So Levi-Matthew got up. It’s a statement of his faith. The calculation was not on a spreadsheet, but, in his heart, and he knew that following Jesus was a win by far. Somehow this Galilean prophet was worth more than everything he had swindled and cheated his fellow Jews out of (Php. 3:7-9)
Fellowship With Jesus
Teaching by the lake. Jesus is preaching and teaching in the open air, the synagogues are closing to Him. “I consented to become more vile” John Wesley said of preaching outdoors in the fields.
THE FAMILIARITY OF FELLOWSHIP
Fellowship with Jesus is possible because He is familiar with us. Notice verse 14, As He walked along, He saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collectors booth. We know Levi’s name, his father’s name, and Levi’s employment. But, here’s what I like: it says “He Saw” Levi, verse 14. I like that.
Do you ever think about how much Jesus sees? He saw Nathaniel under the fig tree (Jn 1); He saw Peter and Andrew fishing; He saw John and James Zebedee fishing…He saw. Psalm 139:16 says “Your eye saw my unformed body”. “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere” Proverbs 15:3 says, “keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” Job declared, “He may let [the mighty] rest in a feeling of security, but His eyes are on their ways.” “His eyes are on the ways of men; he sees their every step.” (Job 34:21)
Jesus didn’t see like we see. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but, the LORD looks on the heart”. Jesus didn’t see a saint in Levi, of course. But He saw the man Levi would be once He was done with him. In seeing Levi, Jesus knew everything about him, just like He knew what the teachers of the law were thinking (v8). Jesus also knew that Levi was known as Matthew; that he would in fact abandon tax-collecting to follow Him (“You did not choose Me,” Jesus said in John 15:16, “but I have chosen you.”); that he would become the writer of Matthew’s Gospel; that Levi/Matthew would become an Apostle and preach the resurrection of Jesus. On the first day Jesus saw Matthew, I believe Jesus also saw Levi’s last day too – in His mind that is. The day many years later in 60 AD when Levi would be in Ethiopia, far away from a tax booth, preaching Jesus one last time before the Ethiopians killed him with a halberd.
Jesus “saw” him. Jesus sees you right now, even if you don’t see Him. Oh you have to take comfort in that Christian. And to you, unbeliever, how should you respond upon hearing that He sees you, even now, in this church? He who sees you wants you to see Him. See Him as your Savior.
FELLOWSHIP IN FORGIVENESS
Fellowship necessarily starts with Forgiveness. Forgiveness of our sins. Forgiveness from God. A right relationship with God starts first with all the wrong we’re guilty of. A right relationship with God begins with God pardoning us for all we’ve ever done wrong.
I’m drawing this out from the progression I see happening in this chapter at large. In the previous verses Jesus said He had the authority to forgive sins (v5, 10). Mark then moves us into the story of Matthew being called to follow Jesus. No one is following Jesus who has not first been forgiven by Him. Levi no doubt has heard of Jesus. He may have been one of the tax collectors that came to John the Baptist (Luke 3) asking what to do. At the very least he’s heard of the miracles and the sensation Jesus had been causing in Galilee. So when Jesus approaches his tax booth it is not with disdain that Levi looks on Jesus. It may have been a mixture of surprise, alarm, respect and awe…maybe even self-loathing in the visible presence of the Holy One of God. He may have felt more like Peter did after the catch of fish “Lord get away from me, I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).
Why should Levi feel that way? Because of his occupation.
you didn’t raise your kids to become tax collectors – not if you were a first century Jew. You disowned them if they did. They were hated as traitors, loving money more than their own people, profiting off their own people’s oppression. It took a hardened, calloused soul to care for nothing but money, and to exploit your own people to get it. A number of Jews saw the opportunity to get wealthy by entering into the employment of the Roman government and collecting tax revenue.
The Jews hated the fact they were not a sovereign nation, but, were under the control of the Roman Empire – a Gentile empire. Thus they despised the Roman Government, and, even more they despised any Jew who helped the Roman government continue its control over Israel.
Jewish tax collectors were shunned, not allowed to participate in Jewish religious life; categorized with murderers, adulterers and rapists by the Jews; and forbidden from giving testimony in court (Good luck if you didn’t commit a crime and a tax collector could’ve proven it with his testimony!) They were the pariah, the persona non grata, the despicable ones in Jewish society.
Adding fuel to the fires of hatred was the fact that tax collectors were also a corrupt bunch. They had tremendous opportunity in their jobs to extort people – and get rich doing so. In other words, they collected more than Rome required and pocketed the difference. Two passages bring this out. First is John the Baptist instructing Tax Collectors when they asked what they should do to repent: “Don’t collect anymore than you are required to” (Luke 3:13), implying it was common practice to cheat people and not infrequent. Secondly Zachaeus, the chief tax collector who repents declares, “…if I have cheated anybody out of anything I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8). Only the best cheats got to be chief tax collectors. They were a nasty, greedy, selfish, vile lot. And if you were a Jew back then you would have hated them too.
FOLLOWING IN FELLOWSHIP
Now we come again to those epic words: Follow me. Peter and his brother Andrew heard them. The sons of Zebedee, James and John, also heard them.
The words in the Greek mean to walk the same road as someone, to go along with someone where they are going. A good picture might be the 2 men on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection. They walked together on the same road, going the same way to the same place. Jesus looked right into the eyes of Levi, a.k.a., Matthew, and said, come with Me on the road I’m on.
Notice the progression in this chapter: First, Jesus forgives sins (v5, 10). Then, then people who are forgiven follow Him (v14).
When Jesus said those words they were a command, the Greek is in the imperitave, meaning Jesus was giving an order. He didn’t walk up, shuffle His feet and say, “Hey Lee, so, I was thinking maybe you’d want to join my team. Is that something that would interest you?” No. The voice that said, “Let there be light”, and the voice that caused Mt Sinai to tremble and the Israelites to shrivel in terror, and the voice that expelled demons, was the same voice at the tax booth with the same authority. Like with Paul, there was no invitation, it was a command. You’ve been chosen, you’ve been enlisted, and you’ve not been consulted on the matter. Why is this even important? Because its a matter of obedience now. Matthew could obey or disobey. The relationship from the very first words was defined: Jesus is the Authority and Matthew is the servant. That is what it means to follow Jesus.
Now here’s the thing: Matthew could not follow Jesus unless he got up and left his tax booth. The call Jesus makes on a person’s life will force them to decide on whether to forsake Jesus and stay on their own road or abandon their own road to walk the road Jesus is on. Mathew wasn’t going to be accepted into Jewish society; he wasn’t going to be “Roman”, they loved using him and watching him get them money from his own countrymen. Jesus was all he had. Somehow whatever emptiness, or remorse, or shame for being a tax collector that he may have felt, Jesus was now a light from heaven for him. So Levi-Matthew got up. It’s a statement of his faith. The calculation was not on a spreadsheet, but, in his heart, and he knew that following Jesus was a win by far. Somehow this Galilean prophet was worth more than everything he had swindled and cheated his fellow Jews out of. Reminds me of Paul’s words in Philippians 3, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider a loss for the sake of Christ. What is more I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…”
Levi-Matthew succeeded where the rich young ruler failed. He put his hand to the plow and never looked back. He got in-line behind Jesus and began to follow. The man who was used to throwing his authority around, to putting demands on people and getting what he wanted, to living luxuriously in the high life, indulging every material impulse he had threw it all behind him to follow someone who didn’t have a place to lay His head; who had no home; who was dependant on the generosity of a group of women. A road is not a new idea in picturing what it means to walk with Jesus. This very same Levi-Matthew who is rising to the call to follow Jesus on His road, would hear Jesus later on describe it as a narrow road. Levi-Matthew wrote it down in his Gospel, chapter 7, “But small is the gate, and narrow is the road that leads to it, and few find it.” It will require leaving behind (sacrificing) everything you gained on your previous road.