Summary: By calling Matthew as one of His disciples Jesus demonstrates His great love for sinners and His willingness to meet them where they are at – not where they should be. As disciples of Jesus was are called to have the same attitude.
Matthew – a transformed tax collector
Matthew 9:9-13 (text)
When you hear a name you often associate an image with that name.
If I told you that someone named their pet dog “Butch” – you would have a certain picture in mind wouldn’t you. But when you know that “Butch” is a clipped poodle – there is a sort of disappointment isn’t there.
Or what if there was a man at work who told you that his daughter’s nick-name was “princess”. “What does princess look like?” you ask. If princess was sitting in the dirt covered in mud and no shoes – well again you might be somewhat disappointed.
Now let’s take that same analogy and apply it to Matthew. When we do so we can be certain that Matthew the tax-collector was a disappointment – a real disappointment to his parents. How do we know this? Matthew’s decision to follow Jesus is recorded in three different Bible books. And in the other books Matthew has another name.
As Jesus walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. "Follow me," Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed Him.
Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed Him.
People know him now as Matthew ... Dad and Mum called him Levi.
Levi was the priestly tribe. They were set aside to conduct the worship of the LORD and to give spiritual service to Israel. Matthew’s father was in the priestly line … so was his grandfather … and great grandfather. From childhood, Matthew Levi would have been trained for the day he would enter into this same holy work.
As a young boy Matthew was destined to give great service for the LORD. But it didn’t work out that way.
At some point in early adulthood his heart wandered from the ways of God.
He disgraced his family and his heritage.
His life turned from serving the LORD to serving self.
That is what you had to do to be a tax-collector.
Tax collectors were a family disgrace because they worked for the Romans … local Jews working to raise finances for the enemy ... that is how they were seen. In fact you actually had to buy the right to collect tax in a certain area. Your fellow Jews treated you as a traitor. And if they wouldn’t pay ... well all you had to do was threaten to report a person to the Roman soldiers. No-one liked the tax-collector.
Tax collectors were also cheats. They didn’t care about God and honesty – they were only interested in serving self and they had many inventive ways to extract money from people.
• Production tax … one tenth of the crop.
• Income tax … one percent of a man’s wage.
• Poll tax … that’s a tax for being alive … one denarii a year.
• Purchase tax … basically a GST.
• Road use tax … an ancient road toll.
Then there were the under-the-table expenses … like extortion money and bribes. The hate they endured was sometimes justified.
Tax collectors … they had a public image problem. In Jewish society a tax collector was seen as a religious and social outcast.
As a young boy Matthew was destined to give great service for the LORD. Matthew the tax-collector was a disappointment.
A source of family embarrassment and shame.
A collaborator with the Roman enemy.
A traitor that sucked people dry because of his greed.
A man who had intense social and religious prejudice against him.
BUT NOW ... Matthew is in the sight of Jesus and Jesus is going to call him to become one of the founding apostles of the church.
As we see Jesus walking to Matthew we see a Saviour whose ministry partners can include anyone from any background.
The back slidden.
The morally corrupt.
The socially unacceptable.
The people your parents warn you about.
Those who you would never think to invite into your home.
Jesus includes them all. Why? Because Jesus loves “sinners”.
That sounds a little strange doesn’t it … but listen well. I didn’t say Jesus loves “sin”; He abhors it … He came to defeat it. But Jesus loves sinners. If Jesus didn’t love sinners, there wouldn’t be room in the kingdom for the likes of you and me. We would all be left out in the cold … actually … we would all be left to suffer in the fiery torment of hell.
That says a lot about the focus of the ministry of Jesus.
Jesus’ ministry is a ministry of reconciliation … because we would never come to Jesus of our own free choice. Our hearts and minds are so bound by our own desires ... and our own goals ... and our own plans ... that we can’t even see the need for accepting a Saviour … unless that Saviour taps us on the shoulder and says, “I’m here … welcome to My family”. Jesus brings us back to where we belong … a ministry of reconciliation.