THE CALLING OF LEVI
Key Verse: 2:17
“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
In this passage Jesus calls Levi, a tax collector to follow him. Jesus also declares why he came to this world.
Look at verse13. Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. This lake is the Sea of Galilee. Jesus loved this place and often went out to walk there. The water in this lake is blue and this lake is surrounded by scenic beauty. It was here that he called his first disciples.
When Jesus went out beside the lake a large crowd came to him. They came to Jesus because they had seen his compassion and healing power on the leper. They had seen Jesus’ authority to forgive sins and wanted forgiveness of their sins. Jesus’ message touched their hearts and satisfied their hungry souls. They had been longing for a good shepherd and they found him in Jesus.
How did Jesus help them? Jesus began to teach them. People came to Jesus for different reasons. Some sick people wanted physical healing. Others possessed by demons wanted to be free from the harassment. But Jesus always taught the word first. Why did he do so? It is because the word has power to set people free from their slavery to sin and Satan. The word can save a hopeless sinner and change him into a new person. By believing the good news people can obtain eternal life and enter the kingdom of God. For this reason Jesus taught the word diligently whenever he had a chance. It is beautiful to look at Jesus teaching the crowd of people on the lake shore.
After teaching the crowd Jesus kept walking. Then he saw a man sitting at the tax collector’s booth. He was Levi son of Alphaeus. “Follow me.” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
Who was Levi and how could he so readily follow Jesus? Levi was a tax collector. He was a Jew. But he worked for the Roman government which occupied his country. Tax collectors collected more than they were required to-to fill up their own pockets. For these reasons tax collectors were hated by all of Jewish society, and were even more despised than the Roman soldiers who occupied Israel. In fact, the Jewish Talmud taught that it was righteous to lie and deceive a tax collector, because that was what a professional extortioner deserved.
Everyone wants to have a decent job with good pay and honor such as being a doctor, lawyer, teacher or system engineer. Why then did Levi choose to be a tax collector as his occupation? We don’t exactly know why. But one thing is sure. He needed a job to survive. Besides, his job was a little more secure. It was a government job. Although he was hated the Roman government supported him. Levi had to be tough in order to collect the required amount of tax. He worked hard and became rich. He bought a dream house and enjoyed his life with the money he earned. Was Levi happy after all? No, he wasn’t. Though he gained a lot through his job he lost more valuable things. He had no friends to talk to outside of his office. He was isolated and hated. He was lonely and felt miserable. Levi seemed lost. He dug this hole all by himself with his ability. Now he couldn’t get out of the hole. Now he became helpless and hopeless. He couldn’t restore his life.
Many people are like Levi. They dream of making a lot of money after graduation and enjoying life. But after they get a nice and high paying job they don’t look happy. Instead they are bored of work and life. Statistics show that seven out of ten Americans are not satisfied with their job for one reason or the other. In order to kill the boredom they travel to foreign countries. But when they come back nothing has changed. They go to bars and drink. Though they are in their twenties they keep saying, “I am tired” from early morning. They go to sleep right after work and after getting up watch TV and sleep again. Levi felt like his life was falling apart. He felt desperate. He longed for someone to rescue him. In a sense he was ready for change. Then Jesus came to him and invited him saying, “Follow me.” First Levi looked behind him to see Jesus was calling someone else. No one was there. Then he asked Jesus, “Are you talking to me?” Jesus nodded his head. Levi couldn’t believe his ears. No one had invited him nor did anyone talk to him. But Jesus came to him and called him. People look tough and strong. But sometimes people are moved by one phone call or an invitation. Especially to Levi who was lonely and rejected Jesus’ calling “Follow me” had irresistible power to draw him to Jesus. Levi accepted Jesus’ invitation by jumping out of the booth and following Jesus.
What led Levi to make such a decision and what changed We can find through the banquet he held at his house. That evening Levi invited Jesus and his disciples and the crowd who had followed Jesus to his house. He opened his house and prepared many delicacies to serve the guests.
Look at verse 15, “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.” Luke’s gospel says, “Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house”. Levi held a massive dinner party not for himself but for Jesus. He held this great banquet in honor of Jesus. Levi was thankful to Jesus who called him. He invited many tax collectors and sinners to share his joy with them. He invited them so that they might meet Jesus.
What does Jesus’ eating with tax collectors and sinners show about him? Dr. Luke Lim helped my fellowship to understand what it represented by asking a question, “What if a group of gangs invited me to their party and I went there?” “How would people regard me?” People would think I was a gangster. The fact that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners shows that he became like one of them. Not by doing evil but by becoming their friend he became identified as one among them. Jesus ate with them. He talked to them and laughed with them. The Son of God mingled with sinners. Jesus didn’t condemn them. He accepted them. Jesus was happy to see them repent and to associate with them. This is what moved Levi and made him follow Jesus. Levi saw Jesus’ grace in forgiving him and accepting him.
This great feast shows Levi’s joy and the change of his heart and life. In the past Levi lived only for himself pursuing money and success. When he worked hard only for himself he was not happy. Now he changed his life direction and began to follow Jesus. Now Jesus became the meaning and joy of his life. When Levi repented he tasted the kingdom of God. Levi was changed and became a new person. The old is gone and the new has come.
Jesus called Levi by saying, “Follow me”. Jesus invited Levi to become his disciple. What a wonderful grace that a tax collector became Jesus’ disciple. Jesus called Levi to show to the world that he has hope for all kinds of sinners. The life of following Jesus is a blessed life. It is a life of learning Jesus and imitating him and following his path. The life of following Jesus is meaningful and fulfilling God’s purpose for you. You will never feel bored. You will be busy but it is rewarding.
Everyone in the house enjoyed the banquet. It was the happiest day for Levi and Jesus and every one in the house. But there was a group of people who were not happy at all. They were the teachers of the law who were Pharisees. When they saw Jesus eating with the sinners and tax collectors they asked Jesus’ disciples. “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” The New Living Translation says, “Why does he eat with such scum?” The Pharisees despised these people. They didn’t even consider them as human beings. They only condemned and criticized them. They didn’t see them with any hope.
How did Jesus respond to them? Let’s read verse 17 together. “On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” We can learn several things from this verse.
First, Jesus sees people as sin sick. Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners”. Romans 3:10 says, “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one.” This means everyone is a sinner. Everyone is sick with sin. People look normal outwardly. But inwardly they are sick with many kinds of sin sicknesses. College students look physically healthy but they have different kinds of mental and spiritual problems. They need help and healing. We see how Jesus viewed Levi when he called him. Jesus saw Levi as sick. Jesus saw him as a sick person who needed care and treatment. People condemned Levi as selfish and evil. They hated him and avoided him. But Jesus looked at him as a sick person who needed care for healing. Jesus saw him with compassion. Jesus looked at him with the eyes of a parent who looks at their son or daughter who has a high fever. Jesus wanted to heal his sin sicknesses by any means. It is not easy put a hope for a selfish person to change. But Jesus saw him with eyes of hope. If he is cured he can be healthy and strong.
Second, Jesus declares himself as a doctor. What kind of doctor is Jesus? Jesus is a spiritual doctor who heals our sin sicknesses. In the previous passage when four people brought a paralytic, Jesus told him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Though the paralytic wanted only physical healing Jesus forgave his sins first which in his eyes was a more urgent. Jesus forgave his sins and then made him walk. Jesus knows what we need most. It is healing from our sin sicknesses. Man can not be happy if he is sick with sin. No one can heal our sin sicknesses nor change us. But Jesus can, because he is a spiritual doctor. Jesus healed Levi’s sin sicknesses. Jesus forgave him and accepted him. Jesus’ compassion and love melted and cured Levi’s hardened and broken heart and made him healthy. Jesus endured him and taught him until Levi changed completely. Jesus forgives our sins and heals our sin sicknesses too.
Third, how can sinners be healed? Let me ask you. “When do you go to a doctor?” We go to a doctor when we are sick with flu or some other illness. When you go to a doctor what does the doctor ask you? The doctor will ask you, “How are you feeling? Or what’s wrong? Or why did you come today? Then he will ask you to tell him all the symptoms you have so the doctor can give you a right medication. One time I was sick with the cold. I had a fever and headache. My wife gave me an antibiotic from the refrigerator at my house. I thought one antibiotic works for every cold. I kept taking it for several days but I didn’t feel any better. I still felt sick. Then I realized that it was a wrong antibiotic. That day I went to a doctor and told him all the symptoms I had. Of course he examined me. Then he gave me an antibiotic and as soon as I arrived home I took it. Within a couple of hours my headache was gone and I felt okay. It was amazing. You see I knew I was sick and I felt I needed a doctor. And I went to a doctor and told him the symptoms and he gave me a medication. Likewise in order for us to be healed from our sin sicknesses we should know we are sick and come to Jesus for healing. Of course Jesus knows all our sin sicknesses and problems. But still he wants us to acknowledge our sin sicknesses and confess. 1John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins he is just and faithful and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Jesus is willing to forgive our sins and make us clean. Our part is that we should acknowledge that we are sin sick and repent.
Unlike the sick, the healthy don’t see a need for a doctor. If you are over forty and are healthy you are recommended to have annual check up. If you are in tens or twenties and you are healthy you don’t need to see a doctor. I am not a doctor, but that’s what I heard. Who is the healthy Jesus is referring to? New Living Translation says, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor-sick people do. I have come to call not those who think them are righteous, but those who know they are sinners. The healthy are those who think they are righteous. They are not righteous but think they are righteous. It is so called, “Self righteous”. They think they are perfectly healthy and have no problem. If we say, “Everyone is a sinner they say, “I am fine”. They say they are morally okay and never did anything bad to others. In fact their sickness is more serious than that of tax collectors and sinners. The tax collectors and sinners at least knew they were sick. But the Pharisees even didn’t acknowledge they were sick and refused to be healed. In fact until a person recognizes a problem in his character or behavior he never sees a need for change. If he recognizes a problem he has a hope to be fixed. If a person thinks that he is healthy and absolutely normal he doesn’t see his need for Jesus and Jesus has nothing to do with him. But if we recognize our sin sicknesses and comes to him in repentance he begins to heal us.
When we discover our sin sicknesses and the effect of them in our children and others we feel pain. When we remember all our mistakes and sins we regret and feel like we messed up. We caused wounds and scars in others because of our sin sicknesses and we ourselves have wounds and scars and hurts in our own hearts. It is too shameful and painful to have these exposed. We feel messed up and it seems too late to get it fixed. But Jesus still accepts us and doesn’t condemn us. He is willing to forgive our sins and heal our sin sicknesses and restore our life.
When people are sick with sin they become helpless and hopeless. They can’t do anything with their sin sicknesses. For this reason Jesus came to call sinners to forgive them and heal them. When we accept Jesus he comes into our hearts and heals us. He invites us and eats with us. Jesus died on the cross so that by his wounds we may be healed. Praise Jesus who came to call and heal sinners.
In the past Tony was sick with sin. When he was 14, he wanted to do everything he wanted. He took marijuana and was kicked out of high schools. He stayed at home for one year and a half watching TV. He stayed at home and didn’t come out. One day he cried out, “Why is my life like this?” Jesus heard his prayer. One day he took the same drug and he felt the taste was weird. He became allergic to the drug. He tried several more times and felt the same. Because of this he stopped. But his other problem was drinking. He couldn’t stop and this problem got out of control. Then he began to see his problem and became desperate. One day he came here and asked for help. We began Hebrews Bible study. Through the study he began to see his sins and wanted to change. Tony was like Levi who was ready for change. As a substitute of going out to drink with his old friends he decided to come to Sunday worship service. Since he stopped drinking he could focus better on his studies and he got the best GPA 4.0. He began to have joy. He became one of the starting members of Mustard Seed team.
Praise Jesus who came to call sinners to save and heal. Jesus changed Levi’s name to Matthew. The name Levi means “joined.” The meaning of the name Matthew or Matt is ‘a gift of God’. The Pharisees saw Levi as a scum. But Jesus saw him as a gift of God. He looked selfish but he turned out to be a gift of God. It is like a chunk of stone which turns into a big diamond. In a sense college students are like Levi. They look like the least likely people to accept our invitation. But Jesus went to Levi and called him and Levi accepted his invitation.
The theme of Purdue International conference is the love of God. I pray that we may invite many sinners to experience God’s love and healing. I pray that we also accept God’s love newly in our hearts.