There is an open enrollment into the Kingdom of God through the gospel. I use that analogy of an open enrollment because we understand that to mean that I can get in no matter what preexisting diseases we might have. It also means no matter my age. That analogy applies to the Kingdom like this: I don’t have to get rid of my sin before enrolling in the Kingdom. I come to Jesus with all my preexisting sin and he heals me…forgives me…cleanses me through the glorious gospel.
When Billy Graham passed away, I heard a lot of things like, “If he didn’t get in, nobody will get in.” I can’t help but give thanks for the life of faithfulness we have seen in Billy Graham. But he didn’t get in because of how many sermons he had preached or because of how many people he had led to the Lord. The only reason Billy Graham or anybody gets in is because of Jesus and Jesus alone. His life gave evidence of his trust in Christ. It was only by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Jesus opens the door of the Kingdom to anyone…no matter how bad.
Jesus is not a “talking head” who sits around Capernaum basking in his popularity. His agent is not setting up book signings or interviews with the Jerusalem Journal. There is no news of this new fame leading him into corruption as is so often the case. The crowds do not persuade Jesus. He is not calling for those who have benefited from his ministry to send him money so that he can purchase a private jet…or building buildings for his new headquarters. Jesus is going about preaching the gospel.
“And He went out again by the seashore; and all the people were coming to Him, and He was teaching them” (Mk. 2:13). This was (and is) the means to advancing the Kingdom. Yet, the gospel demands a response. Not only did Jesus instruct his disciples by teaching, he also taught them by his actions. They needed to see him go after the outcasts and outsiders of the world. The untouchables were the very ones Jesus touched!
As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him (Mk. 2:14).
This brings up an important part of following Jesus and advancing the Kingdom. To do so, we must tell the gospel to people. Though it is best that our lives not distract or discredit the gospel in any way, most often our lives are a clear testimony to the world of our NEED of the gospel. Don’t ever think that your life communicates clearly the gospel. By all means, strive for holiness but by all means speak the gospel. Never default to this common church sign lingo:
Levi needed Jesus! But Levi would not have followed had not Jesus commanded him to follow! No one has ever believed the gospel apart from either hearing it from a witness or reading it in print.
And, it was the despised of the world Jesus called to follow. Levi (Matthew) was similar to how many feel about TSA agents or meter maids. This causes us to ask, “What is required to follow Jesus?” Does Jesus ask Levi to go get cleaned up first? The absence of requirements lends me to believe that no cleanup is required. Some people have hang-ups that keep them from coming to Jesus. They can’t seem to shake them and they think Jesus will not accept them just as they are. If it is true that you must tidy the house before letting Jesus in…how much cleaning is required? What if he opens the closet? He knows what’s in the closet. It seems clear that what is required is seeing your need for forgiveness. We see Jesus forgiving this sinner of sinners. Jesus meets all the requirements.
Levi’s experience is much like Zacchaeus’. Oddly enough, Jesus didn’t ask him to straighten up but BEFORE following.
And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”Luke 19:2-8
Notice, Jesus is saying the same to this tax collector—follow me. He does not tell him to give to poor and restore what was defrauded. The result of Zacchaeus receiving Jesus happens after the receiving…not before.
When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “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.”(Mk. 2:16-17)
This scene at Levi’s house reminds me of another scene that seems to explain what might have been going on here. See what you think.
And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”(Lk. 18:9-14)
James Edwards comments: “The fact that Jesus can be found in the company of people such as Levi reminds us of the difference between his mission and that of the scribes. They come to enlighten; he comes to redeem. Given that mission, it is as senseless for Jesus to shun tax collectors and sinners as for a doctor to shun the sick. The grace of God extends to and overcomes the worst forms of human depravity. Ironically, in one sense great sinners stand closer to God than those who think themselves righteous, for sinners are more aware of their need of the transforming grace of God.”
Come follow Jesus, dear sinner! You will not be disappointed! Jesus is, indeed, enough!
What is your mission in life? Are you calling people to follow Jesus? Are you making disciples? Do not despise the outcasts of the world. Do not think Jesus cannot save the worst of sinners.