Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 9:9c “. . .and he saith unto him, Follow me.”
Matthew heard God’s call while sitting in a toll-booth. We don’t have to be in church or be doing religious acts to sense God’s call. He does not dwell in temples made with hands (AC 7:48). God is no more present with us in this auditorium than He is at school or at work. Our being yielded collectively to His presence in us individually is what brings intensity to our corporate experience of worship.
God called Matthew in the marketplace. For Matthew the summons was to leave his job and do ministry and missions as a full-time vocation. God intends for most people to perform ministry and missions while in a secular profession.
A church-vocation is not inherently more pleasing to God than a secular job. Church-work is not as glamorous as people often think. Much of it is trying to please a grumpy boss, filing papers, attending meetings, answering phone calls, voice mail, and email, plus dealing with problems. The sacredness of a vocation is determined not by our deciding whether the job description is secular or religious, but by finding if we are in the center of God’s will for our own individual life.
Matt. 9:9d “And he arose, and followed him.”
Most spiritual decisions need to be made slowly and deliberately, but a direct command of God must be obeyed promptly. The Psalmist (119:60) knew the peril of postponing, “I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.”
There is danger in delay. Wait is often the front door of never. We are given the appalling freedom to say no to God. Our unwillingness to yield to God can limit His efforts in ministry and missions. This is of course a limit self-imposed by sovereign God, but real nonetheless. “I will” is needed to fulfill God’s will.
The decision to follow has to be re-made every day. At age six, I decided to follow Jesus, at 15 I recommitted, surrendering to preach, at 19 I recommitted again, choosing to marry only someone who also felt the call–again and again, multiplied many times over, my commitment has had to be re-made. Dramatic and emotional events do happen in life, but they prove to be significant turning points only if they are reinforced by later, ongoing commitments to the original decision.
Matthew decided to follow not only once on one particular day, but ever after, to the end. The decision to follow at the first must be followed by ongoing decisions to follow Jesus further and further. Charles Kingsley wrote, “I have devoted myself to God; a vow never (if He gives me the faith I pray for) to be recalled.”
Matthew arose, and followed Jesus instantly, with no hesitation whatsoever. Why would a man quickly leave a lucrative career to follow Jesus? First, for love. Passion had to play a part. Love can be life’s most compelling force. As a man can love a woman with a craving so strong that he would be willing to leave all to have her, even so a person can, with even greater intensity, love the living God.
Amy Carmichael, upon hearing the Lord say “Follow me,” wrote,
My gold grew dim.
My heart went after Him.
I rose and followed.
Matthew was a hated man. The love he sensed in Jesus’ eyes and voice was foreign to the tax collector’s experience. The publican, wanting someone to show him compassion and concern, found in Jesus a person to whom he could give his whole essence without fear of rejection. Matthew followed Jesus for love’s sake.
Second, for significance. Matthew, like most people, wanted meaning and purpose in his life. He found it in Jesus. Matthew went from being an outcast in Israel to being one of the twelve disciples, the innermost circle of God’s kingdom.
Matthew lost a job, but discovered a destiny. He forfeited income, but found importance. Matthew’s experience in writing and keeping records made him valuable to the cause of Jesus. Matthew had used his pen for Rome and taxes, but Jesus called him to a higher, nobler level, to use his pen for God and eternity.
The despised tax-gatherer became the royal chronicler. Because Matthew arose and followed, we now have the book bearing his name. It happens to be my dad’s favorite book in the Bible. When I was a toddler, Dad purchased a new pulpit Bible. While playing with it in the car, I ripped out a few pages. Since they were from Matthew, Dad’s favorite book, my spanking was a bit more intense.
Had Matthew stayed in the toll-booth, we wouldn’t have his Gospel. Think of the vast amount of good left undone because people refuse to follow Jesus.
What if we miss the purpose for which God created us? I repeat the former sermon’s question, “What are we doing that truly matters and will last forever?”
Third, for the thrill of the adventure. This can’t be measured, but we know it plays an important role in energizing our trek for Jesus. The journey became so exciting to Matthew that when he looked back down the corridor of his life, and wrote of the moment he arose to follow Jesus, he saw no real sacrifice in the event.
Matthew modestly recorded only, “he arose and followed.” It was left to Luke (5:28) to relate the same incident with the added salient detail, “He left all.”
Matthew was probably the disciple who gave up the most to follow Jesus. James, John, Andrew, and Peter had their boats and nets to return to, but for Matthew, the cut was absolute and irreversible. As an ex-publican, even finding other employment would have been difficult. For Matthew, there was no turning back, yet he never made a fuss or a big deal of it. He knew he left comfort, but he found adventure. He realized he left security, but he found a thrill. To follow Jesus, we do always have to give up something, but we always find something much better.
Paul left prestige and a promising future to follow Jesus. Later in life, evaluating that decision, the Apostle counted all those former things as dung (PH 3:8).
David Brainerd labored three years as a missionary among native Americans. He died of tuberculosis at age 29. What precious few years he had, he gave to God. Near the end, he wrote, “I declare, now I am dying. I would not have spent my life otherwise for the whole world.” Livingstone trudged through the heart of Africa, Hudson Taylor pressed into the middle of China. Over a century later I followed in their footsteps and found, even with modern transportation and conveniences, hardships aplenty. Yet both men confessed, “I gave up nothing.”
Matthew became enthralled with the thrilling adventure. When Jesus resurrected the widow’s son, as mom and son were embracing, was Matthew thinking, I’m a little bored, I think I’ll go back to the toll-booth? When Jesus fed 5000, do you think Matthew, though tired, wanted to go back to collecting taxes? When Jesus rose from the dead, did Matthew feel disappointed, and want to return to his old profession? Of course not. In fact, if Matthew ever did read Luke’s comment, I am sure he wanted to say, “Luke, I gave up nothing. I found everything.”
An afterthought–which was the greater miracle, the “he arose” of our text or the “he arose” of two verses earlier? Which was the more difficult miracle to perform, healing a lame man’s legs, or changing a businessperson’s heart?
Would it be easier for you and me to be healed or to be changed? Would God find it harder to make us well than to involve us in missions and ministry?
It would be easier for God to heal some of us of cancer than to get us to go on a mission trip. For others it would be easier for God to heal us of dementia than to get us to drive across town to minister, easier to heal us of liver disease than to get us to walk across our office or schoolroom to tell someone about Jesus.
How can this be? What holds us back from the love, the significance, and the thrill of the adventure? Some say they are too young. I started preaching at age 15. Some say they are too busy. Too busy for God–I would be afraid to think it, much less say it. Some say they’re too old. Abraham began at 75, Moses at 80.
Please take the entrance exam everyone has to pass to qualify for missions and ministry. Blow on your hand. Did you feel wind? If so, you qualify. Take your pulse. Did you find it? If so, you qualify. For each of us, all we have left to give is, from this moment on. Since that’s all we have, let’s give it all. Accept the challenge: to the ends of the earth, beginning next door, from this moment on.