How well do you know Jesus? We all like to think we know Jesus pretty well. I’ve had close to fifty years of wonderful, sweet communion with Jesus. I’ve devoted over forty years of my life to studying and teaching His Word. I’m talking about going back to the original languages and learning as much as I can about Jewish culture, institutions, and beliefs. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Know-It-All. And you can ask my kids: I’m not inerrant or infallible. But still, knowing what I know, I’d like to think I know Jesus pretty good. To my pleasant surprise, however, I don’t know Jesus as good as I think I do. To this day, He still shows me more about Himself. Here, let me give you some snippets of the Jesus I never knew.


Many of you know Nathanael. He was one of Jesus’ disciples. When our Lord first saw him, Jesus said, Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no guile (John 1:47). Nathanael was a pretty upright fellow. When I think of him I think of someone who’s squeaky clean. Not perfect or sinless by any means. But a cut above the rest. Righteous in every way.

I’ve lived my life pretty much like Nathanael. I walk the straight and narrow. I love the Lord. I’m thankful for all He’s done for me. And I’ve given my life to serving and glorifying Him.

The down side of being a goody two-shoes like me is you start thinking you’re high and mighty and you start looking down on people who aren’t toeing the line. If Nathanael was like me, then here’s how this story might have unfolded.

Hi. My name is Nathanael. I’m honored to be one of Jesus’ earliest disciples. I’m a pious Jew and I don’t make any apologies for that. I love the Lord. I love the Scriptures. And I enjoy living a clean and upright life. I find it so satisfying and gratifying to be faithful and obedient to God. Temptations abound. And it’s so much easier to just give in and live a carnal, sinful life. But sin has never done anything good for me. I found that out early on in life. So I steer clear of sin and live by the Good Book.

Anyways, I’d like to tell you about a time when I was really ignorant, self-righteous, and had major problems with the Lord. We were in Capernaum one day when Jesus decided to take a stroll down by the seaside (Luke 5:27-28). Nothing wrong with that. It’s good exercise and the fresh air works wonders on a body. Jesus headed to the tax booth that was down by the harbor and, to everyone’s shocked surprise, Jesus called the publican to follow Him. The guy’s name was Levi. He also went by the name of Matthew.

Anyway, the guy’s a publican. Do you know anything about publicans? No, they’re not the ancestors of the Republicans. And they weren’t Democrats either! Publicans were tax collectors. They made their living by collecting taxes for the Roman government. The only thing about it was the Romans didn’t pay them to do that. They got their money by charging more tax than what the Emperor actually charged. If the Hot Shot in Rome charged $10 tax on a produce merchant, the publican would charge at least $30! He’d give $10 to the Romans, $10 to his boss the chief publican, then he’d keep the rest for himself. There were no set rates for publicans to follow. Every publican charged however much he wanted to charge. The really greedy ones charged exorbitantly. And since the merchants had no recourse or choice, they paid what was charged. And in so doing, they got robbed and the publicans got rich. Filthy rich.

If there’s any one thing you need to know about publicans, it’s this. They’re crooks! They’re all crooks! Us Jews really hate and detest these guys. They may be Jews. But we hate them because they’re unscrupulous. They’re wicked and vile. Our religious leaders wouldn’t have anything to do with them. Why, they won’t even accept tithes from publicans! That’s how bad our leaders detested these crooks. These guys are bad and we make it our practice to stay as far away from them as possible.

You can imagine how horrified I was when Jesus called a publican to become a disciple. I was ticked! Up to now, all of us disciples were clean, upright Jews. Andrew, Peter, James, John, Philip, and myself, were all honest, hard-working, righteous men. We were upstanding pillars in the community. We got along well because we all believed in hard work and clean, honest living.

Suddenly, without warning or consultation, Jesus brings a publican on the bus. Do you know how bad that makes us look? The guy’s got a reputation. A bad reputation. People don’t like him. And with him on board they’re not going to like us either.  They’re going to wonder if Jesus has lost His marbles.

You know how a politician’s going to be judged by his reputation or past. If he’s got skeletons in his closet, believe me, they’re going to come out no matter how hard the guy tries to keep them hidden. People are going to talk. They’ve got big mouths. And they’ll sink any candidate for office who’s got dirt in his history.

That’s what’s going to happen here. People are going to talk and they’re going to question Jesus’ smarts. Let’s face it. A publican’s bad news. Everyone knows that. We’re going to get flack for that.

The guy threw a big party for the Lord and invited all his publican friends. Well, you guessed right. Like we knew would happen, the Pharisees showed up and excoriated us for the bad choice of company. Everywhere we went it was going to be like this. People just aren’t going to appreciate seeing a publican so close to Jesus.

I tried reasoning with the Lord. We were all concerned about our reputation. About Jesus’ reputation. We didn’t want anyone messing up our reputation. We were out to win the world. But that would be a very hard thing to do as long as we gave people cause or reason to criticize us. I advised Jesus to rethink this decision and let the guy go. But my pleas fell on deaf ears. Jesus wasn’t budging. He let me know in no uncertain terms that the publican was on board to stay. I certainly didn’t agree with the Master. But I had no choice. Grudgingly, I let the publican take his seat on the bus.

The more I followed Jesus the more I understood Him. We’re so wrapped up in what other people think. But I learned that Jesus wasn’t like that. He didn’t care what other people thought or said. He was out to obey the Father and He did that no matter how bad that made Him look.

The  nail that crucified and changed me was this: God often doesn’t think the way I think! Paul said it so well in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29,  For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:  (27)  But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;  (28)  And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:  (29)  That no flesh should glory in his presence. That’s just another way of saying that God doesn’t choose who I would choose.

Turned out, the publican proved us all wrong. More than anyone of us, he worked the hardest to convince our countrymen that Jesus really was the prophesied Messiah. He wrote a Gospel. And, instead of driving a lot of people away from Jesus like we thought he would do, the publican brought them to the Lord.

I’m ever so glad I was wrong about him. I’d hate to think what would have happened if Jesus listened to me and booted the publican off the bus. Christianity wouldn’t be the same. Our Bible wouldn’t be complete without the publican’s Gospel. I thought Jesus was making a big mistake. I flew off the handle when I found out Jesus called a publican. It was bad for publicity. It was a poor reflection on Jesus. Jesus was wrong. Boy was I ever wrong! Just goes to show that God doesn’t make any mistakes in who He chooses. Jesus knew what He was doing all along. I didn’t know. But now I do.

1 Comment

  1. Nancy Ludden said,

    March 28, 2012 at 8:29 PM

    Another good post. Thanks, Gaylord.

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