JA-39042 was our telephone number when I was a child. Our family's telephone looked like the one pictured here. We were on a party line with three other families in our neighborhood, so when we wanted to use the phone, we always had to check to make sure no one was already using the line. Also you never knew when someone else from the party line might be listening in on your conversation. The phone was big and heavy and the rotary dial made a clicking noise when you dialed the number you desired to call. It sat on a small table next to our sofa, and frankly, wasn't used very often.
Today I have a telephone that I can carry in my pocket. It serves as an address book, note pad, clock, calculator, camera, calendar, and personal planner. I can access the internet from it, receive voice mail messages, send and receive text messages, change ringtones, download music to it, and send and receive email. Oh yes, I can also make and receive phone calls on it! By the way, I've had this Blackberry for just over a year now, and I am informed that it is now somewhat outdated. Hmmmmm...
Back in the late 60's, Bob Dylan told us, "The times, they are a changin'."
The vast differences in my two telephones are indicative of the world in which we live.
Things ARE changing - big time. In every area of life. The rapidity of change is enough to make your head swim. Change has been with us since the dawn of time, it's here now, and it's coming tomorrow. Much of the change we experience is for our good. Some of it is unsettling, even frightening! But amidst all the change, do you ever long for something solid, immutable, and unchangeable? Something that will not be outdated or obsolete tomorrow? Something that you can count on to be there when you wake up in the morning?
Deep down, we all desire that type of stability.
I have been reading the Gospel of Mark lately, and never cease to marvel at John Mark's ability to pack so much action in the ministry of Jesus into sixteen short chapters. In chapter two of the book, I have found several things that never change.
The chapter begins with Jesus miraculously healing a paralytic man, whose four friends tore the roof off the place, to get their buddy to Jesus. From there the multitudes followed Jesus and He taught them along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. From there, Jesus passes by the customs office manned by a fellow named Levi. This Levi is identified in Mark's Gospel as "the son of Alphaeus". Most of us know him by his other moniker, "Matthew", the same Matthew who wrote the Gospel that bears his name. (As a side note, one of Jesus' other disciples, one who is called "James the less" is also identified as being the son of Alphaeus. Could be the same Alphaeus, could have been another.)
Anyhow, Jesus passes by the workplace of this Levi and something quite interesting happens. Mark records the words of Jesus to Levi to be quite simple.
Keep in mind, who this Levi is. He is a tax collector. A Publican. A Jewish man who had "sold out" to the occupying Romans and worked for them to collect tribute from his conquered countrymen. Usually, tax collectors like Levi not only collected the required Roman taxes, but abused their authority by collecting extra funds for themselves. Basically, they were corrupt and greedy and were perceived by their fellow Jews as treasonous thieves. This was not the type of person that most folks would expect the Great Teacher to call as a disciple. Yet there it is in black and white.
The resulting action on the part of Levi was equally amazing. Mark, in typically fashion simply puts it this way, "So he got up and followed Him." Apparently Levi was so overwhelmed in the presence of this itinerant teacher, that he was willing to leave the security of his job and comfort zone, to follow Jesus. His experience appears to be similar to that of some fishing partners, who received a similar invitation from Jesus. The Bible says, "They left their nets and followed Him."
Now, reading this, I am struck by a fact that hasn't changed in twenty centuries.
Jesus still calls people to follow Him.
Just as He issued the invitation to Levi, John, James, Peter and others, He called me. He calls you. He calls rich and poor, young and old, men and women, respectable or despicable, He still calls. The beauty is that no matter who you are, where you've been, what you've done, and how long you've been doing it, Jesus simply calls, "Follow me!" Have you answered His call? Are you willing to follow?
As we read on, we see another interesting "non changing" concept. Here is how Mark describes it:
"While He was reclining at the table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and
sinners were also guests reclining with Jesus and His disciples, because there
were many who were following Him."
Jesus went as a guest to Levi's house. Imagine that! The Great "I AM" reclining at the table of in the home of a sinner - breaking bread while surrounded by other scurrilous characters. A cursory reading of the Gospels will reveal that Jesus seemed to go out of His way to make contact with the "down and out". The narrative is full of examples of Jesus, making contact with lepers, cripples, prostitutes, sick people, lunatics, blind folks, beggars, military men, and adulterers. Why would He bother to deal with these dregs of society, that are often overlooked by the "respectable" community? Because THAT is precisely why He came. Jesus came to pardon men and women, and boys and girls from the penalty of their sin, and to offer sinful mankind forgiveness, and a personal relationship with a Holy God.
Jesus still goes to where the sinners are!
He did it then. He does it now. He charges us to take the Good News to those who need it most, yet we tend to sit in our "holy huddles" using spiritual jargon and practicing "churchianity" while the world around us faces a hopeless eternity. God help us to go to those who need to hear your message of love, grace, forgiveness, and relationship.
We read a bit further and are reminded of another thing that hasn't changed. Look at verse 16:
"When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples, “Why does He eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
The Pharisees were members of the strictest sect of the Jewish religion. They had developed an elaborate system of tradition based upon the tenants of the Mosaic law. They were literalists, in the worst sense of the word. They were so wrapped up in their traditions and hypocritical attempts at dotting all the "I's" and crossing all the "T's", that they didn't even recognize the Messiah when He stood before them.
One of the worst indictments we ever read about Jesus was similar to verse 16. "This man receives sinners, and eats with them!" was the charge. Imagine that! Jesus was criticized by the religious crowd because he dirtied His hands and made contact with those who needed Him most. If we hope to impact the world with the message of Christ, we had better get over that "field of dreams" (if you build it they will come) mindset and take the Gospel where the people are.
That brings me to the third thing that hasn't changed:
People still misunderstand and criticize those who would be evangelists.
Since we know that the enemy seeks to stop the Gospel message, why should we be surprised that he would generate hate and misunderstanding against those who would share the message of Grace. Paul the Apostle understood the need to build relationships with lost people for the purpose of winning them to Christ. He talked about using the culture to meet and connect with unsaved folks. "I have become all things to all men that by all means, I might win some", he wrote. Here in the Bible Belt we have traditionally ignored that concept and expected everyone to fit into our way of doing things. Hold a revival, invite people to church, have a Southern Gospel "singing convention, preach a message, give an invitation and expect non believers to run, weeping, to the altar. How much of the wrath of the traditional church folks would come down on ministries which carry the Gospel in a different way.
For example, consider the ministry of Vieu Carre' Baptist Church, located in New Orleans' French Quarter. In that enclave of drugs, booze, gambling, bohemian lifestyle, and moral debauchery, how much success do you think our traditional methods would have? Vieu Carre' is ministering in a culture that is totally Christless. That culture has little or no reference point to the "religious" activities that we here in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. The situation calls for a way to find common ground, and build relationships with those who are searching for something that they do not realize that they need.
We know that the enemy will bring criticism against the would be evangelist. Unfortunately sometimes the criticism comes from our own "teammates".
Well, Jesus was misunderstood and criticized, but that didn't change a thing. He loved those who needed His touch. Listen to His reply to the critics in Verse 17:
"When Jesus heard this, He told them, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor,
but the sick do. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus showed compassion on those who needed it most. He was touched by their sin sickness and motivated by love to meet their needs. That brings me to the final unchanging point of this message:
Jesus still shows compassion to lost people.
They are sick - with a spiritually terminal disease. They are lost. They are as good as dead in their trespasses and sins. They need a physician. Not a regular doctor, but one that can resurrect the dead.
How often do we diagnose the situation and pronounce the eternal doom of those who are still unregenerate? It is true that folks who haven't trusted Christ are headed for an eternal Devil's Hell. The problem is, sometimes the way we tell them that, it almost sounds like we are glad about it.
Jesus' compassion took Him all the way to the cross to die in my place and to pay my debt. The same offer is available to "whosoever" will accept it. May we share the same compassion today for those who are lost for eternity.
That message will never change. It is our task (and privilege) to get the news out to those who need to hear it.