Most of us walk around with labels attached to our lives. Some of these labels were attached to us by our parents others were attached in seasons of personal failure or by unresolved fears that currently inhabit our lives. We will live out the false identity of these labels unless they are removed and new ones are attached.
When I was a little boy I can still remember some of the labels that were put on me by the kids at school. Some of these labels were hurtful. Most had to do with my appearance or my inability to perform in some athletic event. These labels have an ability to cling to our lives well into adulthood unless we let God remove them and replace them with a label that reveals how He sees us.
One day Jesus called a man named Levi to get up from his tax collector’s booth and follow Him. The story is revealed in Mark 2: 13-17.
13 “Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. 15 Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) 16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum? 17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
Jesus liked to hang out with what some people called “scum.” His love was radical. He purposefully positioned His life to be near those whom the culture might reject.
According to Jesus, spiritually “sick” people, like the Pharisees, didn’t see their illness. People like the tax collectors and disreputable sinners saw their need and were drawn to the Great Physician for healing.
The sickness of the Pharisees was thinking they had it all together. They felt they had arrived and had nothing more to learn. They perceived their mission in life was to label people so they could distance themselves from the “scum” and live out their warped sense of self-righteousness.
Those who gathered at Levi’s home realized Jesus had something to offer beyond the imprisoning labels placed on them by the Pharisees. They would soon be re-labeled by Jesus.
When Jesus told Levi to follow Him, Jesus was inviting Levi into an undiscovered destiny. Following Jesus would move Levi away from old labels towards something new that he would discover by simply being with Jesus.
In some ways, I think our understanding of discipleship today is too process-oriented. Our current models of discipleship are many times more about gaining knowledge and accumulating ministry skills at the expense of having an encounter with Jesus.
The discipleship process of Jesus gave people permission to peel off old labels of sin and dishonor and then paste on God’s label of a new identity. God’s label reveals newness and invites us to something we never thought possible while living under the influence of an unrighteous label.
When Jesus asked Levi to follow Him He was asking Levi to come and watch. Watch how Jesus dealt with the identity of the woman at the well. Watch how Jesus talked to Zaccheus. Watch how Jesus dialogued with legalists. Watch how the woman caught in adultery would be told, “Go your way (into a new destiny) and sin no more.” Watching Jesus offered the disciples another way to live.
As we follow Jesus, we will come across places in our lives that need re-labeling. We can continue to live under the “scum” label or choose to peel it off, even in the middle of circumstances where we have yielded to our personal brokenness. Once the old label is peeled off through confession and repentance, we can then attach the new God-label to our lives and begin living forward into the personal destiny God has planned.
I am going to preach this text on Sunday. This morning, I called Mary, our Office Coordinator, and asked if the church had a label-maker. She said we did and I asked her to set it aside for me. On Sunday, I want to walk through our sanctuary and re-label people. I’m going to create some new labels like, “Beloved”, “Hopeful” and “Joyful”, and hand them out to people as a sermon illustration.
I am also hoping that some of you reading this today will reevaluate the labels you are living under and make sure they are from God. If a label is not from God, peel it off and throw it away and ask the Holy Spirit to give you a new one.