“You can tell a man by the company he keeps” – so the saying goes. Well then, what do we make of Jesus?
Because in the early chapters of Luke, Jesus starts recruiting people for His kingdom. And they are not the recruits you would expect.
It all began back in chapter 4 verses 18-19 where He unveils His recruitment policy.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
You can tell a man by the company he keeps. What company does Jesus keep?
Well with this recruitment policy in place, Jesus goes out in chapter 5 as the original Man on a Mission.
[Recruiting PostersWW1 Lord Kitchener - - secretary of state for war. huge walrus moustache, pointing finger. Your counrty needs you! ]
Jesus walks around with total authority, the Commander in Chief, saying to people “I want YOU.”
First person he grabs, from v1, is Simon. Simon is going to be the chief disciple, he’ll be renamed Peter, which means the Rock. In just a few year’s time Jesus is going back to heaven and Simon, the Rock, Peter will be spokesman. But Simon’s not a Rock. He’s a fisherman. Ordinary bloke. No schooling. Wasn’t a rabbi. Peter never got any prizes at Sunday School – or Saturday School as it would have been at the synagogue. If Peter was any good at that bible teaching stuff, that’s what he’d have been doing. They’d have identified him as a future rabbi and he would have gone into training. Peter went into fishing. Never made the cut. He’s an establishment outsider. Unschooled, ordinary Peter. And Jesus says I want YOU. Chief of the 12 disciples: I want YOU, v10, to fish for people.
And so he and his fishing partners James and John give it all up. The whole fishing business shut down that most succesful day and they joined Jesus on His mission.
So we’ve got Jesus plus three now-unemployed fishermen. Who’s next?
Verse 12 – a leper. In the day, a total spiritual outsider. ringing a bell and cry out “unclean”, they’d expel him from the cities. Total spiritual outsider.
Jesus says “I’ll have you.”
So: Jesus plus 3 now-unemployed fisherman and a leper. Who’s next?
Verse 18: a paralytic. A physical outsider. Remember, we’re in first century Middle East. No social services, no disability allowance. Life goes on without this guy and he has to look on from his mat. And Jesus says: I’ll have you.
Jesus, 3 unemployed fishermen, a leper and a paralytic.
Who’s next? Well here we are in our passage:
27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him.
Oh no. No, no, no, Jesus. The fishermen thing was surprising, the leper addition was a nice touch. Like what you did with the paralytic. this whole rag-tag outfit, rough around the edges, that’s refreshing, let’s go with that. But a tax collector? No!
Because in the first century a tax collector was a total scumbag. Forget your experience with the inland revenue – this was a completely different league. Because 1st century tax-collectors worked for the enemy – the Romans. They were Rome’s go-betweens. The Jewish face of the Roman oppression. And they brought their own people under Roman domination, and stole shed loads of money off them in the process. Think of World War Two and how the French felt about collaborators with the Nazis. That’s Levi.
in bed with the enemy, getting rich off the misery of his own people. And many people would have walked up to Levi and said “I’ve got two words for you mate.” But Jesus’ two words were very different.
You can tell a man by the company He keeps, so Jesus, what are you doing? It’s all very well helping out the establishment outsider and the spiritual outsider and the physical outsider, that’s nice. But this social outsider, this man we all HATE and who IS HATEFUL. This scumbag. This sinner? Jesus, are you really FOR sinners?
Have you ever heard the phrase “Jesus is the friend of sinners”? It’s a nice saying. It’s a true saying. But so often we hear it and we think of sinners as rough diamonds, and loveable rogues. Levi is not that. He is a collaborator, a traitor, a white-collar criminal. A scumbag. And Jesus says: I WANT YOU.
Jesus really is the friend of sinners. And I mean sinners. And if we’re not ok with that, we’re not ok with Jesus. As we’ll see…
Well how will Levi respond to this summons?
What would Levi do? (what does anyone do when jesus begins to call you for the first time to follow him?) On the one hand Levi had the life he knew, a life where he called the shots, a life that was financially secure. On the other hand there was Jesus – a life with Him. A life where Jesus called the shots.
Now there’s no guarantee here for Levi about the kind of future Jesus will bring him. If you want Jesus, there’s no guarantee in this life of career, health, wealth, success, fame, prosperity.
In fact following Jesus might mean losing your job. That’s what happened to Levi. It’s what happened to Peter, James and John. Jesus might pull the plug on all sorts of plans you’ve had – He’s the Commander!
There’s only one guarantee for the followers of Jesus. If you follow Jesus, the one thing you’ll get is Jesus.
But if we’ve got our heads screwed on right, He’s the one thing we want.
He’s what Levi wanted:
Verse 28: ‘Levi got up, left everything and followed Him.’
Nothing else had made Levi give up the tax collecting game. (nothing else will make us give up anything) Not his parents’ pleas, not his friends’ urgings, not the public taunts. But two words from Jesus change the man. Levi gives up everything. Why? To be with Jesus. That’s enough to change a life.
It changes Levi’s his life. Instantly.
Think of the change. It’s stunning.
You know where the name Levi comes from? Levi was the name of the tribe of priests in the Old Testament. So Levi’s parents would have named him Levi with high hopes that he’d be a Levite – that he’d be a priest. The priests were God’s go-betweens. Levi was meant to be the human face of a loving LORD. He’s meant to bring people under the LORD’s influence.
But through his sin and greed, it’s all got so twisted. As a tax-collector, he became Rome’s go-between. He was the Jewish face of a tyrannical empire, bringing people under Rome’s influence. His sin had made him the opposite of who he’s meant to be.
But now, following Jesus, he’s freed to become his true self. Because what does Levi do when he follows Jesus? Verse 29:
29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.
Here’s what Levi does. He throws a massive dinner party, invites his co-workers and friends and he brings them in to meet Jesus. You know what’s happened to Levi? He’s become a true Levite. Now he’s doing what he was born to do – he’s a go-between, drawing people under the influence of the LORD Jesus.
Levi becomes who he’s meant to be, when he follows Jesus. That’s the experience of millions down through history. Jesus doesn’t come into our lives to stifle and repress us. He comes to release us from the junk that holds us back and to free us into who we’re meant to be!
And Jesus calls out again, today, in this room, “Follow me. I’ve come to liberate you from that junk and to free you into who you’re meant to be.”
Don’t think that the Commander is a kill-joy. Whatever He asks you to give up, it’s only to release you. Look at Him at this banquet. Does He look like a kill-joy? He is the life and soul of the party. He is the life and soul of every party He’s at, and He is at a LOT of parties.
You see He’s not just the Commander. Second thing. He’s also the Host.
When Jesus came He was accused of being a party-animal. (Luke 7:34) All the religious types grumbled that He was always eating and drinking with friends. But Jesus refused to cut down on the dinner parties, because He’s the ultimate Host.
[Who’s the greatest party host you know? Who organises just the best nights? Is it Devina?]
Lord Hailsham – the former Lord Chancellor – became a Christian when He saw this joyful side to Jesus. He wrote:
“The first thing we [should] learn about [Jesus] is that we should have been absolutely entranced by His company. Jesus was irresistibly attractive as a man… What they crucified was a young man, vital, full of life and the joy of it, the Lord of life itself, and even more the Lord of laughter. Someone so utterly attractive that people followed Him for the sheer fun of it…”
Why did Levi leave everything? One answer is – for the sheer fun of it. If Jesus came into this room physically and said “Come follow me” would you follow? We’d follow in a flash, and with great joy. Just TO BE WITH JESUS! That’s why we follow Him, because we love to be near Him.
Hailsham continues “…[We need] to recapture the vision of this glorious and happy man whose mere presence filled His companions with delight…”
Jesus the life and soul of the party. Do you see Jesus like that? Unless you see the attractiveness of Jesus you won’t follow Him, no matter how commanding He happens to be. But He’s not just the Commander, He’s also the Host.
And as the Host, Jesus invites us all to a Feast to end all feasts.
Jesus promises that when He returns He will host a cosmic banquet. On that day we will celebrate creation renewed, death swallowed up, disease abolished, evil destroyed, sin cleansed, tears wiped away and an eternity of joy with Jesus, the Host of the Banquet. You’re all invited. It costs you NOTHING. It cost HIM EVERYTHING.
For there was another meal Jesus hosted. We re-enact it every week in church. The night before Jesus died He broke bread and said “My body will be broken like bread to bring you the ultimate feast.” He poured out wine and said “My blood will be poured out like wine to bring you the ultimate banquet.” And on that cross Jesus was torn apart and poured out because it was the only way to bring sinners like us to the feast. The Host really wants us at the Banquet. It cost Him EVERYTHING to invite us. But He offers us a place for free.
But there’s one kind of person Jesus does NOT call to His Banquet. Only one. This feast is for establishment outsiders, it’s for spiritual outsiders, it’s for physical outsiders, it’s for social outsiders. It’s for sinners. Anyone can come if they own up to being a SINNER. But there’s one kind of person who cannot come (because they will not come): the righteous. They are not invited.
Look with me at v30:
30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and`sinners’?” 31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
You see the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were the opposite of the outsiders. They were the ‘holier than thou’ religious types. They were the insiders; the cream of the crop. And they’ve been looking on as the Commander has been recruiting for His Kingdom and picking ALL THE WRONG PEOPLE.
They are so mad about it that in v30 they gate-grash a party uninvited and then start complaining about the guest list. Which is pretty strange when you think about it! But they are mad. “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?!”
Jesus replies, Because I’m a Doctor.
Commander, Host and now finally - Jesus is a doctor.
I’m a man, so I never go to the doctor. I complain about every little cough and cold like its bubonic plague, but I don’t go to the doctor. If I ever do, I like to save up all my little niggles and sicknesses so when I go I have a decent list of ailments. Why? Because you don’t want to go to a doctor when you’re healthy.
No-one sits down with their doctor and says, ‘I’m a picture of perfect health, I thought you’d be impressed.’ They won’t be impressed, you’re wasting their time. Doctors are for sick people. And Jesus is for sinners. Only for sinners.
Look at verse 31 again:
31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Are you a sinner? Or do you claim to be righteous like these Pharisees?
What is a sinner? Jesus likens sin to sickness. That’s a very good analogy to think about. Because sin is not really about the individual bad stuff we’ve said or done. I feel guilty for all sorts of things I’ve said and done in my past, but actually the problem goes deeper.
All those sins are like the spots you get when you have chicken pox. the real problem is not the spots. The real problem is an underlying sickness.
And that’s what sin is like. The bad stuff we do – that’s like the symptoms, the problem goes deeper.
my sins, my spots will look different to 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.We’re all sick.
And here’s the problem with our sickness. We can’t cure ourselves. This sickness is not in our hair or we could shave it off. It’s not a skin complaint or we could buy an ointment. It’s not in our hand or our leg or we could amputate. No we have a sickness in our bones, in our blood, in our brain and heart and soul. a chronic, terminal illness called sin. And if we never come to the Doctor, that sickness will go on forever.
You want to know what hell is? Hell is simply our sick human condition that’s never taken to Jesus, never healed by the Doctor, just allowed to progress and deteriorate eternally. But here’s the shock about hell. Hell is for the righteous.
A doctor can’t help you if you claim to be well. And Jesus can’t help you if you claim to be righteous.
And the bible is clear that no-one is actually righteous. But tragically, there are millions who fake it. They cover up their spots and fake goodness. And the Doctor passes them by.
Because Jesus is for sinners. Only for sinners.
Where are you today? Not the person next to you. What do you make of Jesus?
perhaps you think, “I couldn’t follow Jesus, I’m too bad for Jesus.” But that’s like saying “I’m too sick for the doctor.” No-one is too bad to follow Jesus. Badness is your qualification.
The real problem is people thinking they’re too good. Is that you? You will not put yourself in the same boat as a Levi. You will not admit to REAL spiritual sickness. But Jesus has only come for those who know their NEED and who come clean.
Drop the act. Be a sinner. Come to Christ. The commander, the host, the doctor.
And what does this say to us about our church?
Does being a christian mean that you’re good and godly and morally pure? Is church a hotel for the righteous where we show the world how good we are and invite them to join if they can make the grade too? And we look down on each other when we mess up and spoil the picture of a perfect family..
Listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words about righteous pious people in church from his remarkable little book Life Together: “The pious fellowship permits no-one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is we are sinners.”
Church is a hospital for sinners not a hotel for the righteous. And hospitals are places where all kinds of mess comes into the open and it’s a place where people are getting healed. I’m not saying that we air all of our dirty laundry in public but i am saying that we expect and allow each other to be struggling and we have some people who we’re brutally open with and by so doing we do not remain alone in our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy..
Jesus commands us to follow him. To leave all behind
In order to have him. And he is all you need.
So come to him and let him bear you sin and heal you life and set you free to be the person you were made to be.