- Isaiah 57:14-21
- Luke 5:27-32
My dear brother and sister in the Lord Jesus Christ,
What if you were king! If you were given the task to start a movement with the purpose of changing the world forever, what would you do?
What would your teachings be? Would you be bold to teach that murder begins in the heart of man, and he that calls his brother a “fool” will be in danger to burn in hell? Would you teach that adultery is a sin and not a virtue as it is depicted today in the media? (One superstar a while ago boasted in the fact that he went through nine marriages and eight divorces!) Would you teach to love your enemy instead of taking revenge – a notion that lies behind all so-called “soap-operas”, which most Christians so dearly love to follow?
Who would you choose as leaders to have great impact on others that will last forever? You would not spend much time talking to and dealing with the outcast of society, those who live in the gutters of this world, and those not trusted for their dubious business dealings. The demon-possessed will not be on your list. And what would you do with a paralytic on your team? Moreover, why would you include the socially outcast, those who are known for their greediness and dishonesty? Ask political leaders how newspapers, which under normal circumstances thrive on immorality and gossip, can so easily become the moral judges if any leader in society becomes dishonest and corrupt.
Jesus Christ building his everlasting kingdom
Luke 4:14 takes us to Galilee, the region where Jesus commenced his public ministry.
Galilee – this was the region allotted to the tribes of Issachar, Naphtali, Asher and Zebulun. Later a section of the tribe of Gad moved up to the northern parts. These tribes had the assignment given to them to destroy and displace the people who initially inhabited the land. They were disobedient, reluctant to do it and unfaithful to the Lord; and eventually they began to mix with these people. In the days of Ahab, the godless king with his wife Jezebel, this part of Israel drifted away so far from the true worship of God that they were described by Isaiah as Galilee of the Gentiles, a people walking in darkness.
A whole range of foreign kings over a period of more than 1,300 years invaded this most fertile part of Israel with its more than 200 villages spread over only 6,000 sq miles. They became part of the Assyrian Empire and as a result the assimilated into the religion of the day. At best, their worship was a mixed one, known for its syncretism.
But Jesus, according to God’s plan of redemption through his Son, spent most of his ministry in this area. Here was no religious elite. It was a multinational area where you could find more Roman officials than Jewish leaders. The strong trade of Capernaum linked Jerusalem in the south with Damascus in the north.
It is noteworthy that of Jesus’ thirty-two beautiful parables, no less than nineteen were spoken in Galilee. And it is no less remarkable that of his entire thirty-three great miracles, twenty-five were performed in this province. His first miracle was done at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, and his last, after his resurrection, on the shore of Galilee’s sea. In Galilee Christ called his first disciples; and there occurred the awe-inspiring scene of the Transfiguration.
It was in Galilee that our Lord commenced his work to set up a Kingdom that would last forever. Here He would call his disciples and appoint his apostles. Here He would tell them about the Cross, which awaited Him. Here He would teach them about the Kingdom of God and its extension right across the world. From here He would ascend into heaven.
Jesus and Matthew
Jesus was on his way to seek the and save the lost. He needed another member on his team of disciples. So He passed the toll both on that busy road between Damascus and Jerusalem. Suddenly He stopped. He had not met the man taking the taxes from those who passed by, but He knew him. He had known him from all times. This man, Levi, was the tax collector.
In Jesus’ day taxes on transported goods were contracted out to local collectors. Levi was such a person. He would pay an agreed-upon sum in advance to the Roman officials for the right to collect taxes in an area. His profit came from the excess he could squeeze out of the people.
The Jewish people hated these tax collectors not only for their corruption, but also because they worked for and with the despised Romans. Tax collectors were ranked with murderers and robbers, and a Jew was permitted by the Pharisees to even lie to them if necessary.
The attitude found in the gospels is similar. Tax collectors are lumped together with harlots (Matt. 21:31), Gentiles (Matt. 18:17), and, most often, sinners (Matt. 9:10). They were as offensive to Jews for their economic and social practices as lepers were for their uncleanness; both were excluded from the people of God.
Jesus walked across to the tax booth. And he called Levi. It was no sermon. It was the carpenter of Nazareth, the Son of God, who called a sinner, a man deeply in need for salvation. A man desperately sick who urgently needed a doctor.
Maybe Levi, as he sat going about his business of cheating his own people had heard about Jesus – how He healed the sick and restored the leper.
People had different opinions about Jesus. Levi would overhear them, because they would not ask his opinion. Deep down in his heart Levi, although a man of good economic standing, a businessman with good arithmetic and writing skills – remember he eventually wrote the Gospel according to Matthew! – was terribly lonely.
Then he looked up, for someone was talking to him. It was a voice with authority like no other. “Follow Me.” It was not an invitation to spend the afternoon with Jesus. It was a life-changing call. Levi knew it. So when he got up and closed his books, he knew it was for the last time. He gave up a lucrative business, and followed Jesus. The Bible said he left everything and followed Jesus.
A new life opened up for Levi, the son of Alphaeus. We don’t know if his brother James had already become a follower of Jesus. Probably not – it was only after this episode that the name of James, the other son of Alphaeus, is mentioned. Three pairs of brothers: Simon Peter and Andrew, John and James the sons of Zebedee, and now Levi and James, the sons of Alphaeus.
Why would Jesus call this man Levi? Was he not a tax collector? Was he not despised by his people? Was he not part of that portion of Israel where true worship was not really practiced? Was he not from the tribes who distrusted the Lord and did not drive out the heathen nations before them? Would it not be better for Jesus to call someone from a more respectable tribe like Judah or Benjamin? Or at least someone who lived in Jerusalem where the true temple-worship was still practiced? Why Levi?
Christ and sinners
There is a question in the Scripture regarding the call of Levi that many Christians today will find very hard to answer.
Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’? (Matthew 9:11)
What would your answer be? Is it possible that Jesus would be an embarrassment to you by spending time with the socially outcast? Remember, He spent a lot of time with sinners, with prostitutes and tax collectors. He did not spend so much time with the religious elite as with those in the gutter of life. Answer this question: Why does your Saviour spend so much time with the sinner and the outcast?
Did Jesus call Levi because He foreknew that Levi would one day apply his writing skills and write the life story about Jesus of Nazareth? Did Christ call Levi because his economic skills could be used to further the cause of the Gospel?
Did Levi answer the call of Jesus because he felt rejected by others? Did he leave everything behind because he felt this was a chance in a million to gain recognition as an Israelite?
Why Levi? Then answer lies in what Jesus said in answer to the Pharisees and Scribes:
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)
What does Jesus mean by this? Levi was spiritually deadly sick. Levi was morally deadly sick. He was on his way to hell. The Saviour was there to seek and to save. That’s why He called him. There was not a single shred of good in Levi. There was not a quality in him that would persuade Jesus to call him as an apostle. On the contrary, he was in desperate need for the Doctor. He was corrupt in his soul and unrighteous by nature and he needed a righteousness coming from outside of himself.
In short Christ called this sinner to repentance. And Levi knew that. The Pharisees couldn’t see their own spiritual corruptness before God. They were self-righteous as they tried to buy their way into heaven by good deeds.
Why does your Master eat with sinners? On this the apostle Paul answered:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16)
He also declares himself to be the least of the apostles, not even deserving to be called an apostle because he persecuted the church.
It is a shame to be a sinner, but it is no shame to a saved sinner. It is a shame to be sinner, but trying to disguise your sin by good works and own merit is even worse. But it is no shame to admit your sin and by saved by Christ. It is dreadful to be sick to death, and then still pretend you are healthy, carrying on with life as if nothing is happening. It is far more profitable to admit you are terminally ill and get help from the doctor, and also get your life in order so you can die prepared.
Matthew Henry writes:
There is no heart too hard for the Spirit and grace of neither Christ to work upon, nor any difficulties in the way of a sinner’s conversion impossible to his power.
Why Levi? He was lost. Why save Levi? There was a Saviour gracious enough to call him. That’s why. That’s the heart of the Gospel. The sovereign God saves because of his mercy. He calls because of his eternal love. He calls who He wants. He calls because we are lost.
Levi becomes Matthew
The Scriptures refers to Levi as Matthew after the episode of the calling of Levi. The name Matthew means “a gift of God”. So complete was the change in the life of this man that his name would now tell of the grace of God.
As a saved sinner, Matthew just had to do something to make known the grace of God in his life. He arranged a huge feast. He probably wanted people of his tribe to attend, but they would not mix with sinners. And he could not possibly let the opportunity go by not telling his fellow-tax collectors about his new life and his Saviour. They accepted his invitation and Jesus, still on his way to seek and save the lost, accepted the invitation as well.
There he was, a saved sinner, introducing his lost sinner friends to the Saviour King of the world.
And once again this question: Why does your Master eat with sinners and tax-collectors? Matthew could answer them. His answer would probably sound like this:
“I was lost in sin, deadly wounded by sin; terminally ill, with no cure for my problem. Jesus came along and by grace He stopped at my tax collectors booth where I displayed my utter corruptness. He didn’t ask questions. He just called. I couldn’t resist and followed Him. My life changed. He made me new and forgave my sin. I just bring Him glory for his grace. Through his Spirit He led me to write down the Good News of the Gospel.”
Hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Levi whose name was Matthew:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Answer this question: “Why does your Master eat with sinners?” Would Jesus eat with you?
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 20th January 2013 at Wee Waa Presbyterian Church