Picture of Pastor Gettys

Sermon delivered November 29, 2008 by Pastor Don Gettys

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New International Version NIV unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

True Thanksgiving

Luke 5:27,28

(RealAudio available)

You know, we’re living in the last days.  I don't believe it’ll be long until we get to heaven.  I would like to read you a verse from Ezekiel.  Maybe you've read this, and maybe you haven't read this before.  I would like to read it according to The Message Bible translation, and this is from Ezekiel.  Now just listen.

“The bottom has dropped out of buying and selling.”  Does this sound familiar?  “It will never be the same again,” the Bible says.  “Don't fantasize an upturn in the market.  The country is bankrupt because of its sins, and it's not going to get any better.”  Isn't that an amazing quotation?  Ezekiel 7:13.  Amazing.  Up-to-date.  The Bible is up to date.  That's what's going on. 

Now we could paraphrase this verse in a very succinct, simple way.  We could just simply say, that national apostasy will result in national ruin.  Correct?  That's basically what this verse is telling us.  Because of her sins.  What is one of the major sins of America?  Abortion.  Instead of going out with soldiers and machetes, we are killing babies in an ordained, sanctioned clinic, for population control.  Shame on us.  National apostasy will always result in national ruin.  Government bailouts are flowing like water from a hemorrhaging dam.  Imagine the taxes that are going to be needed to pay for all this stuff.  The IRS will be coming to you for more taxes soon, because we are like, $10 trillion in debt.  We've got to pay that off.  So the IRS will be coming.  Do you like the IRS?  Whenever you see the tax assessor's car driving through your neighborhood slowly, and the man with his beady eyes looking at your house, does that excite you?  Does it make you feel good?  You know, in Jesus’ day, just like our day, people disliked tax collectors.  In fact, they hated them, actually, is the truth.

Our story today is about a tax collector named Levi, and I would like for you to notice Luke, chapter 5 in your Bible.  And you know, Jesus had just left a house that was in dire need of roof repair.  Remember that?  Four strong men climbed up onto the roof of this house and tore a huge opening and lowered their friend down so he could be healed, and Jesus healed Him, and then Jesus kind of slipped away and went on down the road. 

Where did he go?  He came to Levi.  He came to Levi's tax collection booth, and He saw him in his booth.  Probably located on that big international highway that comes up from Egypt all the way up north of Israel.  It's still there today.  I guess his booth actually probably made a toll road out of what should've been a freeway. 

But Rome was a large country.  The largest superpower in the world, and Rome did a lot of good.  I don't want you to think that they were evil.  I have walked on Roman roads.  They're still there to this day.  They built aqueducts.  I saw an area where an aqueduct was here and another one on top of it and I said to our guide, "What is that for?"  He said, "Well, one is for hot water and one’s for cold water."  Well, I don't know about that.  They did a lot of good.  They built a temple in Jerusalem.  They even built some nice baths and public buildings.  They built bridges.  They did a lot of good.  By the time of the beginning of Julius Caesar's reign they were feeding 3 hundred and 20 thousand people with free grain.  They did a lot of good.  They maintained the peace by their troops. 

But Rome was a huge machine, and the larger the machine, the more fuel it takes, and the fuel for a large government like that is money.  Tax money.  And so they had to raise taxes.  But Rome never raised taxes itself, in foreign lands.  What they would do, they would sell a franchise and you could go out and you were allocated a certain amount that you had to raise and anything over that you got to slip in your pocket.  

And so there was an individual in this scripture here, in Luke, chapter 5, who had done that.  His name was Levi.  He was the local IRS agent.  When people saw him coming in his open-topped chariot they were not pleased that he was in their neighborhood.  They thought he was up to no good.  They thought he was after their money. 

So, look here at Luke chapter 5 and verse 27.  It says, "After this, Jesus went out and saw the tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth and He said," what?  “Curse you.”  Is that what He said?  He said, “Follow me.”  Apparently Jesus saw Levi before Levi saw Jesus, which is amazing for an IRS agent.  They always spot you and your billfold and its size, and you would think that this would have happened, but apparently the desire to save was stronger than the desire to tax that day, which it always is.  Jesus saw Him.  He sought him and He saved him.  What a Man Jesus was.  And you may say, “Well Jesus doesn't like us.  We don't have any money in our house.  Everything’s going bad.”  It may be going bad, but Jesus still loves you.  He loves everybody.   Was Jesus concerned that worldly Levi, this worldly tax collector, might rub off on His pure disciples?  No.  Because Jesus knew the power of the Holy Spirit, and I think we need to recognize that. 

You know, Matthew is another name for Levi.  Matthew Levi.  Levi Matthew.  Levi is his Hebrew name, Matthew is his Greek name.  He spoke two languages and he is indeed the writer of the book of Matthew, and Jesus called him to be a disciple.  We never would've had the book of Matthew, if Jesus had not done that, and Matthew would not have said ‘yes’. 

So Roman taxes were bad.  Excessive government led to the downfall of the Roman Empire.  They had too big of a government, and Rome had a financial crisis in the year 33, which is the year that Jesus died, and which there was a severe shortage of actual money.  The shortage of money and the curtailment of state expenditures led to a sharp downfall in the economic activity, which was only relieved when the state, Rome, was able to make loans at zero percent interest and pump liquidity into the market.[Thornton & Thornton, 1990]  You can read this in your history books.  This sounds like our current financial crisis, right here in America and the world, doesn't it?  So, there were poll taxes.  There were ground taxes.  Chariot taxes.  Cart taxes.  Income taxes.  A lot of taxes.  In fact, Levi had a very taxing job.

And when Jesus saw Levi, what was Levi doing?  He was working.  Notice that Jesus always calls the busy.  The devil is the one who calls the idle.  The devil does that.  That's the way it always works.  The devil comes when we are inactive and taps us on the shoulder.  David was relaxing on the rooftop one evening when he noticed Bathsheba.  Most crime and deviltry happens during leisure time.  An idle mind is the devil’s what?  You need to be out there working.  If you're not out there working what's the matter with you, if you're not retired?  Of course retired people, they claim, work.  Maybe they have to to make ends meet.  Be busy. 

People blamed the tax collectors in Jesus’ day for their poverty, and Levi was a very unpopular man.  Tax agents were like social lepers and vultures.  Tax men were not allowed to serve as a witness in court, cause you couldn't trust them.  They always would pump up things more than they were.  They were excommunicated from temple worship.  Why was that?  Because they associated with heathens and they weren't clean for so many days.  But Jesus looked upon Levi and saw his potential, and I believe that Jesus always looks upon you with the idea of what you can become and not what you are.  Would you agree with that?  I like that about Jesus.  And I think that Levi was a special tax collector.  I think unlike Zacchaeus, Levi was honest, because when you read the account of Zacchaeus, you see that he was supposed to have some restitution.  You don't read that about Levi's account.  Jesus wanted Levi as His disciple, and Jesus always looks for somebody who is successful to be in His work instead of in the world's work.  Jesus needed disciples.

Now let's suppose you were Jesus.  You arrived from Heaven.  You grew up.  You got to be 30 years old or something and you're going to choose your team.  Where would you go?  Well, you might've thought, “Well, He would go to Athens, Greece.”  That's where all the big intellectual thinkers are, cause you need to do mental horsepower with the Pharisees.  Or maybe He should've gone to Rome to tap into some of those people in Rome, you know, that are there.  They're good leaders.  They’re strong people.  Or maybe down in Egypt He could get some wisdom.  But where did Jesus go?  He just went around home there, around the Sea of Galilee and Capernaum and chose common, ordinary people.  They became His core leadership.  He didn't go to the outside.  He chose from within the inside, which tells me that there's room for us in His work. 

Jesus needed workers like a country needs soldiers, for protection, for leadership.  Remember back in the old days, they had compelling signs during World War II.  There was a sign of Uncle Sam and what was Uncle Sam doing?  He was saying, “I need you.” and there was this finger pointing right at you.  “I need you to go fight Hitler or something.”  Well a greater leader was here other than Uncle Sam and that leader was Jesus Christ, and He had a greater battle.  His battle was between Christ and Satan.  The great controversy between Christ and Satan.  That's His battle, and He needed recruits.  He was out recruiting that day and He came to Levi's booth and recruited Levi.

Look at verse 28.  “’Follow me,’ Jesus said to him and Levi got up and left everything and followed Him.”  Now the New American Standard Bible and the Greek and the New King James Bible and the King James Bible all state it correctly.  Just the opposite of what this does.  They state this.  That Levi left everything before he got up.  Hmm?  He left everything, and then he got up.  You can read this.  The King James says, “He left all, rose up, and followed Him.”  He left all before he even got up.  The exact moment when you decide in your brain, in your heart, to do some great act, heaven counts it as if it happened, knowing that it will happen.  Conversely, Eve sinned in her heart before she sinned in her mouth.  By eating the apple.  The Greek word,  here's another little lesson.  It says that he left everything, got up, and followed, and the word ‘follow’ is in the Aorist tense.  It's in the continuous tense.  What it means is he got up and followed Jesus and he kept following. 

Now that's a lesson for Don Gettys.  You need to follow Jesus and keep following Jesus.  Don't be a dropout.  Don't say, “Well I'm going to sit at home.  I’m going to be in bed.  I’m discouraged,” you know.  Get out of bed.  Come to church.  Follow Jesus.  Read your Bible.  Be a committed Christian.  Use your labor and your energies to advance the kingdom of God.

Did Levi make a mistake when he followed Jesus?  You know, it cost him more than it cost all the other disciples.  The other disciples were basically, what occupation?  Fishermen, and they could always go back to their fishing boats, because the boats were still anchored right there.  They could go back, and they did go back several times.  But Levi, not him.  When you sell your franchise to the Roman government, you can never go back again.  It cost him more than it cost all the other disciples, so did he make a mistake?  Absolutely not, because like Jim Elliott said, “He is no fool, who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  And you're never a fool when you follow Jesus Christ.  Levi left a good, stable job with a good income to follow Jesus Christ.  In fact, all of the disciples did that, didn't they?  Can you think of disciple that didn't leave his job?  They all left their jobs. 

Do you have to leave your job when you join the church, when you become a committed Christian?  Do you have to leave your job.  Sometimes you do.  Sometimes.  You may be working at Anheuser, whatever the name of that place is, and you may be in a job that you're not proud of, and that Jesus is not proud of.  You need to leave that job,  and follow Jesus Christ, and give up anything that separates.  For instance, you may have to lose your job and leave it because you can't work on the Sabbath.  That's a possibility.  Levi left his job, and God’ll bless you if you do that.

Look at verse 29 of Luke, chapter 5.  Then Levi, what did he do?  He held a great banquet.  Where did he hold this banquet?  Who was the banquet for?  It was for Jesus in his own house.  And who came?  Anybody?  Well, Jesus came, and a large crowd of people came.  Who were these people that came?  They were other tax collectors.  They were prostitutes.  They were riffraff.  That is who came to his banquet. 

True conversion is always followed by a rejection of the past and a full reception of Jesus, and he held a reception for Jesus.  That's exactly what he did.  Matthew Levi went beyond the Pharisees.  He repented.  The Pharisees didn't do repentance.  How do we know that?  Well, they were not baptized by John the Baptist.  That's what the Bible says there in Luke, chapter 7, verse 30.  They weren't baptized by John, because John's baptism was the baptism of what?  Of repentance.  Luke, chapter 3, verse 3.  And that's the big reason that the Pharisees could never receive Jesus as their Savior because they had never repented of their sins.  Unless you are feeling bad about your sins, you don't feel the need for a Savior.  You see?  Isaiah, chapter 30, verse 15 says, “Here's what the sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says.  ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation.  In quietness and trust is your strength.’  But you would have none of it.”  A prediction about the Pharisees.  They never repented. 

I think Levi held this great reception in his house to invite his friends.  You know, if all your friends are sick, and a doctor is in your house, you want to invite them to come, because the Great Physician is here and you need to do it right away, and I think he was grateful for his new work, and so he held this big thanksgiving meal.  That's what it was.  He was grateful in his heart and it was a thanksgiving banquet that he held.  Did you all have enough food Thursday?  Did anybody not?  You all look like you've gained about a pound.  I think I gained 2.  It's good to have things to be thankful for, isn't it?  But our main thing to be thankful for is Jesus Christ.  He was thankful for the new life he had in Christ, and so he paid for this large, lavish party.  He put his money where his mouth was, and you know, your money follows your heart. 

And who would come to the hated man's house?  I thought everybody hated him.  Well all these other people came.  And Jesus came.  How did Jesus feel about being there, associating with all these sinners?  There were prostitutes there.  They weren’t dressed very well.  How did Jesus feel about that? 

You know, Jesus did not view unsaved people as the enemy.  He viewed them as the victims of the enemy, and there's a big difference.  We need to view unsaved people as people that have been hurt and that need Jesus. 

Why would Jesus come to a party like that?  Well, an invitation to lunch is an intimate thing.  You get better acquainted when your knees are underneath of somebody else's table, and I think He came to cement the relationship that He wanted to have with Levi.  Jesus was always a friend of sinners.  That's why He came to Zacchaeus’ house.  He came to listen.  He came to connect.  He came to save.  And Jesus did not come for the benefits of the banquet.  Jesus came to benefit the lost.  Jesus did not come to spoil the party.  Jesus was the life of the party.  Right? 

Outside the house there was a large, loud argument starting up.  You remember this from reading the Scripture.  It was developing, and the spying Pharisees had spotted a party.  They weren't invited, and they were looking to see who was there, and they saw some disciples standing outside the door and they came up, probably, and spotted Peter and said, “Where’s Jesus?  Where is Jesus at?”  And Peter said, “He's in there.”  And they said, “Huh! What?!  Jesus is in a party like that?!  With sinners.  How could that be?!”  You know, gossiping eyes seem to have twenty-twenty vision.  People can always spot when you do something wrong.  The Pharisees, look at verse 30.  “The Pharisees and the teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples.  Why do you eat and drink with such scum,” says the New Living Translation.  Don't you know that a good Jew won't go in a place like that?  Haven't you read Psalm 1, verse 1?  What does Psalm 1, verse 1 say?  It says, “Happy are those who don't listen to the wicked.  Who don't go where sinners go, and who don't do what evil people do.”  And there was Jesus.  So how do you answer that text?  The disciples were new at this business so they didn't really have much of an answer. 

The Pharisee’s religion called for fasting and not partying.  In other words, the bottom line of the Pharisee’s religion was this.  ‘You can't be holy, unless you're uncomfortable.’  How do you like that?  That's why they fasted, they did all these things, and they focused on perfection and missed it by a mile.  These nitpickers were more interested in religion than relationship.  The religious leaders of that day complained with bitterness, “How dare Jesus enter a house where everybody smells like cigarettes and everybody smells like alcohol, and they're not dressed very well and some of them are using swear words?” 

How do you think heaven felt about that banquet?  I think we know.  Luke 15, verse 10.  "Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."  One sinner.  There's always joy in heaven.  I think Matthew’s thanksgiving meal pleased heaven.  All of heaven.  And whenever we convey our gratitude, whenever we declare our faith, whenever we hold something to honor Jesus, heaven is pleased. 

I think the Jerusalem tabloids getting ahold of this story would've made hay with it, similar, I guess it would be similar to siding with Benedict Arnold, you know?  The Pharisees believed that contact with sinners made you dirty.  You were unholy.  You couldn’t even come into the temple.

And Jesus Himself heard what was going on out there and came out, and look at verse 31.  "Jesus answered them Himself, and He said, ‘It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I haven't come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’"  Today's church is not a saint hotel.  It's not just for the saint Martins, or the saint whoever you are.  It is a hotel for sinners.  A hospital for sinners.  It's open to all, and you need to be like that in your circle of friends.  Maybe there's a group of you that have sort of a circle of friends.  You need to be inclusive.  You need to invite other people.  Anybody’s welcome in your circle of friends.  We’re not an elite club of the sanctimonious.  Your inner circle must be open to all. 

Jesus called Levi and Levi's sharp IRS mind, that was used to jotting down all these figures and keeping track of all these records, now kept track of the life of Jesus, and wrote it down, and we have it in the book of Matthew.  Isn't this great.  Jesus knew exactly what He needed, and He needed a Matthew Levi.

At this season of Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for Jesus Christ.  Let's be like Jesus.  Let's be inclusive.  Let's go to the party that we might uplift them, not that we might join their level, but that we might elevate them to Jesus Christ.  Will you leave the old life like Levi did?  Will you follow Jesus?  Will you be used in His service?  I think true Thanksgiving is when you invite Jesus Christ into your home, you have a banquet for Him, and you honor Him by following Him the rest of your life, and bringing your friends to Him.  Then your heart will be filled with thanksgiving and joy throughout your life. 

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and I hope God continues to bless you.

Let's sing our closing hymn, Now Thank We All Our God.

 Hymn of Praise: #27, Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart
Scripture: Luke 5:27,28
Hymn of Response: #559, Now Thank We All Our God

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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 12/1/08