Summary: Religion without repentance, or repentance apart from religion? How did you come in?
Let’s begin by looking at the cast of characters:
Jesus: The True Witness, who, having come into the world, is the light of the world.
The Messiah. Called Rabbi, or Raboni, meaning ‘teacher’. The One who
began His earthly ministry with the public cry to ‘repent and believe in the
Pharisees: Meaning, ‘the separated ones’. The most powerful religious sect of the
Jews. Known primarily for their legalism, and their strict adherence to
Scribes: The lawyers. The Pharisees were faithful followers of these, who were the
experts in interpreting the scriptures.
First century historian, Josephus, describes the Scribes and the Pharisees thus:
“A body of Jews who profess to be more religious than the rest, and to explain the laws more precisely”.
Next in our cast of characters:
Levi: Later known as Matthew, and who wrote the gospel of Matthew, the first book
of the New Testament. Prior to his calling, as we can see in our text, a tax-
gatherer; and therefore despised among other Jews, who saw the Jewish
tax-gatherers as thieves (which they often were) and traitors, because the
taxes they collected went to Rome’s coffers.
The rest of the cast in our account consists, says verse 29, of “a great crowd of tax-gatherers and other people,” ... and in verse 30 we see the Pharisees referring to them simply as ‘sinners’.
And finally, in a passive role in this instance, the Disciples of Jesus, which at this point would consist, not of the twelve as a group, but probably a small handful of people who had begun to follow Jesus early in His ministry.
Jesus has passed by Levi’s tax table and commanded simply, “Follow Me”, and Levi’s response was to leave everything behind, and follow Jesus.
This might remind the Bible student of another tax collector, Zaccheus, who, as a result of a repentant heart and of placing his faith in this Jesus as the Promised Messiah, rejoices and throws a big party at his house, vowing to pay back 4-fold, that which he had acquired dishonestly.
C. H. MacKintosh wrote:
“God’s grace is magnified by man’s ruin. The more keenly the ruin is felt, the more highly the grace is valued.”
The most joyful converts to Christ you will ever see, are the ones who have come to realize how utterly lost and helpless they were without Him.
So Levi throws a party at his home, and I want you to notice that it is not called a “celebration for Levi”... it is not referred to as “a going away party” as Levi leaves his job to start a new life.
We’re told that he gave a ‘reception for Him”. A reception for Jesus. A banquet for Jesus. You see, true repentance is always followed by an open and joyful reception of Jesus into the life; and the focus is on Him. Not ourselves, that we are now clean and forgiven, not the church, as the appropriate recipient of our attentions and faithfulness to duty as a new member, but Jesus; the One who calls for repentance and imparts new life...His own life, and deserves all the praise and worship and glory.
So here we are now, in the home of Levi. A large crowd has gathered into this home and reclined around what was probably a long, low table. Levi is at the head with Jesus, his guest of honor, on his right. At this point in the early ministry of Jesus, some of His own disciples were probably standing back away from the table, wondering why the Master would condescend to sit and eat with these sullied people.