This morning, we continue our message series entitled, “Follow Me”, as we learn what it means to follow Jesus and be His disciple.
Last week, we learned more fully what it meant to follow someone as their disciple in the correct context. We were challenged to be fishers of men, to reach out to people who don’t know Jesus where they are at and to genuinely have compassion toward them just as Jesus did. We learned this from the encounter when the fishermen band of brothers were called by Jesus to “Follow Him”, Andrew and Peter, James and John.
This morning, we’re going to have a look at the encounter of Levi and when Jesus spoke those two little, life-transforming words to him, “Follow me.”
27 Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. (repeat see this trend once again?)
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. 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.”
33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”
34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”
Anyone who leaves behind everything to follow Jesus quickly learns that not everyone will understand or agree with the new life that we choose to live. It is difficult to crucify our old selves, leave behind our old way of thinking, and leave behind our old way of responding to life. It’s difficult to find that some of our friends and family refuse to support us in following Jesus. However, even more difficult than all of this is whenever you start to receive criticism by others who claim to be following Jesus, too!
What always amazes me is this thing that often occurs when someone begins to follow Jesus. Instead of other followers of Jesus rallying around us to support and encourage us in this new walk the way that they ought to, they start fault-finding. They start pointing out the things in our lives that don’t measure up to their standards and they start brutally holding us to those standards.
Now understand that I’m not saying that we shouldn’t help new believers walk in the light of God’s word. Let’s call sin sin and help people to overcome it by all means. However, this is a process that takes time and it has to be the work of the Holy Spirit. Let’s not expect someone who has been following Jesus for a week to be where we are after following Jesus for twenty years. With this disclaimer in mind, this isn’t usually the stumbling block that we become, though.
What often happens is that someone begins to follow Jesus and other Christians expect them to follow their own personal convictions as well. I’ve watched people claiming to follow Jesus drive people far from Jesus over so many meaningless, trivial things which the Bible categorizes as arguable matters. These aren’t necessarily black and white sin issues. These are the things that God has personally convicted us of, but that are not necessarily sin for everyone. The most common issue used as a reference point in the New Testament for this is eating meat sacrificed to idols.
In our world today, Christians don’t really argue over meat sacrificed to idols. Instead, we beat each other up over arguable matters such as preferences in politics, music styles and genres, Bible translations, holiday traditions, common phrases that we use, and other cultural preferences. Things as trivial as whether or not to have a Christmas tree in our home has driven people away from Jesus because of the way that we respond to one another over it.
We also have a really bad habit of intermingling and superimposing American values with Biblical values. We argue that Christians must vote for a certain individual and be associated with a certain party.
We argue that Christians must refrain from certain phrases and certain foods and certain movies and certain music and certain clothes and certain jewelry and the list goes on and on and on. Paul dealt with this very same thing here:
20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Poor Levi dealt with this issue as soon as he began to follow Jesus. He decided to follow Jesus, threw a huge party, and all of his friends came to rejoice with him and his decision. The church, however, those in their same sect of Judaism, scorned him for his behavior. They didn’t come to party with him and to support his choice to follow Jesus, they watched at a distance and began to analyze and criticize. They quickly began to call out the appropriate “do’s and don’ts” of how they should behave. Like too many of us today, they took out their giant cookie cutter they called, “believer”, and tried to force everyone to fit into it.
It’s also interesting in the way that they dealt with their offense. Instead of going to Levi or Jesus and discussing their issues with them, they went to the other disciples and began to murmur and gossip about their behavior.
Don’t eat with those people, don’t drink that, pray more, fast more, what is wrong with you all? Why don’t you wash your hands before you eat? Why don’t you do what we do? Why do you pick grain and heal on the Sabbath? Their questioning wasn’t out of innocent curiosity, they were highly offended and furious and even began planning to kill Jesus because of these actions.
Jesus answered their rebuke with a parable. He taught them the error of their ways using their common understanding of new and old cloth and wineskins. God is always doing a new thing. God is always alive and active and on the move. The true key to success in following Jesus is exactly that; actively follow Jesus!
Don’t do things just because that is the way that we’ve always done things. Don’t say churchy words just because that’s what we’ve always said. Don’t refrain from eating and drinking certain things just because that’s what we’ve always done. Don’t respond to situations the same way every time we encounter them just because that is how Jesus had us respond to them that way before. Jesus calls out to us, “Follow me!”
To follow Jesus and be His disciple isn’t a one-time occurrence. To follow Jesus and be His disciple isn’t a one-time prayer. To follow Jesus is to actively and constantly seek after Him and follow Him. It is us choosing to remain as new cloth and new wineskin so that Jesus can actively guide and direct and mold and shape us.
We remember the past and it causes us to rejoice. We praise God for the deeds of old and the victories of the past. We also actively follow Jesus and seek after Him for the miracles He is now performing and the victories which are still in the making. We tell the old fishing stories as we are actively sitting on the banks still fishing for men.
We listen to the voice of the living word of God, Jesus, and follow Him into our future and eagerly look forward to forging new memories together as we experience His mighty right hand work out our salvation right before our eyes. We enjoy the old wine and even prefer it, but we also seek after the Holy Spirit for new wine that we might have fresh revelation and that we might pass it along as the treasured old wine to the next generation.
If Levi were to begin following the crowds of other people instead of following Jesus, he would have missed out on an incredible adventure. Sure, he wouldn’t have had to deal with the ridicule and questioning and likely even the doubts in his own mind. However, that opposition would prove to be worth the cost of following Jesus. Though there is often opposition when we choose to follow Jesus, there is a rich reward from Jesus for choosing to follow Him.
Read Isaiah chapter 1 when you get a chance. Here, God says that the same feasts and festivals and celebrations that He commanded His people to participate in became the very things which He hated with all of His being. The very sacrifices and offerings that He commanded that they bring to Him became meaningless to Him. He despised them, they were a burden to Him, they were detestable to Him. Why?
They began to do things out of tradition and out of habit, but their hearts were far from Him. They were going through the motions without any passion or zeal. Those same acts that God commanded of them were now rejected by Him. He stopped listening to their prayers. What was God’s proposed solution?
16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
God’s solution was for God’s people to turn their hearts back to serving others. God’s solution was to have compassion on those whom had no one else to speak up for them. It is when we choose to serve other people who need and appreciate us that our hearts become right. Then, we will no longer be simply going through the motions and offending God, but will be passionately pursuing Him as He delights in us.
When other people choose to follow Jesus, let’s party with them. Let’s celebrate and encourage them. Let’s do whatever we can to come alongside of them as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s not impose our convictions upon them, but guide them to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit for themselves and allow Him to do a work in and through their lives. Let’s encourage them to truly follow Jesus and to find and follow His plan for their lives. Let’s encourage them to become all that God has planned for them to become.
Jesus reminds us also of this Kingdom perspective:
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.”
This statement could be understood a couple of ways. First, it could be understood as a sarcastic rebuke toward those who were criticizing them. It could be understood as Jesus calling out not their righteousness, but their self-righteousness. After all, true righteousness before God comes through faith in Jesus alone and not something that we can ever earn on our own. These men weren’t following Jesus, but condemning Him.
Whether or not Jesus intended this by His statement, it is clear by His lifestyle that Jesus came to call sinners to repentance. Quite literally, Jesus is the Great Physician to those aware of their sin and need for a savior. Together, those following Jesus learned from Him and together, they spent much of their time reaching out and meeting the needs of others. Jesus lived out His mission to seek and save the lost. Those who choose to follow Him should embark on this ongoing mission as well.
Jesus brought His Kingdom to those who needed it most. He brought deliverance to those bound and oppressed by the enemy. He brought healing to the sick, diseased, and handicapped. He defended those caught in sin, forgave them, and empowered them to overcome. It wasn’t only Jesus that did these things, however. In fact, it wasn’t even only the twelve apostles that performed the same miracles. Jesus gave authority to all of His disciples and also sent them out.
10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.
8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
21 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
To this very day, those who choose to follow Jesus, His disciples, are given the same authority together to go out and to overcome all of the power of the enemy. The source of our joy, however, is not in authority, but in identity. We belong to Jesus. He sees something great in us and He calls us to follow Him. We cause Jesus to be filled with joy when we begin to understand who we are in Christ and what it truly means to be a disciple.
This morning, be encouraged. When we choose to leave behind ourselves and follow Jesus, we are in good hands. Though we may not know what tomorrow brings, we know who holds tomorrow. Be patient and encouraging to others also choosing to follow Jesus just as He has been incredibly patient and encouraging to us. He always hopes, always trusts, and always perseveres for us as we follow Him. We ought to do the same to our other fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
One day, our knowledge will be complete and we’ll embrace the fullness of who Jesus is. Until then, we know in part and understand in part as we follow Jesus together learning from Him as His disciples. Let’s encourage one another and build up one another, even bearing with one another in love, as we all seek after a common goal of following Jesus’ plan and path for our lives.
Every one matters to God. Together, we’ll gather in the lost, grow in our faith together, then go and make disciples.