These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the gospel of Mark. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
What have you left behind to follow Jesus? What have you decided is not worth having or not worth doing, so you walked away from it in order to follow Jesus? To become more like Jesus? To learn more of Jesus?
For some of us, the question may be what is it that is keeping us from completely following Jesus and giving Him all of our lives? What is it that we are afraid to lose, to do without, to give up or to let go of?
Today, we are going to see a man that Jesus encountered and when Jesus said, “Follow Me,” this man got up and left everything behind and followed Jesus.
We see this incredible encounter in Mark 2:13-17, “Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. 15 Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) 16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with such scum’” 17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.’” (NLT)
From this encounter we see five aspects of what it means to follow Jesus.
Following Jesus involves an invitation
Number one, following Jesus involves an invitation. We are told in Mark 2:13, “Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him” (vs. 13-14, NLT). “Follow me and be my disciple” is an invitation to be in a relationship with Jesus. It’s an invitation to hang out with Jesus, learn from Jesus, and let Jesus rub off on you and in you. It is an invitation to be with Jesus. When it comes to this calling by Jesus to follow Him there are several implications of this call.
- First, “Follow Me” is an invitation initiated by Jesus, not you. We love Him, because He first loved us. He left heaven to come to us. He sought us, we didn’t seek Him. Jesus is not calling Levi because of who he is, but in spite of who he is. Levi does not have many qualities in his favor. Because of his job he was unwanted, untrusted, and disliked by many. As a tax collector Levi was seen as a traitor. On the surface, there was nothing about Levi that said he would make a good disciple of Jesus.
But that is the point. This man did not deserve Jesus’ pursuit. Yet Jesus comes to him. Jesus walks up to him in the middle of his work, and He invites him to follow Him. Later Jesus would tell Levi and the other disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you” (John 15:16). This man become a disciple of Jesus solely because of the initiative – and invitation – of Christ. This is also true for you and me. When you decide to follow Jesus its because Jesus has initiated the call.
- Another observations about this call to “Follow Me” is that it is an invitation to follow a person, not a program. When we take a closer look at this our souls are struck by the greatness of the one who has called us. We are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the words “follow Me” because we are awed by the majesty of the “Me” who says them.
Consider the eye-opening, jaw-dropping portrait of Jesus that Mark paints leading up to this initial encounter between Jesus and Levi.
- Mark describes Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God (1:1).
- Mark tells us that Jesus will baptize His people with the Holy Spirit (1:8).
- Mark tells us that that the Heavenly Father acknowledged Jesus as His Son at Jesus’ baptism (1:11).
- Mark tells us that Jesus did battle with Satan and defeated Him soundly (1:12).
- Mark tells us that Jesus demonstrated His authority over demons when He cast out an evil spirit from a man sitting in the synagogue (1:21-28).
- Mark tells us that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a serious fever (1:29-34).
- Mark tells us that Jesus touched a leper and healed him instantly (1:40-45).
- Mark tells us that Jesus healed a paralyzed man that was lowered through the roof of a house and forgave His sins (2:1-12).
- Mark tells us that “Jesus healed many people who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many demons” (1:34).
After all this, when Jesus comes to Levi and says, “Follow Me,” one thing is abundantly clear: Jesus is not some puny religious teacher begging for an invitation from anyone. He is the all-sovereign Lord who deserves submission from everyone. He is worthy of more than church attendance and casual association; He is worthy of total abandonment and supreme adoration. “Follow Me” is an invitation to follow the glorious person of Jesus Christ!
- “Follow Me” also is an invitation to respond too. There is a decision to be made. A call to answer. To follow Jesus will require a decision, a choice.
But the bottom line is: this statement by Jesus to follow Him is an invitation to follow the glorious person of Jesus Christ by responding with complete surrender. When Jesus says to you, “Follow Me,” He is giving you the greatest opportunity of your life. It is the greatest invitation you will ever receive.
Following Jesus involves sacrifice
So… number one, following Jesus involves an invitation. Number two, following Jesus involves sacrifice. Mark 2:14, “So Levi got up and followed him” (NLT). When Jesus invited Levi to follow Him, Jesus was asking Levi to leave his job, his financial security and the world he knew. To understand this, you need to know who Levi really is.
Let’s get to know Levi for a moment.
- He was wealthy. Levi was part of a lucrative financial operation. Due to the Roman occupation of Israel, the Jewish people were required to pay taxes to Rome. Herod Antipas sold tax collection franchises to the highest bidder. Those who purchased a franchise were required to meet a minimum quota for Rome, while anything they collected beyond that was theirs to keep (cf. Luke 3:12-13). That arrangement made tax collecting a profitable business venture for anyone with high financial aspirations and low ethical standards. Tax collectors continually looked for ways to squeeze extra money out of people and were aided in their collection by thugs and low-life sorts. They had a poll tax, income tax (about 1 percent), and land tax (one-tenth of all grain, and one-fifth of all wine and fruit), and there were taxes on transport of goods and produce, the use of roads, the crossing of bridges, and other miscellaneous activities. The way tax collectors made their personal income grow was to charge above what Rome was asking and whatever they charged the people had to pay and Rome would support the tax collectors amounts. Then if people couldn’t pay they would loan them money with high interest rates. The bottom line is tax collectors were wealthy people and they became wealthy off of taxing the people.
- He was unwanted. What Levi gained in material wealth, he lost in terms of social respectability. Tax collectors were among the most hated and despised people during that time. They were considered the as part of the trash of society and the worst of sinners (cf. Matt. 18:17; 21:31; Luke 5:30; 7:34; 18:11). To their own people they were seen as traitors. They extorted money from their fellow Jews in order to support the corrupt infrastructure of foreign oppression as well as to line their own pockets. They were considered unclean, barred from attending the synagogue, and placed in categories like robbers and thieves.
Because of Jesus’ popularity in doing miracles and thousands of people listening to His teaching, it is probable that Levi was one of those who went out to see the miracles and listen to what Jesus had to say. This must have grabbed Levi’s heart. Levi started thinking about his life, his purpose, his wealth, what he was doing to people, and how people viewed him. Something was stirring in the heart and mind of Levi.
Levi knew some about Jesus, but what Jesus knew about Levi was much greater. Jesus could see the heart and mind of Levi (cf. John 2:25). Jesus knew what was happening inside Levi. The Lord saw an outcast who was wretched and miserable, deeply distressed by the weight of his guilt and ready to repent. Levi was the very kind of person whom Jesus had come to save became apparent when he did not hesitate in responding to Jesus’ call. Without delay, “Levi, got up and followed” Jesus.
When Luke tells us about Levi, Luke gives one little significant insight about what just happened here. Luke 5:28 tells us, “So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him” (NLT). In that moment, Levi was transformed from a tax-collecting lover of money into a Christ-following lover of God (cf. Matt. 6:24). Everything that controlled his life up to that point no longer had any meaning. The money, the power, the pleasures of the world all lost their grip on his heart. Under conviction, all he wanted was forgiveness and he knew Jesus was the only one who could provide it. He had a new heart, new longings, and new desires (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). Levi abandoned his toll booth, and the fortunes it made him, in order to follow the forgiving Son of God.
Whenever you hear Jesus say, “Follow Me” into something you will always have to leave something behind. It may not be your job or the town you are used to but there is going to be something you will have to let go of.
Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. (24) For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it” (HCSB). To follow Jesus means you leave self behind. I like how David Platt described this when he wrote, “Jesus beckoned these men to leave behind their professions, possessions, dreams, ambitions, family, friends, safety, and security. He bid them to abandon everything. ‘If anyone is going to follow Me, he must deny himself,’ Jesus would say repeatedly. In a world where everything revolves around self – protect yourself, promote yourself, preserve yourself, entertain yourself, comfort yourself, take care of yourself – Jesus said, ‘Slay yourself’” (Follow Me, 3). To follow Jesus is total abandonment. You are willing to give up everything.
- What stands in the way of you following Jesus? What do you need to leave behind? What do you need to let go of? Jesus is saying let go of your lust, your materialism, your greed, your selfishness, your fears, your pride, and your vanity… and Follow Me. Die to yourself and follow Me, Jesus says.
- What stands in the way of this church following Jesus? Are there sacred cows? Idols? Traditions? Conflicts? Programs? Methods? That, as a church, you will need to let go of to follow Jesus.
Jesus said that we must take up our crosses daily and die to self.
The point Jesus made over and over is that to be one of His disciples, you must follow Him. Jesus is saying, “I will lead. You will go where I want you to go. You will do what I want you to do.” When this happens you will let go of some things, but you will also pick up some things. What you pick up will always be greater than what you let go. Jesus says, “Follow Me,” and that means you will need to leave some things behind.
Following Jesus involves a mission field
Following Jesus involves an invitation and it involves sacrifice and number three, following Jesus involves a mission field. Mark 2:15, “Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.)” Out of gratitude and excitement about his new life and new purpose, “Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests.” In addition there “many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners” at this dinner. The group would have included known criminals, thieves, thugs, enforcers, and prostitutes – all part of the outcast network of which Levi himself had been part. From the perspective of the self-righteous religious leaders, these people represented the worst of society. From Jesus’ viewpoint, they comprised the mission field. They were sinners and knew it – the very kinds of people He had come to seek and to save.
Some of these “disreputable sinners” had already placed their truth in Jesus and was following Him as Mark indicated at the end of verse 15 when he writes, “There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.” I wonder if some of them had been talking to Levi. Sharing their story about how Jesus had changed their life. What they had heard Jesus teach about this Kingdom of God He was promoting or about the miracles He had performed. Either way, they were all there. The sinners and those recently changed by Jesus.
Levi’s dramatic and sudden conversion is illustrative of many others who believed in Jesus that day. Like Levi, they all had their sins and they all recognized they needed forgiveness and a new purpose in life. Yet, by the grace of God, they were transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Col. 1:13). Those who were once lost are now found, those who were blind now see, and those who walked away from God now walk with Him.
In essence, this “dinner” at Levi’s house became a revival. It was a celebration held to honor Jesus and to proclaim the story of forgiveness, as Matthew shared his testimony and as the Lord personally interacted with Matthew’s friends. At this dinner we see God’s love for those who sin against Him and we see His compassion, understanding, patience, and acceptance.
Following Jesus involves criticism
Following Jesus involves an invitation, sacrifice, our own personal mission field and number four, following Jesus involves criticism. Eventually, as you follow Jesus and love those who most people hate, help those who most people would ignore, and accept those who most people would reject you are going to be criticized and misunderstood. This is what happened with Jesus and His disciples. Notice Mark 2:16, “But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with such scum?’”
- The “teachers of religious law who were Pharisees” expected Jesus and His disciples to observe their legalistic prescriptions and extra-biblical regulations. When He did not, they reacted with anger and resentment. As a matter of fact, Luke tells us they “complained bitterly” to Jesus’ disciples (Luke 5:30).
- What they saw was Jesus “eating with tax collectors and other sinners.” During the times of Jesus, “eating” with others symbolized acceptance, welcome, and friendship. The very fact that Jesus would share a meal with people like this group of unclean unclean, unholy, scum enraged the Pharisees hearts. In fact, the Pharisees prided themselves on maintaining strict separation from all such people.
When you start ministering to the unwanted and start helping the unlovely and begin caring about those who have been rejected you will be criticized. When you start loving those who have hurt others, when you start having compassion for those the world has no compassion for, and when you welcome the people that others would rather go away you will be misunderstood, you will be criticized, and you will be questioned. Following Jesus will take you down that path, but that is exactly the path God wants you to take because it is there God can use you the most.
Following Jesus involves compassion
Finally, following Jesus involves compassion. Look closely at verse 17, “When Jesus heard this, he told them, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.’” When Matthew wrote about this encounter he tells us that Jesus also said, “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13, NASB). The Pharisees have very little compassion and mercy toward those who they classified as sinners, but Jesus lived out compassion and mercy to such a high level that His compassion irritated the Pharisees.
Jesus said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do.” This statement by Jesus does two things.
- First, it tells us that Jesus is compassionate toward the spiritually sick, like a compassionate doctor would be toward the physically sick. Jesus has compassion and patience toward those who have made a series of selfish decisions. People who are trapped in a sin Jesus sees as spiritually sick. Whether that sin involves alcohol, drugs, sex, greed, materials, or pride He sees them as spiritually sick, needing a heavenly doctor. He was compassionate toward them.
- Second, it exposed the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees. It points out that those who recognize they are sick will seek out help, but those who consider themselves “healthy” will not seek out help even if they are sick. These “sinners” that Jesus was dinning with knew they needed help, but the Pharisees relied on their own self-righteousness and thought they needed no help. They thought they were healthy.
Jesus went on to say, “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” In other words, Jesus’ mission of salvation was not directed toward those who were self-righteous but rather toward those who knew they were not righteous. Those who think they are righteous think they don’t need a savior. Those who think they a good enough don’t think they need rescuing from their sins. The Pharisees regarded themselves as “righteous.” As a result, they arrogantly assumed they did not need to repent (cf. Luke 15:7).
What’s ironic about this is the Pharisees were so far from God that, although they could identify other people as sinners, they were unable to recognize their own miserable condition as sinners.
Let’s return to the original question, “What have you left behind in order to follow Jesus?” What have you walked away from so you could become more like Him and introduce others to Him?
What Jesus did for Levi and those at the dinner, He still does today (cf. 2 Cor. 6:2). With Jesus, where sin abounds, grace abounds much more.
The church of Jesus Christ consists not of perfect people but of forgiven people.
 See Follow Me by David Platt, 37, 54
 According to the Talmud, there were two kinds of tax collectors. The gabbai were responsible to collect the more general taxes, like the poll, land, and income tax. More specialized taxes, like tolls for using roads and bridges, were collect by the mokhes. A tax booth would be owned by a great mokhes who would employ a little mokhes to sit there and actually collect the taxes. From Mark’s description, it is clear that Matthew was a little mokhes. Because he was in constant contact with the people, daily charging them as they passed his toll booth, Matthew could have been one of the most familiar and hated men in Capernaum. Matthew’s booth appears to have been located near the shore, meaning that he likely collected tolls and tariffs from those involved in the city’s bustling fishing trade. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark 1-8, p.115-116).
 In leaving behind his career, Matthew understood there was no going back. Because his life of sin was connected to his profession, his repentance had significant implications. His livelihood could no longer come through the illicit collection of taxes. Like Paul, Matthew realized that “whatever things were gain to [him], those things [he] counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, [he began to] count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus [his] Lord” (Phil. 3:7-8). The former extortionist, traitor, and outcast was transformed into a disciple. Though he lost a career, he gained an eternal reward and an “inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4). He lost material possessions but gained spiritual life; lost earthly security but gained a heavenly future; lost financial reward but gained an unfading crown of glory (cf. 1 Peter 5:4). Matthew may have been barred from the synagogue, but he was accepted by God and granted salvation. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark 1-8, p.116-117).
 Verse 15 contains the first appearance of the word “disciple” (mathetes) in Mark’s gospel. The word means “learner” and can be applied specifically to the Twelves (cf. Matt. 10:1), or in a more general sense to all the followers of Jesus (cf. Matt. 8:21-22; John 6:66; 8:31). In this instance, it included Peter, Andrew, James, and John, whom Jesus called in 1:16-20, along with Matthew. There were also numerous others who were beginning to follow Jesus. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark 1-8, p.118).
 Ironically, their judgmental attitudes exposed the true nature of their hypocritical religion. They arrogantly considered themselves to be spiritually whole, when in reality they were spiritually blind and destitute. Many of those they condemned as sinners were, in fact, the ones who had received God’s gift of salvation through faith in Christ. Devoid of grace, the Pharisees clung to a spiritually dead system of superficial legalism. In response, Jesus rejected their self-righteous apostasy and focused instead on people who humbly recognized their sin and repented of it. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark 1-8, p.119).