March 28th, 1976 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-28-76 7:30 p.m.
With deepest gratitude to God for His marvelous goodnesses to us, we welcome you who share the service on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Following Jesus. And as we read the text, you will easily see why the subject is so named. We are going to read together, and we invite you to read it out loud with us. The second chapter of Mark, the Second Gospel – Matthew, Mark; the second chapter of Mark, and we shall read from verse 14 through verse 17.
Mark 2:14-17; now, all of us – even you who listen on radio and on television, if you have a Bible, read it out loud with us together in this great auditorium. Mark 2, beginning at 15, reading through 17 together:
And as He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow Me. And he arose and followed Him.
And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and His disciples: for there were many, and they followed Him.
And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto His disciples, How is it that He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
When Jesus heard it, He saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Nor could the pastor have chosen a passage more fraught with wonderful meaning for us than this story of the calling of Levi the son of Alphaeus. He calls himself, when he tells the story in the Gospel of Matthew, he calls himself "Matthew" – when Matthew, the recorder, the tax gatherer, the publican, was invited by the Lord to follow Him. So we shall expound the text even as the Holy Spirit guided Mark to write it. "And as Jesus passed by" [Mark 2:14], Luke also tells the story. And he uses the words, "and as Jesus went forth" [Luke 5:27].
The Lord was always passing by. He was always going forth. He was always moving forward. He was always ministering. He even said to His disciples, "Go ye" [Matthew 28:19]. And He Himself was ever and always going. The Lord was no recluse. He did not hide Himself behind a great stack of books in a library in study. He did not look out of His window upon the world. Nor did He sit in a philosopher’s chair and discuss speculatively, metaphysically the problems that we face. But our Lord was among the people always, day and night. Sometimes by the seaside did He go forth; sometimes in the synagogues was He found speaking and expounding the Word, sometimes on the street, sometimes in the homes, but always among the people. Even on the cross, when His hands were nailed to the tree, our Lord’s heart went forth in saving grace to one of the malefactors who turned to Him in repentance [Luke 23:42-43].
Nor did the Lord cease from His going in His ministry. He never looked back upon what He had done and said, "It is enough. It is sufficient. I shall now stop." But He kept on going, passing by, moving, healing, preaching, teaching among the people. Nor was He discouraged when they disapproved of what He said. Nor was He overly egotistical when they applauded Him and commended Him. However the message might be received, or His ministry might be described, He was always busy with it, at it, going. "And as He passed by [Mark 2:14] – as He went forth" [Luke 5:27].
Nor could you find a better description of what God would ask of us than this blessed example of our blessed Lord. Always, God’s people witnessing, testifying among the throng and the crowd, among the friends, even among those who might dislike us and ridicule us. That’s all right. He knew what it was to be ridiculed, and disliked, and denounced [John 15:18]. He knew what it was to be rejected [John 1:11]. He knew what it was even to die at the hands of sinners [Matthew 27:32-50].
Always, in a beautiful and precious spirit, going forth: a fisher, fishing for men [Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17]; a hunter, hunting for the souls that ought to be brought to the wonderful Savior [Luke 19:10]. "And as He passed by, as He went forth, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom" [Mark 2:14]. Matthew, he calls himself. And as He passed by, He saw this hated and despised tax gatherer. What Jesus could see! And what He could see in the heart of that man; what He can see in our hearts, O bless God! Always what is finest and best of our capabilities, Jesus sees in us.
There wasn’t any Jew that saw that tax gatherer. It is almost indescribable how they hated these servants and traitors and slaves to Rome. They were the chosen people. They were the household of faith. And the Roman yoke galled on their necks. And this is a man who has sold himself out for money to be a slave and a servant of the Roman enemy. You see, the tax gatherer had a system in that day that was especially galling and opprobrious. The Roman government farmed it out, and a man would make a bid on this section of the province. And the Roman asked of the man that made the bid that he give to the Roman government just this much, whatever his bid was. Then what the tax gatherer could force out of the people was his own. And the tax gatherer saw to it that he ground the people under the iron hand and heel of the Roman authority by which he was charged to collect those taxes.
As such, they were hated by all the people. They were as a group greedy and avaricious. They were not only hated because of their awesome force of gathering a burdensome tax from the people, but in the case of Israel, they were servants of the Jews’ greatest enemy, the Roman soldier. So as the Jew passed by a hated publican like that, he never saw him. And if by any chance he stumbled over him, he turned away just as quickly as his eyes could be shifted aside. The Jew never saw him.
But it is a wonder and a marvel what Jesus could see. Our Lord could see the great oak in an acorn. He could see the vast Lebanon forest in a seedling. When they said of Zaccheus, "He is a publican, and he is a sinner," the Lord said, "He is also a son of Abraham, and I am to break bread with him today" [Luke 19:1-10]. And the little fellow of short stature stood up like a king. He stood up ten feet tall when the Lord said, "Today, I break bread in your house" [Luke 19:5].
What Jesus could see! "And as he passed by, He saw Matthew – Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom. And He said unto him, Follow Me" [Mark 2:14]. You see, the Lord needed that man. As he sat there on the great northern road, taking taxes, keeping track, writing records, making reports, the Lord needed that man. There was a gospel to be written, and there were records to be made. And that man was a fine, fine recorder. He was a good CPA. He was an excellent record keeper. And the Lord needed him. God needs all kinds of men and all kinds of people.
He called Luke. He needed Luke. Luke was a physician, and as such from Mary he wrote of those intimate things that pertained to the birth, the conception, and the birth of our Lord as only a physician could write it [Luke 16-38, 2:1-20]. God needed John with his sensitive and penetratingly spirit of understanding [Matthew 4:21-22]. God needed the impetuous and volatile and vigorous Saul of Tarsus, for there were heresies to be faced [Acts 9:1-22]. God called them all. So He calls Levi, Matthew, the son of Alphaeus, the hated and despised publican; the tax gatherer, the record keeper, the CPA [Mark 2:14].
Isn’t that a wonderful thing, what God does in calling people? It is nothing short of miraculous. I can understand how the Lord God would call, say, a youth in a pastor’s home, or in a bishop’s home, or call a child in a godly, consecrated home. But do you know, when you read the story of these who have blessed the name of the Lord, it is astonishing where God finds them. Sometimes He finds them on the street, sometimes in the saloon, sometimes in the gutter, sometimes in the theater, sometimes on Broadway, sometimes in the most unspeakable and despicable places, will God call those to come and follow Him.
What is a tinker? A tinker is a man who went from house to house and knocked at the door and asked, "Do you have any pots and pans that need mended?" And God looked down and called a tinker. His name was John Bunyan. One time, somebody referred to William Carey and contemptuously said, "William Carey, he is a maker of shoes." And William Carey interrupted and said, "No sir, I’m just a cobbler"; the founder of the great modern missionary movement, from the cobbler’s bench. From the saloon, from the tavern, God called Sam Jones. From the baseball diamond, from the Chicago White Sox, God called Billy Sunday.
I do not know of a finer instrument of God’s message of salvation in my life than C. E. Matthew. He worked for Swift and Company in Fort Worth, and at thirty-two years of age, God called him to the faith and to the ministry. One of the finest evangelists I ever listened to was W. Y. Pond. He was a railroad engineer. And as an engineer, a grown man was called to the faith and to the ministry.
The greatest theologians that we ever produced in our Southern Baptist communion was Edgar Young Mullins. He was a calligrapher here in Dallas, Texas, in our city. There was a meeting conducted by Major Penn, a man out of the Civil War, an evangelist, and Edgar Young Mullins, the calligrapher in Dallas, was converted in this city at a revival meeting by Major Penn. Do any of you remember the incomparable leader among our Texas Baptists named Lee Scarborough, L. R. Scarborough? He was a cowboy in West Texas, and God called him to the faith and to the ministry.
What a wonderful way God has! There sits a man at a bar in a saloon. God may see in him a great preacher and evangelist. Here is the most unlikely man in the gutter, like Jerry McCauley, and God raises him up and makes him one of the finest witnesses to the saving grace of Christ in this earth. What God can see, and those that He calls to follow Him!
And the Book says, "As Jesus passed by, seeing Matthew at the receipt of custom, He said, Come, follow Me. And he arose and followed Him immediately" [Mark 2:14]. Right on the spot. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?
It reminds me of Charles G. Finney, an unusually gifted lawyer, baptized of the Holy Spirit of God, won to the faith in remarkable conversion. While he was in the lawyer’s study, there came a knock at the door, and a man came in and laid a cause before him. And he replied, "Nay, but I have now a retainer from Christ Jesus, and I’m giving my life to serve Him," right on the spot. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? When God calls for a man to answer with his life, "Yes. Now, here, on this spot, in this minute, I’m coming. I’m responding. I’m answering with my life."
"And immediately he rose up and followed Him." You know, some people, when God calls, it is easy for them to reply. It is easy for them to respond. Ah, it is like a bud just waiting for the warm sunshine to open it. It is like a man walking up a gentle rise to meet the Lord at the brow of the hill. It is just like accepting an invitation to some delightful repast and banquet. It is easy for some people to respond to the invitation of Christ. Wallace Bassett, who was pastor of the Cliff Temple Church here in Dallas for forty-eight years – I heard him say at a men’s banquet here in our church, he said, "The first time I was ever invited to accept Jesus as my Savior, I did it."
There are many of us who at the first invitation accepted the Lord. It was easy for us to arise and follow Jesus. You know, that’s not true with everybody. Some people have a difficult time, a hard time, a wrestling, and civil war time in their hearts when the invitation of God comes. You know, to some people it is like a bad diet. To some people, it is like bitter medicine. To some people, they have to be at first dragged to church. They are uncomfortable in it, and the thing is interminable. The sermon goes on and it goes on and it goes on and on and on and on. And they are just so weary and bored by it.
That gave rise, I think, to those crazy jokes we hear so many times, and especially when they are told to me about the length of the sermon. That old hack, the preacher, asked, "Does somebody have the time, and does anybody got a watch?"
And a fellow replies, "No, I don’t have a watch, but I have a calendar."
The preacher is up preaching, and he’s preaching, and he’s preaching, and he’s preaching, and he’s named all of the apostles, and then he starts on the prophets, and he says, "And now Isaiah, where shall I put Isaiah?"
And the fellow rises up on the back seat and says, "He can have my pew. I’m going home."
There are some people who are like that. It is hard for them. It is difficult for them. It isn’t easy for them. But the love of God can change a man wonderfully, and gloriously, and it did the life of Levi, Matthew, the son of Alphaeus. And when the Lord called him, immediately he rose up and followed Him [Mark 2:14].
Now, Matthew did something. Luke 5:29 says Matthew made Him a great feast in his own house as Mark writes it, "And it came to pass that Jesus sat at meat in Levi’s house" [Mark 2:15]. Matthew made a great banquet for Him [Luke 5:27-29]. He was bidding goodbye to the world, the flesh, and the devil. And he was announcing to the world that he had accepted the Lord Christ and was going to be a disciple of Jesus. And for that occasion he spread before his friends, and before the Lord and His disciples, a glorious banquet celebrating his conversion in the Lord. Isn’t that about the finest thing you ever heard of in your life?
When Matthew gave the banquet, bidding goodbye to the world and announcing his discipleship in Christ, he invited whom? Well, he invited the people that he knew. And the people he knew were the publicans and the sinners. So when he had that great feast, celebrating his conversion, he had his friends there, the people that he knew. He had the publicans and the sinners, and right there in the midst, eating with them, the blessed Jesus [Mark 2:15-16]. What a sight, and what a wonderful occasion!
You know, I was preaching in North Carolina. And I met there a man who had the most unusual vocation. He raised Cornish chickens. They were the most unusual things I had ever seen. He raised them for show chickens. He went up to New York and Madison Square Garden – he went everywhere, showing those chickens. They beat anything I ever saw. They didn’t walk. They waddled. And if one of them fell over, he couldn’t get up. They were so big and bulky, and had such heavy, wonderful, tender meats, that they were just like bulbs – just walking, like that. I never saw anything like it.
Well, what I remember was he had a friend. And his friend was a real sinner. It is against the law in North Carolina, as it is against the law here in Texas, to fight with gamecocks. You can’t have a rooster fight in Texas and not break the law. Well, this friend of my host there was a gamecock raiser. He bred fighting roosters. And he did it surreptitiously, and had those cockfights in North Carolina, where the people all gathered and bet on the cockfight.
Did you know, when I was in old Mexico City – when I was in old Mexico City, did you know one of the most devout men I ever knew in my life asked me, "Do you want to go to a cockfight?"
"Well," I said, "I never had thought of it."
"Well," he said, "it’s even against the law in Mexico City – the city – that you can’t have a cock fight in Mexico City. But outside on the edge of town, there is a cockfight going on tonight. And I think – I think for your education, maybe you ought to go."
How many of you think I went? You’re right. I did. I did. I never saw anything like that in my born days. It was a round thing, looked to be about hundred feet across, round like that, and the tiered people on each side, and down there in the center, in the arena, those fellows brought their cocks, brought their fighting roosters. And I never heard such going on in my life! As those things would fight against each other, the betting would be from side to side, as they would holler and shout, and on and on and on. And one of the strangest things about it was when they fight and they – I thought they had killed each other, everybody was just breathless, just breathless. And I turned to that devout Christian who had brought me to the fight.
I said, "Well, isn’t it over? Isn’t it over?"
"No," he said, "No," he said, "the fellow wins the bet who’s bet on the rooster that has the last peck."
And there they were – all bloody and I thought killed down there – and one of those roosters, that I thought had lost it, made one last peck. And the guy betting on him won it. Isn’t that the screwiest thing you ever heard of in your life? Can you imagine grown people wanting to do something like that? Well, that’s what that fellow was doing in North Carolina. He raised fighting roosters, fighting cocks. And he put on those cockfights surreptitiously in that section of North Carolina.
Well, anyway, you know what happened? He got converted. He got saved. Jesus marvelously saved him, and what did he do? He called together all of the sinners that he knew, and he called together all of the preachers in that part of North Carolina, and he killed all of his chickens, and he had the biggest chicken fry that North Carolina had ever seen. Isn’t that wonderful? That’s exactly what happened here with Matthew. He was saved. He was marvelously converted. He left his old life and followed Jesus. And when he did, he made a big feast, a big banquet for the Lord, and he invited the publicans and the sinners. And there Jesus is in the midst [Mark 2:14-16].
Now, you look. These critics who were always present, the Pharisees and the scribes, they saw Jesus there with Matthew, the hated and despised publican, and with his friends, the publicans and the sinners. And they castigated and they criticized. "Look! Your Master," they said to the disciples, "eats with publicans and sinners" [Mark 2:16]. And the Lord replied – and what a wonderful, wonderful thing for us – and the Lord replied, "These that are well do not need a physician. It is they who are sick. And I came not to call the self-righteous and self-sufficient to repentance, but to these who need God, sinners" [Mark 2:17; Luke 5:30-32].
As long as a man feels that, "I am just as good as anybody in the earth, and I can take my chances before the judgment bar of the Almighty, and I can stand on my two feet and say, `Lord, look at me, I’m good. I’m ready for heaven’" – as long as a man has that attitude toward himself, there’s no message from God. It’s when a man says, "I’m a lost sinner; Lord, be good to me. Be merciful to me. Save me. Help me, Lord." It’s that kind of a man that God has a message for. It’s that kind of a man that Jesus came to save. It is that kind of a man Jesus died for. "I’m a lost sinner. I need God."
Then the Lord gave two parables in answer. He said, "No man soweth a piece of new cloth upon an old garment, lest when it is washed and the new piece shrinks it makes the tear larger" [Mark 2:21; Luke 5:36]. So it is with us in the Lord. It isn’t the making of a reformed life. It is a new garment. It is a new creation – not patching up the old, but something new from the hands of God.
And He used one other parable. He says, "No man put a new wine in old bottles, in those old, hard wineskins, lest the bottle, lest that wineskin break and the wine pour out and be lost" [Mark 2:22; Luke 5:36]. So it is with us. It isn’t an old life, an old way that we are reforming, patching up. It is a new life. It is a new faith. It is a new way. It is a new day. It is a new vision. It’s a new hope. It’s a new prayer. It’s an altogether new world.
I have to close. Why would a man live all of his life with an albatross, with a dead bird hanging around his neck like the Ancient Mariner? Why live a life rethinking and remembering the weaknesses and the sins of the past? Let God bury it. Let God blot it out [Psalm 51:9]. For that’s what He does with our sins. He takes them and He says, "I remember them no more" [Hebrews 8:12]. He says, "I cast them back of My back" [Isaiah 38:17]. He says, "I bury them in the depths of the sea" [Micah 7:19]. He says, "I blot them out as a thick cloud [Isaiah 44:22]. They are no more" [Hebrews 8:12]. God remembers them not against us. And instead, He gives us a new life and a new faith. I’m not to live in the past. I’m to live in the future. I am not to remember the drag of all of the mistakes and the sins of my life. But I am to look forward to the glorious new day in Jesus Christ. And that’s His invitation. "Come, and follow Me" [Mark 2:14].
"If anyone be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away: behold, all things are become new" [2 Corinthians 5:17]. To accept Him, to trust in Him, to follow Him, to ask God to forgive us, to find in Him a new day, a new life, a new way, a new world; as the Spirit shall press that invitation to your heart, would you make it now? "Here I am, pastor, here I come"; a family, a couple, or just one somebody you. And to the throngs who have listened on radio and on television: this day, this moment, there is new life for you in Christ, just for a prayer; just for the opening of your heart; just for the invitation; "Lord, here am I. Come into my soul. Make Your home in my heart. Lord, forgive my sins. Write my name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20]. I hear Your voice. I am following Thee." Do it now. On the first note of this first stanza come, while we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Jesus was always going forth
A. He was not a recluse
B. He was always ever and about
C. He had done great things, but did not stop
D. However His message received, was always busy at it
II. He saw Levi sitting at the receipt of custom (Mark 2:14)
A. Jewish attitude toward a publican (Luke 5)
B. Jesus saw him
1. What an eye for seeing Jesus had
2. What He saw in Matthew
C. Christ needs all kinds of talents and people
III. His call – "Follow me"
A. God’s call in strange places
B. Matthew followed Him immediately
1. For some it is easy to respond; others more difficult
IV. A great feast (Luke 5:29)
A. He invited those he knew – publicans and sinners
1. Cock-fighter gets saved
B. A grand thing to be a Christian
V. Jesus speaks on the new religion (Mark 2:17)
A. Christian message is inclusive
B. Christian life is something new (Mark 2:21-22)