- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 23, 2005

The following are excerpts of a sermon given recently by the Rev. Jim O’Keefe at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Reston:

Look at Luke 5:27: “And after these things, Jesus went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom. And He said unto him, ‘Follow me.’ And he left all, rose up, and followed Him. And Levi made Him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But the scribes and Pharisees murmured and complained to his disciples, saying: ‘Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?’ And Jesus answering said unto them: ‘They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’”

The office of a tax gatherer was often sold as a franchise to the highest bidder. Each tax collector was expected to reach a certain revenue quota, but once they had reached their quotas, they were able to keep anything they collected in excess.

There was no uniform tax code in force, so each tax collector made his assessments and set the tax, right there at the custom booth.

It is not hard to understand why the tax collectors were among the most hated and despised of all men back in Jesus’ day. They had a reputation for being ruthless in exacting large sums of money from the people. What’s more, there was nothing that anyone could do about the situation. There was no appeals process available.

We are introduced to one of these detestable tax gatherers: “A man named Levi.” Mark tells us: “He was a Jew, the son of a man named Alphaeus.” Matthew tells us that Levi was, in fact, himself.

Levi knew how despised he was. All Jewish tax gatherers were regarded as traitors. Their testimony was not allowed in the courts, because it was deemed to be unreliable.

We can imagine the surprise in Levi’s life when Jesus called him to be his disciple and to follow Him. Jesus has just healed a paralytic, and He has used it as an occasion to declare that He has both the power and the authority to forgive sins. Jesus calls a man who, in the eyes of his own people, is the vilest of all sinners — a tax collector for the hated and oppressive Roman government.

The world tends to view people at their worst, in the midst of the very worst of their sins and failures. Even thought Jesus sees and knows everything about us, He chooses not to see us as we are. He instead chooses to see us for who and what we will become.

You may see yourself as damaged goods. Having been beaten and battered by the world around you, you are emotionally bruised and scarred. Because of the sin and the failures in your life, you may see yourself as being despised in the eyes of others.

Here’s what you need to understand: Regardless of whoever you are, regardless of whatever you’ve done or failed to do, when Jesus looks at you, He sees you as an individual. He calls you in the same voice that Levi heard, and says, “Follow me.”

Levi’s hour of decision had come. He had been confronted face to face with the claims and the calls of Jesus. Jesus had invited him to follow, to become a disciple. But to follow Jesus would be costly. It would require Matthew to humble himself, and to forsake a very lucrative business, and a very influential position. It would cost him everything that he had.

The real question is, could he afford not to? And the answer is a resounding no. And so we read Verse 28: “And he left all, rose up and followed Him.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, he responded to the call of Jesus. He left all and arose, indicating that he forsook his former way of living and he walked away from it all. And instead he began walking as a follower of Jesus Christ.

We read in Verse 29: “And Levi made Him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them.” The guest of honor is Jesus.

Jesus wanted to make it clear: If anyone was to come after Him, he would be called upon to ignore his natural, carnal, fleshly desires and take up the cross.

To take up the cross simply means to identify with Jesus in every way that we can — be it suffering, or rejecting, or shame or even dying to self for his sake.

Consider the words of Jesus and decide for yourself. Will you follow? Or will you fold your hand? “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”

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