Posted by: pmarkrobb | September 2, 2015

what’s in a name?

The story of Jesus’ earthly life is as compelling as any you’ll ever read, and its characters are as unlikely as they could possibly be.  The woman chosen to carry and give birth to the King of Kings was (to that point) an unwed teenager.  The audience to which the glorious news of Jesus’ birth would be first and supernaturally announced was a small group of social outcasts — the shepherds watching their flocks that night.  Jesus’ closest friends, the men with whom the responsibility for spreading the gospel to the world was left, were highly ordinary and equally flawed.  Yet, in and through countless people, Jesus lived out his sacred purpose of loving and redeeming the world.

The apostle Matthew was one of those closest to Jesus.  He was specifically chosen and invited by Jesus to follow Him, learn from Him, and carry the message of His love to the ends of the earth.  While the majority of those Jesus offered that same invitation to were simple tradesmen, Matthew was a skilled professional.  He was a tax collector (one of the most reviled and corrupt occupations in the ancient world).  His life was consumed by money, accumulating it both for the state and himself.

If Jesus desired to build a team that would increase his popularity with the people, Matthew was one of the poorest possible choices.  If His desire was to show the love of the Father and how a life could be powerfully and permanently changed by it, then perhaps there was no better choice.  The story of Matthew’s call to follow Jesus reads very similar to the other disciples.  Jesus says, “Follow me,” and Matthew gets up and follows (Matthew 9:9).  There is no hesitation.  There is no holding onto even a shred of the only life that he knows.

In the story of Matthew’s calling, I see two things of significant note.  First, he takes on a new name.  His given name was Levi, but the name Jesus spoke was Matthew.  It is not clear whether Jesus was directly responsible for the name change or whether the intent was Matthew’s, but it is clear Matthew left every bit of his old life behind in following Jesus.  Can you relate to the feeling of all things being new when Jesus called out to you?  How powerful it is to throw off every bit of what you possess in this life, even your very identity, to embrace and walk true to who Jesus says you are.  Whether it comes at the moment of belief, or in a forward moment of following Jesus, I believe everyone hears Him call their name.  As we are created in His image, there is a sacred part of us who knows our Creator’s voice.  Have you heard that call?  Did you embrace it, and are you walking true?

It has been so good to focus, as we have recently, on the lives and calling of Jesus’ disciples.  One of the things I have taken unique note of, is their initial responses to accepting the call.  Andrew found and brought his brother Peter to Jesus.  Philip raced out to find his friend Nathanael.  I love the honest, unfiltered response of bringing people to meet Jesus after He calls your name.  In Matthew’s case, he filled his home with tax collectors and sinners to share a meal with Jesus.  How amazing and raucous that dinner party must have been.  Or maybe it was awkward, but I highly doubt it.  In the Bible, it is repeatedly recounted that Jesus was found in the company of sinners.  These were His people, and it just makes sense to me that real sinners were not intimidated by or shy around Jesus.

One of my most favorite rebuffs of the religious elite was spoken at that dinner party.  In overhearing a question posed to the disciples by the Pharisees as to why Jesus was eating and drinking with “tax collectors and sinners,” (Matthew 9:11) He speaks these words:

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:12 (NIV)

Oh the simplicity that confounds “the wise.”  I didn’t come to form a clique, Jesus says.  I came to spend every waking moment of every day with those who really need Me.  I don’t need you to calculate and communicate what you can give up for me; I need you to bend down towards the least of these, sit in the middle of a season of suffering with the oppressed, turn your cheek to the angry, feed and clothe those you are tempted to turn your eyes from.  Mercy is what I desire.  I took on human flesh to redeem and heal the sick.  My choice and my suffering will be seen and heard by them, and not by those who insist they are not like them — the “healthy ones” who cannot see or feel the fatal sickness that ravages their body.

In Matthew’s calling, I have been reminded of my own ocassions of hearing the voice of Jesus.  I have taken great comfort and encouragement in the striving to walk true to who He says I am.  I have found renewed challenge in my great opportunity and mission to bring others to meet Jesus.

What about you?  Have you heard the call of Jesus?  Is He calling out to you now?  If He is, and you’re looking for someone to come alongside in that conversation, we are here for you.  If you are following Him, do you know the name He calls you?  Are you walking true, or is it time you stop, turn and begin walking again in the direction of who He says you are?

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