Just after Jesus’ first meeting with the leaders of Judaism, he embarked on a series of events that would cause these same doctors of the Law to question his methods. He seemed to make a point of contradicting everything they stood for. Whether it was the company he kept or his personal lifestyle, as it pertained to God, Jesus challenged all men to rethink what they held as true or righteous living. One day, Jesus was watching Levi, a tax collector who probably worked for Herod Antipas, but he could have been working for the Roman oppressor. Jesus said to him, “Follow Me,” and Levi left his old life with all its worldly rewards and followed Jesus (Luke 5:27-28). Did he know Jesus before his call? Was he at least aware of the miracles folks were saying Jesus had done? Luke doesn’t say, but probably Levi at least knew about Jesus.
Levi burned all of his bridges. He would have been replaced by Herod or the Romans easily enough, and would never be able to return to the position that he had attained in the world. Peter and his partners, on the other hand, could have returned to their former lives and business at any point in time. They once attempted to do so when they were discouraged and confused after the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus later appeared to Peter and the others to encourage them and repeated His command, “Follow Me!” (John 21:1-4; 15-19). Levi’s calling also speaks to the idea that, if the doctors of the Law (Luke 5:17) had followed Jesus (Luke 5:26), they, too, would have had to leave everything that made them who they were. Unlike Levi, however, very few are ever recorded to have done so.
Levi was despised by his countrymen and looked upon as a traitor. Tax-collectors were called publicans and were often lumped together with sinners in conversation (Luke 5:30; 7:34; 15:1). When Jesus, the Prophet of God, commanded Levi: “Follow Me!” (Luke 5:27), Levi knew, if he began to follow Jesus, there would be no turning back. From that point on, he would have an old life and a new life. Jesus makes all things new!
Luke also shows us that Levi was not ashamed to be associated with Jesus. He invited a great company of his former associates along with other people to come to his own home for a feast. There, he publicly announced his association with Jesus (Luke 5:29). Although Jesus was considered a friend of publicans and sinners by the religious crowd (Luke 7:34), there was never a mention of any other tax collector coming to Christ, except Zacchaeus of Jericho (Luke 19). So, even if Jesus is our new life, not everyone we know will share our joy. Perhaps some of Levi’s friends even asked him if he knew what he was doing.
Levi’s love for Jesus was real, because he saw that Jesus’ love for him was real (1John 4:19). At times in my own life I would have a revelation of Jesus love for me, and I was so disappointed to find that others, including some Christians, could not see the same thing for themselves. I believe that this is what happened at Levi’s feast. It seems by the implied number of people at the great feast, Levi was a man of considerable influence. Yet, after announcing his public association with Jesus, to his utter astonishment, no one seemed to understand why he made such a move, forsaking such wealth (1Peter 4:3-4). Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean nothing occurred in the minds and hearts of his friends. Later, Zacchaeus would seek out Jesus in Jericho and submit his life to him in much the same manner as Levi did. So, although immediate submission to Jesus cannot always be expected, the power of Christ to draw sinners to himself may still make itself realized later. The point is that our influence cannot bring anyone to Christ, rather it is the influence of the Spirit that draws men to Jesus (John 6:44; 12:32).
Levi did what he could to honor Jesus, and that is all that is expected. God will enter into our works done for him and will bring forth the fruit. Levi’s life was new, suddenly and forever after changed. He would always have an old life and a new life, and what made this so was Jesus’ call: “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2Corinthians 5:17).