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Summary: During the first year of Jesus’ ministry, and while He was in Galilee, and shortly after the calling of Peter, James and John, Jesus’ invitated a tax collector by the name of Matthew to be a disciple.

The Calling of a Tax Collector

Luke 5:27-5:32

Introduction

Today, we are going to look at Jesus’ invitation to a tax collector by the name of Matthew to be a disciple. This event takes place during the first year of Jesus’ ministry, and while He was in Galilee, and shortly after the calling of Peter, James and John. This is all that we can say with confidence. No location is given, but since Jesus was around the Sea of Galilee and the text does not record Him leaving that area; it is logical to assume that He is still in that area.

Tax collectors did not have booths in small towns or villages and many of the towns in the general area were somewhat small. This would leave Capernaum as the most logical choice for the location of this event, but it is not certain by this text where Jesus is during the event. Let me read to you Luke’s account of what happened—

27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him,

28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.

30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and `sinners’?"

31 Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Here we have the record of The Calling of Matthew, whose name is also Levi. We read that “After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus said to him.” Jesus is continuing to call His disciples, and He is adding to the early leadership of this group. He calls a tax collector named Levi to be a part of the disciples. This is the Hebrew name for Matthew, and it means, “Gift of the Lord.” He was the only tax collector among the early disciples.

The act of calling a tax collector into His followers was seen as an act of insanity but Jesus saw the potential in Levi. Allow me to elaborate a little on the job of tax collector and you’ll see why they were disliked by the Jews. They were under the authority of the cruel king, Herod Antipas. In Jesus’ day, land and poll taxes were collected directly by Roman officials, but taxes on transported goods were contracted out to local collectors. Matthew was such a person, or else he was in the service of one. These middlemen paid an agreed-upon sum in advance to the Roman officials for the right to collect taxes in an area. Their profit came from the excess they could squeeze from the people. The Jewish people hated these tax collectors not only for their corruption, but also because they worked for and with the despised Romans. Tax collectors were ranked with murderers and robbers, and a Jew was permitted to lie to them if necessary. The attitude found in the gospels is similar. Tax collectors are lumped together with harlots, Gentiles, and, most often, sinners. They were as offensive to Jews for their economic and social practices as lepers were for their uncleanness, and both were excluded from the people of God.

So, what type of man was Matthew? He was probably corrupt and his only friends would have been other tax collectors. But when Jesus called him, Levi’s answer to Jesus was immediate. We are told in verse 28—.

28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

Jesus calls this tax collector out of his booth to follow Him and Levi immediately leaves his booth and follows Jesus. Levi becomes one of the most central figures in early Christianity and one of the greatest early witnesses for Jesus Christ. His written account of the life of Jesus has been one of the cornerstones of the New Testament and he was saved from a life that would have surely destroyed him.

Jesus saw the potential for greatness and change in Levi. And Levi responded to Jesus, for choosing him, by Celebrating with a banquet. We are told, “Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house.” In response, Levi throws a large banquet for Jesus in his home and invites his friends to share in this new found joy. Once again, that was probably other tax collectors. This was indeed cause for celebration and Levi knew it.

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