“‘Follow Me’: The Candidates for Discipleship” (Mark 2:13-17)

Midweek Lenten Service
Wednesday, March 10, 2021

“‘Follow Me’: The Candidates for Discipleship” (Mark 2:13-17)

We just came out of an election year, in which we had to make choices among all sorts of various candidates. There were many candidates running for many different offices, at local, state, and federal levels. And in the campaign ads, each candidate would tout his or her qualifications for the position they were seeking. Because a candidate for office ought to have certain qualifications.

But how does that work when we’re dealing with qualifications for being disciples of Jesus? What qualifications do candidates for discipleship need–what do you need–in order to follow Jesus and learn from him? Well, there’s one essential qualification you must have, and today we’ll find out what it is.

Our text is the calling of Levi the tax collector–better known as St. Matthew–as found in Mark chapter 2. There Jesus calls Levi and says, “Follow me.” So, apparently, Levi had what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus. But what was that? And do you have what it takes? I think you do. In fact, I know you do. You are just as good a candidate for discipleship as St. Matthew was. You have the same exact qualification that he had, the one essential qualification for following Jesus. And it is this: You are a sinner. That’s it. That’s what it takes. You need to be a sinner in order to follow Jesus and learn from him. That’s what St. Matthew was. This saint was a sinner, and he knew it. And that’s what you need in order to hear Jesus calling you. Otherwise, you’ll just tune him out, because you think you don’t need him.

St. Matthew Levi, the sinner. (From here on, I’ll just call him by his more familiar name, Matthew.) Matthew was a sinner. How do we know that? Well, from his occupation, for one thing. He was a tax collector. But was that really so bad? I mean, nobody likes having to pay taxes. But being a tax collector–is that job really so sinful? Of course, tax collectors are never popular, simply because they’re taking money out of your pocket. But back in Matthew’s day the tax collectors were hated for a couple of more reasons: 1) They were widely known to be embezzlers, cheats, corrupt, taking more than they should to line their own pockets. And 2) they were working for the enemy, for Rome, the occupying force in the region. The tax collectors thus were viewed as traitors, quislings, by their fellow Jews. So that was Matthew, presumably: a crook and a collaborator. Matthew was a sinner.

Nevertheless, it is just this Matthew–sitting at his tax collector’s booth, no less–whom Jesus calls to be his disciple. “Follow me,” he says. And immediately, Matthew does just that. He follows. He gets up from his tax collector’s booth, leaves it behind, and follows Jesus. Then, to top it all off, Jesus goes to Matthew’s house for dinner. And there are other notorious sinners there, to boot. Jesus associates with them. He eats with them. He graces their table with his presence.

Jesus explains why he’s doing that. He says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” You see, this physician, this doctor, makes house calls. Jesus, the Doctor of Mercy. He comes to sin-sick sinners, and he makes us well. Oh, the great mercy shown to us by this Great Physician! So merciful is he that he even bore our sin and sickness in his body and died from it! On the cross Jesus bled and died to bring healing to both body and soul. The result is forgiveness now and life forever. This is a treasure far greater than anything we could gain at a thousand tax collectors’ booths!

Friends, Jesus says to us today, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” But if you’re content with your own righteousness, well, then you’re not going to have much use for Jesus. You won’t be very interested in following him and listening to his voice. If you don’t think you’re that much of a sinner, then when Jesus says, “Follow me,” you’ll be thinking: “Oh, that’s nice. Ho hum. Now leave me alone.” People who are content with their own goodness, with their own lives–they’re going to tune out Jesus’ message.

On the other hand, for those who know they are sinners, the call of Jesus comes as the most welcome invitation. To those who realize that there is no way out, no way up, no way forward in life on their own, Jesus comes to you and he says: “Follow me. I will lead the way for you. I accept you. I forgive you. Here is God’s mercy. Here is life and forgiveness and cleansing for sinners.” Wow! What could be better than that? Of course, when we hear such an invitation, we gladly leave our tax collector’s booth behind! We’d be a fool not to. It’s no great sacrifice on our part to leave that and to follow Jesus. No, this life of discipleship is his gift to us. He calls us sinners to follow him and receive from him.

Friends, never stop being sinners. What? How can you say that, Pastor? “Never stop being sinners”? No, I don’t mean keep on indulging in crookedness and corruption. When Jesus called those tax collectors and sinners and ate with them, he was not approving of their immoral ways. He was not saying, “Oh, go ahead with your sinning. That’s OK.” By no means! No, when I say, “Don’t stop being sinners,” what I mean is this: Never lose sight of the fact that you are a sinner, saved by grace, and that you are following Jesus because of his gracious call to you. Always remember that you receive your life from him. Never forget that. Then you will always have a hunger and thirst for Christ’s righteousness. You will always have ears ready and open to hear his voice.

Listen, today Jesus is calling you, just like he called Matthew the tax collector and sinner. Jesus is calling you to himself, calling you to follow him in faith for life. Our Master will teach you what he would have you to know, just as he taught his disciples of old. Our Lord will use you in his service, just as he used them.

Candidates for discipleship need to have certain qualifications. Where can we find such candidates? Well, just look around you. Disciples are people just like you, just like your pastor, just like Matthew Levi the tax collector. We all possess the one essential qualification, which is this: We know we are sinners called by Jesus to follow him.

Published in: on March 10, 2021 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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