Summary: Matthew is highly regarded these days by Christians because of how powerful his gospel is. But he wasn't always loved. He had a label "tax collector" that made him hated. Why would Jesus a man like him to be a disciple?
OPEN: Back in 2002, a newspaper in Massachusetts had this classified ad: “Unknown item for sale. We know it’s valuable; we just don’t know what it is. If you can identify it, we’ll sell it for $250.” (Reader’s Digest 9/02 p. 145)
The Bible is a collection of stories where God knew why people were valuable even though we might not understand why. There are people we might discard because those folks had LABELS which were dismissive of their worth as individuals.
This month we’re going to be focusing on people in the New Testament who were given LABELS” that might make us dismiss them as having value to God… or to us. There was Simon the Zealot; James and John, The Sons of Thunder; Doubting Thomas; And of course today – Matthew (Levi) the Tax Collector.
When we think of Matthew, we think of the Gospel that bears his name. It’s the FIRST of the four Gospels, and it’s unique for a number of reasons. The Gospel starts out by giving us the Genealogy of Jesus; It introduces us to Joseph being told not to divorce Mary because what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit; It’s the only Gospel to tell us about the Wisemen from the East and the star that led them to the house where they lived in Bethlehem; and it’s in Matthew that we read the Sermon on the Matthew and read what is called the “Lord’s Prayer.”
And that’s just the first 7 chapters!!!
The focus of Matthew’s Gospel was to convince the Jewish people that Jesus was the Messiah. To do that, Matthew quoted from the Old Testament 99 times (from 14 different Old Testament books). Matthew quoted more from the Old Testament more than Mark, Luke & John … combined. (Derek Geldart)
You see, if Matthew hadn’t written his Gospel we’d have missed out on a lot about what we know of Jesus. And Because the Gospel of Matthew has been so central to our understanding of Jesus, the church has of often held this Apostle (Matthew) in high regard. This little collage of how artists have portrayed him (I created a meme with 3 portrayals of Matthew online) and kind of gives you an idea of how much respect he’s had.
But, Matthew didn’t always get that kind of respect. At one time, Matthew was universally hated by just about everybody in Israel. In our passage this morning we read that (Jesus) “went out and saw a tax collector named Levi (Matthew’s other name), sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, "Follow me." And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"
As far as many in Israel were concerned, there were sinners… and then there was a special class of sinners called tax collectors. Tax collectors were hated for two reasons:
1) They were traitors… they worked for the Romans – and the Jews hated Rome. these tax collectors collected the taxes that were required by Rome. So essentially, the tax collectors were seen as folks who had SOLD OUT to the occupiers of their land.
ILLUS: One man described how despised these tax collectors were:
Hundreds of people walked by where Matthew had his booth. They hated him, and under their breath they called him a “Roman dog”. When they looked at him, they saw a “monster” that had betrayed his people for profit, and was rich because he cheated them out of their money. (John Lowe)
Matthew had betrayed his people for profit…
2) But that last statement pointed out the other reason tax collectors were hated. People felt that Matthew had cheated them out of their money. Tax Collectors made their living by adding a “fee” on top of the tax. The fee was all their’s. It could be as little… or as much as the collector wanted, and there wasn’t a thing anyone could do about it. You didn’t argue with the representative of Rome. It wasn’t healthy!
So, Matthew was hated by virtually everybody who knew him. And yet Jesus selected this vile and disgusting man to be one of His 12 disciples. Jesus chose a man with the LABEL – “tax collector” – to be His follower.
Why would He do that? Well, He did that… because that’s what Jesus does. Jesus chooses the outcasts of this world to be His followers
ILLUS: I recently read an intriguing meme on FB by a man named Sinclair Ferguson: “It is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather, He accepts us DESPITE the way we are. He receives us only IN Jesus and for Christ’s sake. Nor does He mean to leave us the way He found us. But to transform us into the likeness of His Son.”