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November 28, 2021

Follow Me

Passage: Luke 5:27-39
Service Type:


LUKE 5:27-39


This morning we will continue in Luke chapter 5, as Jesus continues his ministry in the region of Galilee, and before we get into this today, let’s head backwards in Luke for a minute, just to be reminded of a few foundational things. 

In the early chapters of the book of Joshua, the people of Israel are ready to enter the Promised Land. They have come through the wilderness, traveled North around the Dead Sea, and now the only thing that stood between them and their own land was the Jordan River. On this side of the River, they are nomads, living in tents, wandering around, learning how to follow the Lord. 

On the other side of the River, there is a new life of Promise. They’ll have their own homes, their own fields, their own life as their own nation – the people of God. 

If you are familiar with that story you know that Moses (the one God had given the law to) was about to take his final breaths, and a new leader named Joshua took the lead. The people crossed the Jordan River, and started into their new life in the land God had promised to them and their ancestors. They did a lot of things right at first, but it wasn’t long before they had turned their backs on God; started getting lazy about worship; even started worshiping other gods.

Now, fast forward to Luke, and John is baptizing people in the Jordan River, for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. It’s almost as if John is saying, lets try this again. Let’s go back into the Jordan River, and “re-enter” the Promised Land. Let’s renew our commitment to follow God’s ways. Let’s be a “new Israel” so to speak, where we once again honor God’s words, the sacrifices, and repent of being lazy with sin.

A new leader goes into the River and re-enters the Promised Land with them – a leader by almost the same name as the first time - Yeshua, or as we pronounce it in English: Jesus. 

When Joshua brought the nation of Israel into the Promised Land, they were armed and ready to fight. Battle after battle after battle had to happen before they could claim the Promised Land as their own. 

Now, this new Joshua is leading the people, he is filled with the Spirit, and he is announced as God’s Son. Jesus tells his local synagogue what his mission here on earth will be. He definitely identifies himself as the Messiah, the King who will establish his kingdom here on earth. But to their surprise, and ultimately their horror, this Deliverer would not bring vengeance on Israel’s enemies like they hoped. Jesus announced that he was anointed to bring good news to outcasts and the broken-hearted, that he would proclaim the release of captives and set free the oppressed – even non-Jewish people who had been outsiders. The kingdom would be established through setting people free, as opposed to military or political dominance.

Last two weeks, we saw Jesus ushering in this new kingdom by setting people free from demons, free from paralysis, free from fevers, and so far, apart from his own hometown, everyone seems pretty excited about Him. They enjoy the miracles, they like the teaching, and things seem to be going pretty well. 

There is one question though we have left unanswered so far, and that is: Why is Jesus’ mission going to be to the poor and the outcast? Why not the rich, the religious, the regular people living regular lives? Why the poor? Today we’re going to answer that question. 

To this point, the only opposition he seems to have, besides Satan himself, are the religious leaders called the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the conservative right. Law and order was their middle name. They took very seriously the law that God had given to Moses, and they made sure they and everyone else followed it to a T. 

Luke records in 5:17 that the news about this upstart traveling rabbi who can do miracles has made its way around the region, and Pharisees from every village of Galilee and Judea and even the best of the best from Jerusalem are suddenly showing up to see who this teacher is. They are not impressed. He is breaking through some of the boundaries they had put up, even breaking through some of their interpretations of the boundaries the law had put up, and they don’t find it liberating. They don’t find it freeing – they find it very offensive. 

Here in chapter 5, they have just watched Jesus forgive the sins of a paralyzed man and completely heal him so that the man got up and walked out of the room. 

[27] After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, "Follow me." [28] So, leaving everything behind, he got up and began to follow him. 

Tax collectors were Jewish people who had taken jobs working for the Roman government. They were traitors. They made a living by adding a percentage to your taxes for themselves. Most Jewish folks wanted nothing to do with tax collectors. But Jesus isn’t most Jewish folks. Look at how intentional he is in verse 27, he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the tax office. This isn’t some random chance meeting. I think you can make the case that Jesus went out that day specifically to talk to Levi. 

Now, if you are someone following Jesus around, knowing he is the king who is going to establish his kingdom, how would you expect him to act toward a traitor? Hang him in the streets? Firing squad? Maybe he would show mercy and exile the tax collector to an island somewhere? 

But Jesus surprises everyone again. He doesn’t say, “Hey Levi – get a real job, dude. You should be helping others, not hurting them.” He doesn’t say, “Hey Levi – Listen, make up your mind – be Jewish or be Roman. You can’t be both.” 

Instead, Jesus, looked at a man who probably didn’t have many friends, and said, “Follow me.” 

I’m guessing this was the first time a tax collector was ever purposely called by a Jewish teacher to follow him and learn from him, so Levi jumps at the opportunity. He is so fired up about this, that in verse 29, he gathers up all of his tax collector outcast buddies as well as a few other outcasts and throws a massive banquet. You know this guy had money, so there’s a reason Luke calls this a grand banquet and not a dinner party. 

But not everyone was excited about this banquet. 

[30] But the Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"  To eat with someone is to associate with them. It means you’re okay with them; you want a relationship with them. They mean something to you. Pharisees would never have accepted this invitation. They didn’t want any opportunities to become unclean by coming in contact with an outcast, and they certainly didn’t want to have relationships with the traitors. 

[31] Jesus replied to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick. [32] I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."  [33] Then they said to him, "John's disciples fast often and say prayers, and those of the Pharisees do the same, but yours eat and drink." [34] Jesus said to them, "You can't make the wedding guests fast while the groom is with them, can you? [35] But the time will come when the groom will be taken away from them-then they will fast in those days." 

The Pharisees go, okay, fine. You want to talk about repentance, why are they not fasting and praying? Pharisees fasted twice a week, on multiple holiday seasons throughout the year, plus any other time it was appropriate. Isn’t that how you repent? What’s with the banquet? That doesn’t really seem like repentance. 

But think about this – the word “repent” has the picture of turning around and heading the other direction; to replace heading East with heading West. Spiritually, repentance is to replace sin with something righteous. Ephesians 4 gives some examples of what this looks like:

[25] Therefore, putting away lying, speak the truth… [28] Let the thief no longer steal. Instead, he is to do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need. [29] No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. [31] Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. [32] And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.

So you know the kingdom of heaven has shown up in your life, in your home, in your community, in our church, when instead of lying, stealing, foul language, bitterness, bad-mouthing and shouting, you start to see honesty, generosity, encouragement, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. 

Guys I try as hard as I can to stay away from politics from this pulpit. But this needs to be said in light of Ephesians 4: No foul language should come from your mouth, and let all bitterness, anger, shouting, and slander be removed from you. Church, there is absolutely zero situations where Let’s Go Brandon or F Joe Biden is appropriate coming from our lips or from our fingers. That is not representative of the kingdom of heaven, and I can say with 100% certainty, God is not honored by it. 

Maybe we need to confess we’ve gotten a little lazy in the promised land and it’s time to repent. Not because we’re better than that, but because Jesus is worthy of our full allegiance.

Repentance, then, turning around to go the opposite direction, looks like 1 Timothy 2:1-2, which says prayers, petitions, intercessions and thanksgivings should be made for kings and those in authority. Then it says why: This is good, and it pleases God, who wants everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth!  Do you understand that? God instructs us to pray for President Biden because God might use the prayers of this church to bring the kingdom of heaven to the White House! 

Let’s not miss the kingdom of heaven because we were too focused on the frustration of supply chain shortages and gas prices. The Pharisees missed the kingdom of heaven because they wanted people to follow them and their way of thinking. 

Like he did with Levi – Jesus offers us a better option. FOLLOW ME

Remember what his mission is: To proclaim good news to the poor and to SET FREE THE CAPTIVES. And we all look at Jesus interacting with people who have been set free from demons, people who have been set free from leprosy, people set free from high fevers, people set free from paralysis, and we think well, that’s what Jesus came to do. That’s what he meant by “freedom to the captives.” 

But church – how arrogant we would have to be to miss the fact that in this story about Levi, Jesus has just set free a person who was captive to greed. Jesus has, to quote Isaiah 53, just taken Levi’s sickness of love for money on himself so that Levi could be set free to be generous! That old sin-sick Levi met the Doctor, verse 31, who could heal him of his greed; a sinner had been called from spiritual death into a new life in Christ. 

River City – this is what Jesus told us to pray for when he taught us to pray. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

So when we pray for the kingdom to come in Riverside as it is in heaven, or in our homes as it is in heaven, or in our marriages, our workplace, our schools as it is in heaven, we’re not just praying that Jesus would quickly return; we’re asking God to bring honesty and truth where there used to be lying, bring generosity where there was stealing or stinginess, to bring compassion where there was bad-mouthing, to bring forgiveness where there had been bitterness, to bring humility and selflessness where once there had been pride and arrogance. When we start to see those things happening, we’ll know the kingdom has arrived.  

But there is a potential problem here with this kingdom of heaven stuff. Jesus knows this, so he looks around the table and finds an object lesson to talk about:

[36] He also told them a parable: "No one tears a patch from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. Otherwise, not only will he tear the new, but also the piece from the new garment will not match the old. [37] And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, it will spill, and the skins will be ruined. [38] No, new wine is put into fresh wineskins. [39] And no one, after drinking old wine, wants new, because he says, 'The old is better.'"

The problem they had, and the problem we have today, is that we will read this story about Levi turning from greed to throw a big banquet, and we’ll say: “Jesus intends for us to throw more banquets. You’ll know the kingdom has come to Riverside when people start quitting their jobs, selling their belongings, and throwing banquets.” It’s all about banquets.

The Pharisee’s tendency, and the tendency of you and I is to walk out of here today and turn this whole scene into law. “We need to host a banquet now. That’s what the Bible says. I don’t have the time, I don’t know that we have the money, so I guess we have to sell something – garage sale, I guess – not sure what we’ll sell, we don’t have all that much stuff – and we have to start inviting people. But we don’t really have that much space at our house, so I’m not sure how many people we can actually invite – might be small, and that’s not really a banquet. Well we could meet over at my parents house, they have a bigger space out in the barn…” 

Jesus never asked Levi to throw a party. Jesus simply said “Follow me.” Jesus didn’t say, “brother, if you’re going to call yourself a Christian, you need to be more generous.” Jesus simply said, “follow me,” and Levi’s world is flipped upside down, and the only way he can think of to respond is to go out in the city to his band of misfit tax collectors who all felt the same way about life and money that he did, and say, “You’re not going to believe this, but this traveling rabbi walked past my office today and called me to follow him!” “NO WAY! ARE YOU SERIOUS????” “Yes! It was amazing! I’m like, Me? He’s like, Yeah. I said, really? He said, Yeah! So I just walked out, left my stuff, and started following him! So I’m having a party at my house on Thursday, and I want you to be there because HE’S going to be there. You’ve got to meet this man who changed my life!” 

Verse 36, This message of grace isn’t something you add onto the law. It’s not 5 more commandments that get added to the 10 we already can’t keep. If you try to turn grace and repentance into law, you ruin both grace and the law.

Verse 37, This gospel of Jesus isn’t the same old wine you’ve been drinking. It doesn't fit neatly into the old categories of who is in and who’s not – in fact if you try to squeeze this message of grace into the old way of thinking, it’ll again ruin both the law and grace. 

Verse 38, Jesus is bringing a new wine to the banquet that is the new wine of grace for sinners. Grace for traitors. Grace for the lonely. Grace for the socially awkward. Grace for the greedy, the proud, the thief, the promiscuous. Grace for those the law has forgotten, pushed away, or flat out rejected. Jesus says “follow me” and when we say “yes” to his call, he takes out our heart of stone and puts in a heart of flesh – a fresh wineskin to carry this new wine. 

Because you can’t stay in your old way of sin and carry the fresh wine of the gospel. Levi can’t follow Jesus and stay in the tax booth. 

Verse 39, I imagine him looking the Pharisees dead in the eye for his line, and he says, “but if you’ve filled yourself full on the old wine of self, you won’t have any room for the fresh wine that is Follow me. If you are satisfied with your old life as it is, you won’t be thirsty for the new wine, you won’t want to follow me, and you’ll find yourself on the outside looking in, just like Levi used to be. 

And just like that, Jesus forces your hand. You HAVE to make a choice about him. You cannot give him half of you and say he should be happy you gave him anything at all. The kingdom comes to those who leave the old kingdoms behind.

The reason Jesus can do this, and ask you for ALL of your allegiance, is because he held nothing back for you. Jesus didn’t leave a tax booth behind, he left the glories of heaven to come to the earth and the people he had created who had turned their backs on him to show them grace. When Jesus went to the cross, they offered him cheap wine that would help dull the pain, and Jesus refused to take shortcuts. He didn’t die for some of your sins – he died for them all so that YOU could be one of those people who have been set free from captivity. And the best part is, God raised Jesus to life again to prove that the cross worked! 



The Bible Project on Luke 3

Richard F Lovelace, Renewal As A Way of Life: A guidebook for spiritual growth. Eugene OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1985