Jesus met such a man. His name: Levi, (aka Matthew). Jesus, defender of the poor, should have overturned Levi’s money table or screamed in his face. A picket sign would have made everyone feel good! Attacking Levi would be justifiable anger. Anyone that would take advantage of the poor, the underprivileged, the weak ought to be put in his place. Jesus instead spoke two scandalous words to Levi: “Follow Me.”
Levi worked for the occupying Roman government. Levi was told how much to collect in his district from each person to pay the Romans, then Levi added money for himself (demo). The tax collectors became wealthy as they trampled on the poor. They were despised as they participated in the perfectly legal system! What would you say to a tax collector in the days of Jesus if you were to meet him? Can you think of anyone lower than the person who would take advantage of the poor? Jesus said to Levi, “Follow me.”
There are many ways to look at this scripture. I’ve chosen to look at it from the angle of that slippery word, “Success.” What is success? Accomplishing goals comes to mind. When you ask the question about success, in Christian circles, nobody would dare say success has to do with getting a lot of money, but in the secret of our hearts, for many people, money is the bottom line: rich people are more successful than poor people.
Success is a slippery word and hard to define. Lot’s of one liners:
- There are two rules for success in life: #1 never tell everything you know.
- The road to success has many tempting parking places.
- If you don’t succeed you run the risk of failure.
- Jack Benny: I don't deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don't deserve that either.
- Real Success is the person you become along the journey!
This is the story of Levi ~ what he becomes. By many measures Levi was successful ~ wealth and authority. With two words, Jesus’ offered Levi the opportunity of a lifetime: let go of worldly success, and change. Character is more important. It’s a matter of priorities… Our personal values are what defines us…. Are you becoming a new person?
Jesus’ invitation is always open for you to find success by becoming a different person. Levi’s parents wanted better for him than to be a tax collector. All good parents have dreams for their children, they want their children to be successful, to be productive, to find peace, to be people of high character…. We know the dream Levi’s parents wanted ~ and it was not to be a tax collector ~ they wanted their son to be a priest. It’s all in his name: Levi. Names meant something in those days. Children were named because of special circumstances, character traits, or dreams of what they will be.
Levi was the name of the tribe of priests in the OT. The priests were God’s go-betweens. Levi was born with a dream of his parents to be the human face to a loving God. The priests kept alive the blessings of forgiveness through sacrifices. Somehow, through his sin and greed, Levi’s life got twisted. Levi is the Jonah of the N.T. that ran as far away from God as possible…Some people grow up in the church, reject their beliefs, and then take on lifestyles and priorities that flaunt their rejection of the church, kind of an in your face attitude. They are probably trying hard to convince themselves Jesus is not true… For whatever reason, the faith of Levi’s childhood was put on hold. He became a tax collector, the opposite of what he was meant to do. He was probably trying to convince himself he did not need God! As a tax-collector, he became Rome’s go-between. He was the Jewish face that bridged a gap to the Romans. He was meant to bridge the gap to God ….
“Follow me,” Jesus said, and Levi’s life instantly changed. Success is not about what you accomplish, but who you become on the journey…. Levi gave up everything to follow Christ…. He was ready to make a full commitment to the Lord.
For Levi, the change seems instant. We don’t know what was going on his mind. Guilt over aligning himself with the Romans and oppressing his own people? His name Levi is as permanent a reminder as a tattoo. Jesus came along, saw Levi, and said, follow me, without hesitation, Levi got up. Most people fully embrace Jesus through a series of contacts, Seeds are planted along the way, each contact, each opportunity is like a link in a chain. Once in a while I am honored to be there when a person finally gives their life to Christ, but most of the time I see Seeds planted, links in the chain leading to Salvation. This encounter with the Lord is the final link in the chain: Follow Me, Jesus says, and that is all Levi needs to hear.
Luke 5:28 says Levi “Left Everything.” Becoming a Christian seems demanding, impossible! Whatever “Everything” means for Levi, in the next verses he still has old friends, house…, so “everything” doesn’t mean those things for Luke…. We know Levi never again went back to tax collecting. Leaving everything and making a full commitment to Christ means “everything” that hinders or contradicts a full commitment to the Lord. ~ your list may be different from mine. Maybe you need to get rid of your television because it takes you away from serving God, but for me it’s not an issue…I may have demons that need to be exorcized that don’t haunt your world…. Leaving everything means to put everything on the table and let the Lord decide…odds are, in the secret place of your heart, you already have something in mind that needs to go… We don’t have Levi’s full list of “everything”, but that doesn’t matter, because what is more important is your/my list ~ the things that are keeping you back, the unhealthy patterns, the misguided goals as you attain a worldly vision of success, it’s who you are in Christ that is the measure of success, not what you collect…
Real Success is the person you become along the journey! The reason Jesus did not scream at Levi and berate him for taking advantage of his fellow Jews is because Jesus always has a vision of what we can be. The first change in Levi? Hospitality!
Levi gives his life to Jesus and the first thing he does is throw a party! He followed Jesus because he wanted to have fun! We can do the same thing in Sumas… READ Luke 5:29. It’s a huge party, a mega party… this was probably one of those parties where the cops were called. Don’t you hate it when that happens? How many times has that happened at our house Sally?
Hospitality is the act of serving others! – making others feel like they matter;
Levi’s life is changed ~ he wants to share his changed life with his friends. Luke 5:29 is a wonderful verse telling us how to go forward! Be hospitable so people will meet Jesus!
An amazing thing happens when Levi throws his massive party: Levi becomes a true Levite. Now he’s doing what he was born to do – he’s a go-between, he is saying to the people: here’s Jesus....that’s the role of a priest: here’s the Lord… He is now a bridge between sinners and Jesus Christ. Levi may not have the title “Priest,” but he is doing the work of a priest. Levi’s life has completely changes… He is no longer using people for his own gain, now he is giving himself for the benefit of others. He is serving others, not using them.
Here come the party crashers… READ Luke 5:30. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? You’re eating with the wrong people, they tell Jesus.
Jesus replies, because I’m a Doctor. READ Luke 5:31. Kind of ironic, don’t you think. The only people who are not welcome to come to the party are those who have no needs, those who are righteous, or at least those who think they are righteous. I tried to talk Denny into making a big banner for the outside of Crosswater, “For Sinner’s Only,” I don’t know why he told me no! Levi’s party is for outsiders, spiritual outsiders, physical outsiders, social outsiders. It’s for sinners. Anyone can come if they own up to being a SINNER.
Jesus compares sin to sickness. I personally find this comparison incredibly helpful in understanding my own sin. Sin is superficially about the individual bad stuff we’ve said, done, or thought (or not done that we should have). I feel guilty for all sorts of stuff in my past, but the problem of sin goes deeper.
The individual sins are like the spots you get when you have chicken pox. Anyone can see the ugly spots . But the real problem is not the spots. You can try to cover up the spots, but the real problem is the underlying sickness. That’s what sin is like. The bad stuff we do – those are the visible spots, but the sin problem goes deeper.
My sins will look different than yours. My sickness might show itself in pride and anger. Yours might come out as greed and gossip. And some will have really gross and obvious symptoms – like a tax collector. But we all have the same disease. I sat with a person who told me all of her failings, abuses, prison, selling her body, many of the things she confessed were ugly. I understood. The details are different for me, but I share the same condition. Her spots are different from mine. She hasn’t been so good at hiding them. But we’ve both got chicken pox.
The problem with our sickness: We can’t cure ourselves. If the sickness is in our hair we could shave it off. If it is in my leg I could amputate. We have a sickness in our soul. We have a terminal illness called sin. A doctor can’t help you if you claim to be well. Jesus can’t help you if you claim to be righteous. The bible is clear no-one is righteous. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. there are many who fake it. They cover up their spots and fake goodness. And the Doctor passes them by.
Levi is a man worth knowing. He found enormous worldly success by collecting taxes for the Romans. His purpose in life was far different. He was born to shine a light on God so others could see the Lord. We will never know the depth of agony he may have felt knowing he had chosen a life of greed. Jesus spotted the tax collector and gave him one more opportunity, the final link in the chain for Levi to accept the Lord and change his life for the good. He chose to follow Jesus. He left everything behind that caused him to hold back from making a full commitment to the Lord. He was so overjoyed he threw a party so others could meet Jesus. He was instantly changed from a taker to a giver. Levi knew he was a sinner. The root problem of sin was faced. Levi introduced his friends to Jesus, thus fulfilling his purpose. Real success is the person you become along the journey.
Jesus is calling you. Are you ready to give up that which is hindering you from making a full commitment, and have more satisfaction and more fun than you can possibly imagine? Success means becoming the person God intends you to be. Amen.