Mirror, Mirror ~ March 18, 2018 ~ Matthew 9:9-13
The last few weeks we looked at different disciples. I figured as we are working towards the cross it might be neat to look at the people Jesus called to follow Him. And I challenged each one of us, as we studied these disciples, to see if they could recognize something in them, in those disciples, that they recognize about themselves. Characteristics that they have that you share. Maybe characteristics that they have that you’d like. Maybe some characteristics that you have that you don’t want anymore. Whatever. But to compare us, as Christians, to the apostles. We’re going to continue that this morning in the book of Matthew, but will you join me in the unison prayer, as it is projected on the screen, as we prepare to listen to the Word of God. Let us pray together:
Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Okay, Jesus is gathering quite a crew. So far, he’s got Andrew, and Simon Peter, and James, and John, and Philip, and Nathanael, or Bartholomew. He shakes things up quite a bit this morning with the calling of Matthew, who’s also known as Levi. Our reading is in Matthew chapter 9, beginning in verse 9. As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him. Now, I want to pause there for a moment, because this is critical. This is new. This is a different direction for Jesus. So far, everyone that Jesus has called has been a fisherman. Matthew was not a fisherman. Matthew was a tax collector. Now, I don’t know about you, but most people I know do not appreciate paying taxes. Mostly, though, because we perceive that our money is wasted. It’s not spent properly.
Let me tell you a little story: I’m going to call it “A Tale of Two Joes.” Joe Anderson and Joe Smith. They go to high school together. They are supposed to graduate the same year together. Joe Anderson knows he’s not really a great student. So he has to work hard to get the grades that he knows he needs to graduate. And so he does so. He buckles down. He studies. He applies himself. And he graduates. Now, when Joe Anderson graduates he’s not a college kind of guy. He’s not really interested in going on to higher learning, but he knows he needs something else, some more training, to be able to provide for a family he’d like to have. So he goes to school to get his CDL, his commercial driver’s license. He becomes a truck driver. Meets a nice young lady, they get married, they now have a little baby girl. Joe, over the years, to make more money has taken more and more contracts where he’s an over-the-road long-haul truck driver now. He drives across the states and back, which requires him to be away from his young family quite a bit. But it’s a sacrifice that he knows he wants to make to be able to provide for his family.
Joe Smith never made it through high school. In his senior year, he got his girlfriend pregnant. He quit school, left her and the baby, walked away, never went back to finish up, never got his GED. Needed to make some money, decided to sell some dope. Got arrested selling dope, got put on probation. Then he got involved in a gang. That’s where he got the nickname J-Dog. So J-Dog is now in a gang selling dope. He gets wrapped up in a fight, gets charged with assault, they run his record, they find he has a conviction, so J-Dog goes away. Spends some time incarcerated. J-Dog gets out. Now he has a record, can’t find good work. Never finished his high school diploma. In all the years after he quit, never went back to finish it, all the time he had incarcerated, never took advantage of the programs in there to get his GED. So J-Dog can’t afford to feed himself, shelter himself. He has to depend upon the government. So, Joe Anderson, he is a faithful church-goer, and he tithes 10% of his income. So 10 cents of every dollar that Joe makes goes to his church, only leaves him 90 cents. Of that 90 cents, how many cents of that 90 cents should Joe Anderson be forced to give to J-Dog? Well, the government tells him between state, local and federal taxes he’s gotta pay 30 cents. So 30 more cents out of every dollar that Joe, the truck driver makes goes to fund J-Dog’s life. So Joe the truck driver only gets to keep 60 cents out of every dollar that he makes.
Now, it seems unfair, but it’s not that we’re hard-hearted. We want to help people in need. But we don’t like to pay taxes because we don’t believe that the government is the best vehicle to help. And they are not. They are not. By the time the government gets through with the 30 cents that Joe gave to them to help out those in need, there’s only 3 cents that makes it into the hands of those who need a helping hand.
The government is the absolute worst organization to count on, to put in charge of, helping. The worst. In fact, the government is really the worst organization to put in charge of anything. Really. I mean, look at it. Look at it. We want our older people to not starve when they retire, so we’re going to create a program called Social Security. Right? Well, we got all this money in our Social Security account that’s going to go to help older people live when they retire. Guess how much is in that account now? Nothing. It’s empty. The government came in, took it all, spent all the money, and put a whole bunch of IOUs in there. I may get Social Security, because I’m old, but my kids probably won’t. It’s bankrupt. The system is bankrupt.
We put the government in charge of our defense, that’s their main responsibility, to defend us from the attack of foreign invaders. Did you know that 62% of all the F-18 Hornet fighter jets that the Navy has are not ready to fly? They have teams of people who go out to what they call “boneyards” where old, broken down planes are put out to pasture (it’s like a junkyard), to scavenge parts so they can come back and try to get some planes ready to fly. And 74% of the Marine Corps, 74% of their planes are not ready to fly. The government’s been in charge of that.
What about roads and bridges? Infrastructure? That’s their responsibility too. How are our roads and bridges? What about education? We created the Department of Education in 1974. How good is our education system? You want to send your kids to Hartford schools? It’s incredible to me. With a track record like that, there are still people who think that the government is the answer, who want to give them more responsibility, want to give them more of our money. Socialism is the big fad today. I don’t get it. I’m more of a guy that says when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. We are in a big hole. We should ask the government to give us our shovel back.
Here in Jerusalem, it’s even worse. King Herod was using most of the tax money that he got to build himself architectural wonders: castles and temples. Not to glorify God. To glorify him! He doesn’t care about those in need. So, we’re unhappy paying our taxes to Herod to begin with, and we hate, we see Matthew as a tool, as working for the enemy. I know we talked about not too long ago about Samaritans, and how Samaritans in the northern kingdom of Israel were not supposed to intermarry into and mix with the invading Syrian army. But they did. Not only did they intermarry with them and mix with those occupiers but they allowed their religion to get mixed. It was no longer Judaism anymore, it was some mixture of Judaism and Paganism that God wouldn’t even recognize. So that’s why the Samaritans were hated.
Tax collectors were hated even worse, and I’ll tell you why: People like Matthew did not help their cause. You see, Herod was responsible for collecting enough tax money, a certain amount of tax money to send to Rome. That’s what Caesar required of him. Matthew was basically a sub-contractor. Herod hired Matthew to collect the amount of money that he needed to send to Rome to keep Rome happy. On top of that, Matthew had to collect an extra amount for Herod, because Herod wanted his cut. Beyond that, Herod didn’t care. Whatever else Matthew could collect, Matthew could keep. And that’s what tax collectors did. They collected what they needed to for Rome, they collected what they needed to for Herod, and they kept whatever else they could squeeze out of you. You knew, you knew when you paid Matthew that he was extorting from you. You knew it! But there was nothing you could do about it. You think fighting City Hall is difficult in the 21st century? Try it in the 1st! If you valued your life or your freedom at all, you kept your mouth shut. And you hated this man who took your money.
So why choose Matthew? Well, as you heard me say not long ago, fisherman knew all about hard work, right? They knew about patience and perseverance. The fishing was different back then than it is today. It was those giant rope nets with the weights around the outside, and you had to pick them up and throw them out with your brute strength and then wheel it back. And it was a lot more casting than it was catching. It took a lot of effort, brute force to do that. It took patience, it took perseverance, and Jesus thought, man, these are great characteristics to have in someone who’s going to go out and fish for people. Because I tell you, as many times as you share the gospel, verses the amount of times somebody will receive it – you’re going to do a lot more sharing than you are going to see conversions. So you need patience, you need perseverance, you need strength. I get it with fisherman. What does Matthew bring to the table?
Well, he writes in the next chapter, in chapter 10, when Jesus was sending out the twelve to do their evangelism, he says in verse 16, “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and as harmless as doves. But beware! For you will be handed over to courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers.” That’s the only reason.“But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking.” Right Yessenia? “It will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” This is how bad it’s going to get. Jesus says, “A brother will betray his brother to death.” A brother will turn his own brother in. “A father will betray his children, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. And all nations will hate you,” for one reason – “because you are my followers. But everyone who endures this to the end will be saved.”
And then John says in his gospel, chapter 15 verse 18, “If the world hates you, remember it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you no longer belong to the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” This is a fallen world, and Satan is the prince of this world. Jesus himself said that in John chapter 10. So if you are following Jesus, you are going to stick out big time, and it will cost you for doing so! We heard that this morning, how many people so far have said, “We’re now following Jesus, my family’s now coming to church, I’m doing the right thing, and I’m getting attacked!” Hello? I wrote this sermon a week ago. But it does happen. It doesn’t matter who you are. How many people know who Chris Pratt is? That actor? Well, after the Parkland shooting in Florida, Chris Pratt is a very serious Christian, and he posted a few things on FaceBook, Twitter, Snapchat, one of those things, talking about prayer, and offering prayers for the people in Florida. And he got eviscerated! People said some horrible things about him just for proclaiming his faith! How dare they pick on Starlord!
That’s just not right! But it will happen. And there is our answer. That’s why Jesus chose Matthew. That’s what Matthew brings to the table. He knows what it’s like to be hated. He’s got thick skin. He’s got resilience. And besides hard work, patience and perseverance, those are two things that Christians are going to need: thick skin and resilience. Because as Christians we are going to face fierce opposition. It is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. You’ll be surprised sometimes where it comes from. It might come from a co-worker who you were going to lunch with on a regular basis and you thought everything was just great. It may come from a friend that you’ve been friends since junior high school. All of a sudden you find the Lord, and they find you unacceptable. It might even come from family. Oh, so you think you’re better than me now, huh? What do you think you are?
So am I Matthew? Can I withstand the slings and arrows that will inevitably come my way? Or do I fold at the first sign of trouble? I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. I’ve seen a brother in Christ standing having a conversation with three or four of his friends, and one of the guys, one of the friends is more like the bass drum, he doesn’t mind hitting it. And he’s after him, “Well, you know, do you really think that this happened, or that happened? Can that really be? That’s kind of silly, isn’t it?” And my brother sees that he’s outnumbered. He looks around and sees that it’s four to one, they all believe this guy, I’m the only one that believe this! And they fold. They look down at their feet and they shuffle a little bit and they say, “Well, I suppose. I guess so.” I’ve seen it.
Holding to God’s standards is not always easy. Some of them are! I mean, hey, “Thou shalt not kill.” Most of us can keep that one. I’m not saying we don’t feel like it, those of us who have had teenagers, but most of us can handle that one, “Thou shalt not kill.” That’s an easy one. Here’s one a little tougher: Are you going to teach your daughter, or your son, to practice safe sex or God’s standard, which says no sex before marriage? That’s a little tougher than “Thou shalt not kill,” isn’t it? But you know, when our boys came down to visit us here in Wethersfield at our house and brought their girlfriends, some of them at one time were even their fiances, they were going to be my daughters-in-law, I was going to do their wedding. And when they came to visit, they did not sleep in the same room. Not in my house. Now, it didn’t matter to me that they were living together – Well, it did matter to me, but I couldn’t control that they were living together back in Massachusetts or in Maine – I didn’t have control over their house. I had control over mine. And Renée and I decided “not gonna happen,” not under our roof. I know some people will say, “Oh yeah, but you’re a pastor, and blah blah blah.” It’s got nothing to do with being a pastor. It’s got to do with being a Christian. Do you want Dido, our director of young adults, to teach your kids how to apply a condom properly? Is that his job? Or do you want to have him teach our kids what the Bible says about purity? Bible says, “sex outside of marriage is called fornication,” and it doesn’t change just because they’re my kids. It doesn’t change just because they’re thirty-something years old. That’s God’s standard. Which one are we supposed to hold up? Taking the God’s standard position does not always make one popular, believe me. But am I Matthew? Am I able to withstand the hatred that’s going to come my way for being faithful?
Later in verse 10 it says, Matthew invited Jesus and his friends to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and many disreputable sinners. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” (I don’t exactly know what the Hebrew word there is, but you get the point.) When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices. For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
Matthew and his friends were not looked upon as upstanding members of their community. Why? Have you ever heard the phrase “birds of a feather flock together?” Why are all Matthew’s friends seen as “scum?” Because they’re all like him! They’re greedy, they’re selfish, they’re gluttonous, they’re promiscuous… birds of a feather flock together! Why? Because we gravitate towards people we agree with! If I’m living a life of greed and excess and selfishness, I don’t want anybody calling me on it! I just want to keep doing whatever it is I’m doing and hanging around people who do the same. Matthew decided, I don’t want to be that guy anymore. He realized that his way is not God’s way. Am I Matthew? Do I realize that if I follow the ways of this world, I am following the prince of this world? Have you seen the condition of this world, by the way? Have you seen the news? Read a newspaper? Are those God’s standards? It’s why the Bible tells us in Romans 12 very clearly, Do not copy the behaviors and customs of this world.
But before we get all excited and start pointing fingers, which Christians seem to tend to want to do, remember, Jesus said, how can you think of saying to your friend, let me help you get rid of the speck in your eye when you can’t look past the log in your own? Before we start picking on anyone else, we need to take a good look in a mirror. Mirrors can be scary, because they are completely objective and totally honest. Personally I think mirrors put on ten pounds, but that’s me. But what you see in a mirror, spiritually speaking, is what God sees. You can’t hide. If you stand before your mirror and say, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, is my walk with Christ something I want God to see?” It can be.
That’s what Matthew figured out. All he had to do was follow Jesus. Leave his old life behind and follow Jesus. When you do that, what you see in the mirror changes, because you have changed. So am I Matthew? Can I take the heat? Can I stand strong in my faith even when it’s not popular to do so? Am I Andrew, or Simon Peter? Am I willing to leave everything behind and follow Jesus. Am I James, or John? Is Jesus more important to me than anything else, including my family? Remember guys, none of these men, none of these men were chosen for their education, for their speaking ability, for their social or economic status. I mean, wouldn’t you think that God would choose a first century version of Billy Graham or Pope Francis to be his apostles? I would! But he didn’t, did he. Who’d he pick? Fisherman and a tax collector. Regular folks like you and me.
Now, I wanted you over these past three weeks hopefully to recognize some characteristics in each of these disciples that you identify with. But I’m not asking you to be them. You don’t have to be Andrew or Simon Peter or Bartholomew or James or John. You only have to be you. God will use your gift and your talent to build his kingdom. You will still need patience. You will still need perseverance. And you will definitely need a thick skin. But only if you want to follow Jesus. If you want to follow Jesus, would you stand and pray with me?