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Summary: God’s greatest gift is salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.

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“RELIGION IS MAN-MADE; THE GOSPEL IS GOD GIVEN. RELIGION IS WHAT MAN DOES FOR GOD; THE GOSPEL IS WHAT GOD DOES FOR MAN. RELIGION IS GOOD VIEWS; THE GOSPEL IS GOOD NEWS.

RELIGION IS AN OUTER REFORMATION; THE GOSPEL ENDS IN AN INNER TRANSFORMATION. RELIGION OFTEN BECOMES A FARCE; THE GOSPEL IS ALWAYS A FORCE -- THE POWER OF GOD UNTO SALVATION.

JESUS SEES SOMEONE WHO NEEDS SUCH A GOSPEL. A MAN WHO IS PROBABLY DESPISED AS MUCH AS HE. A MAN WHO NEEDS INNER TRANSFORMATION AND WHO HAS THE ABILITY TO PRESENT THE GOSPEL IN SUCH A WAY FOR IT TO BE A FORCE –THE POWER OF GOD UNTO SALVATION.

THE MAN JESUS HAD HIS EYES ON WAS LEVI. JESUS WAS WATCHING LEVI AS HE FED COINS INTO A ROMAN TAX BOX THAT HELD THE COLLECTED FUNDS OF TARIFFS AND OTHER TAXABLE ITEMS. IT WAS LEVI’S JOB TO RECORD EACH TAX, ITS PURPOSE, AND THE NAME OF THE TAXPAYER.

WHILE LEVI’S ACCURACY WAS INTRIGUING, JESUS FOUND THE TAX COLLECTOR’S BUSINESS METHODS FAR LESS NOTEWORTHY. AT BEST, THEY WERE MOSTLY DISHONEST AND HYPOCRITICAL.

BUT JESUS’ PURSUIT FOR LEVI’S HEART HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE MATERIAL FORCES SURROUNDING THE TAX COLLECTOR’S LIFE. INSTEAD, IT WAS CENTERED ON LEVI’S ETERNAL FUTURE.

JESUS KNEW THE TRUTH ABOUT LEVI, JUST AS HE DOES ABOUT EACH ONE OF US. HE KNEW OF LEVI’S PRIVATE STRUGGLES – HIS HEARTACHES AND INSECURITIES.

HE WAS AWARE OF THE TIMES LEVI STRUGGLED WITH FEELINGS OF FEAR AND LONELINESS. HE ALSO UNDERSTOOD THE TEARS LEVI CRIED WHEN NO ONE ELSE WAS NEAR.

JESUS WAS ABLE TO DISCERN THE HIDDEN LONGING OF LEVI’S HEART – A LONGING THAT CRIED OUT TO BE LOVED AND ACCEPTED BY GOD. JESUS KNEW LEVI’S NEEDS AND HE WAS DETERMINED TO SEE THEM SATISFIED.

JUST REMEMBER THAT TAX COLLECTORS WERE AMONG THE MOST DESPISED INDIVIDUALS IN JEWISH SOCIETY. THEY WERE VIEWED AS TRAITORS AND WERE HARSHLY TREATED AS SOCIAL OUTCASTS BECAUSE THEY HAD "SOLD THEMSELVES" TO THE ROMAN GOVERNMENT BY AGREEING TO COLLECT TAXES FROM OTHER JEWS.

AN EVEN GREATER REJECTION CAME AS THE RESULT OF THEIR CONSTANT CONTACT WITH GENTILES AND THEIR LACK OF WORSHIP AND SACRIFICE IN THE TEMPLE.

FOR THESE REASONS, JESUS KNEW HIS DECISION TO ADD LEVI TO HIS BAND OF DISCIPLES WOULD NOT BE A POPULAR ONE – CERTAINLY NOT WITH THE PHARISEES WHO WATCHED HIS EVERY MOVE, OR WITH THE DISCIPLES WHO WERE ALREADY FOLLOWING HIM.

BUT JESUS WAS NOT INTERESTED IN SATISFYING POPULAR OPINION. HIS ONLY INTEREST WAS TO DO THE WILL OF GOD, AND LEVI WOULD RECEIVE THE CALL.

HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT OF YOURSELF AS BEING CALLED OR CHOSEN BY GOD? EVERYONE HAS A CALLING! WE ARE CALLED BY GOD TO LOVE AND SERVE HIM. WE ARE CHOSEN TO BE WITNESSES OF HIS LOVE AND FORGIVENESS TO A LOST AND A DYING WORLD.

LEVI WAS NO DIFFERENT. REGARDLESS OF HIS PAST FAILURES, AND IN SPITE OF HIS PRESENT LIFESTYLE, GOD REACHED OUT TO HIM AND OFFERED HIM THE GIFT OF ETERNAL LIFE.

IN CALLING LEVI, JESUS DID SOMETHING THAT HE HAD DONE BEFORE: HE CHANGED LEVI’S NAME. NO ONE KNOWS WHEN THIS CHANGED OCCURRED, BUT WE CAN IMAGINE IT CAME QUICKLY BECAUSE OF LEVI’S OBEDIENT RESPONSE TO JESUS’ INVITATION.

MARK 2:14, "[JESUS] SAW LEVI THE SON OF ALPHAEUS SITTING IN THE TAX BOOTH, AND HE SAID TO HIM, ‘FOLLOW ME!’ AND [MATTHEW] GOT UP AND FOLLOWED HIM."

MATTHEW, WHICH MEANS "THE GIFT OF GOD," WAS THE NAME JESUS CHOSE FOR HIS NEW DISCIPLE. LEVI WAS HIS JEWISH NAME. IT SPOKE OF HIS EARTHLY HERITAGE, WHILE THE NAME MATTHEW DESCRIBES HIS ETERNAL LEGACY.

THE DECISION TO LEAVE THE THINGS THAT WERE FAMILIAR AND COMFORTABLE MUST HAVE BEEN DIFFICULT FOR MATTHEW, BUT IT WAS NECESSARY.

WHILE HIS LIFE WAS FAR FROM BEING SOCIALLY INVITING, THE INCOME MATTHEW MADE COLLECTING TAXES WAS SUBSTANTIAL AND PROBABLY PROVIDED A COMFORTABLE EXISTENCE.

STILL, SCRIPTURE MAKES IT CLEAR LEVI GOT UP AND LEFT HIS FORMER OCCUPATION WITHOUT EVEN TAKING THE TIME TO LOOK BACK!

MATTHEW DISCOVERED, AS DID PETER, JOHN, AND ANDREW, THAT IN MAKING THIS DECISION, HE ISOLATED HIMSELF EVEN MORE FROM FRIENDS AND FAMILY.

NOT ONLY DID HIS JEWISH PEERS DESPISE HIM, NOW HE WOULD HAVE TO FACE THE REJECTION OF THE FEW FRIENDS HE HAD GAINED AMONG THE ROMAN PUBLICANS.

YET JESUS WAS WORTH IT. HE WAS UNLIKE ANYONE MATTHEW HAD EVER MET. THE SON OF GOD HAD TOUCHED HIS LIFE WITH TRUTH, HOPE, AND PROMISE. THESE QUALITIES WERE MORE THAN ENOUGH TO DRAW HIM TO GOD.

AS CHRISTMAS APPROACHES WE BEGIN TO THINK ABOUT WHAT WE WILL GIVE AS GIFTS TO THOSE WE LOVE. SELDOM, IF EVER, DO WE CONSIDER GIVING A GIFT TO SOMEONE WHO HAS REPEATEDLY HURT AND DENIED US HIS OR HER LOVE.

JESUS CAME TO EARTH KNOWING HE WOULD BE REJECTED. HE WAS THE ETERNAL GIFT OF GOD TO EVERY MAN AND WOMAN WHO WOULD EVER LIVE, AND YET HE MET REJECTION AT EVERY TURN. THIS, HOWEVER, DID NOT HINDER GOD’S LOVE FOR MANKIND.

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