“The Feast of Ingathering” (Exodus 23:16).
We are gathered into Christ. Jesus came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). This is Good News – but it’s not to be kept to ourselves. Good News is for sharing. We’re to gather others into Christ. As I thought about this phrase, “the feast of ingathering”, my thoughts turned to the words of Psalm 126:5-6 – “Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy.” We are to take the “precious seed” with us. We are to sow the “precious seed.” We are to trust in the Lord’s promise: We “will surely come back with shouts of joy, bringing our sheaves with” us. Our salvation is a tremendous privilege – and so is the service that we offer to our Lord. The Lord has saved us, and we say, “Glory to You, Lord.” He has called us to be His servants, and, again, we say, “Glory to You, Lord.” We look at our life in Christ – being gathered into Him and gathering others into Him, and we say, “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23). In the New Testament, we read about a man called Levi (Mark 2:13-14). He was to become Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13). Spiritually, it looked like his life was going nowhere – until Jesus came along, and everything changed. He was never the same again. What a big part Matthew has had in the ingathering of men and women for Christ. He was no longer Levi, a despised and forgotten tax collector. He was Matthew, the Gospel-writer. In Matthew’s story, we learn about being gathered into Jesus and gathering in others for Jesus. His story is a story of both conversion and call. His life was turned around. It was turned outward towards others. He had a new purpose in life – winning people for his Saviour. * We see the opening of his eyes. Before Jesus spoke the two life-changing words, “Follow Me”, was Levi watching Jesus? Was he seeing something different in Jesus? Was he beginning to see himself differently? Was the Spirit of the Lord working in him, preparing him for these life-transforming words, “Follow Me”? His immediate response – “he got up and followed Jesus” – suggests to us that the Lord was already working in his heart, preparing him for that moment when his new life, his life of discipleship, his life of mission would begin. On the day that Jesus came along, Levi saw himself as he really was – a sinner. He also saw Jesus as He really is – the Saviour of sinners, his Saviour. He was gathered in to Jesus – but this was just the beginning of gathering many others into Jesus. * We see the stirring of his heart. Had Levi noticed Jesus? Had he sensed something of the love of Jesus? Was he already beginning to hope that Jesus might do something special for him? Was the love of Jesus already reaching out to him before Jesus spoke the words, “Follow Me”? One thing we can say is this: Levi’s conversion was a conversion of the heart. He gave his whole heart to the Lord Jesus – and, when he speaks to us in his Gospel, he speaks to us from his heart, and he speaks to our hearts. * We see the opening of his ears. As we read Matthew’s account of his conversion, we are struck by the power of Jesus’ words, “Follow Me.” Whatever we may think about what could have been happening in Levi’s life prior to that moment, we must say this: The moment that Jesus spoke the words, “Follow Me” was the moment that life began again for Levi. It was the moment that he was saved by the Lord – saved from a life of serving his own interests, saved for a life of serving his Saviour. * We see the changing of his life. Levi, the tax collector, became Matthew, the Gospel-writer – a new name and a new mission. He was not only gathered into Jesus. He began a new life of gathering others into Jesus. * We see the loosening of his tongue. We don’t know a lot about Matthew. In Acts, we read of Peter and Paul. They were faithful and fruitful preachers of the Gospel. We don’t read about Matthew being a preacher. We do know that, in his Gospel, he was speaking for his Lord. He was letting the world know how much Jesus meant to him. He was playing his part – a very important part – in gathering in men and women for the Saviour. * What about us? Will we play our part in the great “ingathering”? “Return to the Lord … He will revive us … He will raise us up … He will come to us like the rain … ” (Hosea 6:1-3). * Return to the Lord. This is where it begins. A life of faithful and fruitful service to the Lord begins when we return to the Lord, when, like Levi, we say to Jesus, “Yes, Lord. I will follow You.” * He will revive us. We pray for revival – a great ingathering of many people to our Saviour. Where does it begin? It begins with ourselves: “He will revive us.” * He will raise us up. This is not just a little pick-me-up. This is resurrection. In ourselves, we are spiritually dead. In Christ, our risen Saviour, we are made alive. * He will come to us like the rain. “The spring showers water the land” – This is what we must pray for: a spiritual harvest which will bring many people to the Saviour and much glory to God.