Before coming to Christ everyone has a spiritual need, though some have a greater awareness than others of the effects of sin in their lives. Sometimes the sense of need develops as we encounter difficult straits in our life— once-held morals fall, unhealthy appetites dominate us, our marriage falters, our family suffers, or our career sours. Guilt begins to choke us. Equilibrium, well-being, and peace become aching memories. Life becomes desolate—we are as Eph 2:12c “without hope and without God in the world” .
But thankfully, sometimes this sense of need drives a person into the arms of Christ. Meeting Christ brings a peace previously unknown. John 14:27 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. The soul then has a sense of rest and well-being it has never known, even in the best of times. Getting to know Christ better and better through his Word brings us divine wisdom for living (James 1:5), a wisdom that slows down or reverses the destructive patterns in our lives. We experience new stability, self-control, and discipline.
It is too easy for Christian believers to forget that they are sinners— yes, justified, but still, in themselves, weak and vulnerable. James 3:2 “We all stumble in many ways”. The church can easily become a self-righteous subculture with no room or sympathy for “sinners.” This is a real danger to the evangelical church. We have been gloriously saved. We are hard-working. We are spiritually and perhaps materially prosperous.
Many of us have few discernible needs. But are we seeing ourselves as we really are? Jesus’ warning to the Laodicean church may apply to us: Rev 3:17 “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked”. (Jesus’ calling of Levi speaks to this very issue, and a study of it can help us assess ourselves and know what to do.)
WHAT WAS LEVI’S CALL (LUKE 5:27, 28)?
Levi was a tax collector for the Roman government. The Romans collected their taxes through a system called “tax farming.” They assessed a district a fixed tax figure and then sold the right to collect taxes to the highest bidder. The buyer then had to hand over the assessed figure at the end of the year and could keep whatever he gathered above that amount. Such a system invited extortion.
The Talmud classified tax collectors as robbers. So rare was honesty in the profession that a Roman writer remarked in amazement that he once saw a monument to an honest tax collector! Jewish tax collectors were easily the most hated men in Hebrew society. They were classed with Luke 18:11 “robbers, evildoers, adulterers”, with prostitutes (Matthew 21:32). Tax collectors could not serve as witnesses in court and were excommunicated from the synagogues. Low-life Levi and his friends were the lowest of the lowest.
Understanding how much Levi was loathed, we can appreciate the drama in the opening description of his encounter with Jesus: Luke 5:27 “After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth” . They very likely had seen each other before, Perhaps had some conversations. But now, Levi is surprised by what Christ would say next: Luke 5:27c,28 “ ‘Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him” .
In doing this Levi made a substantial sacrifice because he was wealthy. He could not go back to his old job if things did not work out. And, indeed, Levi did follow Christ for the rest of his life, for this Levi is none other than Matthew the Gospel writer and one of the apostles. (Matthew 9:9; 10:2, 3). This was utterly amazing, because of all the people in Capernaum, Levi was the most publicly unacceptable candidate for discipleship. And this is what Luke has been building toward healing the impossibly disfigured leper then his pronouncement to those gathered around the paralytic that Luke 5:24 “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”, and now this. Jesus offers real forgiveness for real guilt!
Christ saw in the disfigured life of Levi (tax collector) a Matthew (writer, evangelist, collector of souls). No matter ugly a sinner’s life may be, Christ can make it into something beautiful for God. This is what Christ does!
WHAT WAS LEVI’S BANQUET LIKE (LUKE 5:29)?
- Evidently Levi had no regrets about giving up everything to follow Jesus.
- He even hosted his own good-bye party.
“Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them”. Levi had the means to do it big, and he did. Levi hosted the feast, not for selfish reasons, but as a celebration of what had happened to him. Feasting is for laughter and merriment (Ecclesiastes 10:19). The ex-tax collector regarded the change in his life as an occasion for rejoicing, as indeed it was. Nothing is a greater occasion for rejoicing than conversion!
Bishop Ryle had it right when he said:
It is a far more important event than being married, or coming of age, or being made a nobleman, or receiving a great fortune. It is the birth of an immortal soul! It is the rescue of a sinner from hell! It is a passage from death to life! It is being made a king and priest for evermore! It is being provided for, both in time and eternity! It is adoption into the noblest and richest of all families, the family of God!
Coming to know Christ is a great reason to celebrate! Levi hosted this great celebration in part for his friends sake. The soul that has received God’s grace does not want to go to heaven alone. This is the way it was with Andrew too.
John records: John 1:41 “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ ”. Remember too the Samaritan woman’s invitation: John 4:29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”. Levi knew that if his needy friends would meet Jesus and hear his words, they would perhaps trust in Christ also.