The Best Reason To Throw A Party
Those two words have been ringing in my ears all week, as I’ve thought about Levi’s story in Luke 5. Those two words changed Levi’s life profoundly. Over the next few moments, I want to invite you to join me in Levi’s tax booth to understand why I can’t get away from the echo of Jesus’ words.
To get to Levi’s tax booth, we have to understand Levi a bit better. Levi was a tax collector. That title has never engendered fuzzy feelings for the people who accepted it, but in 1st century Israel, it was worse than we might expect. Tax collectors didn’t work for Israel. They worked for Rome, the foreign occupiers. In the “end times” expectations of Levi’s day, the hope of Messiah involved God sending someone to free His people from Roman oppression. So, when a Jewish man signed up to be a tax collector, he wasn’t just siding with the Romans against Israel; he was siding with the Romans against God.1
As bad as that is, for Levi, it was even worse. His name, Levi, suggests that he is from a tribe of the same name. The tribe of Levi was set aside by God as His special portion in Israel, and God had given him a special task; it was their job to worship God and lead the people in worship. Levi has abandoned his calling to pursue Roman wealth.
From such drastic decisions, I imagine Levi didn’t think there was any coming back. He had chosen his side, and, right or wrong, that choice must have seemed final. Can you imagine the weight of being a reviled outcast among your own people, among your own family? Levi didn’t have to imagine; he lived it.
This Levi finds himself in a tax booth one day when a stranger comes by and watches him. In a world where a group of people known as zealots murdered tax collectors for sport, I have to imagine a man watching Levi made him uncomfortable. We don’t know how long Jesus watched him; we don’t know what, if anything, Levi knew about Jesus. The first interaction we see between them is Jesus considering Levi, walking over, and saying two words: “Follow me.”
Levi’s response is astounding. Luke says, “leaving everything, he rose and followed him.” On its own, it’s astounding. If someone came to your job, walked over to you, and said, “Follow me,” how would you respond? My response would be something along the lines of, “Get lost, buddy. I’m trying to work.” Levi’s response was different. Here is how Leon Morris talks about it,
“We should not miss the quiet heroism in this…when Levi walked out of his job he was through. They would surely never take back a man who had simply abandoned his tax office. His following of Jesus was a final commitment.”
Levi was all-in after two words, and he was so all-in that he repented from his life. He changed from Team Rome to Team God. He was so excited about his repentance that he threw a party for all of his friends to celebrate with him.
I can’t help but think of what was going on in Levi’s life to prompt such a massive change from such a short interaction. How desperate was he to find hope? How desperate are you? Maybe, you feel like you’ve chosen the wrong team. Rather than Team God, perhaps you’ve chosen Team World, Team Money, or Team Hedonism. Maybe you feel like that was a one-time decision, and there’s no way back.
If that’s how you feel, I want to encourage you to see yourself in Levi. Jesus sees you, and He invites you to follow Him. His invitation means there is always a way back. That’s good news; it’s news worth partying over. Levi did, and we should too.
This has resonated with me this week as I consider Levi’s story. Am I so excited to follow Jesus that I’m ready to throw a party, or has Jesus’s invitation stopped being good news to me? If I’m honest, sometimes I see following Jesus as a chore, an obligation. I grudgingly give him what I think he deserves. My attitude illustrates what I have forgotten. Following Jesus is not an obligation. It’s an invitation. It’s an invitation from the losing team to the winning team. It’s an invitation from death to life. It’s an invitation from impaired living to abundant living.
Repenting isn’t giving up candy for vegetables so I can live longer. Repenting is giving up the cheap knock-off I wrongly bought for the real thing. It’s trading lust for love, greed for joy, strife for intimacy. Jesus says, “Follow me,” and I get to follow Him. It’s so good!
Now, it’s time to party because that’s part of following Jesus. This week, let’s meet Jesus at the party, at the table. He invites us to follow Him there. He invites us to gather around the table with our friends and share the joy of hope found only in Him.