Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 9:10c “. . .and sat down with him and his disciples.”
Matthew, leaving to pursue a new career, hosted a farewell feast for his former fellow workers. Nothing was secretive about Matthew’s decision to follow Jesus. Unashamed, Matthew openly invited friends to his house for a public meal with Jesus. The New Testament knows nothing of secret discipleship. Our following of Jesus becomes legitimate only when everyone around us knows about it.
This party was Matthew’s first effort at outreach. He had no idea what his old cronies would say or how they would respond. Matthew decided to risk doing what he could, leaving ultimate results with God. I urge us to follow his example. Leaving final results with God, let’s learn from Matthew three things we can do.
First, like Matthew, we can dedicate our houses to spiritual purposes. Why not have irreligious people in our homes? We could all use our houses to create social contacts for Jesus. Some prechristians will never come to a church building, but would come to a house. There they could see religious artwork on our walls, listen to us pray before a meal, and hear Christian music in the background. Our houses may be the most effective soulwinning tool we have. Try it and see.
Second, like Matthew, we can keep acquaintances mindful of the spiritual realm. Our society is materialistic. We believers often need to raise the spiritual consciousness of people near us, to remind them a world exists beyond this one.
Learn to say often, and mean it, “I am praying for you.” Over ninety percent of Americans still believe prayer is a viable force. Let prayer become our way of expressing concern for, and interest in, people’s lives. Often ask how things are.
Practice what my friend Van Segars calls transfer-evangelism. In helping others love us, we make it easier for them to transfer that love to Jesus. Drawing the hearts of irreligious people to us is our best hope of drawing them to Jesus.
Another way to lift spiritual awareness is to invite friends to attend church. I especially urge us to do this when we do entry level events. Our staff covenants with you to make our church conducive to attendance by irreligious people. If we would all do our part in a team effort, the impact on our city could be colossal.
Surveys say one-fourth of the unchurched population would visit a church if invited by an acquaintance. Let me share potential ramifications for us of this fact.
The Springfield metropolitan region population is 360,000. Since the seating capacity of churches in this region is 80,000, even if every church were filled twice on Sunday morning, this would still leave 200,000 totally unchurched people. Since one-fourth will come if invited, this means there are 50,000 unchurched people around us who would come to church if an acquaintance invited them.
Invite your friends to church. Not all will come, but one-fourth will. And of this one-fourth who do attend, not all will become believers, but some will.
Third, like Matthew, we should not be ashamed of Jesus’ followers. Matthew invited Christ’s entourage. Welcoming Jesus into our heart requires making room not only for Him, but also for those He cares for. Matthew wanted his old friends–wealthy, influential, and scholarly–to meet his new friends–poor, obscure, and uneducated. Many deemed the latter an embarrassment, but Matthew was not concerned about their sneers and snootiness. He gladly accepted the Jesus crowd.
Learn from Matthew. Don’t bypass the church. She has warts aplenty, but is still Christ’s bride. A local church is God’s instrument ordained to be the chief outpost in advancing His kingdom. Churches often fail, but identifying with them is by far our best hope for a successful lifetime, from womb to tomb, of devoted service to God. A local church is the only institution in our culture providing a place every week for every member of any family, regardless of age or finances.
Identifying with God’s people is a vital reason baptism is important. When baptized, Jesus was, for one thing, making a statement of his affinity with John the Baptist’s despised crowd as opposed to the religious leaders’ insiders-crowd. God wants every believer to identify, to link their life, with a local church. Join one.
In addition to Matthew’s three examples, our text also yields a powerful lesson from Jesus. He who created the world sat down to eat with creatures in rebellion against Him. In Israel, eating and drinking together implied intimacy, familiarity, and acceptance. Christ shocked current prejudices. Jesus was comfortable with sinners, and they with Him. They knew He would not snap or growl at them.
The church never has caught up to Her Master’s example of eagerly interacting with people under a social ban. We too often send cash, paying others to do this for us. We must reconfigure our paradigms. To follow our Master’s lead, we must go to sinners ourselves with an open heart, trying to win them to a better life.
Toward sinners, Jesus’ first tactic is perfect love. He wants us to appeal before we threaten, to include before we exclude, to offer hope before we denounce. As the church in North America flounders, maybe somewhere in here is her way.
Our duty is to win sinners, but we can’t improve people who think we despise them. For influence to be elevating, it must first be level and loving, meeting people where they are and then trying to help them move to where they should be.
We will not offer salvation to anyone we think does not deserve salvation. We must learn again a primary principle Christianity taught this world–the infinite value of every human being. The measure of a person’s worth has nothing to do with ethnicity, where they hail from, or how much they produce. Each has infinite worth because they are created in God’s image and because Jesus died for them.
Canon Farrar draws a wonderful word picture. Each human being is like a cavern full of gems. If we come solely with our own darkened opinions of people, all will look mediocre and lackluster. But when we view people in God’s light, amethysts and crystals begin to quiver under the touch of brightness. If souls do not shine before us it is because we bring with us no light to make them shine. Of every human being, think value, worth, importance, significance, preciousness.
Our brief interaction with a prechristian may be God’s best chance to grant a positive answer to someone’s intercessory prayer for that prechristian. The very man we discount is the apple of a mother’s eye. She may be praying for his salvation every day. The very woman we disregard is someone’s daughter. A father may be praying for her to meet God. This passionate love of a father or mother for a beloved son or daughter is much nearer God’s estimation of every human being than are our cold, calculated evaluations. Jesus sat to eat with rebels. Have we?