by Doy Moyer
Think about this for a moment. Jesus passed by “Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he got up and followed Him” (Mark 2:14). What an impression Jesus must have already made on Levi (Matthew) to cause him to get up and follow like this! Why would anyone do this?
Jesus was careful with his choices. He knew what He wanted and who could serve Him well, so telling someone to follow Him was no little matter. But why Matthew? Why would He choose a tax collector whose reputation was that a swindler or a traitor? This must have been a shocking choice given all the other options He would have had before Him. Yet there is Jesus telling Levi to follow Him, and Levi got up and did it.
This must have taken a strong commitment on the part of Levi. To get up immediately and follow was risky. We see no evidence of hesitation on his part. He got up and followed Jesus, willing to pay the price and deal with the consequences. Why would he do this? Why would anyone do this? While we do not have all the reasons spelled out in the text, we can gather at least this much:
- Levi would have seen the relative value of what he was leaving for what he was gaining. He knew it was worth the price he had to pay. Do we see the same? Compare what we give up with what we gain in Christ. Paul wrote, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:17-18).
- Levi would have recognized his need for what Jesus was giving. He had to come to grips with the fact that he was a sinner in need of repentance and forgiveness. Yet only Jesus offered this. Jesus shows this very point in what happens next in the text (Mark 2:15-17).
Jesus was sitting and eating with “many tax collectors and sinners,” along with His disciples. The scribes and Pharisees wondered, “Why is He eating with tax collectors and sinners?” It made no sense to them. If Jesus was the Son of God, how can he associate with the sinful and unclean? No Messiah would do this! Yet this is where the problem lies. What kind of Messiah and Savior do we want? What do we need?
Jesus’ response here was on point: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). This struck hard against the scribes and Pharisees. They thought they were righteous, and because of this, they did not see the need for what Jesus was offering. They already had what they thought they needed. Why would they need Jesus?
Again, Levi would have followed Jesus because he saw what Jesus was offering as needed. If Levi saw himself as righteous, he likely would not have followed. If we see ourselves as already righteous, in need of nothing, then we will not follow either. We need to see where we stand before God to know why we need what Jesus gives.
Following Jesus, then, starts with recognizing who Jesus is, what He offers, and what we are in relation to Him. If we see ourselves as good enough, we will not follow, and this seems to be the problem that we sometimes encounter. People in the world see themselves as good enough. They don’t need what Jesus offers, they think. Why would they need to follow Jesus?
We follow Jesus not because we think of ourselves as righteous, but because we realize we are sinners who are sick and in need of the Great Physician. We need to keep a proper perspective lest we find ourselves like the Laodiceans in Revelation 3:17: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Seeing ourselves for what we are as sinners is necessary to follow Jesus. He says, “Follow Me.” In these words, Jesus presents a crossroads in our decision-making. To deny Jesus here is to say that we don't need Him, that we are good enough on our own. Such pride will destroy us.
Jesus came to call sinners to repentance. Will we, like Levi, get up and follow Jesus? Or will we be like the scribes and Pharisees who saw themselves as righteous already and thereby denied Jesus? This is where discipleship begins.