As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” So he got up and followed Him. While He was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Jesus and His disciples. (Matthew 9:9-10)
Although Matthew doesn’t state it outright, it was his own house where Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. We get more detail on this from the gospel of Luke, maybe because Matthew was reticent to sing his own praises.
Immediately after being called by Jesus, Matthew got up, followed him — and then invited all of his old friends over for dinner with Jesus. Luke says it was a “grand banquet” (Luke 5:29), and the Greek tells us they were “reclining at the table” — a posture reserved for important meals.
Matthew showed honor both to Jesus and to his friends — people who were generally considered to be alienated from God and from the people of God. He made a way for the lost to encounter the Shepherd who here to seek them and bring them home.
I believe Matthew gives us a strategy for reaching people with the gospel that is just as relevant today, and that each one of us can follow.
A Strategy for Sharing the Gospel
There are many ways to share the gospel, but a profoundly simple one is to do what Matthew did — to show hospitality to sinners and to Jesus at the same time, and facilitate encounter between them.
In fact, in the early centuries this was largely how the church grew. In an atmosphere tense with persecution, soap boxes and public sermons were not always possible or effective. You couldn’t just invite a friend “to church” when the church was underground.
Instead, the church tended to meet in homes, eat together, and spread the gospel through the witness of their lives. Peter wrote to persecuted and exiled Christians:
But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:14-15)
In this description of how to “witness” to others (one of very few in the New Testament), Peter assumes that others will ask. He doesn’t teach a method of cornering or manipulating people into hearing the gospel.
Rather, he assumes that believers will invite questions through their lives — through the way they honor and revere the Messiah in their own hearts and their own righteous lives.
Facilitating Encounter with Jesus
In Matthew’s case, he didn’t go to his friends and tell them they were going to hell. Instead, he invited them to dinner with Jesus. He made a way for the hungry and sick to encounter the One who offers eternal food and eternal healing.
I believe we can do the same: that in our homes, at work, on the street, and our churches, we can invite people to encounter Jesus. We can deliberately act as access points to the gospel, open doors for those who choose to come in.
We can do this through conversation, through working alongside people, through caring for them and meeting their needs, and through living out lifestyles of worship and consecration. We can do it by keeping our ears open for questions and by keeping Jesus at the center of our lives.
Righteousness, Peace, and Joy
I grew up in a home where hospitality was consistently practiced. My parents and grandparents invited all sorts of people to dinner, from every part of society. Later, I worked with a ministry that did outreach to the hungry and homeless, usually by simply feeding them. So I watched this kind of encounter in action.
I can’t remember even one time when my dad or my ministry mentors sat someone down to “share the gospel” with them. But I can remember lots of times when people asked honest questions about God, and those questions often led to the gospel being shared.
In my own life, I’ve learned to listen to people and hear their hearts first, then bring biblical perspectives to bear.
In most cases, people were open because they had already seen and felt a difference in our lives — and because we had already chosen to honor and care for them.
Paul says in Romans 14:
For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
When you first of all follow Jesus with all your heart, and then you invite people into your home, your life, you bring them into an atmosphere where they can encounter the peace of God. They can see your joy. They can feel the safety and security of a life being lived in pursuit of righteousness.
That encounter with the kingdom is powerfully attractive. Righteousness, peace, and joy are in short supply in the world at large.
When we act as conduits of these things, people will ask about the hope that is in us.
You Don’t Have to Be God
I know, from growing up in the church, that the topic of “witnessing” comes with a lot of pressure and guilt. But it doesn’t need to be that way.
For one thing, we are not God, and we don’t have to be God. Instead, we can just be witnesses in the truest sense—letting others know what we have personally seen, heard, encountered, and experienced.
Matthew didn’t try to convict, judge, or convince his friends. He just fed them and brought them into the presence of Jesus. We can do the same.
Who do you know who is hungry? How can you feed them?
Who do you know who needs to experience the love and acceptance of God? How can you show them that love and acceptance?
Who do you know with questions? What kind of conversation can you enter into with them — honestly, vulnerably, with good humor, and with a true desire to share?
Always remember that our task is just to bring people to Jesus. Jesus himself can and will take it from there. You don’t have to be God, just to share him.
Our homes and our very lives can become places of encounter with Jesus for those who need it most.
Let’s follow in Matthew’s footsteps and invite our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors to sit down with Jesus.
I would love to hear from you. Scroll down to leave a comment below!
This is Part 122 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
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