There are many things that call us. Telephone calls beckon us, doorbells solicit us, and babies cry for our attention. The alarm clock calls us to begin a new day, the boss calls us to his office, the customer calls with an order, an e-mail calls us with a question. We are called to visit our relatives, to share a dinner with our friends, and to visit our childrens school. Some feel those calls they cant refuse the appeal to go fishing, go to the beach, or to go skiing in the mountains. But how many of us take time to hear the spiritual call that God sends us?
In this short section of scripture we see how Christ called one of his followers. The twelve apostles were not noteworthy men. They did not have special talents, training, or education. They were common people of their time. And yet Jesus selected them for the most important work ever undertaken. As we study the Bible, we realize how God has called men and women to serve him over the centuries. All those who choose to follow Christ do so because they are called.
Here in Luke we will learn how Jesus called Levi. Levi was the Hebrew name of the man who was also given the name of Matthew. Many people think Jesus gave Matthew this name since Matthew in the Greek means the gift of God whereas Levi in the Hebrew just means linked. Tax collectors were so hated in Jesus day that both Mark and Luke do not identify him by his known name of Matthew, but rather use his Hebrew name of Levi, presumably so early Christians would not be offended by his sinful past. But Matthew freely identifies himself in Matthew 9 where he relates the same story, and he refers to himself as "Matthew the publican" in the list of the 12 apostles in Matthew 10:3.
Levi, or Matthew, understood Gods mercy, and he wasnt about to hide it. In these six verses in Luke 5 we will see the five areas of Christs calling on Levis life.
1. Levi was called while in sin
These are the same areas of Christs calling on our lives.
After this he went out, and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, "Follow me."
Levi was a tax collector. According to Packer and Tenney , "The tax collectors made their profits by charging a higher toll than the law required. The licensed collectors often hired minor officials called publicans to do the actual work of collecting the tolls. The publicans extracted their own wages by charging a fraction more than their employer required. The disciple Matthew was a publican who collected tolls on the road between Damascus and Accho; his booth was located just outside the city of Capernaum and he may have also collected taxes from the fishermen for their catches. Normally a publican charged 5 percent of the purchase price of normal trade items and up to 12.5 percent on luxury items. Matthew also collected taxes from fishermen who worked along the Sea of Galilee and boatmen who brought their goods from cities on the other side of the lake. The Jews considered a tax collectors money to be unclean so they would never ask for change. If a Jewish man did not have the exact amount that the collector required, he borrowed from a friend. Jewish people despised the publicans as agents of the hated Roman Empire and the puppet Jewish king. Publicans were not allowed to testify in court, and they could not tithe their money to the temple. A good Jew would not even associate with publicans in private life."
In order to make a living, publicans had to extort an extra illegal amount from those being taxed. This amount was completely at their discretion. So Levi was practicing a sinful occupation. But Levi was called in his sins. God does not ask us to clean up our life first before he calls us. We are called right where we are. None of us are good enough or righteous enough to be part of Gods family.
Do you feel unworthy? Do you feel God cant love you because of the sin in your life? You are being called in your sins. God will help you and give you strength, but you cannot overcome sin on your own. You need divine help.
It is Christ who called Levi. It is Christ who is calling you. We are not saved because our parents took us to church, we are not saved because our friends have told us about God, we are not saved because we know what the Bible says. We are saved because Christ calls us. Jesus came to redeem humanity from the penalty of sin. Now he is calling all who will believe. Do you hear his call? Can you hear his voice speaking in your heart?
And he left everything, and rose and followed him.
Levi heard Christs call to repentance, and he left everything behind. He left his sinful lifestyle, he left his livelihood, and he left his position. When Jesus calls us, we must be willing to leave everything for him. True repentance will result in change. Of course we are never sinless, but we cannot repent without letting go of the old sinful habits and practices.
Gisborne comments, "We must relinquish our former iniquities altogether, and without reserve. Suppose that St. Matthew, when Christ commanded him to become His follower, had answered, that he would attend upon Christ occasionally when his occupation afforded him leisure: and that for the future, when employed in collecting tribute, he would commit acts of extortion only seldom. Would Christ have accepted such service? You must surrender yourselves entirely to Christ. You must follow Him wholly. You must follow Him alone."
Jesus did not only call Levi to repentance. He also called him to follow. There are many Christians who have been remorseful over their sins because of a guilty conscience. They have repented, but they havent begun to follow yet. Jesus not only called Levi to leave his old life, but also to follow him. It would have been impossible for Levi to know what following Christ would mean. But he simply followed in obedience.
Steve Brown tells the story of King Henry III of Bavaria in the eleventh century. It seems Henry was tiring of the pressures of court life and felt God calling him to a more meaningful and contemplative life in the monastery. He visited the local monastery and expressed his desire to the monk there. The man asked him, "Do you understand the pledge here is one of obedience? It might be very hard for you since you have been a king." But Henry was determined, and he replied, "I understand. The rest of my life I will be obedient to you as Christ leads you." He was ready to follow Christ wherever it lead. Little did he expect where it would lead. The monk looked at the king and told him, "Then I will tell you what to do. Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you." The king obediently returned to his throne with a new sense of mission and ministry. He had learned what it meant to follow Christ. We may not know what Christ wants us to do, but we must be willing to follow him.
And Levi made him a great feast in his house; and there was a large company of tax collectors and others sitting at table with them.
After Levi made his commitment to Christ, he made a great feast and invited all his friends to hear the words of Jesus. Levi felt called to share his faith with others. Apparently Levi was very popular. It says that there was a large company of people including many tax collectors. You may have felt Gods call to repentance and Christs call to follow him. But have you also felt Gods call to share your faith? Levi wanted his friends to know about Jesus. He wanted them to experience the same deliverance and joy he had found.
MacDonald remarks, "It has been suggested that Levi had three purposes in arranging this great feast. He wanted to honor the Lord, to witness publicly to his new allegiance, and he wanted to introduce his friends to Jesus. Most Jews would not have eaten with a group of tax collectors. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners."
And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"
While Levi is busy sharing his faith with those, like him, who have been trapped in sin, the religious leaders are filled with their own feelings of self-righteousness. It is easy to criticize them but we each should consider who are those that are too dirty, too sinful, or too common for us to associate with? Levi was not the only one called to share his faith. We are all called. But some of us are so busy being "good Christians" that we never seem to have time. It seems we are waiting for the right opportunity or the right time. Heres a wonderful poem by Mark Phillips.
("... to promote among all the Gentiles a yielding in faith to His name." Romans 1:5)
how long do we skip rocks on the wide glass
Some purposes are crystal: called: commissioned:
Busy with skipping
Do we want a dove to split the skies
Do we want to simply skip stones?
Call us from our shoreline daze, our bashful boredom
And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Jesus does not heal the ones who think they are well and dont need him. He only heals the ones who are sick and willing to admit their spiritual illness. As long as we think we can handle things ourselves and dont need help, we will continue in our ignorance and our sin. As The Believers Bible Commentary tells us, "...these tax collectors and sinners realized that they were sinners and that they needed to be saved from their sins. It was for people like them that the Savior came. Actually, the Pharisees were not righteous. They needed to be saved as much as the tax collectors. But they were unwilling to confess their sins and acknowledge their guilt."
Are you willing to admit that you are sick and in need of a Savior? Do you realize that there is one who wants to make you spiritually whole? Do you understand that there is one who loves you more than you can imagine? Jesus is going forth today searching for publicans and sinners. He is searching through the streets, seeking in work places and schools, and he is even looking in churches.
In these two verses, we see that Jesus repeats to the Pharisees the first three steps of Levis calling. Jesus told the Pharisees that he came to call the people in their sin, those who were sick. He tells them that it is he who calls not the righteous, but the sinners. And he tells them he has called sinners to repentance.
God did not love Levi any more than he loves you and me. He is calling us today just as he was calling Levi 2000 years ago.
1. We are called while in sin
This study on Luke 5:27-32 © 1999 by David Humpal, all rights reserved.
Packer and Tenney: Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible pg. 529-530 © 1980, Thomas Nelson Publishers
Gisborne: The Biblical Illustrator, vol. 12, pg. 519-520, Baker Book House
MacDonald: Believers Bible Commentary, New Testament volume, pg. 201 © 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers
"Purpose" © 1999 by Mark Philips
Believers Bible Commentary, New Testament volume, pg. 202 © 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers