Jesus’ call of Levi in Mark 2 points to the doctrine of “unconditional election” or “sovereign election.” There is no foreseen action or condition met by the elect that induces God to decide to save the elect. What good did Levi have that Jesus went by the tax booth and asked him to follow Him? Or even in the other disciples? What good do we have for God to call us and be His children? Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
What was Levi’s life like? What we see in this passage from Mark 2:13-17 is that Jesus’ call to Levi to follow him is purely based on Jesus’ calling of him and is not based on the person of Levi.
Let’s list what Levi was like:
- He was a “tax collector and sinner.” In the original language there is only one article, referring to the same person. So, the term sinner and tax collector are used synonymously.
- He was a collaborator for the Roman administration. Galilee was ruled by Herod Antipas, who put John the Baptist to death. The Jews did not like Roman colonization in Palestine, who were collecting taxes for protection from their enemies. So, what the middlemen did was to pay a stipulated amount to the Roman government, and the remaining they would pocket it for themselves. Zacchaeus was one such person, an extortionist and a Roman collaborator.
- He was unclean. Mishna is the first major written collection of the Jewish oral traditions known as the Oral Torah. It is also the first major work of rabbinic literature. So according to Mishna, he was an unclean person and was hated by his fellow Jews. As a Levite, he should be serving in the temple, but he is nowhere near the temple and is serving as a tax collector. Levi broke both, the moral and the scribal law. He probably ate everything forbidden in the law. The title “sinner” was ascribed to him probably because he disregarded the teachings of the Law.
Now if you notice in the passage, Jesus going by Levi’s booth was not accidental at all, but it was divinely intended. Despite the fact of who Levi was and what he did, Jesus invited him to “follow” Him. This word, “follow” was exclusively given to the disciples. Jesus going by Levi’s tax booth paints a beautiful picture of God visiting a sinner, an undeserving person. This was shocking to the Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They were religious people and righteous according to the Law and would not go to the tax booth. Whereas Jesus, a teacher who is to go only to the temple, goes to the tax booth and later on to his house too.
God is not looking for righteous people, those who are inherently righteous. Luke 19:10 says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This surprised the religious leaders and probably even shocks many of us today. We might think that only if we went to church and give to the church and carry a big Bible that God will accept us. No. Jesus is not impressed by the external instead He heals the sickness of sin within.
CT Studd, a cricketer turned missionary, had started a church in Ooty called the Union Church. My family used to part of that church in Ooty. He said, “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.” We may be fooled to say that God resides only within the church. Jesus went to call the unrighteous and the tax collectors to follow Him.
Regeneration precedes Faith
Is it to Levi’s credit that he left immediately? Is it his meritorious work? There was nothing good in Levi yet when Jesus called him to follow Him, he did. We can see that God’s “irresistible grace” or “prevenient grace” is at work in Levi. I have always thought, there are 5 people in a family, one responds to the Gospel and others don’t? Or how did I respond to the Gospel? Can my response be attributed to me or to God as He went to Levi’s post and called him?
Levi was regenerated so that he could respond to Jesus’ call. We see that regeneration precedes faith. People seem to emphasise on the faith of an individual a lot. Yesterday, I was writing a text message to a person about faith. Faith is not subjective and cannot be manufactured. Some call it the fourth dimension. No. What is faith then? Faith is believing what God says. God created this world in 7 days and we believe it. That is faith. God brought a group of people from Egypt to Canaan and it is in the Scriptures and we believe it. The Scriptures say that we are created in His image and we believe that. That is faith. Jesus is born of a virgin and that is what is mentioned in the Scripture and we believe that. It is objective faith, and not subjective. Regeneration produces faith to respond to the Gospel. It is called the effectual grace. In other words, Levi’s response was aided by the Holy Spirit.
Levi chooses the new relationship and profession over the old one. The old one was characterized by extortion, defilement, and wrong associations. The new life is characterized by being with Jesus. We can see the fruit of one’s salvation here. He left his business and company of influencers and he took a position behind Jesus. Symbolically, Jesus became Levi’s leader, his Saviour and Lord. He became a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus, the Healer
In the last week’s passage, we saw the author revealing through the passage that Jesus is God. In this passage we see them asking “why is Jesus eating with sinners and the tax collectors?”
Jesus’ response to the scribes reflects Exodus 15:26 “I, the Lord, am your healer.” Just like leprosy and paralysis, sin is a sickness and Jesus is the healer. It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Jesus came to call the sinners and not the so-called righteous people. He extends “grace” to the undeserving people, who could not claim any credit before Him (verse 17). Someone might say I was born in a Christian home and knew the Scriptures well. But these things don’t claim any merit before God. What merits before God is that we are sinners and we are in a desperate need of the Saviour! The good news is that in the Kingdom of God there is a place for the leper, the paralytic, adulterers, and for people like Levi, the tax collector.
Let’s create opportunities for our friends and families to hear the Gospel. Let’s not stand like the scribes, the legalists who are the promoters of caste, colour and language. Let’s be like the tax collector, Levi who wanted others to know Who Jesus is!
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