Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Matthew's Party and why Jesus Hangs with Sinners , Training of the Twelve Chapter 3 (part 2)

When Matthew threw a party to honor Jesus it was not a small affair. It was as extravagant as the time Mary poured her precious perfume on the feet of Jesus. People to whom much grace is shown demonstrate their grateful love in deeds of magnificence and devotion. The opponents of Jesus criticized such events as displays of opulent indulgence, but their greatest complaints were about the people who came to the party.

Of course Matthew invited the friends that he had because he wanted to introduce them to Jesus. It is a natural characteristic of a young disciple that he would want others to take the same step of repentance that he had so recently taken. And who knows? It could be that on this festive occasion, impressions were made that eventually led some of those present to the way of righteousness.

Looked at from the inside, Matthew’s feast was joyous, innocent and edifying. But from the outside, it was nothing short of scandalous. The Pharisees looked at the partygoers, judged their character, and drew the most sinister conclusions.

“Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” they asked the disciples of Jesus. This constant criticism of Jesus had by this time become a standing feature of His ministry. Interestingly, He never seemed to be bothered by it. Instead He calmly went on with His work. When He was questioned, He was always ready with a conclusive response. His most striking answers come when He vindicates Himself for mixing with the tax collectors and sinners. This happens three times. The first is here at Matthews feast; the second in the house of Simon the Pharisee; and the third was a general charge that “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

His explanations for loving the unloved are full grace and truth with a slight touch of satire directed at the sanctimonious faultfinders. His first argument is a professional one: “I hang out with sinners because they need healing and I am a physician. Where else should a physician be besides among His patients?" His second argument could be described as a political one: “It’s good policy to be a friend of sinners who have a lot to be forgiven. When they are restored, their love will be greater!” His third argument is a practical one: “I hang out with sinners because this is the way to find them and relate to them. In the same way that a shepherd goes out to find the lost sheep, so I go to where the lost people are so that I can bring them to a place of healing and wholeness and restoration”. His final argument was judicial.  Jesus says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repent”.  This hints that he would leave the self-righteous alone and call to repentance and to the joys of the kingdom those who were not too self-satisfied to desire the benefits offered, and to whom the gospel feast would be a real party.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Call of Matthew - paraphrase of The Training of the Twelve, Chapter 3 (part 1)

The call of Matthew powerfully illustrates Jesus’ complete disregard for the wisdom of this world. A disciple who was a tax collector would prove to be a stumbling block for many of the Jews that Jesus was trying to reach. Jesus was completely aware of this fact and yet publically invited Matthew to follow him and later appointed him as one of the twelve.

Matthew was employed as a tax collector in the town of Capernaum, the place that Jesus had adopted as his home base. It was there that Jesus encountered Matthew and spoke the command, “Follow Me”. From the way that Matthew immediately responded to the call, we can infer that he knew Jesus. They would have had plenty of opportunity to get to know one another since they lived in the same fishing village.  The fact that Matthew lived in Capernaum makes it absolutely certain that he knew of Jesus before he was called. No man could live in that town in those days without hearing of the mighty works done in and around it. People were being healed, demons cast out, blind men received their sight and paralyzed men were walking. The daughter of the synagogue ruler had even been raised from the dead. These things had been done publically and were well known at the time that Jesus called Matthew to follow Him.

The idea that Matthew had some previous knowledge of Christ demonstrates the reasonableness of his discipleship without diminishing its moral value. The miracles themselves were not enough to get Matthew to leave everything and follow Jesus. If miracles were enough, then everyone in Capernaum would have become a follower of Jesus. Instead, Jesus later rebuked Capernaum saying, “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”(Matthew 11:23 ESV).The people of Capernaum wondered about the miracles of Jesus and talked about them, but what they did not do and what Matthew actually did do was repent.

The first fruit of Matthew’s repentance was a party. Matthew invited his friends who, of course, were other tax collectors and “sinners”. It seemed that Matthew had at least four reasons for giving this party. First he wanted to honor Jesus; this was a great banquet and Jesus was the guest of honor. The second was to celebrate his emancipation. The third reason was to say goodbye to his old friends as he embarked on his new journey of discipleship. He wanted to depart from his old comrades in peace. The fourth and final reason was that he wanted to introduce his friends to Jesus.

Are there any better signs of repentance and discipleship than these? A new disciple will immediately honor Christ, rejoice in his new life, say goodbye to his old life and tell his friends about Jesus. Matthew did all of these things just by throwing a party!