Commentary by Walter Albritton


January 9, 2005


Finding Ways to Reach Our Friends for Christ as Levi Did


Mark 2:13-17


Key Verse: Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” -    Mark 2:17


My high school friend Dan Law played football for Texas Tech. One day he met Bart Starr, who achieved fame as quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. Dan was so impressed with Bart that he wanted all his friends to meet him. That is how I met Starr. My friend Dan introduced me to his friend Bart, who happens to be a devout follower of Christ.

People who meet Jesus want their friends to meet him. If we have no inclination to introduce people to Jesus, then it is probably because we have not gotten to know him well. Friendship with Jesus makes such a profound difference in our lives that we feel compelled to tell others. Thus, the song: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

E. Stanley Jones, the great missionary and evangelist, went everywhere with a simple message: “Jesus is Lord.” He invited people to become friends with Jesus and make him Lord of their lives. Why? Because Jesus is “the Way” to abundant living.

Harry Denman, though never ordained, became “Mr. Evangelism” of United Methodism. Like Stanley Jones, Brother Harry went everywhere telling people about Jesus. To hundreds of individuals, he said, with grace and compassion, “Do you know my friend Jesus?” Repeatedly, with that simple question, he led people to faith in Christ, and friendship with the Savior.

Neither Jones nor Denman preached “religion.” They preached Christ. They had met Jesus and were consumed with a compulsion to introduce the Master to others. They both shared Elton Trueblood’s widely known conclusion: “I am not interested in religion, for Christianity is not a religion but a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Most preachers soon learn that “religion will not preach.” We make a grave error if we present Christianity as a set of rules or a code of ethics. Rules and ethics cannot save people; only a personal relationship to Jesus can lead people to salvation. Friends of Jesus will indeed seek to honor Jesus by living morally clean lives, but such behavior is the result of salvation, not the cause of it.

As Jesus began his ministry, he called men of diverse backgrounds to become his disciples, to bond with him in a sacred friendship. It was a signal moment when, only days before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples, “No longer do I call you servants….but friends.” He described their friendship as being so close that it was like branches connected to a living vine.

This friendship was rooted in love and obedience. “You are my friends,” he said, “if you do whatever I command you.” What did he command them to do? To love one another, be his witnesses, abide in him, bear fruit, and make disciples. That is what he expected of the early disciples, and clearly that is what he expects of us today.

Matthew (or Levi) must have thought friendship with Jesus was more valuable than all his possessions. When Jesus invited him to follow him, Matthew got up, “left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:28). We may be sure that Matthew did not follow Jesus to become more “religious” but so that Jesus could teach him how to “fish for men.”

Matthew and the other disciples understood that the “good news” was not theirs to keep but to give away. So it is not surprising that one of Matthew’s first acts as a disciple was to throw a dinner party for his friends. Obviously he wanted his friends to meet Jesus. What better place than the dinner table to introduce your friends to the Master!

Jesus ate often with “sinners.” The table is a great place to practice evangelism. We Methodists have learned this lesson well. Food is great “bait” we often use when fishing for sinners we can introduce to Jesus. Some people will believe our concern is genuine when we invite them to join us for a meal in a restaurant or especially in our homes.

The Pharisees were quick to criticize Jesus for eating with sinners. They preferred “religion” to a relationship with Jesus. Religion for them included the condemnation of sinners. Jesus invited the disciples not to condemn others but to join him in seeking to save lost persons.

This leads us to the church. The church must choose its focus. It can focus on religious ritual and rules or it can center in on introducing people to Jesus. We can make it easier for people with problems to feel welcome in our churches. We can let it be known that we consider our church a hospital for sinners, not a holy club for the righteous.

Matthew tried to reach his friends for Christ. Some of them declined his offer. Others did come with him to follow Jesus. He did not give up asking his friends to trust Jesus.

If we are truly friends of Jesus, we will find ways to invite our friends and neighbors to meet Jesus and get to know him. We have no choice really. Like Matthew we remain friends of Jesus only if we obey him, and his commands have not changed. He still expects his friends, his disciples, to love one another, be his witnesses, abide in him, bear fruit, and make disciples.

It comes down to this penetrating question that I put to myself: What am I doing to reach my acquaintances for Christ?

Matthew tried to reach his friends. I must try to reach mine. You must decide how you will respond. Perhaps it is simply a matter of deciding how much his friendship really means to each of us.

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