When Jesus announced the agenda that was the Father’s will for his life, he applied Isaiah 61 to his life.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
“He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4.18-19)
The poor, captives, blind, and oppressed are perpetual “outcasts” of society. They are often objects of pity, but seldom valued.
Levi, who we will read about today, was not poor or blind. By the nature of his occupation, he oppressed other people.
As a tax collector, he was part of a system that swindled people out of their hard earned money, forcing many into debt and chronic hunger.
Good News for Levi
Luke recalls Levi’s experience with Jesus in two short verses.
— Luke 5.27-28 – After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up, left everything, and followed him.
Tax collectors in the first century weren’t like people who work for the IRS today. They were agents for Rome, who collected taxes on goods that were shipped between different parts of the country. They made their money by charging more than necessary and skimming the excess into their own pockets.
Jewish authorities had four categories of persons in society. Tax collectors were placed in the fourth category which was reserved for the most disreputable of all.
Because of the inherent dishonesty of their work, their testimony was not accepted in court. They were scorned because they were captive to money instead of loyal to their country. They were considered traitors by their countrymen.
Jesus came to “proclaim release to the captives” (Luke 4.18). He did this on the day he encountered Levi.
The command, “follow me,” is Luke’s shorthand description of becoming one of Jesus’ disciples.
When Jesus gave Levi the command to follow him, he was offering him the opportunity of a lifetime.
On another occasion, Jesus said: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11.28-29).
If Levi were to accept Jesus’ command to follow him, Jesus offered to give him rest from his burdens. As he followed Jesus, he would be able to learn from the Wisest Man to walk the face of the earth.
This offer is still present to humans today. Jesus comes to us, invites us to follow him, and leads us on an amazing journey.
He will set us free from the captivity to self-will and teach us how to live an abundant life.
A Response is Needed
If we are to receive the freedom and instruction Jesus offers, we must “follow” him.
Levi’s response was decisive. “And he got up, left everything, and followed him” (Luke 5.28).
I read about a newspaper article that falsely reported a man’s death. The man came to the editor and demanded a retraction.
The editor said, “I never retract a story, but I will write a story about your birth and you can begin living again.”
That’s what happened to Levi. His old life was dead and he began a new life walking hand-in-hand with Jesus.
Time for a Party
Levi so rejoiced in the good news that he had a party to share his new life with others.
— Luke 5.29 – Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them.
One of my favorite definitions of evangelism is, “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where the bread is.”
Levi provided the bread and invited his friends to get acquainted with Jesus. I believe that my job is to get people acquainted with Jesus. Once they meet Jesus, he will take it from there.
Not everyone liked the party.
— Luke5.30 – The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Harry Caray, the famous St. Louis Cardinal’s announcer, once said “The fans in Philadelphia are so negative they’d boo the Easter Bunny.”
The religious authorities may have been quite at home in Philadelphia. They had witnessed a man released from a odious profession. Instead of rejoicing, they found fault.
The Good Physician
Jesus is the most excellent physician in history. As a doctor of the soul he responded to the negative comments of the religious authorities.
–– Luke 5.31-32 – Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick;
“I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
It is difficult for religious people to believe that they are as much of an outcast as a tax collector. It is hard for the religious crowd to realize that they need freedom from captivity.
Our captivity may not be similar to a notorious sinner, but we are captive all the same.
The truth is that we all need “Doctor” Jesus and we all need to turn from our old life and embrace a new one.
Rudy Ross and I have produced a YouTube video on this passage. It can be found today on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel. Rudy brings a great perspective to the Gospel of Luke. You will be enriched by his thoughts.
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