Lesson 29: The Call of Levi

Matthew 9:9-13, Mark 2:13-17, Luke 5:27-32

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A Blending of The Four Gospel Records. This is lesson # 29. Welcome again! This may not be strictly chronological order but we are going to read first from Luke 5:27-32. You will recall in our last lesson; that Jesus invited four fishermen to "follow me." Now John and perhaps some of the other disciples had been to Jerusalem and other places with Jesus before. But up until the occasion of our last lesson, at the big catch of fishes and their departing from Capernaum; I get the impression their association with Jesus was a temporary or part-time effort. But, from that time forward, undoubtedly Jesus invited Peter, James, John and Andrew to be full-time disciples. Then, Jesus soon invited another disciple; named Levi, to follow Him full-time also. Let's read beginning in Luke 5:27. Are you ready? "And after these things he 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, arose 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 their scribes and Pharisees murmured against 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."
Now, before we discuss this let's move quickly to Mark's account. Mark ch. 2 and v.13. We're going to read v.13-17. Are you ready? "And he went forth again by the sea; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alpheus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him. And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many, and they followed him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Then quickly to Matthew's account, ch. 9, v.9 beginning. Matthew 9:9-13. Five verses, let's read! "And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but thy that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
O.K. it's obvious that all three readings make reference to the same occasion and the same man; thus, it is generally assumed that Matthew and Levi were the same person. It is not uncommon, even in our day, for a person to be known by two different names. And as you might suspect, Levi (or Matthew) was the writer of the first book that we have been studying, called the book of Matthew. You might notice that Matthew refers to himself as Matthew. Mark said Levi's father was Alpheus which was a very common Jewish name. Luke said that Jesus, "went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me." Thus, we learn that Matthew was a publican, i.e. he had accepted public employment and thus worked for the Roman government. We would say, he was a tax collector. Luke mentioned others of this class of people once before that came to John the Baptist, were baptized of John, and asked John the question in Luke 3:12, "Master, what shall we do?" Whether Matthew was in THAT group or not is pure speculation. But, you will remember John's answer: "Exact no more than that which is appointed you." In other words, as we said before: simply be an honest tax collector. John did not take issue with being a tax collector. Although, most Jews looked upon their brethren who accepted public employment (and especially the tax collectors) as traitors to the Jewish cause. But, it's obvious that Jesus as well as John the Baptist did not take that point of view.
Now, let's take a moment and try to put together a simple dossier on Matthew. He was Jew. The son of Alpheus. A tax collector by trade. Luke 5:28 said that "he left all, rose up, and followed him." i.e. Jesus. And, perhaps you know that matthew ultimately became one of the 12 apostles of Jesus. We have said already, Matthew was the writer of the book of Matthew. But, of course, as we said before; the Holy Spirit was the author of that book. Did you notice in Luke's account (v.29) that this Jew owned his own home. And although, Capernaum is not mentioned here; Mark mentioned the sea side in Mark 2:13. So, if it was not Capernaum; it was in some nearby city on the Sea of Galilee and probably Capernaum. His home must have been a big commodious place; judging from the dinner that Matthew held in Jesus' honor and the number of guests that attended. Nothing is said with reference to Matthew's family. Mark said (v.15), "many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many." It was not said in this reading; but, from general observation: I think we could say from our past study, that Matthew had a good knowledge and a good command of the O.T. As I have tried to point out before, he associates every event in Jesus' life with a prophecy in the O.T. What we have referred to as Matthew's "fulfillment doctrine." And obviously, he must have been a man of some education to collect taxes and make reports to the Roman government. Thus, he obviously had SOME scribal skills. And the fact that he made a feast for Jesus, tells us something about his attitude and enthusiasm about his work. He was a very sincere and devout disciple. This of course tells us as much about Jesus as it does the disciples. The men that Jesus selected to assist him were busy men, industrious men and hard workers. They were sincere, devoted and men of conscience. And, Jesus showed no prejudice in selecting these men, publicans were selected just like fishermen.
These readings make it appear that this was the first time that Jesus met Matthew; but, I think one would get the same feeling from reading Matthew ch. 4 and Mark ch 1, beginning in v. 16 where it tells about Jesus walking by the sea of Galilee and inviting the four fishermen to follow him and become fishers of men. Of course we know from John ch. 1 that, that was not the case. So, this may or MAY NOT have been the first contact between Jesus and Matthew. But, Matthew is the fifth person in which we have any record that Jesus invited to follow Him, i.e. apparently on a full-time basis. You will recall that John mentioned two more disciples in the first chapter of his book named Philip and Nathanael. Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Peter and Andrew. But, Nathanael was from Cana of Galilee and is generally assumed to be the same man as Bartholomew in the later lists of the apostles. So, we have, at this point, met seven of the 12 men who ultimately became apostles; although, they were NOT designated apostles at the time Jesus called Matthew in our lesson today.

Now, let's get down to the feast in Matthew's house. Who attended? Matthew himself says (v.10) that "many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples." Of course, it would be natural, I suppose, that Matthew's friends and associates would be of the publican class of Jews, wouldn't it? They were likely Matthew's supervisors and fellow workers in the tax collecting business. The group he classified as sinners (v.10) may have been Romans or Gentiles, i.e. non-Jews who probably (also) worked for the Roman government in some capacity or another. Thus, they were simply MORE of Matthew's friends and associates, that it would be natural for Matthew to invite to such an occasion. And this attests somewhat to Matthew's acceptance and popularity among his fellow publicans. But, then in v.11, Matthew mentioned Pharisees. They were the ones that complained about Jesus eating with publicans and sinners. And when Pharisees are mention; I trust that you immediately make the association that they were the Jews who emphasized the traditions of their fathers, i.e. oral tradition. You think of Nicodemus and you probably think of those Pharisees that got into a dispute with John's disciples over purifying. A lot of Pharisees came to be baptized of John the Baptist and John called them a generation of vipers; you recall. As has been said before, they were the largest class of the Jews; population wise. On this occasion, these Pharisees were indignant that Jesus ate with publicans and sinners. Now, does that mean the Pharisees didn't eat at Matthew's house? Then, what were they doing there? Possibly it means they segregated themselves when it came meal time and ate in another room or something like that. I don't know! But, notice that the Pharisees voiced their complaint to Jesus disciples, rather than to Jesus, himself. The quote in Matthew's account is: "Why eat your master with publicans and sinners?" Luke said, "their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples..." But, Jesus, nevertheless was the one who answer the Pharisees. Matthew says (v. 12) "when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Now, I ask you! What did Jesus mean by that answer? Matthew gives the longest and most complete quote. First, you might notice the proverbial manner in which Jesus answered and the duelistic meaning of Jesus' words. As usual, Jesus' proverb would make a good sermon title. "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." And, only Matthew records Jesus' statement: "go thou and learn what that meaneth." Thus, in this statement, Jesus implied that the Pharisees were not properly informed, first of all. Secondly, they did not understand Jesus' mission. They were being critical when they should have been paying attention, as so often happens. Then the part where Jesus said, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice..." seems to be a quotation from the O.T. (Hosea 6:6). The thought seems to be that God delights in loyalty over and above sacrifice; as Samuel told Saul, "Behold, to obey is better than to sacrifice." (I Sam. 15:22). The thought IS that to offer a sacrifice (or burnt offering) involves an outward form. But, obedience is from the heart, an inward form and thus superior to outward forms. In other words, outward forms of obedience and sacrifice means nothing unless they are predicated upon the sincere desire and obedience of the inner man. In I Cor. ch. 13 the apostle Paul said it like this: we can give all of our goods and even our body to be burned, but without love it means nothing. So, let me exhort you to hold on to that thought. We'll soon come across the thought again and it's going to play a big part in Jesus' teaching through the rest of these books. We shall discover it is a great principle in the kingdom. So, I think you might classify this statement: "I will have mercy [i.e. obedience], and not sacrifice" as one of the GREAT principles that Jesus taught and we have covered several already, like: Faith gives us the POWER TO BECOME the sons of God. It doesn't make us sons, but faith gives us the POWER TO BECOME (John 1:12). Another principle that Jesus taught was: We must live by EVERY WORD that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). Ye must be BORN AGAIN (John 3:7). Jesus would be LIFTED UP like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14). God sent NOT his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world THROUGH HIM might be saved (John 3:17). If one does NOT believe in Jesus he is CONDEMNED ALREADY (John 3:18). One that does evil HATES THE LIGHT (John 3:20) GOD IS A SPIRIT and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 4:17). No prophet is accepted in his own country (Luke 4:24). Jesus told Simon Peter, "from henceforth thou shalt catch men." (Luke 5:10). And finally, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." (Matt. 9:13).
Then, in the last part of v.13 in Matthew's account, Jesus called attention to his mission. He said, "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." All three writers record this statement. On a number of occasions Jesus made similar statements as to his mission. For example, in Luke 19:10 Jesus said "For the Son of man is come to seek and save that which was lost." In John 10:10, He said: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." In Luke 4:43 after Jesus had prayed in the desert place and Peter and the crowd met him and tried to "stay" him; Jesus said: "I must preach the kingdom ofGod to other cities also: for therefore am I sent." Do you remember that? Then, here, Jesus told the Pharisees: "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." In other words, those that need a physician; the GREAT PHYSICIAN, i.e. the emphasis of Jesus' mission was to restore those out of the way; but, of course it does not imply that any are so righteous as to not need a Savior. When you take what is said here and lay it down along side the mission of John the Baptist discussed in the early verses of Luke ch. 3; it's obvious they fit like a hand in a glove. And, if we have rightly assumed Matthew and the Pharisees applied the word sinners to the Gentiles; then, there may be another hint in this about the kingdom being extended to the Gentiles also. All this has to do with preaching the kingdom of God. So, as Jesus told the Pharisees, we must try to go and learn what that meaneth. And we will, as the lessons go by.

One more thing that I might call your attention to here is that this is the first time, i.e. the feast at Matthew's house, that the Pharisees have openly challenged and criticized Jesus. But, of course, this is only the beginning of a trend that grew to unbelievable proportions in only a few short months. Again this is one indication that Jesus began very rapidly to expand the intensity of his Galilean ministry in the early months of A.D. 31. And this ministry over Galilee must have lasted many months. So, we'll get back to this. But, until then; have a good day.

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