Summary: Introduction to the man named Levi the tax collector, converted at the call of Christ and named Matthew
Turn to Matthew 9:9
I have decided to preach through the New Testament starting this year, if I can. Well, the first book in the New Testament is Matthew. I do not want to begin in chapter one, we will eventually. But I want to begin with the disciple named Matthew.
In our passage this morning we see Jesus’ call to the man called Matthew. In other places he is called Levi. When a person was taken to serve a new master, the new master often gave that individual a new name. If you read the account in the Old Testament of the subjection of Israel by Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar gave the king of Israel a new name. Jesus gave Cepheus the name Peter, and he probably gave Levi the name Matthew. To show that Levi had a new master. To show that Levi was no longer the tax collector, the kind of man he had been before, but was changed by his encounter with Christ.
We take this out of the Gospel of Matthew because it is Matthew’s own story. There is something there, even though the narrative is so short. We have here only five verses, and yet, these verses say much. We have in this man Levi an illustration of every one of us, at one time or another. And so as we begin lets turn to and read Matthew 9:9
Jesus saw a man.
Matthew 9:9 (NKJV)
As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, "Follow Me." So he arose and followed Him.
In Mark we have a parallel passage in which Matthew is named Levi.
Mark 2:14 (NKJV)
As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, "Follow Me." So he arose and followed Him.
Luke also names Matthew Levi. Matthew was most likely not too proud of Levi, the man he had been, and preferred Matthew, the man he had become.
This is Matthew's personal testimony. Now, just imagine him sitting and writing own personal experience. As a tax collector, he was a man bitterly opposed, talked and gossiped about and hated, not by just a few, but by everyone. His place in Jewish society was non-existent, as a tax collector, most Jewish tax collectors, were so detested that they were classified with the worst of sinners. They collected the tax for the Roman conquerors. They became wealthy by extortion. So wealthy that they were able to own large houses, large enough to handle a huge crowd and a large feast. They were immoral, unjust, money-hungry, and worldly-minded. They cared more for possessions and wealth than for people. Through the years they had become unloving, hard, difficult, bitter-and worst of all, without love, purpose, meaning, and significance in life. There is, of course, so much more; yet Matthew covers all this in these few simple verses. What is so heart-warming and touching is that Matthew shares his own personal conversion in one simple verse, and then he moves on to share how Jesus came to save sinners such as himself. If you were to turn to Luke 19, you would find the story of another tax collector’s conversion, one Zacchaeus. In that story we see the actions of the man after his conversion. But, in Matthew’s own story, he does not talk about himself nor about the details of his sin and shame nor his actions of repentance, but He does lifts up Jesus and the glorious salvation Jesus came to bring. He emphasizes not his own conversion, but the fact that Jesus came to save all tax collectors and sinners such as himself. Jesus "saw a man," a sinner who needed a savior.
The people saw not a man, but Levi, a tax collector for the Romans. They hated him and all other tax collectors. But, Jesus saw the man, Levi, and in him was the man Matthew. Jesus "saw a man". Jesus saw where he was sitting and what he was doing. He saw everything about him. Jesus saw his heart, Jesus saw his mind, Jesus saw his pain, Jesus saw his loneliness, Jesus saw his lack of purpose and meaning in life, Jesus "saw a man," a man who needed a Savior.
We were all Levi’s. Jesus saw our heart, Jesus saw our mind, Jesus saw our pain, Jesus saw our loneliness, Jesus saw our lack of purpose and meaning in life, Jesus "saw a person," a person who needed a Savior.
Jesus called the man. For Levi, Jesus dramatically said, "Follow me." It must have been very forceful and to the point. It seems that there were to be no questions asked, no hesitations, no buts, no allowances, no half-heartedness, no delayed decision. It was forceful and to the point. Levi was to follow immediately without hesitating. It was immediate and total commitment or nothing.