27 And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. 28 And he left all, rose up, and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. 30 But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? 31 And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. 32 I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Verse 32 is one of the most pivotal, defining statements that Jesus ever made. He said it in response to criticism His disciples received from the scribes and Pharisees for eating and drinking with publicans and sinners. The circumstance that led to this attack was a great feast that Levi (Matthew), a new believer, had made in honor of his new-found Savior, Jesus. Matthew's only acquaintances at that point, fellow publicans or tax collectors, came to the great feast for Jesus too.
Tax collectors were hated by everyone at that time. No other rabbi except for Jesus would have offered them his presence. They were excluded from society, even as seen in the reaction of the scribes and Pharisees in this event. They were in need of forgiveness and perhaps also saw their need for it, unlike the religious leaders who criticized them.
Can we conclude that the great feast of Matthew was actually an evangelistic technique or strategy? Can we conclude from this example that a legitimate scriptural practice would be for believers to determine the physical attractions of an unsaved society and attempt to draw people from the world to a gathering by luring them by one or more of those attractions?
The verses say nothing about the great feast being a strategy. The verses say nothing about a great feast being a means of attracting a crowd. The great feast is almost incidental to the story. We don't know that Matthew's fellow tax collectors wouldn't have come if he hadn't been throwing a banquet on behalf of Jesus. I think we can assume that his fellow tax collectors were invited. We know the feast was made for Jesus. That's what v. 29 says. It wasn't made for the publicans.
We know from v. 32 that Jesus called sinners to repentance. Matthew made a banquet in His honor and He used the occasion to preach to sinners. Jesus used every occasion to preach to sinners. He was always preaching to sinners. Because He preached to sinners in every occasion, doesn't mean that each of those events were concocted for evangelistic opportunities. The banquet wasn't a device for evangelism. It was a way to honor Jesus. Matthew had no one else to invite to his banquet meant to honor Jesus. No one else was interested in being a friend of a tax collector except for other tax collectors, Jesus' disciples, and Jesus. Other tax collectors were the only ones that Matthew could call upon to join him in honoring Jesus. Jesus and His disciples were rare non-tax-collectors who would meet and eat with other tax collectors.
Tax collectors knew they were sinners. They couldn't find a solution for sin through Judaism. They weren't welcome. They could, however, find relief from Jesus. Matthew now knew that very well. That spiritual relief, the forgiveness for sin and guilt, would interest them. It had interested Matthew enough.
Why make the banquet, the feast, the thing of interest here for these tax collectors? I think this is so much like our modernistic society or culture, that is, to see the great feast as the draw instead of Jesus as the draw. We would just assume that they were there because of the free food and revelries available. The text says nothing of that. Nothing. We have no indication that this was the offer and yet now men will use this as a proof text for using even crass promotions for vulgar interests. Why not assume that they were there to meet Jesus? Jesus was a great enough figure, and a sympathetic and accepting enough Person, enough that their acquaintance, Matthew, would be willing to make Him a great feast. Food was not the attraction. It was incidental. Jesus was the attraction. Why not the following thoughts? "Let's go meet this man. He must be extraordinary. And this is a rare thing that a well-known rabbi would acquiesce to meeting with us."
This passage should not be used to defend certain promotion and marketing for purposes of evangelism. Recently here at What Is Truth we had discussed this in the comment section of a short post asking questions about a particular Fun Fair promotion being used by a church. Someone was comparing these two situations. A Fun Fair flyer designed in carnival-like color and style, emboldened with the capital ABSOLUTELY FREE, and offering sno-cones, carnival games, hot dogs, and tractor rides, was sent to thousands in the community to bring unbelievers to the grounds where the church meets. This Luke passage was referenced to justify that strategy, as if there was a true parallel between the Fun Fair and what Matthew did. At best, the example of Matthew with the feast is to do something great to honor Jesus. It, of course, should be something that would honor Him. Sno cones and carnival games are not in that nature. We might like those kind of things, but our thoughts should be something that He really wants. For the time being, that won't be a banquet. We can know what will honor Him by looking at His Word.
There is no accident that unsaved people would want to attend a "carnival," with special attention to the "carn" in "carnival." The carnival attracts the flesh. It isn't a spiritual attraction. For Levi's gathering, Jesus was the attraction. The Fun Fair, and fun, is a physical attraction. Jesus is a spiritual attraction. Using fun and carnival entertainment as a church attraction associates the church with these. I'm not saying the world won't like that. The world will. And we know they will. That's why we do it. However, does God want to be associated with that? No.
God didn't choose things impressive to the world to save the world. He chose the base things, the weak things, the foolish things. He chose preaching. He didn't choose preaching plus a carnival. The carnival makes sense to the world. With the carnival, perhaps the flesh can now glory in God's presence. God doesn't want the flesh to glory. If any man glory, let him glory in the Lord. Methodology matters. The carnival takes glory from the Lord. People will mistake success in evangelism for the carnival. We see many modern examples of this. Men are looking for the latest new idea that will bring success in church growth. How we do it matters, however, because it affects the glory of God. It does.
In the end, the world won't know why men were attracted to Jesus or His cross. To them it's foolishness. This is how God gets glory---the incomprehensibility of the simplicity of the method. You have to stand back and say, God must have done this. It really must have been God. Men don't like preaching, so how did preaching attract them? Because God was at work. It was a miracle. And God gets the credit for that.
With the Fun Fair, we get the credit. I was reading some of the comments under the Fun Fair. Here was one: "What a wonderful turnout, Chris! God’s hand is moving in this. I think it is *no doubt* the sincerity of you and your church folks that has drawn people to this event." I wouldn't think that. I would think it was because of the flyer and the offer of free games and rides and food. That's what was used to get them to come and that's why they came. That isn't God's hand moving. You see that even spiritual discernment is affected by using these methodologies. People say that it was God Who was moving when it was actually the promotion that moved. Someone may counter, "I think it was the people, their testimony." I answer, maybe, but we don't really know now, do we? Do you see what happens?
The one commenter and the pastor involved talked about the sincerity and graciousness of the church people. It takes zero faith to hand out a flyer offering free food, rides, and games. That is not the work of the Lord. And yet people in fundamentalist and evangelical churches today think it is. The pastors have told them it is. They have done God's work, they think, when they have bribed people to come to the church grounds. The pastor of this church commented that they were able to gain a "positive reputation" in their community. The end justifies the means. The community is thinking positive about the church because the church has given them the kind of church the community would like them to be. That's not really positive. It's a fake positive.
Another point made was that the gospel was preached on the other side of the flyer. I'm not unhappy about a gospel presentation on the back. Anybody who would say that is just attempting to distract from the issue. That's not the point, is it? The point is that the gospel is stuck on a sheet of paper that looks like a carnival and is offering a carnival. I don't think evangelicals and fundamentalists even notice this any more. And the gospel that was presented, I noticed, didn't mention "Hell." I realize that Jesus didn't always use the word "Hell," but there was plenty of room for it on the flyer. Most of the gospel doesn't fit with that medium of presentation. I would contend that absolutely changes the nature of the message. The gospel has nothing to do with "fun." Jesus said that if you come to Me, you deny your self. Self-denial really does get lost in a carnival-like presentation. How we do it, again, does matter.
The whole thing brought back to memory a situation in which our church was out going door to door evangelizing and an area Hyles' church came to the same door at the same time. The Hyles representative was dressed up like a clown. A clown. The clown was going around representing the church and the gospel. Would you say there was no problem as long as the clown was preaching the gospel? Just asking. I don't think so, but I see these two things as the same.
I think it is even worse when a passage is taken hostage for a purpose it wasn't intended. This passage gives us a great truth from the lips of Jesus. He came to call sinners unto repentance. Let's not get our eyes off of that truth. That's the message here. So let's everywhere call sinners to repentance.