- Sermon Notes
Reach Beyond the Backstory
Intro: Pressing Forward.
In Matthew chapter 9, Jesus calls a tax collector named Matthew to follow him. There are specifics about Matthew’s life that would make it seem that the last thing Matthew would do was pursue Jesus, or to follow Him…But he did! When Jesus came to and called him, he left his prior life behind and his life was changed and redefined by Christ. Jesus had reached beyond his backstory and what we see is that Matthew was willing to reach beyond the backstory of his friends and bring them to see Jesus personally.
Read: Matthew 9:9-13
For a variety of reasons, many would question Jesus’ calling of a tax collector. It would open the door for much scrutiny. The decision to follow Jesus would, no doubt, radically change Matthew’s life, and at the same time, radically define Jesus’ ministry. Matthew was an unlikely candidate for Jesus to call as one of His closest disciples.
I. Take Notice of Who Jesus Calls
Matthew 9:9, As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.
Much of what we know about Matthew is summed up in the description of his location, “sitting in the tax collector’s booth.”
Matthew was a tax collector who, though Jewish, served Rome against his own people by collecting taxes.
Tax collectors were hated by Jews and were thought of as traitors. Their loyalties were centered on Rome, and their minds on making as much money as possible at the expense of other Jews.
The Roman tax system was such that a man like Matthew could purchase by way of bidding on a franchise or contract, which would entitle him to tax people in his region.
The local tax collector was required to collect a specified amount of taxes for Rome and allowed anything collected beyond that figure to be kept as personal profit.
The amount of taxation was essentially unlimited and was enforced by the Roman military, making the local tax collector exceptionally wealthy and powerful, but extremely hated.
Luke 3:12, And some tax collectors also came to be baptized [by John], and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.”
When a Jew became a tax collector he was regarded as an outcast from society, disqualified as a judge or witness in a court session, excommunicated from the synagogue, labeled a traitor, and from a community standpoint, looked at as a disgrace to their family.
It is while sitting in the tax collector’s booth, which to his fellow Jews would rank him amongst the worst of sinners, that is where Jesus finds Matthew.
He did not see the place Matthew was sitting as His permanent setting.
Jesus saw who Matthew could be, who he would be. Jesus does the same for you and me currently and has throughout all history.
Jesus was willing to look past the fact that Matthew was a tax collector by looking forward and calling him beyond the border others had put upon him based upon his life’s description up to that point.
Upon approaching him, Jesus says two powerful words, “Follow Me!”
Luke 5:28, And he left everything behind, then got up and began to follow Him.
We don’t know if he had ever heard Jesus preach prior to this, or whether he had witnessed one of Jesus’ miracles, however, Matthew, whose tax booth was along the sea (Mark 2:13-14), would have been acquainted with Jesus’ ministry.
Matthew 9:9, …And he got up and followed Him.
Hearing the simple call from Jesus to follow Him, was all Matthew needed to hear in order to turn his back on everything he once was and possessed.
There is a great deal included in the phrase “he got up and followed.”
As an agent of Rome, he knew that once he left his position, he would not be able to return to it. He knew the cost and willingly paid it.
There is a contrast between the way in which he wrote about his decision to follow and that of Luke who make sure we know that Matthew “got up and left everything.” (Luke 5:28)
Philippians 3:7-8, But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
When it comes to following Jesus, there is much to leave behind. There is a way we have been identified by others, perhaps ways in which we have self-identified; proclamations about who we are based upon what we have been or were prior to meeting Jesus.
All of those things are counted as loss, however, because of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus…
When Matthew “got up and left everything” those things which were once gain, were then counted as loss.
Everything changes as you begin to leave your old identity behind and find your identity in Christ.
Colossians 3:1-3, Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Illus. That’s not who I am.
Ephesians 5:8, For you were formerly in darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.
For Matthew, his future would be defined by his decision to follow fully.
Perhaps there are a few people in your life who do not know Christ, perhaps there are many. Regardless of the definition of their lives currently, God’s determination, or position of who they will be, is not likely going to be based on what their life looks like currently.
This is seen in and throughout Scripture. Matthew became one of Jesus’ closest 12 disciples after leaving his life as a tax collector. Surely, the backstory of the other 11 are worth looking at as well.
Matthew 10:2, Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.
As the list is given, there aren’t many impressive details given. There weren’t many impressive details to share. They don’t seem to be chosen based on resume, talent, or ability, or history – no one stood out.
They made their lives available to Jesus, however, He called and equipped them despite their backgrounds.
Romans 3:10, There is none righteous, not even one.
2 Corinthians 12:9, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.
There are three lists in the Bible with all 12 apostles (Mt. 10:2-4, Mk. 3:16-19, Lk. 6:13-16): Let’s look at the backstories of those on the list!
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
Acts 4:13, Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.
In His disciples, Jesus saw more, and His disciple became more. After being with Him, they were recognized as having been with Him.
Jesus saw Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth, and when He saw him, He had compassion on him, he loved him, he saw more.
1 Corinthians 13: [Love]… bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
In your life, Jesus sees more.
Romans 5:8, God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
As those in Christ, we too need to be willing to see more. To take notice of who Jesus calls, His mission and His purpose to equip, train, and transform them.
As you take notice of who Jesus calls, you will see that there is no backstory, or history, that will put a wedge or wall between that person and His willingness to call them.
Ask Him to Show You What He Sees
After being called to follow, Matthew began to look at his friends and co-workers differently. It seems he saw more, and in seeing took the opportunity to bring those he knew to Jesus.
Luke 5:29, And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them.
Matthew 9:10, Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.
Matthew put together a large banquet at his house. He invited a large crowd of tax collectors and sinners, so that they could dine and recline with Jesus (Luke 5:29-30).
Tax collectors from neighboring communities and sinners who had associated with Matthew were invited to meet the One who changed Matthew.
Surely, those at this banquet were those Jesus could not reach in the synagogues: they were the excommunicated, those labeled by the Pharisees as wicked, immoral, and to be avoided.
To sit and eat with such people was particularly outrageous. As sharing a meal indicated a close association and identification with that person.
The Pharisees, who were the legal specialists of the time, would have had nothing to do with such people.
Jesus responds differently, not just coming personally, but bringing His followers along as well.
This “Matthew party” illustrates the commission Jesus points His followers to, even today.
Mark 16:15, Go into all the world and preach the gospel. (good news).
Matthew’s life had changed, and he wanted all to know the One who changed him.
Matthew did not see his relationship with Jesus as something to go about quietly, or confidentially. No, Matthew wanted to share Jesus with his world in such a way that all would see.
So, he took advantage of the opportunity he had with those he knew, to introduce them to Jesus.
And when you invite people to the place Jesus is in your life, they too may be ready and willing to go to the place you invite them, and you can be sure Jesus will be willing to come as well!
Romans 10:13-15, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Illus. Will they listen?
Of His mission, Jesus said He “came to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Keep Jesus on the welcome list in your world. Bring Him with you in the places you go and amongst the people you know.
And whenever there is a doubt, ask Him to show you what He sees.
Illus. Show me.
Illus. Seeing More Clearly.
Be Willing to Sit as Jesus Sat
Matthew 9:11, When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?”
While Jesus reclining at the table, eating with tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees have something to say.
They don’t come to Jesus directly, but rather to His disciples. They saw who Jesus was dining with and were appalled.
“Why is your teacher eating with tax collectors and sinner?”
Jesus hears and responds:
Matthew 9:12-13, But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Keep in mind where Jesus is at the time of His response, He is reclining at the table (Mt. 9:10), along with the “tax collectors and sinners.”
Jesus did not leave the room to make His point, rather, from right where He sat, He made His mission and motive clear to both parties. To those reclined at the table and to the Pharisees who were not even willing to come close to them.
Jesus says out loud and for all to hear:
“Those who are well have no need of a doctor or a physician but those who are sick.” In other words, Mr. Pharisee, you’re actually right. You’re right these people are sick. They are spiritually sick, they are sinners. You’re right about that because they are sick where else would a doctor be? I’m the doctor, I am making a house call, I am amongst those in need.
Jesus makes it clear here that a physician’s waiting room is filled with those who are sick.
The Pharisees were like doctors who wanted to avoid all sick people. Perhaps they wished people would become healthy, but not at the risk of being around them.
Jesus then quotes Hosea 6:6 and tells the Pharisees to “go and learn what it means.”
The Pharisees thought they knew Scripture perfectly, but as a Rabbi would often tell a student who did not understand, Jesus tells them to “go and learn.”
Go and learn that it is not about the surface, but about a righteousness that surpassed that of the Pharisees (Mt. 5:20). About the mercy and compassion given to the “poor in spirit,” those who do not have a righteousness of their own but recognize their need.
Why was Jesus there? He was there because it is why He came, to save (John 3:17).
Romans 3:24, All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 5:8, But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
I am struck by the fact that everyone in the room heard what Jesus said. Right in front of those being referred to as “sinners.” Yet, After He said those words, we don’t see the people who have come to meet Him leave and go home, attempt to stone Him, or yell at Him.
Jesus had a seat at the table. And with that seat He had at the table, and it was not a seat of situational compromise, rather, He made His mission clear, did not compromise or disguise His reason for being there, He knew who He was amongst and was willing to draw near. And the people willing to draw near to Him.
Matthew 5:17-18, Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
And in our pursuit of winning lives for Christ, may we never attempt to do so by pushing aside the lines Scripture has defined in our lives.
For you and me as we reach beyond the backstory, we have a similar call and opportunity. To have a seat at the table, but not compromise or disguise who we are in Christ, His mission, what He has done for us and what He desires to do in the lives of others.
Let us learn in a greater way what it means to have compassion, and Go into all the world, with a passion and willingness to reach beyond the backstory.
Illus, Melt them down.
As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”