By Invitation Of The King
It came in our mail at home the other day, addressed to our family. We opened the envelope and read the engraved card:
BY INVITATION OF THE GOVERNOR
YOU ARE REQUESTED TO BE PRESENT FOR
THE INAUGURAL DINNER AND BALL
THE FORTY-SECOND ELECTED GOVERNOR OF
THE STATE OF ARKANSAS
AT THE GOVERNOR’S MANSION
TUESDAY, THE ELEVENTH OF JANUARY
Needless to say, we were surprised and honored to receive such an invitation. But it got me to thinking what it must have been like for the people who received an invitation to the dinner described for us in the Gospel of Matthew—an invitation not from a mere Governor, but from the King of all the Universe. The invitation probably read something like this:
BY INVITATION OF THE KING OF GLORY
YOU ARE REQUESTED TO BE PRESENT FOR
A DINNER PARTY HONORING
JESUS OF NAZARETH
AT HIS PLACE OF RESIDENCE
Now, by the sound of that invitation, you would imagine that the guest list was taken from Capernaum’s Blue Book of Social Registry. Not so. The guests invited by King Jesus weren’t members of the “Country Club set.” There were some of His disciples and there were some people described as “publicans and sinners.” But let’s set the scene…
In order to catch the cool breezes of the evening, the tables were set in the courtyard of the house. Standing out on the street, outside the courtyard gate, as commonly happened in those days, were people who, in passing by, saw the party in progress and stopped outside the gate to watch what was happening. In that group looking on from the outside were some of society’s upper crust, in particular, some Pharisees.
As they watched the young preacher from Nazareth dining with this crowd of publicans and sinners, they began to make comments about it—and they weren’t exactly whispered comments. “Birds of a feather flock together.” “A man is known by the company he keeps.” “He who lies down with dogs shall get up with fleas.” Jesus heard these comments. He got up from the table, walked over to the gate, and said to those outside: “I have come to call the sick, not the well. I have not come to call those who are piously self-righteous, but those who know they are missing the mark in life.” That’s our Lord’s Word. “I have come to call sinners.” And how magnificently He did it!
For example, notice this about the way Jesus called sinners: He surprised them.
That was true in this scene from Matthew. They were astonished that He would actually, formally invite them to sit at the same table and eat with them. That was not the thing to do in those days. Those who were religiously proper were forbidden to have anything to do with those so-called “people of the land.” They could not talk with them, travel with them, do any business with them, or marry them. They could not give anything to them, or receive anything from them. The lines of demarcation were clear and inviolable. So Jesus was doing something these pious, proper people of His day would never have done, and it surprised both those invited guests at the party and those who watched from the outside.
It even surprises people today. And yet I cannot understand why. We expect to find a fireman at a fire. We expect to find a policeman where the law is being broken. We expect to find a doctor at a hospital. Why should it surprise us then that Jesus will always be found with those who need Him most? For that’s where the Saviour is—with the people who need Him. And He calls us to be there with Him and with them. And when we respond to that call surprising things always happen.
A friend in the ministry had as a member of his congregation one of the most prominent business executives in this country. The businessman was a church member in name only. And the minister, overpowered by the man’s prestige and position, had never talked to him about the Christian faith. At last, one day, the minister summoned up every last ounce of courage he had and he went to the man’s office. He was ushered past legions of secretaries into the huge and luxurious office, where he was then seated across from the very powerful man, separated from him by what seemed to be a half-acre of desk. After a few pleasantries, he began to talk of this man’s need for Jesus Christ, spelling out some of the great doctrines of the faith. When he had finished, he was somewhat surprised that the businessman didn’t say a word. The Minister was afraid that he hadn’t gotten the point across, so in very simple terms, he began to tell of One who lived and died and lived again, and of our need to commit.all of our yesterdays and todays and tomorrows to the Lord. When he finished, the businessman said not a word, just looked at him. Well, the minister’s courage began to vanish rapidly, so he started to get up to leave. The businessman stopped him with a wave of the hand. Then this giant of American industry picked up a piece of paper and wrote across it a single sentence: “I am so moved that if I would speak, I would weep.”
My friends, if we would follow our surprising Saviour into the world with His surprising Gospel, I think we would be surprised at how many people would rejoice at the hearing of it.
Notice then, too, about the way Jesus called sinners. He shamed them.
When Jesus went in search of sinners, He did not adopt their kind of living. Oh, to be sure, He took upon Himself their flesh and their blood. He walked their roads, ate their food, suffered their temptations, even died their death. He identified with them, on every level of the human experience save one: He did not sin! As He went into the world, He did not surrender to the ways of the world. And by the same token, He calls us to identify with the world’s people on every level except one: we are not to share their sins.
Unfortunately, there are many Christians who have forgotten that rather than being in the world for Jesus Christ, they are to be in Jesus Christ for the world. A preacher who leads or incites a bloody riot is a blasphemous contradiction in terms, no matter how noble his ultimate goal may be. Need I remind you that Martin Luther led what may be history’s most widespread revolution, and he did it without spilling a single drop of blood. A youth worker who feels that in order to communicate with young people, he must use (risqué humor and off-color language undercuts any meaning there might be in his ministry. A Christian businessman who feels that he must engage in some unethical business practice in order to have any hope of speaking about Christ to his non-Christian business contacts is only giving a lie to the Gospel. A Christian young person who goes along with the crowd in some immoral act hoping then to be able to exert some Christian influence later on, is actually betraying the Saviour as profoundly as Judas did.
Don’t get me wrong. We are not to be Christian “stuffed shirts.” I’m not advocating a life devoid of joy. In fact, I believe that the Christian life can and should be the most buoyant, the most vital, the most dynamic, the most exciting, the most joy-filled life there is. But I am saying that all of that joy and excitement and enthusiasm can be there without sin!
Tertullian, one of the great heroes of the early Christian Church, said that he and most of the converts who came out of the paganism of his day were won to Christ not by books or sermons, but by observing how Christians lived and how they died. The poet writes:
You are writing a Gospel,
A chapter a day,
By the deeds that you do,
And the words you say.
People will read what you write,
Whether fruitless or true,
So what is the Gospel
According to you?
Make no mistake. Our Lord calls us to shame the world’s people by the sheer splendor of our daily living, thus to win them, just as He did.
Then notice this about the way Jesus called sinners. He sacrificed for them.
Saving the world is not easy to do. A lot of people have tried to do it in a lot of different ways. Some have tried to save it with armies—and they have failed. Some have tried to save it with education—and they have failed. Some have tried to save it with psychology—and they have failed. Some have even tried to save it with preaching—and they have failed. Only one thing wins the world. That is sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ who climbed the awful hill and gave His life away. That is the sacrifice that led Francis of Assisi to so devote himself to Christ’s work in the world that the very wounds of Jesus appeared upon his flesh. That’s the sacrifice that led Father Damien to become a leper in order to minister to lepers. That’s the sacrifice that led Vincent dePaul to sell himself into slavery in order to reach slaves for the Master. That’s what saves the world! It’s so giving yourself away in the service of Jesus Christ that at last you cry out: “Lord, there’s nothing left of me in me.” Then it’s hearing God say: “In losing your life, you have found it.”
There’s a very beautiful poem by George McDonald that says it for me:
I said: “Let me walk in the fields.”
He said: “No, walk in the town.”
I said, “There are no flowers there.”
He said, “No flowers, but a crown.”
I said, “But skies are black,
There’s nothing but noise and din.”
And He wept as He sent me back,
“There is more,” He said. “There is sin.”
I said, “But the air is thick
And fog is veiling the sun.”
He answered, “But hearts are sick
And souls are there to be won.”
I cast one look at the fields.
Then turned my face toward the town.
He said, “My child, do you yield?
Will you leave the flowers for the crown?”
Then into His hand went mine.
And into my heart came He,
And I walk in a light divine
The path I had feared to see.
Jesus said: I have come to call sinners.” He surprised them by His coming. He shamed them by His living. He sacrificed for them by His dying. And He calls us in His name to do the same.
When I was young, we would play out in the neighborhood on a summer’s evening. Tag—Hide and Seek—Kick the Can—Statue. Then, as darkness would begin to fall, my dad would call us home. At first we wouldn’t want to go and leave the fun. But then we would think about the love that was waiting there, the little snack before bed, the warm tub filled with water, those soft beds and being tucked in and having someone pray with you. We’d think about that and then we would start running, across the street and the sidewalks and the driveways and the yards—all the way home, calling out: “Coming! We’re coming!
And there will come a time when each of us will hear the call of our heavenly Father “Come home, come home.” And I pray God that when we hear that call, we’ll come running and calling out: “Coming Father, coming—and look who I am bringing with me!” For remember, when Jesus responded to the Father’s call to come home, He took a thief by the hand.
And who will we be bringing with us?