"Matthew's Motley Crew: Sharing Good News Interpersonally"

April 22, 2007 Luke 5:27-32

'Fishers of Men': What's Your Angle?

[PHOTO] Here's quite a catch! You're looking at a real fish, a sturgeon, weighing over 1000 pounds and over 11feet long, caught in Lake Huron not far from here at Kincardine. This mammoth maritime monster measured over 56" at its girth (around the middle). Perhaps Jonah could have fit inside - no whale needed! What did it take to bring this beauty in? The description says: "It took over 6 ½ hours and 8 dozen beers and 4 guys taking turns reeling." I don't think the beers were for the fish. What did it really take? Just one hook, and a bit of bait. Such a great fish, requiring many men straining and even then not being able to lift it out of the water - yet just 1 hook was all it took. Fishermen are called "anglers" from the Old English 'angul' meaning 'fish-hook'.

Jesus told His disciples, "Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." (Mt 4:19) From now on they would catch people, rather than sturgeons or mackerel or whatever. They'd be angling for souls. Yet people are leery of ending up mounted on a wall like some prize half-ton sturgeon: there are many con-men working the angles, ready to take advantage of the naive and innocent. Especially today, in our complex modern web of multi-layered communication and relationships, we have to be on guard against being taken advantage of - from email scams to bank machine frauds. We're even getting conditioned, when we answer the phone, that if there's silence for a few seconds - what do you suspect? Another telemarketer!

Or in the religious realm, if you answer the door to find a couple of well-dressed smiling people with religious literature in their hands, are you conditioned to end the conversation as quickly as possible? Whether they're Jehovah's Witnesses or not, you suspect they're out to push their line to their advantage.

Ev-angel-ism has an 'ang[e]l' in it; and we ARE supposed to be 'angling' for people; but the 'ang[e]l' in evangelism is supposed to be GOOD NEWS not good angling in the sense of a con, against which 'buyer beware'. When sharing with people about Jesus, they should feel it's genuinely 'good news' for them; it's wrong if they feel caught, or as if they've been 'had'. In this short video clip, notice how the person is disappointed with how people have shown conditional love toward her: they've been nice to her so long as they 'get what they want'. They've worked their angle...

// Lindsey's friend was suffering due to her parents' arguing about the divorce selfishly, but she was also hurting from people using her, being nice just to get what they want. Lindsey gently offered to have her over to talk and listen and introduce her to God, who'd been there for her all along, but not for taking from her.

Evangelism to be 'good news' must be other-centred, not self-centred - as if we're collecting more notches for our Bible. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbour - how? "As yourself" (Mt 22:39); unselfishly, at least on a par with how you'd want yourself to be treated in that situation, not for your own advantage at their expense. He said we're to love one another "as I have loved you" - laying down one's life for one's friends, sacrificially, to serve their real needs (Jn 13:34, 15:13f).

Today we're looking at another style of evangelism - sharing good news "interpersonally": it's not a parachute-in style but an approach that builds relationship genuinely, sincerely, with integrity. It demonstrates real love in a way that's low-key and long-term, not a quick 'con' or angling that would make you angry for feeling 'caught' hook, line & sinker.

An Amazing Association

Leading up to our passage, the first part of Luke 5 is full of amazing and wonderful acts of Jesus that serve as the basis for His call to discipleship as He begins to assemble "The Twelve". In 5:6 there's the miraculous catch of fish, so many that the boats of Peter and his partners begin to sink. Next Jesus heals a man with leprosy, and 'the news about Him spread all the more.' (5:15) Then we have the dramatic lowering of a paralyzed man on a mat through a hole in the roof; Jesus pronounces his forgiveness, then grants physical healing to back it up. Hear the sensation He's been causing in 5:26: "Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, "We have seen remarkable things today."" Wow, this guy's really something! What astounding miracle is He going to do next?

And so we come to our text, v27: "After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him." Jesus saw and said, Levi forsook and followed. What?! No miraculous sign - no splitting nets? No multiplying of coins like loaves so that they spilled out over the baskets? Not even a tiny bulge in Levi's money-bag? Where's the wonder? Even Nathaniel had an "I saw you by the fig tree"! (Jn 1:48)

Yet, what appears at first quite Unsensational was in fact very remarkable...so much so that by the end of the day, the Pharisees still haven't picked their jaws up off the floor. It has to do with the amazing grace shown in Jesus merely calling Levi, a tax collector. The last person in the world anybody would have suspected of a hot young rabbi adding to his band of followers. The massiveness of the CHASM of Levi's situation is reflected in the COMPLETENESS of his dedication.

The Chasm of the tax collector's situation: Publicans (as they were also called) back in those days weren't helpful, respectable Canada Revenue Agency types that don't charge you extra as long as you get your T1 and payments in on time. The Bible dictionaries comment, "Their generally extortionate practices...made them an especially despised and hated class...For the strict Jew, however, this quite natural attitude of hatred was aggravated and altered in character by the religious consideration that the [tax collector] was regarded as ceremonially unclean, on account of his continual contact with Gentiles, and his need to work on the Sabbath." "The publicans were hated as the instruments by which the subjection of the Jews to the Roman emperor was perpetuated, and the paying of tribute was looked upon as a virtual acknowledgment of his sovereignty. They were noted for their imposition, rapine [plundering] and extortion...The publicans of the NT were regarded as traitors and apostates, defiled by their frequent intercourse with the heathen, and willing tools of the oppressor." So, you can see they're blacklisted on 3 counts: fraud (as Zaccheus practically admits to - Lk 19:8), nationalistically as traitors, and religiously as most unclean. Remember that to be classed as 'unclean' was to be virtually cut off from synagogue and community life: no one respectable wanted to be the least bit associated with you.

Bruce Larson comments, "We might liken it today to sitting down with a Nazi collaborator in World War II." Bill Hybels notes, "a tax collector...in those days was about one notch above being part of the mob.People in his profession were notorious for pilfering money from the poor. If you were a tax collector, you essentially had a license to extort."

Are you starting to get the picture? Do you have an appreciation for the social chasm that surrounded Levi (or Matthew as he was also known)? So the religious types demanded of Jesus as the NLT puts it, "Why do you eat and drink with such scum?" (5:30)

So Jesus didn't have to do any miracles to stir up amazement; just speaking to Levi, inviting him to join the ranks, accepting this 'unclean' tax collector - that was amazing enough. Jesus reached out across a moral, social, and religious chasm that was broader than the Grand Canyon.

"He saw a tax collector" - but He also saw the heart of Matthew, someone used to noticing details, someone faithful in keeping accounts. Matthew, who would record and transmit to generations to come the beautiful account that begins our New Testament. Others saw a tax collector; Jesus saw the inner person, the saint the sinner could become through grace.

Levi wasn't long taking the Lord up on His invitation. V28 puts it briefly: "Levi got up, left everything and followed Him." The chasm that was bridged was matched by the COMPLETENESS of Levi's dedication. The Greek word for "left everything" means "leave behind, forsake, abandon." Peter and Andrew, James and John were fishermen, middle-class folk who could always go back to their business. But a tax collector who abandoned his post, his juicy license to extort, would never be accepted back into the system. It was all or nothing. Bruce Larson comments, "You couldn't give up tax collecting for the Romans on a whim and expect to ever return.He cut his ties. He gave up his wealth and privilege and position and did so gladly to follow Jesus." Wow! Now that's discipleship! He'd found the pearl of great price, and sold all he had to obtain it (Mt 13:46). Yet Jesus' love and grace so touched that isolation deep within him that he did it gladly, not grudgingly - wealth and privilege mattered little by comparison.

Inviting the Unexpected

Jesus' grace truly is amazing (quite apart from any supernatural miracles). Levi in some ways is representative of us all. Jesus has a special interest in calling the unexpected. Paul could say to the church at Corinth, "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-- and the things that are not..." (1Co 1:26-28) Foolish - weak - lowly - despised - nobodies...Yet God sees a SOMEBODY, the person we can become in Christ through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. And that turnaround, that transformation - from tax collector to writer of a gospel - is what brings Him glory.

This requires that we recognize our need; that we stop bluffing about our foolishness, weakness, the things we despise about ourselves but try to cover up. Stop acting all aloof and self-righteous and 'holier than thou' like the Pharisees and scribes sneering as they peek through the hedge around Matthew's rollicking garden party. They weren't invited, and wouldn't have come if they had been; but they couldn't resist hanging around on the outside and criticizing!

Recognize your need, your own chasm and incompleteness without the Saviour. Jesus said in 31, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." The Pharisees in their own eyes weren't the 'sick' or 'sinners' as they so disparagingly referred to Matthew's motley crew; but at the end of the day, they've excluded themselves from the righteousness that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Repentance means we recognize our sickness, our need of God.

Our most serious sickness is not physical but spiritual. How many 'righteous' people are there who don't need Jesus' doctoring? Paul quotes the OT law's verdict about human nature in Romans 3(10-18 NLT), "No one is good-- not even one. No one has real understanding; no one is seeking God. All have turned away from God; all have gone wrong. No one does good, not even one." "Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.Their speech is filled with lies." "The poison of a deadly snake drips from their lips." "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." "They are quick to commit murder..." "They have no fear of God to restrain them."

There is NONE righteous - not even one! It's not in our self's fallen bent to seek God; we'd rather do it ourself, "I did it MY way." It's all too easy for tongues to be poison, to yield to bitterness, to think murderous thoughts: Jesus implied being angry with your brother puts you in danger of judgment just as the person who actually murders (Mt 5:21f).

It was a very sorry week in the news: the Virginia tech shooting, snuffing out dozens of students; many more killed in Iraq through suicide bombers; in Turkey, 3 Christians at a Bible publishing house were bound and had their throats slit by those who view their activities as a threat to Islam. We consider such acts awful, horrible, deserving the severest penalty. Yet, like the Pharisees peering and scoffing through the shrubbery, do we then turn around and cast doubt on somebody through gossip with poisoned tongue, tantamount to character assassination? Do we bottle up bitterness when another receives some advancement we had hoped for? As for seeking God, do we pass up our devotional time in preference for that special show that looks so interesting?

We're just as bad as the rest - just as bound up in sin as the worst of them. Thank God Jesus came to save sinners! In another tax collector's house Jesus declared, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." (Lk 19:10) Paul, that accomplice in imprisoning and killing early Christians, said: "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience..." (1Ti 1:15-16) Even for the worst sinner, Christ has unlimited patience - marvelous mercy.

Throw a 'Matthew Party'

Levi's thankfulness for the Lord reaching out to Him finds expression in (v29) "a great banquet for Jesus at his house". This delightful event doubled as a natural forum for evangelism - sharing good news interpersonally - with "a large crowd of tax collectors and others", those who were already in Levi's circle of influence. Bill Hybels & Mark Mittelberg write, "[I think God] would want us to be wary of status quo techniques for evangelizing lost people, when in our hearts we know these aren't the best solutions for reaching the people we hope to help...Contagious Christianity is friend-to-friend, person-to-person, neighbour-to-neighbour.The plan is biblical, it's logical, it's strategic, and it was proven by Jesus, Paul, Matthew, and many others since...It's the people we do know who have already developed a measure of trust in us and our motives, and who are, therefore, most in range of influence...attributes like authenticity, compassion, and sacrifice are powerful magnets to those who observe them in your life."

Ever try to sneak something by a tax collector? I hope not! I'd be afraid they'd catch it - they're trained to have hound-noses for sniffing out cons and frauds. If Levi had any 'angle' except their best interest at heart, this crowd would have detected it in a flash. But they could sense the change was real: this Jesus business was genuine.

Hybels & Mittelberg observe those suited to the interpersonal style of evangelism "tend to be warm, people-centred individuals who enjoy deep levels of communication and trust with those they're reaching out to...Do you enjoy having long talks over a cup of coffee with a friend you're trying to reach? Can you patiently listen to another person's concerns without rushing in to tell them what they need to do? Do you enjoy having people into your home, sharing a meal, and spending time in conversation?"

They recommend, if you're like that, throwing what they call a "Matthew Party". Some people use golfing events to deepen friendships with unchurched acquaintances. Another couple invited just about everyone they knew, Christian and non-Christian, to a fourth of July party (this is in the States); the most spiritual thing they did was have contemporary Christian music playing over the stereo, but by the end of the day some strategic friendships had been started. One lady held a carnival for the kids in her neighbourhood. When a new family moved into a house on the same street as another couple, they invited them over for a pie party.

You can even just invite the person to join you in the things you're already planning to do, such as: share a meal; watch the Senators; ride together to racquetball; share babysitting or planting shrubs.

Your circle of influence includes people you used to know in high school - you can even just track them down, call them up, and renew acquaintance. Not long ago our daughter was walking down the street in their town in Korea when she bumped into a high school friend from Northern Ontario. Emily cultivated the friendship, and now at their mutual request I'm sending off a copy of The Message to this young woman who has since returned to Canada. The point is, there was already a connection and level of trust, a point of contact, a bridge that could be crossed - in the company of the Saviour.

Bill Hybels recalls, "A newer Christian in our church named Kathy took our evangelism course and became excited about reaching out to others. Out of the blue she decided to call a friend named Rae Ann who[m] she'd hardly seen in twenty years. It turned out to be providential timing, because Rae Ann's husband was in the hospital dying of a terminal illness, and she didn't have anyone to turn to for support.

"Kathy felt sad for her friend but excited about the opportunity to be used by God to love and encourage both of them, which she did wholeheartedly. In the process, she and Rae Ann became close again, and Kathy was able to help both of them put their trust in Christ. Though Rae Ann's husband died within a few weeks, she had newfound hope that she'd see him in heaven. Shortly thereafter, Kathy and Rae Ann were baptized together. And it all started with a phone call to an old friend."

So - be a Matthew: and have fun! As you connect, prayerfully watch for opportunities to talk about some of the changes God has effected in your life. But watch your 'angle': it's good news we're offering, not a hidden catch. In that sense, 'party hearty'! Let's pray.