An Uncomplicated Matter
When push comes to shove it really is a very simple thing. What am I talking about? I'm talking about becoming a Christian. I'm talking about becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. It's a simple thing, a straightforward thing, but it is also something that radically transforms a person's life. Things will never be quite the same again when a person becomes a Christian.
Have you become a Christian?
I wonder whether the question surprises you. Isn't it enough to be in church, doesn't that make me a Christian? Perhaps you had parents who had some kind of faith and you have assumed that therefore that makes you a Christian too.
All of us are different and I know that my life history is not identical to yours. The people who have influenced me over the years are different from those who have influenced you. Indeed all of us have our own unique histories that have made us what we are today but that is not really what matters when it comes to thinking about whether or not we are Christians.
A Christian is a person who has responded positively to Jesus. More specifically a Christian is a person who has responded to Jesus' call to follow him.
Have you done that?
Nobody else can take that decision for you – it's a decision that every individual must take for himself or herself if he/she would be a Christian
Have you taken that decision yourself?
Until you have personally taken that step whatever else you are you are not yet a Christian. I wonder did you know that the term Christian was used as something of a nickname for those who were known as disciples and a disciple is a learner or a follower of his Master. The Master the Christian disciple follows is Jesus Christ.
This morning we're going to think about becoming a Christian and Levi the tax collector will be our guide.
Setting the Scene
Jesus had just left a crowded house where he had healed a paralysed man and scandalised some of the religious folk by telling the man that his sins were forgiven. It would be easy to understand why Jesus might want to take a walk by the sea to get a breath of fresh air inside his lungs. And as he walks he passes by a tax collection point.
It was the Romans who were in charge of taxes but they weren't overly concerned about how the money was collected just as long as it was. And there was money to be made here! A fixed price paid to the Romans and a man could buy the right to levy taxes on imports and exports as they were traded. These "farmers would then employ others to actually collect the monies for them – it went without saying that their employees would collect as much as the market could stand lining their own pockets in the process. You can appreciate that ordinary folk didn't have a high opinion of tax collectors.
And Levi was a tax collector.
And he hadn't been at the meeting in the nearby house to listen to Jesus preach, he had been sitting in his booth collecting his taxes.
Then, as Jesus went past, he looked in and called out to Levi with a simple command:
v.27 "Follow me" he said.
It wasn't the first time that Jesus had said this sort of thing to men. A little earlier in the chapter we read of his encounter with two sets of brothers who were fishermen. These brothers had have a fruitless night of fishing having taken nothing but against what they thought was their better judgment they went at Jesus command to cast their nets one more time and they had been stunned by the catch they took.
When the men finally struggled back to shore with the greatest catch they had ever taken Jesus spoke to them and said that from now on their task was going to be to fish for men. The call to follow him was implicit in this and the brothers immediately left everything else behind and began to follow Jesus.
But Levi was not given any further explanations as Jesus passed by his booth – all he heard was the call to follow Jesus. What was he going to do?
I personally don't think that this was the first time Levi had ever encountered Jesus because Jesus encouraged men to think carefully about what they were doing. Jesus didn't, and doesn't, encourage men and women to allow themselves to be carried away by the emotion of the moment. Rather Jesus encouraged, and encourages, men and women to carefully weigh up the pros and cons before deciding what they'll do. How foolish to engage in a venture only to abandon it part way through.
No, I think that Levi already knew something about this remarkable man from Nazareth but the time had now come for him to take decisive action, now was the moment! What would Levi do?
The choice that confronted Levi was a simple one and he knew what he was being called to do – he was being called to follow Jesus. All he had to do was to decide whether he would or not. He wasn't to worry about things far off in the future, he wasn't being asked to do anything complicated but he was being called to do something that would have immense consequences – would he follow Jesus or would he let the opportunity pass him by?
We don't read of any attempt at argument on Levi's part, nor do we hear of any attempt at negotiation. We don't find him saying I'll follow you tomorrow or next week, or next week – Levi wasn't in control of the future and in any case he couldn't be sure that Jesus would want him then if Levi didn't want him now.
In the event Levi took his decision and by it he showed that he valued Jesus, in fact he valued Jesus more than anything else he had. Levi made Jesus his priority N°1 and in doing so left everything else behind in order to follow him.
And becoming a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, is fundamentally like that for all of us. Oh, it might not necessarily mean that we change jobs, move houses, or leave our families but it will mean for all of us a radical alteration in our priorities. Jesus' call to follow him is simple and crystal clear but clarity doesn't mean it is easy to do in practice.
I wonder have you understood enough about Jesus to be ready to respond to him with the same enthusiasm as those fishermen brothers and Levi.
Joining a Right Motley Crew
I want you to see that responding to Jesus' call to follow him will involve you with a right motley crew. The church is made up not of a bunch of good respectable people who have earned the right to special blessing because of their exemplary track record. No, Jesus' church is full of people who know only too well how awful they actually are.
And this is no mistake on Jesus' part – it is exactly as he intended it to be! After all he deliberately called the people he wanted to follow him and just look at the people he chose!
Levi here was a quisling tax operator who was despised by the respectable people of the society – the only people who would have anything to do with him were others equally despised by society!
his band of followers will even include a member of a what the authorities would probably have been prepared to call a terrorist group if such language had been around at the time
And Jesus called them! Don't you find that impressive and unusual? You should do because this goes against the flow, this is not the way we normally see things being done.
We've entered the run-in to the next General Election and as soon as a story comes out about some candidates or some associate's misdemeanours the party wants to get rid of him as quickly as possible. We can't allow anyone with a skeleton in his cupboard to risk spoiling everything for us all. There must be no clouds of suspicion anywhere to be seen. It'd spoil the image of the party if that person with politically incorrect views is tolerated so he must go – everyone must be so squeaky clean…
How differently Jesus operates as he calls men to follow him!
Jesus doesn't call people to follow him because he sees how nice they are and how much they'll be able to contribute to his cause. He won't call you because he thinks you have wonderful potential or because you've already done so many good things. He calls you because like Levi you need him!
You mustn't feel bad about what I've just said. It is, after all, a wonderful privilege to realise that! It's wonderful because you don't need to pretend you're better than you are to impress Jesus nor do you need to desperately try to make yourself acceptable. He calls you just because he knows who you are and that you need him and he is prepared to give you what you can't do for yourself.
We're not told a huge amount about what Levi knew about this Jesus whom he had just decided to follow but something is very clear from what followed he was very glad he did! Levi was no reluctant disciple who feared that he had taken the wrong decision – he was so glad about the decision he had taken that he organised a party to celebrate with all those who knew him.
I wonder whether your understanding of just how tremendous a thing it is to be a Christian is anything like that. Many folk seem to have a very poor idea about what it means to be a Christian – a hair-shirt mentality sadly grabs hold of many. But dear old Levi celebrated and partied about it all!
Not everyone was happy with the way in which Jesus welcomed somebody like Levi. I imagine that for most of us in becoming Christians not everyone was happy about it either though not necessarily for the same reasons.
The scribes and the Pharisees who had already had their nose put out of joint by Jesus' claims to forgive sin quickly find another reason for being critical of him and his growing band of followers. They are such a rabble –surely if he was a respectable spiritual leader he would ensure that his followers kept better company than they were doing as they participated in Levi's party with a bunch of folk who were still part of that old lifestyle.
If whispers of their attitude got to Levi how discouraging that could have been! He'd just begun to follow Jesus and no sooner had he done so than cold water was being liberally poured over him to douse his enthusiasm and to extinguish his joy.
You may meet with negative reactions from others when you take that all important decision to put Jesus first in your life and to follow him come what may. Don't be surprised – attacks will come from the religious who see all talk about being born again etc as marks of fanaticism and others failing toi understand just how wonderful a thing it is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ may lament as though your decision is akin to waving goodbye to any enjoyment in life ever again.
But Jesus didn't criticise Levi and he didn't criticise his other disicples for mixing with Levi's old friends and he explained why.
Just as a doctor does his patients no good by doing all he can to avoid them so Jesus cannot and will not avoid those he has come to help, to save: sinners!
The doctor doesn't frequent his patients with a view to catching their illnesses but to do them good. In precisely the same way Jesus had come not to approve of a poor, sinful lifestyle that always promised much but never delivered but he came to rescue men and women from a meaningless, pointless lifestyle that would only end in their everlasting destruction and eternal regret.
When Jesus kept the company of tax collectors and sinners it was with a view to saving them from their destructive lifestyle – he was no more attracted by it than the doctor is by the evil smelling pus that flows from a contaminated wound.
But do you see what this also tells us about Jesus and our need of him?
If we think we are fine as we are, that our lives are well-ordered and perfectly satisfying, then we will never ever want Jesus in our lives. That is why the church is made up of misfits and awkward people who are ready to talk about their failures and their mistakes – the church is not a club for social risers but a healing station for sick and wounded sinners.
It is my task to tell you today that that is what you all are. Oh, your sins might be kept within socially respectable limits and hidden away from the scandal pages of the press but in Goid's sight we are all sinners and in desperate need of a Saviour. Levi had his wealth from his lifestyle and he had some friends just like him but he was hollow inside – all that he had had left him unsatisified. When Jesus called him it was not really that difficult for him to "leave all and follow him" after all he knew what his own life really was like.
Jesus' call is not an endorsement of a wayward or profligate lifestyle and his call is no demonstration of his approval of those he calls because, after all, his call involves a call to repentance and repentance means change.
Repentance means recognising that God was right all along and that it was we who were wrong.
Repentance means recognising that the way we ordered our life was destructive firstly of God's honour and secondly of our own lives not to mention the effect it had on the lives of others.
Repentance goes further however than merely expressing regret in the form of some kind of hand-wringing – it includes change.
Jesus call to follow him is a call that summons us out of our sin and in no way authorises us to continue in our sin.
Come and follow Jesus Christ! Why don't you start doing that today if you haven't done so already?
If you have already decided to follow Jesus Christ then make sure that you appreciate what a great privilege it is! What reasons you have for celebration if you're a follower of Jesus Christ!