Around 2000 years ago, a man named Luke had a life-changing experience. He hears about Jesus, and what he hears rocks his world. The impact upon his life leads him to spend years researching the facts about Jesus, and to write them down in an orderly fashion.
It’s not just Luke, who's life is impacted. His account reveals there are hundreds more lives touched by Jesus. Jesus effects the lives of Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, and common shepherds watching their sheep in the fields of Bethlehem. A man is released from a demon. A mother-in-law is sick one moment, and busily hosting guests the next. A entire village is healed.
Fishermen, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, leave their nets to follow Jesus. A leper is cleansed, and a paralytic walks. These are astounding truths we may not ignore. People who read Luke’s gospel are faced with the reality that Jesus changes lives.
Luke introduces yet another man whose life is drastically impacted. His name is Levi. We also know him as Matthew, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew.
Levi is a tax collector sitting in a tax booth in Capernaum. It is likely Simon and the other fishermen know him as they probably had to pay him taxes from their fishing business.
In the time of the Roman occupation, the taxation of geographic areas is bought for a price. For example, the taxation rights of Capernaum can be purchased by the highest bidder. To use our currency as an example (the numbers I propose are for illustration and are inaccurate), let’s say Rome determines whoever is the tax collector for Capernaum must pay Rome $15,000 per year. I bid on the taxing rights of Capernaum for $20,000. Rome takes the $20,000 and they are happy because it exceeds their price of $15,000. As tax collector, for me to make a profit; I need to tax the area more than $20,000.
I set up a shop and start taxing. I hire helpers, typically strong men, to help me with my collections. My goal is to pay the people who work for me and make a tidy profit. I tax everything. If a cart goes by with 100 fish, I tax the fish. I tax the wheels on the cart. Whatever I can tax, I will. I also need to live there, so I need to make sure my taxation is reasonable.
Being a Jew complicates life for Levi. He needs to tax Israelites to give money to Rome. He is helping the occupying force make money and stay in power. He will not be popular. But, he needs to make a living, so he is a tax collector.
Of all the people in Capernaum, it is extremely unusual for Jesus to call a tax collector to be His follower. There is a crowd of people who follow Jesus, but Jesus does not call everyone in the crowd to be an Apostle. He only calls twelve.
There are likely people who are rather annoyed at Jesus for calling Levi. But, Luke doesn’t tell us that is the case, so we can only speculate.
Jesus notices Levi (which is a very interesting choice of words), and says, “Follow Me.” Levi leaves everything behind, gets up, and follows Jesus.
Levi leaves everything. He is sitting down at his booth, stands up, and follows Jesus. Levi recognizes the opportunity. We don’t know if he made his tax quota for the year. If he follows Jesus, it is unlikely he will ever be able to return as a tax collector for Capernaum.
We don’t know the factors of Levi’s decision. Maybe he was watching and heard about Simon’s great catch of fish. Maybe he is one of the people healed earlier at Simon’s house. We don’t know.
What we do know is Levi believes Jesus is worth forsaking everything. Levi is wealthy. Luke tells us he has a large dining table able to accommodate a crowd of people.
Levi doesn’t forsake the tax booth for a bigger taxation possibility. Following Jesus is not a promotion. The last we hear about Matthew in history is that he ministers the gospel in Persia (Iran) and Ethiopia. When Levi follows Jesus, he follows Jesus to his dying breath.
What conclusion ought we make from verses 27 and 28? As far as Levi is concerned, Jesus is worth forsaking everything to follow Him. Simon and the other fishermen leave their nets and follow Jesus. Jesus is calling us as well.
Are we counting the cost? Are we willing to forsake all to follow Jesus?
Levi’s attitude is not one of regret. He doesn’t grumble about what could have been. It is not likely we will hear Levi tell us later in life that if only he stuck around, he would have been the chief tax collector for all of Galilee, not just Capernaum.
Levi’s attitude is celebratory. He holds a big reception and throws a great party. Maybe his party is bigger than the party he threw when he won the bid for the tax district. Levi is bragging to his friends. He invites a great crowd to his house.
Levi’s actions show us that he thinks following Jesus is a privilege. It’s the greatest decision of his life. He, of all people, is called by Jesus to follow Him and be His disciple.
What about us? Are our hearts full of cheer and celebration because we follow Jesus? Do we view following Jesus, not as a loss, but as gain? Do we see being a follower of Jesus as greater than a promotion? Do we invite people to our homes and have a feast because we want everyone to know that our decision to follow Jesus is the greatest decision we will ever make?
Ten years after following Jesus, will we look back and say, “What might have happened to me if I didn’t follow Jesus”? If I didn’t give my money to the church, could I have bought that new camper? If I stayed in my job, would I be vice-president of sales for a big company? Would I be living in a big house? Would my family see me as normal and not as a religious fanatic?”
Or, are we like the Apostle Paul and count all things as rubbish for the sake of knowing Christ?
Followers of Jesus have no regrets over their decision. They do not second-guess. They know it is the best decision of their life. They know the life they live, even as a missionary living in a grass hut, eating bugs, and dealing with difficult people, is all worth it.
Following Jesus is always a cause for celebration.
There are always people who don’t understand the value of following Jesus. They don’t understand that the mission of Jesus and His followers is to seek and to save the lost. They don’t understand that Jesus is come to heal the sick, bind the broken-hearted, and to give life to the dead.
In Luke’s gospel, we hear about those who don’t understand the value of Jesus, and they are the religious leaders of the day. They grumble to Jesus’ disciples and ask, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?”
Let’s read between the lines. The Pharisees and scribes are watching people eat with Jesus. They are not invited. They believe Jesus should be eating with them. If Jesus is a good teacher, He will eat with the good people, and not the rabble-rouser, no-good, low-life people of Capernaum. Jesus is hanging out with the wrong crowd, and they want to bring it to His attention.
They ask the disciples but Jesus answers. He has a good reason. He comes as a physician for those who are sick. He eats with sinners and tax collectors because they need to hear the gospel. He is calling them to repent. He wants to heal them of the sickness of sin.
The implication is Jesus makes is that the people who think they are healthy, don’t need Jesus. The Pharisees and the lawyers don’t think of themselves as being sick. They don’t think they are sinners. Jesus doesn’t come for those who are self-righteous. He comes for those who know they need His righteousness. Sinners turn from their sin. The righteous don’t see the need to turn from sin because everything is going well for them. They are already righteous, so they think.
What about us? Who are we inviting to our feast? Let’s be honest. There are times we complain when we have events at the church intended for the purpose of inviting people to hear the gospel. We’d much rather have a nice pot-luck together or a church picnic. We are quick to add fun events just for us to the calendar.
We need to have more church events, such as an open house to invite the unchurched. We need to think deeply about ways we may be a people who have an open door for tax collectors and sinners, in our home and here in the church building.
Followers of Jesus know that the ministry of Jesus is all about healing those who are willing to repent from their sin. The only way people may repent is if we invite them to the table and tell them about Jesus. Let’s be like Levi and Jesus, and fill our tables, at home, and in the church, with sinners so they may hear the gospel, repent, and be healed.
They don’t catch Jesus the last few times they try, so the Pharisees and scribes ask a new question. They ask Jesus why is it that His disciples don’t fast. The disciples of John the Baptist fast and offer prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees do the same. In that time, fasting is associated with mourning.
In contrast, we can see the disciples of Jesus having a grand old time eating and drinking. The ministry of Jesus is not holy enough for them. His ministry is not austere and pious. Jesus and His disciples need to tone it down. They need to fast and pray. Jesus is not following the pattern they teach. His ministry looks different than theirs. Some might say His ministry looks way too worldly.
Jesus’ response is full of innuendo. “You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you?” His question brings up a cultural implication. If there is a wedding, do the guys at the wedding, who are friends of the bridegroom, fast and mourn? Of course not. It is highly inappropriate.
Jesus refers to Himself as the Bridegroom and the church as the bride. The Bible is full of references presenting Jesus as the Husband to the church, which is His bride. This is the first time Jesus makes that connection. It is an important reference because it is the justification for the feasting.
The implication is clear. Jesus is not John the Baptist. Jesus is not an ordinary religious leader; a scribe or Pharisee. Jesus is God, the Bridegroom. His presence is a great cause for celebration.
Jesus continues His answer that there will be a day when the bridegroom is taken away from His disciples. In the week leading up to His crucifixion, Jesus tells His disciples that He will leave them. He is going to prepare a place for us. But, He will return again. In the meantime, now is the time to fast, while He is absent. We fast eagerly participating His return. We fast to prepare ourselves for being with our Bridegroom.
Jesus declares Himself to be the Bridegroom. When we understand the connection Jesus makes to the Old Testament, such as the words of Isaiah, we hear Him make a remarkable declaration of devotion to the church. Isaiah writes, “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So your God will rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).
Jesus wants us to imagine His joy for us is like a young man who eagerly contemplates the truth that He will spend the rest of His days with His bride. Jesus looks upon the church with a love that is very deep and full of joy.
The followers of Jesus know that Jesus is worthy of our devotion. His love and commitment to us are beyond our scope of understanding. When He is in our presence, He is worthy of our celebration. As we await His return, we fast and mourn for Him to come back.
Jesus gives three parables to explain. The first is about the folly of combining new cloth with an old cloth. The second parable is like the first; it is folly to put new wine into old wineskins as the process ruins the wine and wineskin. They are incompatible. The third parable speaks about how people prefer the old wine over the new.
Jesus is the New Covenant. He is using parables to illustrate that the Covenant of Christ is not compatible with the way of the Pharisees.
The Bible says, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creature. The old things pass away and new things have come.
When we are in Christ, we are not an old cloth, but a new cloth. We are a new wineskin, and the Spirit of Jesus is the new wine poured into our life.
Jesus is our Bridegroom. Christianity is being espoused to Jesus. Imagine acting engaged whenever we are around Jesus at church, but when we go to work, people have no we have a lover named Jesus. Imagine flirting six days of the week, but going home two hours a week on Sunday, to look at His face and sing songs about our love. How long will our engagement last if we decide to spend all our money (not just some money, but all of the money) without consulting our fiancé? What if we do 100% of what we think is fun while ignoring whether or not Jesus thinks what we do is fun or good?
Why do you suppose God likens idolatry with adultery? Jesus refers to people in His time as being an evil and adulterous generation. It’s because they say they love God, but their lives show they love the world.
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)
When Levi follows Jesus, he proves his commitment when he leaves everything. The same goes for Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Following Jesus is an all or nothing commitment.
Our new life in Christ is incompatible with our old life. Jesus is not a patch we put on our old life. Marriage with Jesus is an entirely new life. Life with Jesus impacts everything. We have a choice. We are to be married to Christ, or we are to love this world. Jesus will not tolerate adultery. Life with Jesus is incompatible with the things of this world.
Levi is a follower of Jesus. He knows that Jesus is worth forsaking everything. Jesus is cause for celebration. Levi invites people to his home to be with Jesus because Levi knows that Jesus heals those who repent. Those who are with Jesus love Him and are devoted to Him as a bride is to her Husband. Levi and all those who follow Jesus know that following Him means being given a new life. The old things pass away and the new things have come.