In Luke chapter 5 we meet a tax collector named Levi. Jesus enters the scene after performing miracles and gaining notoriety. One day, he passes by Levi’s tax booth and makes a jarring request:
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him (Luke 5:27-28, ESV).
A simple request. I imagine he looks him in the eye and says, “Follow me.” We are not told if Levi asked any questions, if he thought about it for a while … we just read that he “left everything.”
What would it take for you to leave everything? Now, when I ask the question, there likely different responses depending on your station in life. If you are on the younger side—a teenager or young adult—you don’t think twice about this. You might say, “Jesus, of course I will leave everything for you … there’s actually not much to leave! Where ever, when even, I will follow.” I remember the days when I didn’t pause to think about that. By contrast, if you are a bit older you are counting the cost of leaving everything. In fact, you might be pushing back on my question. You say, “Hold on—I have a family who relies on me, I have a mortgage, I have to feed my kids, I have a retirement account built up … am I really willing to leave it all?”
And that is the point. What would it take? Since it is Jesus who makes the request, we should take it seriously.
An Astonished Heart
We have no chance of answering Jesus call without faith. That is a central theme in Luke 5. This year, I resolved to identify five shifts I’d like to make in the coming year. I anticipate this will become an annual exercise. One shift, in particular, has become a burden on my heart: I want to BUILD GREATER FAITH in my life. How? How do we build a transformative faith in our lives? Foundationally, we need an astonished heart.
To be astonished is to be “filled with the emotional impact of an overwhelming surprise of shock.” Notice—there is an emotional impact. In other words, this is not just an intellectual exercise; something moved your heart. I’ll call it an “I can’t believe it” moment. Have you ever had that happened? Something occurs and you say, “I can’t believe it.”
When the disciples encounter Jesus in Luke 5:1-11, he offers a challenge: “Put out into the deep and let down you nets for a catch (5:4).” This seems an innocent request. However, every 1st century fisherman worth their salt would know you don’t fish in the deep waters during the day—you fish at night! Still, Jesus has piqued their interest, so they agree. The result? They catch so many fish their boats fill with water due to the weight! The response of the disciples should garner our attention:
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon (Luke 5:8-10, ESV).
They were astonished by the catch of fish. There was an emotional impact. They just had an “I can’t believe it” moment! This faith-building episode offers a glimpse of what Jesus can do in your life. If God is calling you he wants to show you something. Jesus wanted to show Peter something greater than he could imagine. I think God wants that for my life and for your life. The truth is we are afraid to follow Jesus into the deep waters because we do not know what will happen. Jesus offer reassurance and redirection of mission:
And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him (Luke 5:10-11, ESV).
Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid—I am calling you to something greater! I want to build your faith with some fish, so you will trust me on the mission.” What was ultimately the Disciples response? The left everything to follow him. What would it take for you to leave everything for Jesus? You need an astonished heart.
A Sober Analysis
In our quest to build greater faith in Jesus, we must identify and slay the faith killing dragons in our lives. What are those? Luke 5 offers some examples through the Pharisees. The chapter shows a “pharisaical progression” the kills faith before it can take root in our hearts. I’ll capture it with three words from the text: sitting, questioning, and grumbling. Each comes with a message.
First, the message of SITTING is, “we know more than God.” When the Pharisees first show up (Luke 5:17), they are glaring down their noses at Jesus. They are thinking, “Who is this man? What does he think he knows?” Moreover, we do the same think when we do not trust or have faith in God. We think we know more than he does.
Second, the message of QUESTIONING is, “we resist what God has revealed.” As the Pharisees moved into the questioning phase (Luke 5:21), they were becoming more belligerent with Jesus. Even though they had seen his miracles, they kept asking him questions to trap him, to push back on the truth. This was done from a resistance posture. Again, we can do the same thing. Some of us have seen God work in our lives but we still question unendingly.
Finally, the message of GRUMBLING is, “we refuse to surrender to God.” The grumbling phase is really about a refusal to surrender to Christ. The Pharisees did it—and we do it. I’ve watched it happen many, many times. People ask questions when, truthfully, they simply disagree with God and will never give their lives to him. Is your grumbling a refusal to surrender to the God you already know is powerful enough to save you? Are you just upset that he wants to rule your life?
Sitting, questioning and grumbling. Which faith killer is coming for you? In each case, we are resisting God’s work and killing the faith he wants to build in us.
A Humble Acknowledgement
All of this brings us back to the question: how do you build transformative faith? Let me offer an axiom: “An astonished heart builds faith but a resistant heart kills faith.” Write that down somewhere and mediate upon it. However, an astonished heart requires a humble acknowledgement that we are reticent to offer.
At the end of the day, we must know we are sinners and we need a Savior. Otherwise, we will always trust ourselves to save the day. We can’t. This is the crux of the matter in Luke’s Gospel. Remember, so many of Luke’s stories are pointing to lost people who do not know they are lost. Luke is exposing supposedly righteous people who are actually terrible sinners; they just won’t admit it. Instead, they are sitting, questioning, and grumbling because the true King threatens their perceived power.
What they needed, and what we need, is a humble acknowledgment of our sin. That is the beginning step to building faith. Trust Jesus with your life! Have you done that today? Jesus is calling to you, “follow me.” He is whispering to our hearts. He challenges the Pharisees again and makes it very clear:
And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled […] And Jesus answered them, “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.” (Luke 5:30-32, ESV)
Yes. Sinners need to come to repentance. They need to humbly acknowledge their sin and turn from wicked ways to Jesus. Commentator Mike McKinley captures it correctly: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. The question is not whether Jesus is able to save, but whether we are able truly to confess our need of him.”
Why won’t you confess your sin? Why is it so hard to tell Jesus you need him? We need him. Let’s let him astonish our hearts and build our faith in 2024 and beyond! When we do that, we will be ready to leaving everything and follow Jesus.