Gospel Identity

The Story Of Levi The Tax Collector Reminds Us That We Are All Sinners.

George Wright
Sep 6, 2020    37m
Examining the story of Levi the tax Collector, also known as the disciple Matthew, found in Luke chapter 5 serves as a reminder to us that we are all sinners in need of God's grace, mercy, and salvation. This story paints an inspirational picture of how Jesus came to save us all. Video recorded at Columbia, South Carolina.

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This is a transcription of the sermon. People speak differently than they write, and there are common colloquialisms in this transcript that sound good when spoken, and look like bad grammar when written.

George Wright: 00:00 We're going to be in Luke chapter 5. And I want to encourage you now, if you'd grab your Bible, turn with me to Luke chapter 5. Where we're in the midst of a series where we've been walking through this great chapter of scripture, seeing encounter after encounter of individuals with Jesus who walk away from their encounter with Jesus, having everything changed. And today, as we turn to this story, it is a radical story of life change. And it is a challenging story to consider.

George Wright: 00:33 Before I read our scripture to get us started this morning, I do just want to let you know of the way God has been working here at Shandon, and the opportunities that he's opened up for us over this next week or so here at Shandon. First, we laid this out last week, but just want you to know, if you haven't heard already, God has opened the door for us as a church, to work in conjunction with Richland County, to provide an e-learning center for some elementary school students in our community who are at risk, or underprivileged. They're going to be able to come to Shandon on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning this week, where they can have wifi access, they can do their schoolwork, they can have some friendly volunteers that are helping them get through their schoolwork for the day. We're going to feed them lunch. We're going to have the opportunity to share the good news of the gospel with them, and we are so thankful that the way the Lord has open this door. And so please be praying with us for this Tuesday, this Thursday, and then as we move ahead into the semester, that God really would use this in a great way to serve some individuals in our community who have a very real need right now. And if you'd like to join us in serving, if you want come help out, if you want a monitor a room, or serve lunch, or anything that may be needed, we'd love for you to plug in to this great opportunity. So you can find out more info in the lobby. You can find out more info online, if you're joining us online right now.

George Wright: 02:01 And also wanted to tell you next Sunday is going to be really the kickoff of phase two of our regathering, as we're welcoming back the Shandon kids ministry and the Shandon student ministry, and so we're really excited to have this opportunity. Parents, we want to encourage you to go ahead and RSVP for next Sunday. We're providing kids ministry just at the 9 o'clock hour, and all the information again is about that online. And then the student ministry will kick off for this semester on Sunday evening, so this is a change for us just in light of the uncertain circumstances, we had to adjust some things. But our student ministry will begin meeting on Sunday evenings, starting next Sunday, and again you can find out all the info about that on our website.

George Wright: 02:46 Let's look now at this great, beautiful story of life change that happens in Luke chapter 5. I'm going to begin in verse 27, right where we left off last week. And I'd like to invite you, if you're willing and able, to stand with me as I read from the Word of God to get us started. And if you're joining online, or if you're new to Shandon right now, and you're wondering why is everybody standing up for the reading of the scripture? Well, the reason we do this, is because the Word of God is the foundation for us as the people of God. It is what we stand upon, it is the authority of God laid before us, revealing to us what is right and good and true. So we stand in reverence to the scripture as we look to the Lord.

George Wright: 03:31 And this is what it says in Luke 5 beginning in verse 27, "After this he, speaking of Jesus, went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”.

George Wright: 04:26 Would you pray with me that God would open our eyes to see what he wants us to see, and open our hearts to receive what he has for us this morning? Let's pray. Father God, we come before you now at the reading of your word needing to hear from you. We are in a season of life, in a circumstance of life, where there is noise all around us, fighting for our attention, telling us what to do, telling us how to live, telling us what to believe. And in the midst of all this noise, Lord God, we need to hear your voice. And so I pray in this time, in this space that you have set apart for us to turn our attention to your word, I pray that you would have your way among us. I pray that you would show us exactly what you desire for us to see this day. And I pray, Lord God, that we would not be the same as a result of what you say. So we commit this time to you. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen. Amen. You may be seated, thank you for standing.

George Wright: 05:48 Well, as we continue to walk through Luke chapter 5 today, we are turning our attention to this story that could easily be considered the most radical encounter with Jesus in Luke 5. We've seen some amazing counters with Jesus in this chapter. We started at the beginning of Luke 5, a few weeks ago, looking at Jesus calling some of his first disciples who were fishermen. And there's that miraculous catch of fish, the greatest catch of fish that these fishermen have ever experienced. And they see the power of God at work in Jesus, and he invites them to follow him, and they leave their nets and they follow Jesus. Over the last two weeks, we've seen these beautiful stories of healing that take place as individuals encountered Jesus. There was the story of the man who was struck with leprosy, as a result he was an outcast on the fringes of society. He had been totally pushed aside, totally cast aside, and yet Jesus invites him into a totally new life. He provides healing in his life, shows him the gift of mercy and grace. Last week we saw the man who was a paralytic. He could not physically get to Jesus, but he had some friends in his life who were committed to do whatever it takes to get this man in front of Jesus. And Jesus shows his power not only to heal, but his power that could only be of God to offer the forgiveness of sins. In all three of those encounters, there is this beautiful picture of life change that takes place when someone encounters Jesus.

George Wright: 07:38 This story today is certainly no exception, but this story today is extremely controversial. Because the man represented in Luke chapter 5 beginning verse 27, is a man that everyone in society would have despised or stayed away from at all costs. You may have heard the scripture talk about tax collectors before, you may understand that tax collectors had a bad rap or a bad name, but a tax collector in the time of Jesus was considered one of the worst of all society. This is someone who made their living lying, cheating, stealing extorting, other people. And they did so under the protection of the Roman authority, no one could do anything about their thievery. And to make matters even worse, and to consider the way people viewed tax collectors as even worse, tax collectors often were a member of the community that they were robbing and extorting. Levi here is a Jewish man by birth, living in a Jewish community, a hired hand for the Roman government, collecting taxes and stealing from his own people in the process.

George Wright: 09:04 But you see the Roman government had a way of collecting taxes that is referred to as tax farming. They would assess a community, or assess a region, and determine how much money was to be paid in taxes on an annual basis. And then they would farm out the collection of those taxes to an individual, who would go around knowing the community, knowing the families, and would collect the money that was to be paid in taxes. But the reason tax collectors were so hated, is they would always inflate the number. They were robbing from their own neighbors, robbing from their own community, to fatten their wallet, they got rich from stealing from the very people they grew up around. Tax collectors were so hated, that Jewish law prohibited a tax collector from ever being a witness in a court case, tax collectors were banned completely from the synagogue, they were the total and complete outcast of society. Not because of a physical ailment, like a leper, but because of the choices they made and the way they made a living. And so you can imagine, as Jesus comes and spends time with a known tax collector, it would create all kinds of controversy. Especially among the religious, who knew that the tax collectors were taking advantage of the community around them. It'd be like if Jesus showed up today and started spending time with a strip club owner, or a casino owner, or a known drug dealer, someone who is getting rich by running other people's lives into the ground. That would be controversial, that would be very difficult to hear about. And the religious leaders are incredibly frustrated, and even angry, at what they see Jesus doing with this tax collector. This is a man that the religious sought to avoid at all costs, and Jesus is spending time with him. And Jesus even goes on to show, this is exactly why he came.

George Wright: 11:26 So let's look back at this scripture that we're walking through today, through just the backdrop of what we know about tax collectors, and let's consider it again. Luke 5:27, it says, "After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, "Follow me." And leaving everything, he rose and he followed him. And then Levi made a great feast in his house for Jesus, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at the table with them." Now this truly is a story of life change, this is a dramatic conversion experience. Levi, a tax collector, literally leaves everything, leaves behind his occupation, leaves behind the resources that were his to enjoy, and goes and begins to follow Jesus. And all of the sudden Levi's experiencing something that he never thought could have happened, he has been invited to follow a religious leader. This is something Levi had been banned from ever experiencing, but this religious leader, this Jesus, that certainly is speaking with an authority from God, is not like any other religious leader that Levi had ever encountered before.

George Wright: 12:57 Please don't miss this, this religious leader, Jesus, says to Levi, you are not required to clean up your life, or to even change how you're living, before you will be accepted. No, this religious leader says, you are accepted, you are invited, and as you follow me, your life will begin to change. This religious leader does not require someone to get everything in order, and to clean up everything in their life, to then be invited to follow him. This religious leader says, if you follow me, your life will change. And isn't this the beauty of the gospel, isn't this the good news of what God alone can do for those who trust in him?

George Wright: 14:00 In fact, the apostle Paul says it this way in one of the most famous passages about the gospel, Ephesians chapter 2 verses 8 and 9. He says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing." You can't earn this. You can't work hard enough to deserve this. It's not about what you're doing, "It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." When Jesus has this encounter with Levi, Levi's life dramatically changes because the grace of God has fallen on Levi, Ephesians 2 is on display in the midst of this encounter. And yet the religious leaders, the Pharisees, the scribes, they just don't understand it. And not only do they not understand it, they don't like it. But Jesus is forcing the religious, please don't miss this, here we are in church, Jesus is forcing the religious to consider the reality of the gospel of grace. Your works cannot save you. In fact, according to the Word of God, it is absolutely impossible for your works to save you. No one measures up to the standard of God's law, for the law demands perfection. So that means it is not about what we do that puts us right with God, it is about what has been done for us through Christ, that puts us right with God. It is grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, that men can be saved.

George Wright: 15:56 And Levi is a living example of this. His life is changed by the grace of God. He is given a brand new story, a brand new identity. He leaves it all behind, the old has been made new, and Levi wants his friends to know it. And this is the part of the story where it gets so incredibly challenging, because the problem for Levi, as he wants his friends to know about the grace of God and the good news of the gospel, is that all of his friends are just like him. You see, a tax collector could only be friends with other tax collectors because no one wanted to spend time with tax collectors. And the only person who could spend time, or would want to spend time with other tax collectors, is another tax collector. And so Levi only knows other liars, swindlers and cheats, but these liars, swindlers and cheats are his only friends. And so when he has something to celebrate, he throws a party for the only people who would be willing to come. And isn't it worth celebrating, when a life is changed by the power of the gospel? Isn't it worth celebrating, when they life has been changed by the grace of God? And yet as Levi throws this party, and please don't be confused, this is not a Baptist party at all that he's throwing. This is a party party with sinners, with other tax collectors, doing things that sinners and other tax collectors do at a party. And Jesus is there, Jesus is the guest of honor. And I know, I know, that some of you are totally offended by even considering this. Some of you would have been just like the Pharisees, you went to heard about Jesus going to this party party, not a Baptist party, a party party, and you would think, I am so disappointed in his decisions. Jesus, I thought better of you, I thought we had a higher standard. Jesus, how dare you go to that place with those despicable people.

George Wright: 18:23 And that's where the tension begins to Mount. And for some of you today, that's where this story is going to start to step all over your toes. Look back at what the scripture says, in Luke chapter 5 verse 30, "The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples saying, why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Of course, the obvious answer to this that Jesus did not lay out in this scene as well, I eat with tax collectors and sinners because that's all there is. And if I don't eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners, then I'll be eating every meal all by myself every day, because sinners are all there is. Look at what Jesus is doing here, even in this tension, even in this confusion with the religious, Jesus is making it very clear that sin levels the playing field. We must understand the reality of this, because the true problem is being revealed right here in Luke chapter 5 verse 30. The Pharisees and the scribes cannot understand why Jesus would spend time with known sinners because they have concluded, as the Pharisees and the scribes and the religious, that they are not like those sinners. They have concluded because of the way they are living in their religious piety, that they are somehow better than the sinners that are out there.

George Wright: 20:09 But that's not what the scripture reveals at all. Romans chapter 3, one of the most important passages in all of the scripture to understand the beauty of the gospel. You may have heard these verses before, if you spend any time in the Word of God at all. Romans chapter 3 verse 20 says this, "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." The law reveals sin. And then Romans chapter 3 verse 23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And I realize everybody in the room probably didn't go to seminary, but I'll just give you the translation of the word all from the original text, it means all. All means all, everybody, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." So here's the question, here's the question, do we truly believe this?

George Wright: 21:14 Do we believe that sin is the one thing we all have in common, and as a result, sin levels the playing field? Do we believe this? Because if we truly believe this, how in the world could we possibly conclude that we are somehow better sinners than other sinners? Hey, I know you're a sinner, but my sin is better than your sin. I mean, college students, I hope I'm not going too fast. But if a professor gives you a test, and every single student in the classroom fails the test, every student gets an F. Guess what? The student with the highest F does not get a gold star, an F is an F. And that's what we see here, and it's hard, it's hard to admit this. We don't want to be honest about our own sin, but sin levels the playing field, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory God." The Pharisees have failed to grasp this, and it leads to this tension as they look at Jesus and say, you shouldn't be spending time with people like that. You shouldn't be spending time with those known sinners, just come over here and spend time with the closet sinners.

George Wright: 22:41 So we go back to this story, and we see what Jesus does to confront the religious leaders in the midst of this tension. But as we go back to the story, I want to go back to a different interpretation of the story, a different version of the story seen in Matthew's Gospel. For this story shows up in a couple of different places in the Word of God. Matthew, also called Levi, tells this story in Matthew chapter 9, from the firsthand experience of the one who lived through it. This is written by the tax collector whose life changed in this story, and look at what Matthew says, because he gives us a little bit more insight than Luke does. But when he heard this, Matthew 9:12, "When he heard it, he said, "Those who are well, have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." And then he adds this statement that Luke actually leaves out, "Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” And what is that all about? Well, Levi adds this statement as Jesus quotes from a passage in the old covenant, knowing that the religious leaders would be very familiar with this passage in the old covenant, to prove the point that Jesus is making through his interaction with Levi and the sinners at the party.

George Wright: 24:19 What is Jesus quoting? Well, he's quoting from Hosea chapter 6 verse 6, you can see this in the Old Testament. In fact, let's look at this real quick, because it's just like what is shown in Matthew 9. Now, Hosea the prophet says, "For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." Why would Jesus quote that to a group of religious leaders who are frustrated that he is spending time with sinners? Well, Hosea chapter 6 is all about a heart that understands how desperately sick the heart truly is. And Hosea chapter 6 is all about an understanding that there is no hope for a sick heart, unless someone intervenes and provides hope. You see the religious leaders have concluded, their heart is not sick. And Jesus wants the religious to understand, your only hope of being right with God, is if something has been done for you, that you could never do for yourself. Your only hope of being right with God, is if the grace of God has been offered and then received by you. And Jesus says, that is exactly why I came, those with a sick heart, need a skilled physician. Those who realize they are sinners, need a perfect savior. And Jesus, as he offers grace to a man that everyone knows is a sinner, a man that everyone despises, a man that everyone wants to get away from. As he offers grace to the known sinner, he is confronting the self-righteousness of the religious to show, your heart can only be good if your heart has been saved by the great physician. And the gospel is so beautifully displayed here.

George Wright: 27:01 You see the most dangerous part of this entire story for the Pharisees is not their personal self-righteousness, that's bad enough because that's enough to keep them separated from God and send them to hell for eternity. But the most dangerous part for the Pharisees, is that their self-righteousness then begins to be imposed on others. Not only do they feel like they don't need a savior, but they look at others who do need a savior and cast them aside and actually become a barrier between those who need the grace of God, and the God who is offering them grace. Is that true of us? Because remember, we've talked about this before in this series, Pharisees often don't realize they're Pharisees. The self-righteous very rarely are willing to admit they are self-righteous. What about us?

George Wright: 28:12 In his commentary on Luke 5, Kent Hughes puts it this way, and this is so helpful, and yet, so convicting. He writes, "It never occurred to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, that their lack of concern for sinners and their cavalier mercilessness had distanced them from God. These experts had the scriptures, but they had failed to truly read them. Those who did not care about sinners were not only out of accord with Christ, but were separate from him, their mercilessness was a sign of their unregenerate hearts." This is incredibly convicting, tremendously challenging, and perhaps this is the most important truth revealed in this encounter with Jesus. Levi knew he was a sinner. He had been told his entire adult life based on his profession, and the things he was doing, that please hear me were despicable. He was doing really bad things, and he had been told over and over again, you are a really bad person. But no one ever said, here's hope for you. What the religious said, is you are a really bad person, you don't belong here so away, we want nothing to do with you. But then along came Jesus, who said, you are a really bad person, hopeless in your sin, and that is why I have come. Levi knew he was a sinner, and his only hope was a savior who offered him grace. Please hear this, at the same time, this gospel truth of the beautiful grace of God offered to sinners, is the only hope for the self-righteous Pharisees who don't even realize they are far from God. Their only hope, their only hope in their self-righteousness, is the grace of God by which men are saved through faith alone in Christ alone. Levi received this gift of grace, and everything changed as he followed Christ. The Pharisees rejected this gift of grace, and their hearts hardened in self-righteousness, and they actually got further away from God than they were to begin with.

George Wright: 31:04 What about us? What about you? Has your heart been changed by the grace of God in the power of the gospel, or has your heart grown more hardened in the grip of self-righteousness? You see, the evidence of a heart change, or one of the evidences of a heart change, as a life has truly been impacted by the good news of the gospel and the grace of God so lavishly poured out on one who is a sinner is revealed, please hear this, the evidence is revealed in the way we view those who we consider sinners. So what is revealed in the way you view those who are on the opposite side of politics than you? What is revealed in the way you view those, or speak about those, or post about those, who live a very different lifestyle than you? What is revealed in your heart about the way you view those, or talk about those, or post about those, who live in a way that we all would conclude is despicable, and sinful, and far from God? What is revealed in the way you interact with those who need the grace of God? Is there a growing frustration and animosity in your heart, as you see those far from God, that actually is leading to a growing distance between you and God, and between you and those who need to hear the gospel? Or is there a growing awareness of your own personal desperate need for grace, and a growing gratitude that the grace of God has been so lavishly poured out on your life, that leads you to the place where you want those who are far from God to see and receive what has changed your life? Where is your heart in this?

George Wright: 33:38 We're going to close with a hymn that so perfectly sums up the beauty of the gospel that is put on display in Luke chapter 5. And we're closing with this ancient hymn today because of one line that was written over 300 years ago in this hymn, and the line is simply this, "Nothing in my hands I bring, but simply to the cross I cling." Is that the song of your heart, because if that's the song of your heart, it will be revealed in the way you interact with those who are far from God. "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling." The invitation of Jesus Christ made available to anyone who recognizes their need for the savior, is that Christ has given his life for your sin at the cross. And if you cling to him, it changes everything, and you will need nothing else in your hands but the beautiful gift of Jesus.

George Wright: 35:05 Let me pray for us as we close our time, and reflect on the words of this hymn. Father, we come before you now, so grateful at the beautiful stories of life change that we have seen over and over again through encounters with Jesus Christ. And we praise you and celebrate the stories that have been shared here at Shandon in recent days, encounters with Christ that have changed everything, stories of God's grace, and God's provision, and God's mercy. We are so grateful, Lord, for what you have done and what you were doing. And Lord, as we consider this story today, between Jesus and Levi, we celebrate the power of the gospel.

George Wright: 35:58 And we recognize that there are some among us, perhaps joining us online, some in this room that have never experienced the life changing power of the gospel, and the beautiful gift of grace that comes through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is my prayer, that today would be a day for some of salvation. A day for some, who like Levi, say, I know I have a need, and I am ready to follow Jesus. I can't save myself. There's nothing in my hands that can change my story, and change my heart, to get me right with God. So I will cling to the cross, and trust my life to what Jesus Christ has done.

George Wright: 36:48 Oh Lord, we praise you for the gift of salvation. And we pray, Lord God, as we close, that we, as your people, would not be a barrier to others seeing and experiencing the beautiful gift of your grace. But that we, as your people, your church, would be a living picture, a testimony, a story of the grace of God alive in us because of what Jesus Christ has done. Use us for your glory. We cling to you. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Recorded in Columbia, South Carolina.
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Shandon Baptist Church
5250 Forest Drive
Columbia, South Carolina 29206