“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” ~Luke 5:32
When you are in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, there finally comes that moment when they call your name. You put your magazine down or your phone away, you stand up and walk over to the door, and the nurse always addresses you this way: “How are you doing today?” And my instinct is always to reply, “How do you think I’m doing today? If I were okay, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you! If things were good, if I were well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation!”
When I go to the doctor, I know three things: I am sick, I need to be healed, and I cannot heal myself.
That’s what Jesus is saying in Luke 5. “I’m coming for people who realize they need help, people who know they’re in trouble, people who know they don’t have all the answers.”
But Jesus doesn’t come to give you a placebo. Jesus doesn’t make this house call to give you a pep talk or good advice. He calls you to a radical life of repentance. I have not come to call the righteous, he says, or the people who think they are righteous. I’ve come to call the sinners, the women and men who know they need help. I’ve come to offer them repentance.
The word “repent” literally means to change directions, to go the other way, to get on a different path and head toward another destination, to change your mind and your actions and commit to living differently.
In Luke 3, John the Baptist is preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins and the people in the crowd question him about what it means practically. Of course, he answers them plainly. He tells those who have two coats to share with those who have none, and to do the same thing with their food. He tells the tax collectors to stop collecting more than they are supposed to and to be fair with everybody. He tells the soldiers to stop extorting money and lying about people, stop using power and position for your own good. Here in Luke 5, Jesus is reaching out to Levi because he sees the potential for Levi’s repentance and redemption.
And he says just two words to Levi: Follow me.
That’s the radical call. This is the Great Physician’s prescription for redemption: Follow me.
And only Jesus can say stuff like this. Look at the great power of his Word. So far in Luke, we’ve seen that Jesus’ Word drives the devil away in the wilderness. His Word drives evil spirits away from the demon-possessed. His Word drives a million fish into Peter’s nets. Jesus’ Word heals the paralyzed and the lepers and all kinds of sickness, Luke says. His Word forgives sin and proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God. And his Word invites Levi into healing repentance and eternal redemption. “Follow me.”
Levi is a very wealthy man with lots of power and many friends and he is confronted by the Word of Jesus inviting him to a completely different life. Why don’t we talk to the rich and powerful about Jesus? Somehow we’ve decided that rich and powerful people won’t listen to Jesus, so we don’t even bother. We wait for something bad to happen to rich people, we wait for them to fall and hit rock bottom, we wait for their fortunes to reverse before we think they’ll be open to Christ. But notice how these two words from Jesus actually create that reversal!
“Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.” ~Luke 5:28
Next thing you know, Jesus is inside Levi’s house at Levi’s table, eating and drinking with Levi and his friends. Levi has repented and now he is in intimate relationship with the Lord. There’s only one way to explain how something like that happens: Jesus knows who he is calling and his radical invitation is life-changing.