Welcome to Becomning Closer! 


The Call of Christ

Luke 5:27 -- 39

It is a phrase of which we hear very little these days: “the call of Christ.” The church, it seems, would not dream of placing such a burden upon its members. Sometimes we forget that the church is the ultimate reality, the mind of God, in our increasingly unreal world. Let us turn to the Scriptures:

After that He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, "Follow Me." And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him. And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?" And Jesus answered and said to them, "It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." And they said to Him, "The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers, the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same, but Yours eat and drink." And Jesus said to them, "You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? "But the days will come; and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days." And He was also telling them a parable: "No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. "But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. "And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, 'The old is good enough.'"

(Luke 5:27-39 NASB)

The Authority of Christ

We may begin this section by carefully examining that which is acknowledged, and that which is not. The authority of Christ over the righteousness seems obvious; what about his authority over sinners? We are told that all authority is given to Him; does that include sinners as well? Matthew’s example here will serve us well.

Authority over the righteous

We would concede Christ’s authority over the righteous as given. It is worth some ink, however, to discover the root of that authority. Let’s take it step by step:

  1. The authority of Christ – over the righteous or anything else – is personal. He did not inherit a position; God gave him the authority personally. But that raises the question: just why should the righteous obey Him?
  2. The answer is equally simple. Jesus is God in the flesh; therefore, like God the Father, we may say that He is righteousness (and thank you, Thomas Aquinas). He is what they are.
  3. Therefore, his authority over the righteous is absolute. A point which has been greatly neglected lately – and is the foundation of obedience.
Authority over sinners

But what about sinners? We know that the sinful will be judged at his return; does he have authority over them now? Again, his authority is personal:

  1. He is the atonement. As such, He is mercy; which is to say, God is love.
  2. As is shown in the last passage, he has authority over sin. Because he is the very mercy of God, he has that same personal authority over sinners. He is entitled to their obedience too.
  3. Thus his authority over sinners is absolute too. He is THE Way; both for the righteous and the sinners.

We may now see that in action, in Matthew’s call.

The call of Matthew

It is important for us to see that Christ’s authority over sinners is used in the way God intended: he is called the Friend of Sinners. It is not his desire to destroy the sinner, but to redeem him.

There is a subtlety in the original Greek which escapes the English language. It says that Christ “noticed” Levi (other translations use “saw.”) The word actually means “to examine closely.” The call to Levi (Matthew; that’s his Greek name; Levi is Jewish) is not a bulk mailer or a spam e-mail; it is, like His authority, personal. Jesus is not drafting people into an army; he is wooing them into the kingdom of God.

Matthew’s reaction shows us one thing: he who is forgiven much, loves much. Love calls to the dirtiest of sinners, and is echoed with love.

The Nature of the Call

We hear so little preached on the call of Christ that we should review its major points again:

The call is personal

The call is from the person, Jesus, to each of us – ordinary human persons. Please note that this is not simply an order to the lower ants from the ant on the top of the ant heap. Indeed, it is made on the personal authority of the only man who seriously could claim to be God in the flesh. We miss the mark if we do not see the Son of Man.

In a passage such as this, we can see the person – and why he upset the establishment so much. Dorothy Sayers put it this way:

The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore -- on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him "meek and mild" and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.

To those who knew him, however, He in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to Him as a dangerous firebrand. True, He was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before Heaven; but He insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; He referred to King Herod as "that fox"; He went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as "gluttonous man and winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners"; He assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the Temple; He drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; He cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people's pigs and property; He showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, He displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and He retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb.

He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if He was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But He had "a daily beauty in His life that made us ugly," and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without Him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness.

This is the man; a man whose personal presence suspends the ordinary rules of life. Why don’t his disciples fast? Because He is who He is. This extraordinary man, whose feet got dirty like ours do, is the one who calls us. It’s personal; and he wants all of our personality.

The call is purposeful

Note the phrasing: “I have come to call…” This tells us two things. First, that the call is no accident or spur of the moment thing; it is purposeful. It also tells us that it is a call, not a demand. There is no sense of force involved; “softly and tenderly Jesus is calling.”

We, the church, have that same call. It is our purpose, our mission, to make disciples. We do this by preaching the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. We are to make disciples. This too is purposeful; it is indeed the purpose of God since the beginning of time.

The call is powerful

It would certainly seem that the call of Christ is powerful indeed. This is the one who heals the sick and raises the dead. We often think that since his call is powerful, ours must be weak. It is not so. Jesus told his disciples[1] that it was good for him to leave – so that the Holy Spirit would come. Jesus is the atonement; we are the ambassadors of reconciliation. Through us, others may become the sons of God. That is power indeed.

Our response

The call is made to us. Each of us hears it somewhat differently, for there are many gifts of the Spirit. I submit for your consideration three varieties of response.

The First Comfortable Church

The economists have an illustration which will serve. Sometimes we act like “the last man on the blimp.” It’s as if the blimp is hovering overhead while those below face rising flood waters. The blimp lowers a rope ladder, and the flood victims begin to climb to the blimp. But the blimp can only hold so many people, or it will crash into the flood waters. As each person makes it up to the blimp, he must decide: should I be the one to cut loose the rope ladder? Who will decide to be the last person in the blimp?

Many of us feel like that. We’re members of the First Comfortable Church; we’ve made it into God’s blimp. We don’t want any more, for more would change things – and we like things as they are. So how do we cut the ladder? In our acceptance or rejection of the next person in the door. If the next person is wearing a Harley motorcycle jacket and boots, we convey the subtle impression that this church is composed of more civilized people; come back when you learn how to wear a tie.

Now, truth to tell, we wouldn’t want this attitude to become well known. We like to think that we’re a friendly church here at First Comfortable. The Pharisees in this illustration understand that too. Notice that they don’t complain to Jesus – the claws on the Lion of Judah are too well known. They complain to the disciples. We wouldn’t complain to the pastor about the latest crop of riff-raff to come to the church; but we might just discuss it amongst ourselves.

Hating the sin, loving the sinner

The example given here is a powerful one. We cannot in any sense say that Christ approved of the tax collectors – by and large they were a collection of sinners. The issue is not their sin; the issue is Christ’s love for them. If you love someone, should you not share the good news of Jesus Christ?

Under certain circumstances we are permitted to “pass judgment” – it’s called church discipline. But it always has as its object the repentance (thus benefit) of the sinner in question. Indeed, it is an example of loving your neighbor.

The attitude of love may seem to be difficult. But consider: you have no real difficulty in loving yourself. Jesus only asks that you do likewise for your neighbor.

The example of Matthew

Matthew (Levi) provides us the example here. See what the call cost him:

  • It cost him his fortune – he was a rich man. Being a tax collector didn’t give you social status, but it did make you rich.
  • It cost him his hours – the man who used to command his day must now wait and see what his Master will do with those hours.
  • It cost him his thought – he leave the familiar world of tax laws and polite extortion and enters the world where he is a beginner.
  • It cost him his passions – he goes from despising his victims (not without envying their social status) to treating them like brothers.
  • It cost him his pride – which he gave up in full sacrificial rites by inviting his friends over to meet his new Master.

The call of Christ: it is based on his personal authority; it is a powerful call, yet unique to you. Will you politely put it aside? Or will you see the hurting and needy around you?

We know very little else about Matthew than what is recorded in this passage. It is the only example Matthew sets for us – but it is an impressive one. He forsook all, took up the cross, and followed his Master.

[1] John 16:7

Previous     Home     Next