old. The article was making the case that people now obviously are living much longer, into their late 70s. They also said that if you hit 80, you’ve got a really good chance of making it to 90. That’s what the data shows. They didn’t say if that’s good or bad, they just said, that’s what the data shows. What they also said was fascinating to me as well. They said I think, 70 is the new 50. That’s what they said in that article.
I was thinking, “Well, I don’t know about that.” Here’s the thing. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. This happened just a couple of days ago to me yesterday. I was feeling the weight. Pressure. Some of you have it on you as well. As I was sitting with this, it dawned on me. I felt like this is what the Lord said, “When you feel that level of weight and stress, it’s because you’re carrying something I didn’t assign you. I didn’t assign you. You’re holding it because my yoke is easy and my burden is light. It’s not ill-fitting.” That was weighing heavy, too heavy on me. It meant that I was not yielding properly to the Lord. I was not allowing Him into this situation. I was carrying something that I was not assigned.
There are some things some of us are carrying we were not assigned to carry it, do not self assign. I’m not talking about escapism. You understand what I meant. I’ll leave it with this. This is how we’ll close. His way invites us to break into new paths and possibilities. It’s a grand adventure of expansion and new beginnings. Just like Matthew was about to break into a new season. In his case, it was a new occupation. No question. The Lord has things He wants to break us into this year. Things He wants to break us out of. Out of and into. That’s what we talked about in our church and what we sensed God was calling us into for the decade if you will. But also for this year.
Sow, water, reap and this, we gave these out. By the way, if any of you weren’t there feel free to pick one up on your way out. If you lost yours, that’s okay too. Pick one up. You have a friend that you love and you want to give them one. You can have one for them too. The fact is, sow, water, reap is a part of our plan and what God’s trying to say to us. Here’s the thing, is God trying new beginnings? I am going to leave with a series of questions for you to sit with. I realize that some of us can take a shot of the screen because I want to just put it up there all at once. Here’s a question I have for us as it pertains, what expansion is the Lord trying to work in us?
Is he trying to work in some of us trust? Is he working? Does he want to work in some of our lives devotion, like at another level? Faith? Influence? Perhaps some of us God’s calling us to finally be willing to assume responsibility. Maybe it’s time for us to host a small group or to co-lead one, or to help start a ministry. That’s been in our hearts for a while. I don’t know. It might have to do with God trying to develop resilience in us at a new level. Really learning how to, as David said, make my feet nimble, like the feet of a deer, but by my God, I can run through a troop and leap over a wall. The idea of being able to negotiate difficult places in life without falling apart or becoming angry or bitter. I don’t know. What is God trying to develop in us? This is the time. This month is for us to consider expansion at a deeper level, to sort of sit with these things.
Maybe it has to do with our relationships. Maybe it’s connected to relationships at work and how God wants us to be in those relationships. Perhaps it’s connected to things at home and how God’s calling us to be. Maybe some of us have some real areas to grow at home. We’re one person here, but there we’re a different person. Maybe this is the year when God’s saying I really want you to get ahold of your anger or your words that are coming out that just demean one another. This is a house where the name of Jesus is truly loved. We’re not perfect people, but we are seeking to not allow fissures to come in, separate, create space, and push us away from one another.
Maybe at work, God’s calling us to be more of a peacemaker. What are our relationships, what are the implications of that, right? Maybe it has to do with character formation and how God is really wanting us to be free of certain addictive patterns that are unhelpful to us. We don’t even want them. How do we learn? We always grow together. We always grow better together. I’m a big believer in training together. It’s true physically. I’m not saying we’re not self-starters, but here’s the thing. We all will at times need someone else to help us. The value of having a shape group, small group, the value of having an engagement in ministry expression, the value in having friends and accountability, the value of encouraging one another as we train together, we make ourselves better because we’re not always strong at the same time, right? But sometimes God’s trying to form our character.
Maybe this is a year where the Lord really is trying to get us to have more integrity in our life. So there’s not a lot of gap between who we say we are or who we look like publicly or who we profess to be and who we are privately or in places where no one sees. There’s more alignment. Because whenever we have alignment inside, when there’s less disconnect between what we say we believe and what we actually are implementing, what we will find is there is peace. The more internal peace I have, the more external peace we will have in Christ. This is true. The storm inside will not be hidden, but the peace inside will prevail. Do you understand what I’m saying?
The last thing may have to do with attitude. For me personally, this is where I’m putting a ton of energy into since the last year and really asking God to help me. When you start getting to my age, you start losing things. It’s easy to give up. Even in the future. I want to be more positive. I want to be a person who’s joy-filled. Just everything we talked about. I don’t want to get stuck in grievance, negativity, and have cynicism in my heart around things. Just my go-to emotion is, “Whatever,” or negative. Forget that. The way of Jesus is like a wedding, not a funeral. It’s a wedding. Joy.
I love you all. I love this church. I’m so thankful to be able to serve, to be connected, and to run together in this race of faith. Static, no. An adventure, yes. By the way, you gave amazingly already. You’ve finished this. I mean the church, off the charts, some of you. You know who you are. You’re faithful. Let’s pray. Lord, I ask that you would just be with us as we come to these closing minutes, this closing song. I thank you, God, for just an amazing group of people who love you genuinely. I know we’re not, none of us are perfect. None of us. That’s not an excuse. That’s just true. We seek to follow the one who is and have more of your reality shine forth through our life. So as we come to this quick giving time and the closing song, which is our benediction, our final word of blessing for the day, at least at this part of our day, let the things that we’ve sat with here and considered, let them settle into our heart as we hear this in song and close these moments out, that’s my prayer in Jesus’ name, amen, and amen.