He was a traitor.
And a thief.
Jesus could have told him anything. What Jesus chose to say to him shocked most everyone there. It was just two simple words.
That comes from Matthew 9:9. The following verse, however, is not in the Bible.
Jesus saw a man sitting at the tax booth and he said to him, “Take up your tax booth and follow me.”
Grace doesn’t work that way. Jesus came to save us from our sins, not affirm us in them. The world, and even some claiming to be Christians, would have us to believe that real love looks beyond the sin and accepts the person as is. That’s not what Jesus does. He told Matthew to leave it all behind. God, in his grace, meets you where you are. Grace never asks you to get your act together first. Grace never waits for you to make the first attempt at change. But when your life is invaded by grace, you will change.
Matthew was no exception.
When he heard the words of Jesus, Matthew obeyed but not by going on a short term missions trip. He didn’t find the nearest orphanage and get to work with the soup distribution. He did probably the last thing you would expect a new follower of Christ to do.
He threw a party.
There was quite the crowd at this party. Other traitors and thieves were there. There were even people who just wore that general old label of sinner. The Bible doesn’t jump out and say why so many sinners showed up to the party Matthew threw for Jesus but if you look closely, you can see it.
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. Matthew 9:10 (ESV)
I’ve been in churches my whole life. I’ve seen a lot of gimmicks used to get people in the doors. When I was a kid, Newt Gingrich showed up to my church on friend Sunday. We also had pack a pew Sundays. Other churches give out free gas cards to the first 50 people in the door or have raffles for iPads. Numerically speaking, these schemes usually work.
And all the Christians walk away from the church service that day talking about the big crowd as evidence for how God worked.
Only God didn’t work.
The gas card and the iPad did.
Sinners weren’t coming to Matthew’s house because of some gimmick. We can’t know all of their reasons but, simply put, they came to Matthew’s house because Jesus was there. The church could learn a lot from Matthew.
There’s more to following Jesus than getting a crowd. Any organization can draw a crowd with free iPads and $200 gas cards. Here’s a cutting edge, relevant idea for you. Perhaps it is the presence of Jesus, not the presence of gadgets and gimmicks, that really impacts sinners.
For years, the church has used the world’s methods to draw a crowd. The church has even tried to act like the world in order to make the world feel more at home at church. And it has worked brilliantly at drawing crowds. Just no so much at making disciples.
Your church may have 5,000 people in it or it may have 5. Either one is fine. But there is something more important to consider before you start thinking about who all was at your church services last weekend.
Was Jesus there?