Imagine that you are a cart driver in Ancient Syria. You are hauling a load of figs from the Damascus hill country down to the port city of Caesarea, where your figs will be sent off to Rome. It’s a hard job but it feeds your family. The road is mostly free from bandits as long as you stay with a caravan. About halfway through the journey is the city of Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee. It is where you make camp for the night. You feed your donkeys and settle down for a long night beside your figs. You plan on being up early in hopes that you can make it out of town before sunrise.
You awake to the crow of a rooster and curse under your breath. You quickly set out but you see them, the tax collectors, trolls waiting right in the middle of the road. You approach and begrudgingly hand over 2 percent of your figs, well slightly less because you have some hidden in a secret compartment under the cart. You quickly turn your donkey to move along and begin the hard journey up out of the town, but just as you do you notice a man coming along with a crowd of people
“mmm, seems to be some sort of religious person”, you think to yourself. As he approaches the tax booth you wonder what is going to happen. Could he be here for some sort of protest is this a riot? The Jewish people hate these tax collectors even more then most people hate tax collector’s which is quite a bit.
You stop your donkey watch. As the man approaches the tax booth, he speaks, “Follow me”. The tax collector, the very tax collector that had taken 2% of your figs, without a word, get’s up and joins with the group and follows the man. You kind-of wish this man had quit tax collecting 5 minutes earlier, but you are intrigued. What kind of a man would cause someone to leave the lucrative business of tax collecting?
You can open your bibles to Luke 5:27
Luke 5:27After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. ..
This sermon is about two things
1) The kind of person that Jesus is calling.
2) Is what Jesus calls individuals too.
Jesus has already called a fisherman, along with his brothers and now he is going to call a tax collector.
Tax collectors, as you can imagine we’re not popular. There were many taxes in those days, property tax, inheritance tax, sales tax, produce tax, and many, many tolls that you had to pay to transport goods from one place to another.
The fact that these taxes were levied by Rome made them especially hateful to the Jewish people. This money paid for the very soldiers that held the nation of Israel in servitude.
Some Pharisee’s believed that it was a sin to pay taxes to the Romans Matthew 22:17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
All of this made tax collectors even more hated than the Romans themselves. They were traitors to their nations, turncoats for a buck, They would call them Judas but they did not have that point of reference yet.
My grandfather, who lived through world war 2 in Holland, told me about the nazi collaborators. The emotions toward a traitor are some of the sternest imaginable.
I am trying to think of an analogous person in our context but maybe an Alqueda terrorist? Someone you would reflexively look down on.
But yet, this was the man that Jesus called, the last person in Capernaum on might expect. The untouchable, the lowest of the low. A person who sold out his people for money.
In Luke’s Gospel, we have seen Jesus give special attention to the poor, but now we see him be partial to a person who is not economically disadvantaged, but socially disadvantaged. Jesus is not just about the poor financially, but when he brings good news to the poor it’s good news to the poor of all kinds.
Why kind of a person does Jesus call?
Jesus calls the people that the religious world often overlooks. Those that are outsiders in some way. Jesus calls Levi, a man of wealth but a man that most upstanding religious people would not even wave to from a distance.
What does Jesus call Levi too?
While Levi was a person who collected taxes, and maybe he was corrupt maybe not it doesn’t say. But this we know about him, “leaving all he arose and followed him.” He was not the kind to waffle, complain or deliberate too long. When he was called he left all his worldly pursuits to pursue Jesus.
I have a little bit of a sidebar here, but it’s good to consider and we try to understand the meaning of this passage.
IS THE CALL FOR APOSTLESHIP DIFFERENT THEN THE CALL GENERALLY FOR CHRISTIANS?
Levi leaves his Job to follow Jesus, are all Christians called to do the same?
No, I do not think that Jesus’s call on Levi here is a model for all Christians. Levi could have been a devoted believer in Jesus and still been a tax collector, or a farmer, or any other profession that you can take part in in a godly manner. After all, Paul teaches this to the Thessalonians.
1 Thessalonians 4:11 aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you
So when we read about Levi we can extract general lessons in discipleship but we should not look at this as a model for all to follow. Many Christians are called to engage in secular pursuits for the glory of God, you can follow God as a Police officer or a farmer or a doctor, or a lawyer (maybe?) as well as a Pastor or a Missionary.
However, the catch is this. If we have come to Jesus Christ as our Lord. He is our sovereign we are His to command. He has purchased us not with silver or gold but at the cost of his precious blood. It is His right to be able to demand that we leave all and follow him. Jesus can call us to leave our job or our wealth or our homeland. So while not all of us are called to “ministry” like Levi, God will call some like this but He demands that all of us are willing to let go of everything in our hearts. So if the time comes when we must give up some or all, it will not be hard, because in our hearts we have already given it to Him.
What does Jesus call his followers too?
To have hearts that are willing to give up all for Jesus. So that if Jesus calls you, you will like Levi rise, leave all and follow Him.
What does this mean practically?
If You at home right now, look around. Those four walls. If Jesus is Lord they are his four walls. All your stuff, that is Jesus’s stuff. Your family, your pet’s, your job, all of it is for Jesus to command. (Pictures of a house)
- When you go to your job, It’s the job that belongs to Jesus. (pictures of office)
The all-encompassing worth of Jesus makes you count all these things as little in light of the greatest treasure, Christ himself. And when we know what a treasure Christ is any other sacrifice is but a light burden.
Going on in the text.
Luke 5:29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them.
What is Jesus calling us too? A life of Joy in Christ that invites everyone into that Joy.
Levi, in response to the grace of Jesus, the grace that cost him his job, and income. In response to this grace, uses his savings to throw a party, a great feast. A big blowout that he invited all his old tax-collecting buddies too.
Too often we see religious life in ascetic terms. We see it as a life that gives up things. And it does, we have seen that Levi has left his job and home. But Levi has gained so much more, he has gained this joy that he needs to share. But you can see the purpose of this party, it is not just to eat and drink for tomorrow we die. The party has a purpose, he is introducing all of his old friends and coworkers to Jesus. He is throwing a party in honour of Jesus because he wants all his friends to see what he has found.
What is Jesus calling us too?
Jesus is calling us to a life that in joy invites everyone to meet Jesus, the source of joy. And here is one way to do it, host a party. Now that might not be in the cards right now, but someday we pray.
We see that the evangelism of Levi is rooted in his joy about Jesus.
A little bit of a side note here. I think that this verse often misused by some to excuse immoral behaviour. You see memes like this one, which makes it sound like Jesus was doing Keg stands at the frat house.
This is the thing, Jesus calls all kinds, but he does not call them just to affirm all they do. Yes, Jesus spent time with tax collectors and sinner’s, outcasts of every kind. But he spends time with them to call them to himself, to call them to repentance. The proud outcast is just as far from Jesus as the proud powerful person.
We need to remember that Jesus calls sinners, but he calls them to repentance and holiness in Himself.
So practically, we can go to parties to introduce people to Jesus. But we remember all the other biblical commands.
Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
Proverbs 13:20 Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
So don’t read this and say, “well Jesus wants me to hang out with sinners more”. If you and alcoholic I would still avoid parties with drinking if you are prone to that temptation.
Jesus calls all, but he calls them to holiness in himself. So we go to the outcast, but we do not walk with the wicked. We invite the immoral but don’t stand with the sinner. We host a barbeque for atheists but we do not sit with the scoffers.
Jesus calls the poor and outcast
But Jesus calls them to a holy life.
Luke 5:30-31 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
So after the party, maybe the next day or so the Pharisees who would not go within three blocks of any party. (maybe we should call them Nofunisee’s?) They grumbled to Jesus’s disciples. A word evoking images of the Israelites grumbling to God in the wilderness.
This is a good example of the difference between loving exhortation and gossipy judgmental speech. Godly Loving exhortation or warning about sin or foolish behaviour is something we are called to do with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Pharisees should have come to Jesus and asked him about the wisdom of attending such a scandalous event. But they don’t instead they gossip to Jesus disciples. “hey did you hear where Jesus was last night!”
When we have a problem with someone, our sinful natures don’t want to confront, we want to whisper and get others on our side. When you have a problem with someone, talk to that person!
But anyways, the Pharisees believe in guilt by association, and Jesus is very guilty here. There reckoning is that if Jesus spends time with sinners, Jesus is a sinner.
So Jesus first responds with a common proverb. Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but only the sick. This is as common sense as anything. If the pharisee’s were so concerned about these sinners and tax collectors maybe they should be spending more time with them not less!
Jesus goes on.
Luke 5:32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
We have met sinners, but who are the righteous? Jesus explains what he means here in a parable later on in Luke.
Luke 18:9-14 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Here we see the ironic tone in Jesus’s voice when he talks of the “Righteous” . The pharisee’s trust in themselves for righteousness but they are not, There are none who are truly righteous
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
The one qualification for someone to come to Jesus is this, repentance. You cannot call someone who trusts in themselves to repentance. Because repentance is sorrow for sin.
Who does Jesus call?
Jesus calls sinners. Those who do not trust in themselves but those who have come to the end of themselves and look to Jesus alone for salvation.
What does Jesus call them too?
Jesus calls sinners to repentance. Which means both emotional sorrow for sin, as well as a resolute determination to turn away from sin.
This is the beauty of the gospel, Jesus saves sinners.
if you are out there and your good in yourself, if you look in the mirror and say “I got this”. You can turn this off I don’t have anything for you because Jesus came to call sinner’s not the “righteous” to repentance.
But if you are out there and you do not have things together. If you have tried and failed at every self-improvement scheme in this world. Maybe you can keep it together for a bit but always end up in the slough of despair.
If you know how far you are from God, you’re close to his Kingdom.
When you have given up on yourself, that’s when Jesus is ready to start with you.
Jesus calls people from the bottom to raise them up.
Jesus will do nothing for the unrepentant. Jesus will not exalt the self-righteous, there are many good Churchgoers that are far from God because they trust in themselves. There is no saving the self-righteous.
Who does Jesus call? He calls all those who recognize their need for a saviour. Everyone who looks at themselves and knows their desperate need to be saved.
And this is why Jesus is at the dinner party with the Tax Collectors and Sinners, these are the people who are so far away from every earthly hope, but so close to God they just need to come to him through faith in Jesus.
This is a lesson that the Church needs to have deeply seated in it’s DNA. We go to those who know their need. Drunks and prostitutes are often far closer to the kingdom of God than many of the fine upstanding citizens, that we might like.
Who does Jesus call? He calls all who know their need for a saviour
WHAT DOES HE CALL THEM TO?
Jesus calls sinners to repentance. He calls them to a change in Him.
We often get mixed up as Christians with these two ideas. Because on the one hand, Jesus calls those mired in sin. But on the other hand, he calls them to rise and sin no more. We must do both, boldly go to the outcast and sinner, and strive toward holiness together with them.
Jesus calls us to recognize our desperate need for Him every day.
We never outgrow the gospel, we’re always seeing how far we fall short. Paul, near the end of his life, declares.
1 Timothy 1:15 Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
The recognition of his sin never went away. He lived every day in the truth of the Gospel that Jesus saves sinners, declares them Holy in Him and calls them to practical holiness.
Who does Jesus call? The outsiders, the unexpected, but only those who recognize their need.
What does Jesus call them too?
Jesus calls sinners to repentance, to be sorry for their sin and to resolutely set out to live in holiness.
- We need to share Jesus with those who are far from societal graces, but maybe close to Jesus’s kingdom.
I knew a man who came to Christ in my Old Church, and this single person was the best evangelist we ever had. Because like the Tax collector when he came to Christ he still had all his old friends and he was excited to tell them about Jesus. There is a great evangelist out there, and he is waiting for you to share him the gospel so he can reach into places we might never be able to go.
Secondly. We need to be upfront with the call to repentance. Jesus is not life improvement help for those in need. Jesus is the saviour who died on the cross for sinners so they could have a restored relationship with their father in Heaven. We don’t just want people who are going to come to church (someday) and take part in nice programs, but we want to see people who are truly sorry for their sins and truly Repent and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.