FROM BAD TO WORSE
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 25, 2014
And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” But they went away and spread his fame through all that district. As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”
— Matthew 9:27-34, ESV
Most of us have been on the losing end of conversations or situations that went from bad to worse. It’s a bad day when you find a worm in your apple, but it’s a worse day when you find half a worm in your half-eaten apple. It’s a bad day when your doctor calls you and gives you the news that tests reveal you only have 48 hours to live. It gets much worse when the he adds that he tried to get in touch with you two days ago.
Want a true story? Think about the Old Testament patriarch Jacob, who fell in love with the beautiful Rachel and asked for her hand in marriage. The bad news is that he had to work for her father and wait seven years for the wedding. The worse news was discovered on the morning after the wedding night, when Jacob looked beside him in the bed and discovered he had just married Rachel’s less-than-attractive older sister, Leah. The Bible must be true because you just can’t make up stuff like that.
Speaking of bad to worse and the Bible, let’s take a look at another day in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. While still in the relatively early stages of His Galilean ministry, Jesus meets some people who had it bad and others who had it worse. What’s bad is that these poor people needed His help in the first place. What’s worse is that even Jesus couldn’t, or wouldn’t, help all of them.
Blindness is Bad
Blindness is bad, but it could have been worse. The Messiah just might not have passed by that day. But, He did, and by faith these two blind men could see it.
No one in the Old Testament ever healed the blind. Psalm 146 ascribed such power only to the Lord, and Isaiah predicted many times that when the Messiah came to earth He would make the blind to see in more ways than one.
These two men could not see, but they could hear. They heard the Scriptures read and expounded each week in their Sabbath day assembly. They heard the reports of what Jesus was doing and who He claimed to be. They heard the ruckus that resounded in their village the day Jesus came to town. They could not see, but they could hear, and they did believe.
They could see by faith that Jesus is Lord, and faith in Jesus as Lord made them see. They could hear Jesus tell them not to tell anyone, but even Jesus knew they could not keep such good news to themselves. Their physical blindness had been bad, but if spiritual blindness had kept them from recognizing Jesus, then it would have been a whole lot worse.
Physical blindness is bad. Spiritual blindness is worse, and most people have it. The only cure is to look to the word of God and call upon the name of the Lord. The Bible is a two-way mirror that lets us see the beauty and glory of the Lord on one hand, while convicting us of our attitudes and actions which fall far short. Faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ combined with repentance of sin is truly the miracle of grace that enables a depraved and blind person to see. And once amazing grace has made you see, keep following Christ and looking to His word, or your vision may become dim again.
Now, these two blind mind had it bad. But, as always, when you just look around you can find someone who has it worse.
Demonic Possession is Worse
A devil next door is bad. A devil in your own house, even in your own body, is much worse. Such was the next case brought to Jesus on this day.
How the man became possessed by a demon we are not told. Such occurrences seemed fairly common in Jesus’ day and people make movies about demon-possession in our day. It is a scary sight in either era. Christians should be comforted to know that an evil spirit cannot lodge where the Holy Spirit already lives, so give your life to Christ and the devil becomes very limited in what he can do to you.
The unnamed man brought to Jesus on this day was not so fortunate. He had heretofore not met the Lord Jesus Christ, may well have been involved in some godless enterprise, and now the devil had him by the throat, literally, so that he was unable to speak. In good faith his friends brought him to Jesus, something friends of good faith always do for their friends. Jesus, already proven to be Almighty God with omnipotent authority over nature and spirits and mankind, cast out the demon and enabled the mute man to speak.
I wonder what the man said? “Thank you, Jesus” were probably his first words. It would have been bad if he had not said it. It would be worse to say it and not mean it. People thank God all the time when they get well, get money, get what they need, or get what they want. But do they all mean it at all? It is one thing to praise God when it is time to get, but what about when it is time to give? What about when it is time to give yourself to public worship on the Lord’s Day, to give your tithes and offerings to the Lord’s work, to give of your talents and gifts for the good of others? Yes, it is bad for anyone not to thank the Lord for their blessings, but it is far worse to not even know the Lord you are thanking.
The next time you thank God think about God. Who is He? How can we know Him? Do you know Him? Yes, it is bad not to give thanks to the Lord. It is worse not to know the Lord. But when grace goes to faith you never have to worry about bad going to worse.
In summary, bad things happened to blind men, and they spoke to the Lord. A worse thing happened to a young man, and the Lord made him speak. But now we shall go from bad to worse to worst. For the next group did not speak to the Lord, nor would they speak for the Lord, but they spoke against the Lord.
Worse than Bad and Badder than Worse
Of all the people we encounter in the Gospels, none could be any worse, and in any worse shape, than the Pharisees. Of course they were highly esteemed religious leaders among the people, the guys in the white hats so to speak, but the ministry of Jesus exposed the blackness in their hearts. It was bad to be physically blind, but Jesus could handle that. It was worse to be demon-possessed, but Jesus had a remedy for that, too. But what was worse than bad and badder than worse was to be a hypocritical, slanderous, blasphemous liar. For this there seemed to be no cure.
Jesus’ work with the blind and the demon-possessed had given Him a big lift in the polls. People were beginning to come to Him, listen to Him, best of all to trust in Him. They were beginning to hang on His every word, until the Pharisees uttered these words: “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.” Though they were lying through their crooked teeth, the Pharisees said this to cast doubt and discourage people from following the Lord Jesus Christ. They said what they meant, meant what they said, and would ultimately accomplish what they said and set out to do.
There are people in this world whose hearts are three sizes smaller than the Grinch’s on the day before Christmas. They are blind, but just can’t see it. They are possessed or influenced by the devil, but consider themselves the most godly people on the planet. They are generally thoughtless and talentless, but think they are the brightest and best members in the group. The only thing large about them is their ego, which feeds on having a following under their direct or indirect control. And when this following seems to begin to follow another, they will nail him to the cross.
It was bad, what the Pharisees did to Jesus. They spread slander, gossip, and innuendo to plant doubt in people’s minds about His credibility. They enlisted the aid of others, even other people they themselves did not like, to help them in their godless cause. They succeeded, or so it seemed, in causing Christ to lose His popularity, become betrayed by a member of His own inner circle, get accused of breaking the very laws He came to fulfill, and be tried and convicted of crimes He did not commit. It began here, in the earlier part of Jesus’ ministry, that the Pharisees’ lying lips pushed our Lord on a walk to the cross.
It was bad, what the Pharisees did to Jesus. But it would be worse to be one of the Pharisees that did it. And it would be worse than bad and badder than worse to be a Pharisee today and not realize it and repent of it.
Our world, like the world Jesus stepped in to, is full of beggars, thieves, and liars. It’s bad to have to beg, like the blind men in this story, but Jesus made the beggars better. It’s worse to be victimized by a thief, and the devil is the chief thief, like the mute man in the text, but Jesus can restore everything valuable any devil has taken from you. It’s worse than bad and badder than worse to be a liar, like the Pharisees, for only the truth can set a person free. So believe in Him who is the way, the truth, and the life. If you’re life has gone from bad to worse, only Jesus can reverse the curse.
ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 18, 2014
While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. And when Jesus came to the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went through all that district.
— Matthew 9:18-26, ESV
Life is a narrative in which one thing always leads to another. To quote Gandhi, “Thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, habits become values, and values become destiny.” The writer of Proverbs said it more succinctly, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (ref. Proverbs4:23). What you think leads to what you do, and what you do influences the value, good or bad, of your life and others’.
Jesus fills life with good news and good things, and one thing leads to another. Take this typical day in His life and ministry. The Lord was sharing the good news when He arose to do a good deed in the house of a synagogue elder. Then, one thing led to another, as on His way He was able to do another wonderful work for a woman with a woeful medical condition.
Providence brought these two together, a popular man and an ostracized woman. We know from the other Gospels that his name was Jairus, an elder or ruler of the local synagogue. No one seemed to know the woman’s name, and neither will we until we get to Heaven. But, we know from looking at their collective fears, hopes, and dreams, that one thing indeed leads to another.
Desperation Led Them to Christ
One thing these two disparate people had in common was desperation. In one case, it was born of twelve years of joy; in the other, twelve years of pain. One was about to increase, while the other decreased.
Jairus’ daughter was about twelve years old when she was overtaken by a terminal illness. I was not at Jairus’ house that day, but I’ve been in the intensive care units of children’s hospitals and held the hands of parents who were holding the hands of their dying child. I do not think there is any pain any deeper in any other place in the world.
I’m sure this little girl’s parents were concerned when she first fell ill. They probably were hopeful when fellow synagogue members prayed for her and the local physician gave her some medicine. But they became totally desperate when the sickness became so strong that it was about to take her life.
That’s when Jairus’ desperation led him to Jesus Christ. Capernaum was only fifteen or twenty miles away from Nain, where Jesus had earlier raised a poor widow’s son from the dead during his funeral. This and other stories of Jesus had no doubt reached Jairus’ ears. So when nobody else knew the sorrow in his heart, when nobody else could help his dying little daughter, in desperation Jairus turned to the Lord.
Jairus turned to Jesus, Jesus turned to go to his house, then a woman turned Jesus around with another grasp of desperation. To put it bluntly, her time of the month had turned into a twelve years of constant bleeding. It was embarrassing, exhausting, and caused her to be exiled from any gathering of family and friends, including synagogue services. At this point it was probably about to extinguish her life.
Jewish doctors could not help her, limited as medical science was in that day. Jewish religious leaders had shunned her, pushing her from the back of the synagogue to the exit. The Jewish Messiah was rumored to be found in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and now He was passing her way. That’s when she swallowed her pride, fought through the crowd, and reached out her hand in one final act of desperation.
No woman would have wanted to be in her shoes. No parent would like to trade places with Jarius or his wife. Desperation is a sick feeling that makes you surrender every ounce of energy you have in your body, mind, and will. But as one thing leads to another, desperation is the very thing that leads some people to give their body, mind, and will, and other precious things, to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ Led Them to Miracles
Desperation leads people to Christ, and Christ never leaves the desperate disappointed. In the case of Jairus’ daughter and the bleeding woman, the desperation that led them to Christ led them to a miraculous outcome.
On the way to Jairus’ house, Jesus healed the woman from her flow of blood. Our Lord made it clear to her that this miracle was not due to any superstition she may have held to in holding on to His cloak. He made it clear that a tax-deductible contribution was not a prerequisite for her real and complete healing. Jesus told her plainly, “Your faith has made you well.” Of course, faith must have a giver and an object, both of whom in this case is God.
Faith played an obvious part in the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, too. I do not believe that Jairus would have come to Jesus for help if he did not believe in his heart that Jesus could help him. Actually, when he left to go get Jesus, his daughter was still living. Upon arrival, Jairus was told she had died, and furthermore told not to bother Jesus anymore. But faith is no bother to Jesus, and Jesus went on to conquer death in this little girl’s life.
By the way, I love the scene at the little girl’s wake. By the time Jesus and Jairus arrived, the funeral traditions had begun. Jewish custom called for the hiring of at least two flute players and one wailing woman. That’s right, women in Jesus’ day actually got paid for crying and complaining. I’ve known a lot of church ladies in our day who could have made a fortune in Jesus’ day!
Obviously, the crowd at the funeral did not believe. They actually laughed at Jesus’ suggestion that the girl could be brought back from the dead. Our modern world laughs at that fact today. Jesus response, at Jarius’ house and at His second coming, is to shut out the unfaithful crowd and let the faithful few in on an indescribably awesome resurrection.
One thing led to another. Desperation led these people to Jesus, Jesus led them to a miracle. But it is important to understand that these miracles were special, not normative. Christ nor His Apostles are here with us to perform such miracles on demand. Desperate prayers for cures don’t come with immediate answers today as often as they did in Jesus’ day. But, as one thing leads to another, the great miracles that Jesus did on this day led to even greater miracles that still happen every day.
Miracles Led Others to Christ
The last sentence of Matthew’s version of the story tells more than the story of desperation and miracles. It tells how the greatest miracle of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is shared by so many. After Jesus’ displayed His deity and His charity through His power and His love, “the report of this went through all that district.”
After two thousand years, we are still talking about those two miracles today, along with all of the other things recorded in the Gospels that Jesus said and did. And millions and millions of times, when stories like these are told, miracles and resurrections take place. Perhaps you have been the recipient of a miracle likened to the healing of a disease or the resurrection from the dead.
It comes to you when you become desperate to have your sins forgiven. Sin makes you sick in the soul and it is a very terminal illness. Such desperation may drive you to physicians, therapists, or religious leaders. If you are blessed with desperation that is deep enough, it will drive you to the power and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. When desperation, or conviction, is combined with the other Spirit-induced qualities of repentance and faith, a miracle unfolds. It is a healing, from the penalty and power of sin. It is a resurrection, from spiritual death to eternal life. And when you experience the grace that raised you from death to life, you live to tell others about it. The story, the gospel story, gets told from person to person, house to house, district to district, country to country.
You see, one thing really does lead to another. Desperation leads to salvation, salvation leads to propagation, and the greatest story ever told gets told over and over again. It is this way because Jesus came to earth. It will be this way until Jesus comes again. One thing leads to another.
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 11, 2014
Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them,“Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
— Matthew 9:14-17, ESV
Jesus came to a world that was totally unprepared for Him. They misunderstood Him, almost completely. They had many misconceptions about the Messiah, including how many times He would come to earth and what on earth He would come to do. They were not ready for Jesus and they missed His point entirely. I am quite sure the same thing is going to happen again one day.
But, if we do not want to miss out on the blessings of the second coming of Jesus Christ, we need to put away some messianic misconceptions about His first coming. Jesus did not come to keep some old set of rules. Jesus did not come to fix an old and dying religion. Jesus came to bring something totally, radically, and savingly new.
Jesus did not come to keep the rules.
God gives commandments. Men make rules. Often times the two are far apart. Jesus came the first time in perfect fulfillment and obedience to the commandments of God; but, He didn’t come to keep the rules of men.
The men making the rules in this passage were the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees. The first group was a relatively earnest bunch of God-seekers, while the latter was a band of self-promoting religious legalists. However, both groups concurred in their condemnation of Jesus for feasting (see the previous passage) when He should have been fasting.
Perhaps the followers of John were fasting due to the imprisonment, or the execution, of their wild-eyed leader. Fasting is an understandable expression of mourning. Or, perhaps in their religious zeal they shared the rule of the Pharisees which called for fasting every Monday and Thursday. The point to keep in mind here is that the Old Covenant commanded fasting one day each year (on the Day of Atonement), but certainly permitted it on other occasions. The Pharisees had made up a rule that imposed fasting on the pious on a twice-weekly basis.
Rules are not wrong in and of themselves. Rules help regulate society in a helpful way in governments, schools, workplaces, other organizations, even the home. Rules are fine, unless you force other people to live by yours.
Take the Islamists, for example. I am sure there are meritorious moral elements to the Sharia law of the Koran and Muhammad, but I am sure it is wrong to terrorize and kill people who do not obey every jot and tittle. There is nothing wrong with a moral position on abstinence from alcohol. But, laws which make entire counties dry and prohibit sale and consumption by others is draconian. All Christian denominations have slightly different rules and traditions for worship and membership, but none of which are inferior to our own unless they expressly contradict Holy Scripture. If you want to make rules, outside the clear commandments of Scripture, go ahead. Just don’t look down on others who choose not to live by them.
But that’s what the disciples of John, and especially the Pharisees, were doing to Jesus. But Jesus didn’t come to keep their rules. And frankly, He won’t be coming again for those who think rule-keeping is a means of salvation. Salvation is not by keeping someone’s rules or even obeying perfectly the commandments of God. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ, alone. Salvation makes you love and desire to obey the commandments of God, and salvation makes you live by one rule: love.
Jesus did not come to fix a religion.
All Jews in Jesus’ day knew that Judaism was in need of a fix. The nation of Israel, long divided and conquered, was now under the divisive and conquering iron hand of the Roman government. The priesthood had been politicized and the religious leaders splintered into competing camps. Temple worship was taxing, synagogue attendance was declining, and the whole system was in a state of disrepair. It needed a patch and a fix that only the Messiah could bring.
But Jesus did not come to be that kind of Messiah, the first time. He did not come to conquer the world, kill the Romans, and exalt Israel to the place of preeminence. By a careful examination of this text and others in the Bible, we can know that Jesus came the first time not to conquer the world, but to die for the sins of the world. Furthermore, on the same basis, it is clearly the will of God, by Christ’s first coming, that Old Testament religion should pass away, too, and be totally replaced by the New Covenant church.
Jesus did not come to fix Israel, but rather establish the church. The Old Covenant had run its course, due to the predetermined plan of God and the unfaithfulness of God’s people, Israel. Most glaring was their failure to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. That’s why it seems silly to me when evangelical Christians break their necks and break the bank to support the nation of Israel in general, and their Old Covenant religious practices in particular, when they directly disobey and disregard our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Let me soften this statement by saying emphatically that I love Israel and the Jewish people. But I love Burkina Faso and the African people, too, and Vietnam and the Asian people, and Arkansas and the American people, and all people. Remember the rule of love! And remember that no people and nobody needs a religion, primarily. They need Jesus, ultimately, and the grace and truth He brings to this world.
Jewish religion was badly torn. In the generation following Jesus, it would be ripped to pieces. So instead of fixing one of the oldest religions in the world, Jesus poured out some “new wine.”
Jesus came to offer something new.
Jesus did not come to keep the Pharisees’ rules or fix the Jewish religion. Jesus came to offer something new, something better, something of eternal and infinite value to all people. It is a win-win situation, referred to by the Lord as “new wine into fresh wineskins.” Everybody should drink up!
The “new wine” is clearly the New Covenant, ordained by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. You can hardly read any passage in any of the Gospels without direct references to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus mentions His death here, when “the bridegroom is taken away.” He mentions the unsuitable rules (“old garment”) and unsustainable religion (“old wineskins”) which were bringing people down, and offered a new and better way (“new wine”) for the people of God (“new wineskins”). Those who accept the “new wine” of the gospel and become the “new wineskins” of God’s people, will be “preserved” into eternal life.
The “new wine” is the New Testament gospel of Jesus Christ and the “new wineskins” is clearly the New Covenant people of God, the people we now call the church. The church should not try to enforce extra-biblical rules upon people, but teach the commandments of God which are simple and sufficient. The church should not be solely a religious building but a robust family of faith filled with the “new wine” of the Holy Spirit, the gospel, and the right worship of almighty God. The church should be an expanding “new wineskin” which makes room for people of all races, classes, and backgrounds, a place where sinful pasts can be washed away to make room for a spiritual present and a secure future, preparing for the day when the Messiah will come again.
Notice how the new wine and new wineskins inseparably go together. So do a proper profession of faith in Jesus Christ and responsible and active church membership. Just as wine would be useless without the right wineskin, so are those who name the name of Christ and refuse the corporate worship, fellowship, and disciplines of the church. It is not a matter of rules, not about religion, but about being right with God.
Admittedly, most churches make Christ mostly misunderstood. But the gospel is plain, the church is His plan, and those who accept the terms of Jesus’ first coming will greatly benefit from the second. And when He comes again, He is going to make all things really, radically new. Don't miss it!
GOD LOVES LOSERS
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 4, 2014
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
— Matthew 9:9-13, ESV
There is usually one in every family, in every entourage of friends, in every senior class. He struggles in school, gets picked last for the team, and easily wins the award for the least likely to succeed. Often he turns our bad, because breaking bad seems to be the only way he can make money, get attention, or find a friend. He is the loser.
Among the first followers of Jesus Christ, this ignominious award would be bestowed upon Matthew, the very man who wrote this Gospel, the very one whose conversion is described in this passage. He was, of all things, a tax collector, which made him the biggest loser among first century Jews.
His life had begun with promise, signified by his given name, Levi, taken from the priestly patriarch of Israel. Perhaps his parents hoped he would grow up to be a priest, maybe a Sadducee or a Pharisee. But in his parents home, where the high school graduation portraits are hung, there is a faded outline of one taken down from the wall.
There is evidence to suggest he was given a fine and upstanding education in order to prepare him for success in life. He writes well and speaks multiple languages. His occupation requires a proclivity for mathematics, in which he no doubt excels. But he had squandered those good gifts by using them for bad purposes.
For the sake of the almighty dollar, Levi, also known as Matthew, had forsaken almighty God, his Jewish family, and all that was holy to become a rat for the Roman Empire. He probably bribed his way into the office, extorted money from people while in office, and was despised by most people who lived near his office. Matthew was, in the eyes of all who knew and didn’t love him, a loser. But the good news for Matthew is that God loves losers.
God Loves Losers
Jesus did not have to go to the tax booth that day. The Lord might have paid His federal taxes in Bethlehem, His state taxes in Nazareth, and probably had no taxable income to be excised in Capernaum. Therefore, there was no reason for Jesus to approach Matthew as he was “sitting at the tax booth,” except one: love.
Jesus chose to love Matthew, even though Matthew had chosen not to be loved in his community. Jesus loved Matthew, even though Matthew had sinned against God, Israel, the citizens of Capernaum, and even his own family. Jesus loved Matthew, enough to visit him and present the gospel to him, even though Matthew was a loser. Perhaps it could be better said, Jesus loved him and visited him with the gospel not in spite of, but because of, the fact that Matthew was a loser.
It seems that Jesus loves and chooses losers. Are you one?
God Saves Losers
Who or what can save a soul from death and eternal punishment? Jesus saves! And Jesus saves when the gospel is properly presented and then responded to, properly. In this biblical case, the proclamation of the gospel took two words and the proper response required none.
“Follow Me” is the gospel in two words. It could have been less. Christ could have just waved in a come on motion, or simply put his arm around Matthew’s shoulder and eased him into the Way. But I love what Jesus said, and said repeatedly in His ministry, for it displays the essence of the gospel in just a couple of words.
“Follow Me” is the call of an exclusive gospel. Jesus did not invite Matthew to follow Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, or whatever way seemed right to him. Jesus called Matthew to follow Him who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (ref. John 14:6). There is no other way for a loser to win salvation other than the exclusive gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Follow Me” is the call to a personal relationship. Matthew must have been startled at first when the miracle-working Messiah spoke to him in this way. Though he had been a skeptic concerning the kingdom of God, he now was confronted by the King with an offer to be His friend, partner, comrade without arms. I think Jesus looked Matthew in the eye. I think He called Matthew by his name. I think Jesus looks at you, though you may be a loser, knows your name, and speaks these same two words to you.
“Follow Me” is the call to a corporate purpose. I would have liked to see the look on Simon Peter’s face when Jesus walked up to Matthew. I would have liked to see Matthew’s face when he looked into the faces of the Capernaum fishermen from whom he had levied heavy tax burdens. But Jesus calls losers into a community rife with other losers, so that those who have collectively lost their lives to Christ can win something, together, of much greater, eternal value.
Considering all the baggage that is packed into these two words, “Follow Me,” Matthew responded without a word. He simply “rose and followed [Jesus].” He was resurrected, by the power possessed only by the Lord. He repented, turning from tax collecting and extortion to matters in life that truly matter. He believed, in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and committed his life into His hands.
Salvation, by grace, happens in this way. Even though Jesus had yet to pay it all on the cross, our Lord still possessed the grace that could melt a heart of stone and make it new. Sovereign grace chose Matthew, irresistible grace made Matthew arise and follow Jesus, and amazing grace would lead Matthew all the way home.
Jesus saved Matthew by grace, because the grace of God saves losers. Are you one?
God Uses Losers to Reach Other Losers
Matthew was one, and he knew others, too — losers, that is. The first thing Matthew did after becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus was to throw a big party and invite a bunch of fellow tax collectors and other assorted losers. The purpose, ostensibly, was for a good time and the good news — Jesus loves losers!
Since Jesus came to the dinner party, I think it is safe to say that God likes these kinds of occasions. At such an event there would have been a lot of food, wine, music, and probably a little dancing. This did not please the Pharisees nor the Baptists, of course, but Jesus was certainly pleased to be there.
Of course, if the Pharisees or Fundamentalists had made a disciple out of Matthew before Jesus did, the scene would have been much different. In fact, there would have been no scene at all. Matthew would have been commanded to cut off all his loser friends, pour out all his wine, burn his collection of vintage rock records, and never, ever dance. Because of the pious’ six degrees of separation, the losers of this world with whom Matthew used to associate would no longer see Matthew and they would have never met God.
God loves losers, God saves losers, and God knows that when losers get saved they are still losers who should still hang out with other losers and try to introduce them to Jesus Christ. Perhaps this will all make more sense if we discover the other name for loser.
God Has Another Name for Loser
Jesus speaks twice in this dialogue. Once He speaks with two words that need almost no elaboration. Next, He offers several words, including a recitation of Hosea 6:6, that require some interpretive thought.
Jesus said the “well,” those who engage in “sacrifice,” and “the righteous” do not need Him. Be assured, if you think you do not need Him, you will not get Him. The Pharisees, who had chimed in condemnation over the guest list at Jesus’ party, seem to be the target of Christ’s comments. While the so-called new perspective on Paul might exonerate these characters, the old perspective on Jesus does not. Clearly the Pharisees, winners in their own minds, did not think they needed Jesus. After all, Jesus is for losers. They were doing well in their own eyes, were zealously active in the worship of Jehovah, and were self-righteous in their religious standing with God, fully trusting in their own works rather than the grace and mercy of God. But while they lifted themselves up, Jesus, perfect even sarcasm, was putting them down.
Christ did the opposite with the losers. He put them down, honestly and lovingly, so He could lift them up. The losers are “sick” with sin. Because of it, the losers desperately need “mercy,” a word in Hosea that could better be translated as covenant love, a potent mixture of mercy and grace. They are the losers, and another word for losers is “sinners.”
Only sinners can become winners in the kingdom of God. Only sinners can be saved by the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. Jesus is for losers! Are you a loser?
The number one song in world history was not written by Elvis, the Beatles, or Bob Dylan. It was written by a real loser by the name of John Newton. Perhaps you’ve heard of “Amazing Grace.” Newton was a social outcast raised by a single father who developed pathetic habits and made his fortune from kidnapping Africans, abusing them, then selling them as slaves. One day God called out to him, this time by the Spirit instead of the incarnate Son, and said, “Follow Me.” Newton became a beloved disciple, an outstanding pastor, and the writer of the world’s favorite song. Yet to his dying day, John Newton’s favorite saying was, “I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior!”
I was raised by a single dad, too, developed terrible habits as a teenager, and required a total transformation that only the gospel can bring. I never delved into the slave trade, but I never wrote a song like “Amazing Grace,” either. I’m neither better nor worse, just the same kind of sinner as John Newton. I’m a loser, but I’ve lost all my sin to Christ’s cross. I am a great sinner, called to follow a great Savior.
So are you. Let us not look down our noses at the tax collectors, the racists, the drug addicts, or the gainfully unemployed as if they are the only losers in the world. We are all losers, and we lose every day. But God loves losers, also known as sinners, and sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to save us. So let the two words that turn losers into winners ring in your ears and run your life: “Follow Me,” says the Lord.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org