May 8 - Encouragement to Be With God

Opening Prayer Thoughts. 
 
Praise God.
Praise God that he has not left us dead in our trespasses and sins but has made us alive in Christ.  Praise God that he has, by the work of the Holy Spirit, made us into new creatures, enabled by his grace to receive repentance and faith. Ephesians 2:1-10.
 
Acknowledge sin.
Confess the sin of thinking that somehow, in someway, we contribute to our salvation, as manifest in the way we take decisions sometimes.

Let us "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2.
     Pray for the church as she prepares for public worship on the Lord’s Day. Pray for the preparation and the preaching of God’s Word, that God would use it for the salvation of sinners, and the sanctification of those who love him and have been called to be saints. 



Let's read Luke 5:27-32.
Pray for the Holy Spirit's help to receive God's Word.
 
V27. The Tax Collector.
"After these things" – Luke, for the first time, links one event to another. The calling of Levi follows the healing of the paralytic man. Mark sheds a bit more light on what took place between these two events. After he healed the paralytic, Jesus left his home and went to the shore of the lake, where he taught the crowd who had followed him. Mark 2:13,14. It was on his way back home that he passed by the local tax or publican's office, as the King James Version puts it. We tend to associate the word 'publican' with the selling of alcohol in a public facility. The publican in the New Testament refers to a person who collected the taxes and customs. They did so on behalf of what was viewed as the subjugating Roman Empire. As you would expect, they weren't particularly well-liked in their communities. Jewish men, collecting taxes and customs from hard working Jewish people, to finance the occupation of Jewish land by Roman oppressors, and lining their own powers in the process. They were, and not without good reason, considered to be part of the underclass – people who made their living from immoral earnings. Synagogues would not receive their alms, and it was widely accepted that you didn't have to keep your word when dealing with a tax collector. Having a tax collector in the family was viewed as something the family should be ashamed of. If the Pharisees were at the top of the respectable ladder, tax collectors were on the last rung. In general, they were seen as traitors. Inevitably, it was a recipe for tension on both sides. The contempt with which they were held meant that most of the tax collectors had an 'okay, if that's the way you want to play it' attitude towards others, which would manifest itself in abusive practices and extortion. When some of these guys had been baptized by John the Baptist, his instruction to them was "collect no more than you are authorized to," Luke 3:13. And we don't read of any of them saying, 'hold on, what are you talking about?' He had hit the nail on the head, and they knew it.   
 
So, when Jesus stops off at the tax collector's office on his way home, it wouldn't have gone unnoticed. Whether it was the town's tax office, or the custom’s office for goods travelling across the lake, or both, who knows. What we can say is that, in stopping to talk with this man, Jesus was going beyond the bounds of normality for the ordinary citizen of Capernaum. One only engaged with the tax collector when it was required. I suppose, in that respect, it is no different than today. So, whatever eyes are viewing the scene, they are fixed on Jesus. What is he going to do? Throw over the tax-collector’s table? Call him out like John the Baptist had done with some of his provincial colleagues? Whatever ears are listening, they will be straining to hear what the exchange is about. What transpires, what do they see, what do they hear? They see nothing untoward, but they do hear something that is 'off the page'. Jesus says two words to this Roman conspirator, dressed in his fine robes paid for by the sweat and hard work of ordinary, decent people. Given the context, they are two unbelievable words – 'Follow me!', literally in the Greek 'be following me'. In other words, start and keep following me, always and permanently. Had Jesus and Levi met and talked before this, or was this just a call out of the blue. It is hard to say because we're not told. It is possible that they might have done so, but on the other hand, it may be that Jesus calls on Levi, knowing that he would have been well aware of him. As someone who spent his days sitting in his tax booth watching all that was going on, Levi would have a good idea of who Jesus is, and the stir he is generating because of his teaching and healing. Whatever the background, and however surprising it is, Jesus' call is effectual. Immediately, without a moment's hesitation, Levi gets up, leaves his tax office, and follows Jesus. Again, this is unbelievable. Why on earth would he do it? He's not going for a stroll through the town with Jesus. He's leaving his livelihood behind. Once he closes the door behind him that is it, and for what? What did he know about what he was going to do? And why would Jesus want a man like this as one of his disciples? Talk about drafting a morally weak link into your team. Think of the baggage, let alone the potential trouble a man like Levi could bring to Jesus' work. Yet, Jesus called him to follow him, the reason why we shall see in a moment, and Levi obeyed; he followed him.
 
But let's pause and think about the power in the voice of Jesus, and I am not talking about the number of decibels he could generate when speaking. Jesus can, and does, call whoever he wants, regardless of who they are, and what they have, or have not, done. When he does so, it's effectual. In other words, it is a call that cannot be denied. The reason for this is because his call is issued in conjunction with the work of the Holy Spirit. Through the call of Christ, the Holy Spirit renews the mind and regenerates the heart. In doing so, he creates within the person a new mind and a new heart. Both of which are receptive to what Christ is requesting. The person will therefore freely choose to do what Christ asks. It is essential to understand that this free choice is only possible because the change wrought in the person's nature by the Holy Spirit means that they are a new creation. As Paul writes to the church at Corinth, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come," 2 Corinthians 5:17. This possession of a 'new creation' nature means that the person can now exercise their free will in a realm that was previously unavailable to them. Before new life in Christ is received, the nature of man is dead in trespasses and sin, and is under the dominion of Satan. Ephesians 2:1-3. As such, a person is only capable of choosing the passions of the flesh and the desires of the body, i.e., that which is consistent with their nature. They will not choose to accept Jesus because they cannot choose to accept Jesus, because their nature has no capacity, no willingness, no desire to do so. It is a straightforward spiritual impossibility. However, when, in the love of the Father, the Holy Spirit does work through the voice of Christ, then that changes everything. The person is made alive in Christ. They become recipients of a new nature. For the first time in their life, they will have the capacity and the desire to respond to Christ. For the first time, of their own free will, they will act within the realm of their new nature, and embrace the twin realities of repentance and faith. That is why we should be consumed with praise to God. For it is solely because of his supernatural work in our lives, that we are in a position to receive the gift he freely offers to us in the gospel. 
 
Can this new creation be mimicked? Yes, it can and is, by many. Matthew 7:21-23. Phantom faith is a reality; that is why we need "to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling," Philippians 2:12. We need to ask God to search our hearts, and to reveal to us if we are genuinely in Christ. Having said that, and without detracting from that serious point, if you know in your heart that you do love the Lord and desire to have communion with him, then do not get anxious as to whether or not you are converted. If you know that you think differently, speak differently, and behave differently from those in the world, then rejoice in the salvation you have received from God. 
 
V29. Levi manifests the reality of this conversion by way of the call of Christ.  
What does Levi do? He evidently owned a large house, which meant that he could host something on this scale. It seems like he must have invited every tax collector in the town, if not the region. There are also a large number of 'sinners' present, members of the underclass that I referred to earlier. What was the purpose of this feast, why did he throw this party? Because he wanted these people, his friends and acquaintances, to meet Jesus. He wanted them to meet the man who had changed his life in an unbelievable way. 
 
The church at large organizes conferences, writes books, holds seminars, etc., on how to evangelize the world. It's clear, though, from the New Testament, that Christs builds his church through the preaching of the gospel, and by believers gossiping about their faith to others. From Andrew telling his brother Simon, "we have found the Messiah", John 1:40ff, to the persecuted Christians speaking to their new Hellenists neighbours in Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, Acts 11:19ff, this is how it has always been done. In every generation since, wherever the word of God has been preached, and believers have talked about Jesus' work in their lives, Christ has built his church. 
 
V30. The hatred of the world revealed.
When Jesus brings people from life to death, there are always those who hate him for it. How do the Pharisees and scribes react here to the news that Jesus and his disciples have been wined and dined at Levi's house? Maybe it doesn't need to be said, but they, of course, would not have been at the great feast themselves. But they had heard about it. Capernaum, after all, wasn't a huge city, and they had their contacts. So, it's not surprising, especially given Jesus' profile in the community and their evident interest in him, that news would have got back to them of whose house he had been to, and the people he had been with. 
 
With their strict rules concerning ceremonial purity, for a 'rabbi' to associate himself with the type of people Jesus just had, would not merely have been regarded by these men as an issue of poor judgement, it was wholly unacceptable. In eating with these people, he had declared himself to be their friend. Luke tells us that the Pharisees and scribes expressed their objections to Jesus's disciples, but it was principally directed at Jesus. Jesus' response to his accusers tells us a lot about his purpose in coming to earth. It is also interesting in the way he frames it. They thought of themselves as being morally 'healthy', and the tax collectors and sinners as morally 'sick'. Jesus says, 'okay, if that is your position, why would I not want to attend to the 'sick'? If you are, as you say, righteous men, then you don't need me.' Once again, we see Jesus dealing with these men in a simple, straightforward way. Of course, they know that he is not accepting their estimation of themselves, but that doesn't mean that he is not being honest. He is just taking them at their word, and responding to them based on that. His setting forth of his work of calling sinners to repentance (a theme Luke frequently returns to a lot in this gospel), goes unheeded by those questioning him. Such is the way of the world. It is more than eager to point the finger at the believer and say, 'but you…', while at the same time rejecting all truth. 
 
The Christian life is simple, and it is straightforward. That is the beauty of it. It is Satan and sin who distort, and contort, life. Truth has a clear and true tone to it. Lies always sound convoluted and suspect. 



A Psalm to Sing.
Psalm 1A. Link to the words. Link to it being sung. Sing with joy in your heart to God.

Memory Verse. 
Keep memorizing it will do your heart good.
Psalm 121C v1-3, 
1. Unto the hills I lift my longing eyes; whence comes my aid? 
The Lord's my help, the heavens and earth by him were made. 
Your foot from stumbling he will always keep; 
the One who guards your life will never sleep. 
2. He who keeps Israel slumbers not nor sleeps By night or day.
The Lord keeps you, a shade on your right hand The Lord will stay.
Throughout the day the sun will never smite,
Nor will the moon afflict you in the night
3. You will be safe, protected by the Lord, By his control.
For every evil that may come your way He'll keep your soul.

 
 
Truth for the Mind and Heart
Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 30 - How does the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
Answer - The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ by producing faith in us, and by this uniting us to Christ in our effective calling.
(This is taken from https://matt2819.com/wsc)
 
Thank God.
Thank God that Jesus came into the world to call sinners to repentance.
Thank God that he has called you, if he has done so in your life. If God he has not yet done so, ask him now to do it; and now. Today is the day of salvation. "Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near." Isaiah 55:6.
 
Take care in Christ,
Andrew 
 
Rev. Dr. Andrew Quigley