Summary: The first book of the New-Testament, The Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew – The Sinner a.k.a. Matthew - The Tax Collector.
When we turn to Matthew, we turn to the book which may well be called the most important single document of the Christian faith, for, in it, we have the fullest and the most systematic account of the life and the teachings of Jesus.
- William Barclay
Often we dwell on the many writings of Matthew which include, the sermon on the mount, or parables or miracles of Jesus but we read less on the person who has recorded these events. The writer of Gospel of Matthew was Matthew himself. His Greek name is Matthew and the Hebrew name is Levi. He could have been from the tribe of Levi. He was a tax collector in Capernaum when Jesus called him.
During Jesus’ time, tax collectors or publicans were hated and treated as social outcasts. They were notorious for their unlawful acts because they favored the Romans by collecting taxes from their own countrymen. The law protectors of that time made a provision that it was not a sin to lie to Publicans because they were highly dishonest, arrogant and indulged in extravagant lifestyle. They were all condemned men who did not have any access to the holy temple of God. The tax collectors were categorized as sinners (Matthew 9:10,11) and Matthew - The Tax Collector came from the lowest section of the society who had absolutely no inherent goodness other than being called a sinner.
So, the first book of the New-Testament, The Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew – The Sinner a.k.a. Matthew - The Tax Collector.
Though Matthew meticulously captures all the details about Jesus, he mentions about himself only in two instances.
(Matthew 9:9) - Jesus uttered only two words ‘Follow Me’ and it was enough for Matthew to follow Jesus. It could be that he must have read in the scriptures about the Messiah and heard about Jesus’ miracles. So when Jesus fixed his gaze on him, he must have sensed the divine power and authority like never before that caused him to immediately obey and follow Jesus. Luke in (Luke 5:28) records that Matthew left everything and followed Jesus though Matthews in his own writings never mentions that he left everything to follow Jesus. This speaks about his modest behavior and following Jesus has a greater significance than just obeying or listening to his teachings.
(Matthew 9:10) – A great feast was organized so that many other tax collectors could hear about Jesus. In Luke’s account (Luke 5:29) it is clear that they all gathered in Matthew’s house. This explains about the zeal that Matthew had to lead his fellow sinners to the forgiving disposition of the Master.
(Matthew 10:3)- In the list comprising the names of the disciples, Matthew was not hesitant to identify himself as the tax-collector or in other words to be called as Matthew – the sinner. Also, on the list, his name is listed 8th in the order which silently speaks of his humility and the desire to remain in obscurity. He does not wish to call attention to himself other than identifying himself as a tax-collector.
The name Matthew means – gift of the Lord. In Mark 2:14 and also in Luke’s account, he was called as Levi. The name Levi means – to cling or join. True to his name, he led many to be joined or be united with Jesus explaining that the love of Jesus extended even to them.
Matthew was highly educated, a gifted writer who meticulously captured the specifics about Jesus. His Gospel has more than 50 references to the books in the Old Testament prophecies. He referred to 14 books including the five books of law, Psalms, prophecies by Elijah, Hosea, Zechariah, Micah, Daniel, and Ruth. All these explain that he believed with all his heart that Jesus Christ was the Messiah who came to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies. He wanted his fellow Jews to know that Jesus was indeed their Messiah.
LESSONS FOR US
When God gives an opportunity to believe in Him or follow Him, may we all have a heart like Matthew to be obedient to the calling. For the unsaved, the call is to believe in Him and to the saved, it is a calling to follow Him closely and be obedient at all times. A word of caution for not obeying the call is recorded for us in Hebrews 12:17.
The life of Matthew teaches us to be humble and share the Good News to the ends of the earth. A house group or cottage prayer should be a place that transforms a sinner rather than a place of social gathering.
When we follow Jesus, we are blessed a hundred fold. The time invested for God’s work is always added back with enhanced quality and quantity. Matthew 19:29 proves the same.