By J.R. Miller
The first year of Christ's public ministry--was a year of obscurity. He was not yet well-known. Then, as He spoke and served--His fame grew. We are now in His year of popular favor--His second year. One scene of enthusiasm follows another. After the healing of the paralytic the people were amazed, and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!" Then the record goes on without a break, telling of the Master's going out from the house where He had been staying, and that all the multitude resorted unto Him. Then He taught them.
In going along the road, Jesus came to a little office or booth by the wayside and stopped by the door. He had an errand there. He was looking for a man whom He might send forth as an apostle, to carry the blessings of the gospel to others. Jesus is always looking for men He can trust to do His errands. If we would have Him choose for us important and responsible work--we should be faithful in our present service, however lowly it may be. We are being tested continually, to show whether we will be faithful. He is looking always for those who are diligent and may be depended on. He never chooses an idle man--to entrust with any important duty. He wants men who have capacity, and who are eager and busy. Then He wants messengers whom nothing can tempt to be unfaithful.
He saw the man He was looking for, sitting in this little office. He was sitting at the place of toll, the place where the people passing by with goods stopped to pay the taxes on the things they were carrying. That seemed a strange place for Jesus to find a man for His work, especially a man who should become an apostle. Those who were engaged in this business of collecting customs, were not reputable men. They were hated by their Jewish brethren, because their work was to gather taxes for the Romans. Usually they were dishonest, or extortionate, taking all they could get. The publicans were regarded as evil and unpatriotic. However, Jesus can take even an evil and disreputable life, and out of it--make an apostle!
One day Michelangelo saw a soiled and cast-away block of marble lying among rubbish. Once it was a magnificent block, with great possibilities. But it had been cut and hacked by an incompetent hand, and seemed to be utterly ruined, so that nothing ever could be done with it--nothing beautiful ever made of it. But to the eye of the artist, as he looked upon the stone, a vision of beauty arose, and from the soiled block--he carved the wonderful statue of young David, one of the masterpieces of art which the visitor sees at Florence.
Just so, many of those who have finally reached the noblest manhood and have done most for the world, have thus been rescued by Christ from what seemed hopeless ruin. Levi or Matthew, whom Jesus found that day in the tax-collector's booth, became in the great Master's hand--one of the worthiest and most honored of the apostles!
When Jesus saw the man, His eye discerned the possibilities in him, and He called him to come with Him. The word went at once to the heart of the publican--and he dropped all and promptly followed Christ. Thus he set the example for all who hear the same voice. That was the way Saul did, too, when he saw the glorified form before Him and recognized in it the Messiah. He made a complete surrender, and asked what Jesus would want him to do. We should learn to follow Christ, whenever we hear His call. There should be no tomorrow in our answer--now is the accepted time (see 2 Corinthians 6:2).
Matthew made a great feast, Luke tells us, inviting his old companions, that he might honor his new Master, and that they might see Him. He set a good example of confession of Christ. He seems to have made this feast to let his friends know what Jesus had done for him--and to introduce Jesus to them. A noble minister used to say he wanted everybody to fall in love with Jesus Christ, his Friend. Everyone who begins to follow Christ--should want to have his companions and friends follow Him, too.
The scribes and the Pharisees were always envious of the popularity of Jesus, and took every occasion to say slighting things about Him. When they saw Him that day in Levi's house, and the crowds pressing about Him, they accused Him, saying he had chosen bad company in eating with publicans and sinners. Jesus said He was like a physician, and "those who are healthy have no need of a physician--but those who are sick." No one would criticize a physician because he is always going among sick people. He would be a strange physician who would drive around all day, calling only on healthy people, chatting and eating with them, and refusing to go among the sick. His mission is to the sick, not to the healthy. Jesus came as a physician. His mission in this world--is to the lost. It should not have been thought a strange thing, therefore, that He went among the lost, the fallen, and the outcast. These were the very people He had come to seek! He would not have been fulfilling His mission--if He had devoted Himself altogether to the good, the spiritually refined, the pure; disregarding the unholy and disreputable. The mission of the Church today--is to sinners. None are too vile to be sought out with sympathy and love. Christians should not spend all their time in fellowship with other Christians. They must think of those who are living sinful lives, and, like their Master, must try to save them.
Fasting was practiced in those days, not only by the Pharisees--but also by the disciples of John the Baptist. These disciples of John noticed that the followers of Jesus did not fast, and they came and asked Jesus why His disciples did not. He said that it was not the time to fast--when He was with them. The Pharisees fasted by the almanac, without reference to their particular heart-condition at the time. Jesus said that there was an appropriate time to fast. Fasting indicates penitence, sorrow for sin, humiliation. It would be thought very strange if a family, without any sorrow in their midst, all of them happy, with the circle unbroken--should go into deep mourning and fasting. There is not fitness in wearing the garb of mourning--when there is joy on every hand. But when one is dead in the home, then it does not seem strange to see the family showing their sadness and wearing the tokens of grief. Jesus said that there was no reason why His disciples should be fasting and sorrowful at that particular time--for He was with them. There would be no fitness in fasting then.
The Master's words are aimed against all empty professions and meaningless forms. When there is cause for mourning--then let there be mourning. But when all things are joyous--then let there be gladness. Our religion should be natural and sincere--never affected or hypocritical. Over-expressions of religious emotion or feeling, are condemned. Christ wants His disciples sincere through and through, with their forms of worship filled with sincerity of heart and life.
The religion of the Pharisees--was chiefly one of forms and ceremonies. The religion Jesus had come to establish--was one of the heart. He had not come merely to make some little changes in the Jewish forms and ceremonies. He had come to give the world something altogether new--the gospel of God's love and grace. The Jewish forms and ceremonies in their day had a meaning. They were symbolical and typical of great spiritual truths, a sort of kindergarten teaching of God's will. But all these truths and emblems were fulfilled by Christ Himself, and now the old forms are done away, as the blossom is done away when the fruit comes. Christianity needs no other system of types and forms--it is a religion of the heart. The danger of forms is that they shall come to be depended on, instead of vital religion. Jesus did not merely attach certain new lessons and practices--to the old wine-skins of Judaism; rather, He put life and love and grace, the new things of the gospel--into the new and simple forms of Christian faith.