Levi was an ordinary man with an ordinary desk-job. He worked for the government in taxes. He wasn’t well-liked, but it was a position that allowed for affluent living, especially if he exacted a little extra than the law required.
One day while at work, a man walked by Levi’s tax booth with a large crowd following after him. The man spotted Levi and simply said, “Follow me.” Levi stood up and left his work behind. He took the man to his house and invited others in his field of work as well as the people following the man to join them for a big dinner. Even though the community leaders criticized his choice of company, the man defended meeting with the corrupt government workers. After that night, Levi left his town to follow this man around the country as he continued gathering and teaching the ignored, shunned, and disadvantaged. Levi left everything he had and became known as the apostle Matthew.
Jesus repeated this scene several times, calling different people to join his disciples (Mark 2:14-17). What catches me, though, are his requirements. In one way or another, he says each time that his disciples have to abandon everything to follow him.
Luke 9:57-62 shows how Jesus calls three men. The first eagerly volunteers to follow him, no matter where Jesus travels. What is Jesus’ response? “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Translation? “Even animals have their homes, but I have no home. If you follow me, you won’t have a home either.”
He then turns and tells someone else to follow him. This man asks for some more time before going with Jesus. I once heard someone say that by asking to wait to bury his father, this man’s father was probably still alive. He wanted to wait until he fulfilled the duty of burying his father after he eventually died. Who knows how long that might take? This second man didn’t want an extension for a day or two; he was stalling indefinitely.
The third man in this story has a much smaller request. He promises to follow Jesus, but he just wants to say goodbye to his family before taking off. There is no knowing when he may return, if at all, so he asks to first visit the people he loves most. Jesus takes a different perspective. He tells the man, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Or in other words, “Either you are all in, without any doubts, or else you’re useless to me.”
These may sound like harsh words, but Jesus never said that the truth would be easy to swallow. He only wanted fully dedicated followers in his company, and even those still would doubt until his resurrection from the dead. Jesus chose one, Judas Iscariot, that would fall away in order to fulfill the Scripture (John 17:12). All the rest, Jesus kept close to him and prepared them to continue his work after he ascended to heaven. In his prayer the night before his crucifixion, Jesus says to God the Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). And going into the world turned out to be a tough job only suited for those who would exchange everything to work in the service of Jesus.
In my Perspectives class, we studied the many missionary eras and the inspiring people God called to his work. Hundreds of years ago, missionaries used to go off to foreign lands they had never seen and barely knew. They would pack up a few personal belongings and board a ship to who knows where, fully expecting to never return home. There were many who died of disease within a year or two. These faithful people believed that Jesus addressed the Great Commission to every one of his followers, including themselves, and they obeyed his call even while aware of the costs (Matt. 28:16-20).
Hudson Taylor, an 18th-century Englishman, knew God wanted him in China. He ended up spending 51 years there, starting the China Inland Mission and setting new precedents for future missionaries to follow. Taylor was strongly convicted by the lost souls in China and God’s call for Christians to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. He is quoted as saying, “It will not do to say that you have no special call to go to China. With these facts before you and with the command of the Lord Jesus to go and preach the gospel to every creature, you need rather to ascertain whether you have a special call to stay at home.”
According to Taylor’s thinking, missionaries are not the Christian exceptions, the rarities of the flock. Instead, missionaries such as the apostles are meant to be the norm. In the Christian life, staying at home should be unusual. Staying at home should be the “special call” or Plan B when God prevents you from otherwise going. The Christian life means to lose everything. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” we get up and leave behind our work, our homes, our families, and everything we know. We lose it all to gain life with him–true, fulfilling life that never ends.