“And as He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax boot, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me’. And he rose and followed Him.” Mark 2:14 (ESV)
Recently I saw a young boy who was referred to me for surgery. Hi name was Levi. As is my custom when I see children with decidedly biblical names (Joshua, Josiah, Noah, and so on), I mentioned the biblical significance of the name to the child and his parents. The informed me that his middle name was Matthew and inquired if I were a follower of the Lord Jesus. What an incredible way to begin an encounter with a patient!
I later reviewed the account of the calling of Levi (Matthew) in Mark’s and Luke’s gospels. I recalled a wonderful sermon I had heard on this passage a number of years ago by Pastor Alistair Begg. It has been of great benefit to me in my sharing of the gospel, and I hope it will benefit some who read this summary of his comments.
The Brevity and Authority of the Call of Christ
In Mark 2:14 we must not miss the fact that Jesus is approaching Levi in the place of his dubious business practice. And Jesus is not telling him where to go; He is telling him where to come—come, follow Me. We can learn for the brevity & the authority of this word from Jesus—no great speech, no explanation. Just a striking command—follow Me. The word of Jesus is not like the word of any other person. The word of Jesus is not only marked by brevity, it is also marked by authority. And that word of Jesus is recorded for us in the Bible, and the Bible is marked by the authority of Jesus Himself. That is why we pay attention to the Bible; why it is authoritative in and of itself.
The brevity & authority is marked by the immediacy and totality of Levi’s response. Follow Me says Jesus, and Levi got up & followed Him. There is no gap, and that is what makes this so striking. In Luke’s version (5:28) he gives us a missing phrase: leaving everything, he rose and followed Him. The command is clear. The response is immediate & total. Leaving everything he went out to follow Him. Is there a cost to following Jesus? Absolutely. And we must not leave this out of our gospel presentation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer comments: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.”
A reason for the disinterest in the claims of Christ is that people never really hear the claims of Christ. What is presented to them seems like such a soft option, so trivial. If the church, in its attempt to win people, takes the message of Jesus and dilutes it, compromises it, minimizes it, so people see it as a soft option, it is no surprise when they look at it and say, “Who cares?”
Levi, follow Me. When? Now. So he got up & followed Him. The impact of this is obvious. Imagine the impact on his colleagues at the tax booth. What got into Levi? Is he coming back? Then it dawns on them that he isn’t coming back because he has become a real follower of Jesus. This is so different from the response we see today. People respond to an appeal and declare that they are a follower of Jesus. But a very short while later they are not anywhere close to following Jesus. They are not attending church, reading their Bibles, telling others about Christ, or thanking Him for forgiving their sins. If we are prepared to say, “Jesus is Lord”, then it will affect our beliefs, our behavior, and where we belong. It affects everything. He is either Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.
The reason you know you are a follower of Jesus is that you are still following Jesus. You may be a wretched sinner; you may have had a horrible week; but you are still following Jesus. This is so straightforward we are tempted to miss it. We should say you are following Jesus if indeed we truly are following Jesus. We must not say that we are following Him perfectly because clearly we are not.
Christ’s Call is for the Pharisee and the Failure
Was Levi and obvious choice for the kingdom of God? Are you and I obvious choices? If we think we are an obvious choice, then we don’t understand the gospel, grace, forgiveness, the authority of Jesus. This illustrates the wonder of God’s grace. I suspect that Levi was completely overwhelmed at Jesus’ calling him.
There are many I meet who are far from Jesus because of their supposed goodness. They reason that they are not like this tax collector. They are really quite good and Jesus came to call people who are not. Lost in religious orthodoxy or lost in rebellion—it is all the same. It is only when we realize that we are unqualified, and that Christ is qualified on our behalf, that we are able to grasp this good news. Somehow, compressed, atomized, in a moment, Levi got it. The call to the kingdom is a call to repentance & faith. It is a call to be heeded.
Can we be increasingly bold, and say to our friends Romans 10:9, 10; and ask them, “Do you want to be saved?” Can we issue this call to follow Jesus with the confidence that it is the authority of Christ that brings power to this call? And do our lives bear witness to the fact that we have left all to follow Jesus? Those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus must be able to show that—though not perfectly—we are loyal subjects to the King of kings.