This website is all about Dr Thomas Guthrie and his incredible legacy. But one of the reasons why I wanted to write and blog about Guthrie is because I believe his legacy as a Christian evangelist and preacher has largely been forgotten. If anyone has heard of him, it is usually for his work amongst the poor and particularly ragged children. If Guthrie was alive today, he would want you to know about one thing more than anything else: Jesus Christ.
Thomas Guthrie followed the example of his Saviour by reaching out to those who were the outcasts of society. We see a great example of this in the bible in Luke 5 when Jesus called Levi (later known as Matthew) to follow him. What can we learn from this story?
‘And after that, he went forth and saw a Publican named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me’ Luke 5 v 27
1. The Call
Levi was a tax collector. He was regarded as a traitor by the Jews because he worked with the Romans. He was hated, despised and rejected. Levi was like the fat cat bankers of 21st century Britain. He was selfish and proud. Yet Jesus reached out to him. Why?
Jesus was sending out a powerful message: I’m here for the outcasts, the dirty, the broken and the people nobody else loves. We see this time and again in Jesus ministry. He reached out to heal lepers, to love beggars, to redeem prostitutes and to save criminals. Maybe today you feel lost, broken, dirty and rejected. Jesus is saying to you ‘follow me’.
To follow somebody means to journey with them, to accompany them, to imitate them. If you are lost, Jesus is the answer.
2. The Response
How did Levi respond to the call of Jesus? He did three things;
a) He got up – Levi didn’t stand still when Jesus called him. When God effectually calls a sinner they are compelled to respond. We see this in the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 11. We read that when he came to his senses ‘he arose’ and went back to his father. Responding to the call of Christ involves action. Although we are dead in our trespasses and sins, when God calls he also gives us the power to respond. The call of the gospel is like Christ raising Lazarus in John 11. When Christ calls into the empty grave he raises Lazarus from the dead.
b) He gave up – Levi left his tax booth, his greed and his selfishness behind. When Jesus calls us we have a choice, do we follow him or continue to worship our idols? An idol is anything in your life that is more important than God. On another occasion Jesus asked the question ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but looses his own soul?’ Luke 9 v 25. What are you clinging on to today? What is keeping you from following Jesus? Whatever it is, it will perish away.
c) He splashed out – we are told that the selfish Levi after he responds to the call of Jesus throws a party and invites other ‘sinners’. We find the self centred, ambitious and proud tax collector becoming hospitable, generous, inclusive and keen to serve. When we receive God’s grace it makes us kinder, less bitter more useful and less selfish. When we follow Jesus it changes us.
3. The Criticism
As was so often the case, Jesus upset the religious leaders. Why were they upset? They were upset because Jesus didn’t preach religion, he offered himself. Religion is all about power and separation. Christ offers himself to all regardless of creed or colour. Jesus took a sledgehammer to the wall of separation and invited in the prostitutes, the tax collectors and the criminals to follow him. Christ unites but human religion divides. Religion says do, Christ says it is all done, come and rest.
There was once a headline in a paper that asked the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ GK Chesterton wrote a letter to the paper and simply said ‘I am’. The Pharisees believed that all the problems with the world was because of people like Levi. Jesus turned the world upside down when he said ‘truly I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you’ (Matthew 21 v 31). Our greatest problem is that we are all on a ‘self salvation project.’ It is only when we come to an end of ourselves and cry out to God that we will be saved.
4. The Mission
How does Christ respond to the criticism? By clarifying his mission. In the Matthew 9 account of the call of Levi we read that Christ quotes from Hosea 6 v 6 For I desired mercy: and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. Christ was saying that he was the fulfilment of all the types and shadows of the Old Testament. He was the once for all sacrifice. There is no need for animal sacrifices any more. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we can now know God directly without rules and rituals, priests or prelates and without circumcision or ceremony. Christ’s mission was to call followers to new life in Christ evidenced by a life of obedience and service. For Jesus, it mattered more that Levi was shown mercy than all the sacrifices and rituals of the Jewish religion. He responded to the criticism by clarifying his mission.
5. The Invitation
Christ is still seeking followers today. He is still calling the weak, the outcast, the sick and the most unlikely candidates. The great physician can cure you today but first you need to come to a sense that you are spiritually sick and need help. You can’t receive the grace offered in Christ until you acknowledge that you need it. We need to stretch out the empty hands of faith. Christ hasn’t come to call the righteous but sinners. Is this you today? Do you have a sense that you are lost and broken? Call on God. Ask him to save you. Become a Jesus follower today. ‘Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord, shall be saved’ Romans 10 v 13.
If you want to learn more about God there are some great resources on Sermon Audio here.