"As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him." Matthew 9:9
When you think about the I.R.S. what thoughts and emotions are stirred within you?
Okay, let me up the ante!
Just the other day the I.R.S. admitted they indeed targeted some 320 conservative or faith-based organizations to bully and harass leading up to the 2010 and 2012 elections despite testimony to the contrary by the previous and current I.R.S. Directors.
Those feelings of frustration or disgust you are feeling will help you imagine what was going on in the mind of those with Jesus when He issued the invitation to follow Him to a tax collector.
There are several huge things happening in this simple interaction between Jesus and Matthew. Unpacking those and discussing them will be the gist of our message this coming Sunday at FredWes. But, let's get a head start on it.
1) Notice the simplicity of the call.
2) Notice the subject of the call.
3) Notice the surprise of the call.
Jesus looked directly at Matthew, the despised and dastardly tax collector WHILE he was in the process of collecting taxes and said simply, "Follow me!"
He didn't say, "Keep the commandments, Matthew!"
He didn't say, "Go get baptized, Matthew!"
He didn't say, "Go to the synagogue, "Matthew!"
He didn't say, "Repay everything that you have stolen from the taxpayers."
Jesus just invited Matthew to follow Him! And Matthew did follow Jesus!
That is how simple being a Christian is supposed to be. But before you protest, "Brad, that's just too easy! You are "dumbing down" the Gospel let me ask you, "Are you following Jesus?"
If so, "Are you finding it easy to follow Him or are you struggling with it?"
Pastor Ben Wikner puts it this way, "When Jesus speaks about following him, the more common word that Jesus uses combines the prefix indicating “union” and the word meaning “path or road”, which also means “voyage or journey”. So when Jesus says, “Follow me” he is saying “join me in my path, my journey.” It’s the idea of walking with Jesus, being near to him. It’s highly relational and communicative, but with the clear understanding that Jesus is the leader; he is setting the course. So what does it mean to follow Jesus? Following Jesus is…what being a Christian is all about (1) This is the most basic command; it encompasses all the others. If we follow: we love, forgive, serve, etc. To be a Christian is to be united to Christ, to walk with Him, to imitate him. a. If you boil down Christianity to it’s essence, it’s about Jesus. If you boil down the Christian life to its essential element, it’s about following Jesus. Everything else flows out of following Jesus. Do you want to simplify your Christian life? Follow Jesus. Do you want to live in God’s will? Follow Jesus. Do you want ultimate meaning and purpose? Then follow Jesus. (2) Our tendency is to want to live according to a list or by a set of rules. We can get so caught up trying to follow Christianity (the religion) that we forget to follow Christ. And when it’s about Christianity (religion, rules, and lists) more than about Christ (relationship, communion, and discipleship) we will focus on doing and not doing things, rather than on walking with Jesus. a. For example, consider our call to holiness. Holiness is good, even necessary. However, if holiness is understood through the lens of the religion of Christianity, it inevitably becomes about doing good things and not doing bad things. It becomes a checklist of rules through which we determine if we (and others) are living holy lives. This mindset breeds self-righteousness and self-condemnation. It leads to a spirit of judgment toward others. Because of this, the call to holiness will be undermined, even rejected, giving way to license – we are free in Jesus! b. We must not reject holiness, but rather, rule-centered religion. The right way for holiness and sanctification to flourish in our life is to follow Jesus – his way, his path – in growing our relationship with him. If we get this right, the Christian life follows."
The call to Matthew was an invitation into a relationship with Jesus and Jesus was God in the flesh. Jesus wasn't calling Matthew into observing rules or participating in religious rituals He was calling him into a relationship where Jesus would lead and Matthew would follow.
The call to Matthew should give you hope that there is no one who is outside of or beyond the call of Christ to follow Him. No one is more despicable than a tax-collector and Jesus called a tax-collector to become His follower!
If you, like the other followers of Christ and like the Pharisees, are troubled by His calling of Matthew that says something troubling about you as a Christ-follower.
Will you work through your outrage long enough to honestly and humbly consider this question, "Am I following. Am I REALLY following?"