The word “joy” can mean all sorts of things depending on the context it is used in. But when it comes to the context of Christian living, what does it mean to have joy? The theme of joy is spread through God’s Word. David concluded Psalm 32 with these words, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11). After instructing His disciples of the importance of abiding in His love and walking in obedience to His Word, our Lord said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). I am sure you are familiar with the words of the apostle Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil 4:4). From these three texts, it is clear that the life of the believer is to be characterized by joy. When we talk about joy, we are to think beyond the concept of an outward cheer. To have joy in the Lord does not mean the believer is immune to sadness and grief. In-fact, as God’s people we are commanded to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). So joy is not some superficial smile that we are to put on at all times. That is fake and of no benefit whatsoever. True joy is much deeper than that.
For God’s people, joy is the condition of being glad. This gladness comes as a result of being in fellowship with God. It is produced by the inward working of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and springing out of this condition are the actions of being joyful or rejoicing. It is important to understand that the act of rejoicing (expressing our gladness) is a command for the Christian (Ps. 5:11; 33:1; 64:10; Phil. 3:1; 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16). In-order for us to effectively carry out our duty of rejoicing, we need to be fuelled by the delight of our joy. The Christian’s rejoicing is in the Lord (Phil. 3:1; 4:4). What this means is that we need to remind ourselves daily of who God is and what He has done for us. The knowledge of His greatness and grace in our lives fills the heart of the believer with joy, and we are to respond to such knowledge with the act of rejoicing. True, deep, and abiding joy is found in knowing and delighting in the greatness and grace of our Lord.
Coming in contact with the life-changing power of Jesus brings this true joy into the life of His people. In this message we will see the joy the Jesus brings by means of the calling (5:27-32) and change (5:33-39) He gives. We will also consider the danger of traditionalism and how it seeks to rob us of joy.
1. JOY IN CALLING (5:27-32)
The passage begins with Jesus’ encounter with Levi. The encounter with Levi, who was also known as Matthew, was very controversial. Levi was a tax collector and tax collectors worked for the Roman Empire. They would collect taxes for the Empire, then once they had extracted what was required, they could pocket whatever was left. This led to a lot of corruption.
Levi, like other tax collectors, was viewed as a low life, scum, and the dregs of society. When a Jew became a tax collector, he was not only held in low esteem, but he was also considered a traitor to fellow Jews and morally unclean. So if you were a tax collector, you would not have many friends from the general population and certainly not from the religious leaders of the day.
Jesus, who is the sovereign seeking Saviour of sinners, saw Levi sitting at his tax booth. Approaching Him Jesus commanded him, “Follow me”. This was not an invitation for him to go for a casual walk; this was a call to come to Christ for salvation. This call consisted of a few characteristics. It involved leaving one’s own priority and living for another’s priority. Later on in this Gospel Jesus will say, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23). This is a radical call to a life that is transformed. This call includes repenting of one’s sin and trusting in Jesus for forgiveness. So this call to follow meant to realise one’s sinfulness, see Christ’s worthiness, place one’s life under the authority of Jesus, and serve Him. In a decisive way, Levi leaves his past profession and all the profits with it and follows Jesus. Luke writes, “And leaving everything, he rose and followed him” (5:28).
Levi’s life has been turned upside down, but because this change is real, it resulted in true joy. Levi puts on a celebration meal for Jesus. He invites his only friends, which was a company of social outcasts (5:29). He clearly wanted his friends and colleagues to know about the great change that has taken place in his life. It would have been very interesting for them to see the new direction Levi will now be going.
The religious leaders got word of this dinner party and grumbled to Jesus’ disciples. They asked, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (5:30). They could not understand why Jesus would allow Himself to come into contact with people that were considered outcasts and unclean.
The purpose of Jesus coming in contact with this crowd was not to embrace their lifestyle and engage in sinful practices by trying to be relevant or cool. His purpose was to provide them with what they actually needed, and that was forgiveness of sins. Jesus answered this arrogant objection by saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (5:31-32). In other words, Jesus has come into this world with a message and a mission. His message is repent from your sins and find forgiveness in Him. His mission is to bring helpless sinners into His glorious kingdom. He has come to heal the broken-hearted and to lead the captive free.
When Jesus said “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance”, He did not mean that there are people who don’t need salvation because they are already righteous. The Bible is clear that there are none righteous by their own efforts (cf. Rom. 3:10). He is talking about those who view themselves as righteous. Because of their deluded understanding of themselves, they don’t see their need to repent. Jesus has come to bring salvation to those who see their need for forgiveness. He comes to save those who see the horrible depths of darkness in their hearts. He comes to save those who see the ugliness of all their secret sins. He comes to save those who understand that their lives before God are offensive and need to be cleansed. We can make our lives look great on the outside, but if we don’t come to Christ for forgiveness it is as useless and disgusting as mouldy milk in a fancy and new milk container. It might look good on the outside, but inside it stinks!
We learn some valuable lessons from Jesus calling of Levi. Firstly, we are not to live our lives in such a way that we form a holy huddle and lose sight of those that need the gospel. We ought to pray that God give us gospel shaped hearts that desire to see people find salvation in Christ. We need to be concerned about that those outside of the kingdom of God.
Secondly, our relationship with the lost must be both humble and holy. We are not to act like we have it all together and make them feel like filth. We are people who have found forgiveness, telling others how it can be found. But we must be wise that we don’t compromise obedience to the Lord by embracing lifestyle changes just so we can relate to those who are unbelieving.
When Jesus called Levi, it produced a joy in him. He was so grateful or what Christ had done for him he responded with delight and celebration.
2. JOY IN CHANGE (5:33-39)
There is not only a joy that comes from being called by Jesus; there is a joy that comes from the change produced by Jesus. In verses 33-39 the religious leaders indirectly confront Jesus over matters of tradition. The behaviour of Jesus’ disciples was different to the traditional practices of the others. They objected to the fact that His disciples were not fasting. The main issue in this section is that Jesus brings about a change in people’s lives, not just a continuation of their traditions.
The Old Testament only required one fast a year and this was on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-31). The people of God could fast at other times, but these fasts were voluntary. Over the centuries, a number of practices became traditions and these added additional times for fasting. The Pharisees fasted twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays). This became an outward performance to show off their self-perceived spirituality. They used to disfigure their faces and look tired and hungry so people could see their dedication and sacrifice (cf. Matt. 6:18-20).
The religious leaders noticed that the disciples of Jesus weren’t following the customs and traditions of fasting. So they asked Jesus, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink” (5:33). They took issue with the fact that His disciples were feasting rather than fasting. We need to be careful to guard ourselves from this same legalistic spirit. A legalistic spirit places expectations on people that are according to tradition and not truth. Fasting by itself can be a helpful spiritual discipline. But the moment we turn it into a mark of spiritualty then we are missing the point.
Jesus responds to their question by saying, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” (5:34). The presence of Jesus in the company of the disciples prevents them from fasting, just like those celebrating at a wedding in the presence of the groom. His point is that His disciples are in a situation in which joy is the expected response. The reason for this is because of the life-changing power that comes from a relationship with Him.
Jesus goes on to add that “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days” (5:35). This is a reference to His death (the first in Luke). This will be a time of dark sorrow and sadness for the disciples. But after He is resurrected and the Holy Spirit comes upon them on the day of Pentecost, they will experience the presence of Jesus in a special way, He will be living in the life of every believer (cf. Col. 1:27). There is a joy that the Christian can experience because of the presence of Jesus in their lives. We rob ourselves of this joy when we allow traditions over truth. We are to be on the lookout for anyone who tries to rob us of our joy in Jesus. What should we look out for? Be concerned when someone is more passionate about tradition than Biblical truth. Be concerned when change offends us, even though the change is according to the truth of God’s Word. Tradition can be good, but tradition must never take priority over truth. When it does, it robs of us the true joy that is found in Jesus Christ.
Jesus gives His listeners a parable that illustrates the point that He is bringing about a change in people’s lives, not just a continuation of their traditions. Using the illustrations from clothing and a vineyard, Jesus said,
“No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins” (5:37-38).
Jesus is making the point that He is not to be viewed as an attachment to our lives. He is not a patch for our problems. If Jesus is Lord of our lives, this means that He makes the old new. He brings about a change that is radical and real. This change that Jesus brings into our lives liberates us from having to try to be right with God by our own efforts. We are able to enjoy Jesus Christ for what He has done for us!
Knowing that the religious leaders could not accept this, Jesus added one more parable, “And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good’” (5:39). This describes the Pharisees who were not prepared to let go of their traditions. This is the tragedy of valuing tradition over truth.
True joy comes from Jesus. It comes when a sinner is called by Jesus to receive salvation. This calling takes us from a life of being empty, guilty, and lost. When Jesus calls us, He also changes us from the inside out. Here are some concluding lessons from this passage.
Tradition and legalism may make us look good on the outside, but they will do nothing for our sinful condition. The religious leaders filled their lives with outward righteousness that it blinded them to their need to find forgiveness in Christ.
It does not matter how sinful you may think you are, if you recognise your need to come to Christ for forgiveness, He will not cast you away. This is why He came into the world, to save sinners. As the sick need doctors, sinners need a Saviour. Jesus has come to seek and save the lost.
Jesus is to be prized more than anything else in this world, because He is our Lord and life-changing joy. Jesus is not a patch for our problems, He is to be the One that we adore and admire above all else. Jesus is the Sovereign Seeking Saviour of Sinners. We have the joy of being in His Kingdom because of the salvation He alone offers.