Matthew is the next New Testament figure we are studying. He is most famously known as one of Jesus’ disciples and the author of the Gospel of Matthew.
According to Matthew 9:9 and 10:3, before Matthew became a disciple of Jesus Christ, he was a tax collector in the town of Capernaum. Matthew was also called Levi, the son of Alphaeus, by Luke and Mark (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27). Although Luke and Mark do not come out and say that Levi and Matthew are the same person, we can see that the names refer to the same individual. Also, Matthew’s account of his call matches exactly the accounts of Levi’s call in Luke and Mark. It was not uncommon for a person to be given a new name after an encounter with God. Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul. It is likely that Matthew, which means “gift of God,” was the new name Jesus gave to Levi after his conversion.
One unique point of observation is that the only gospel that mentions Matthew’s former occupation as a tax collector is his own. This is a mature thing to be willing to share, because as tax collectors, they were absolutely despised in that culture. They worked for the Roman government and often enriched themselves by collecting taxes from their own people. They, all too often, dishonestly collected excessive amounts and took advantage of the lowly (Luke 19:8).
Additionally, tax collectors like Matthew were seen, by the religious elite, as very sinful people. They were seen as being so sinful that even spending time with them could destroy a good person’s reputation (Matthew 9:10–11). One of the accounts we read was when Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house. There were many other tax collectors and sinners present, and the Pharisees questioned the disciples about Jesus’ choice to hang out with them. It is in this that we hear one of Jesus’ clearest explanations of God’s heart and His gospel to man: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick … I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12b–13)
Matthew was one of the tax collectors whom Jesus saved. When called by Jesus, Matthew immediately left his tax collection booth and followed the Lord (Matthew 9:9). In this, he left behind his source of riches and his position of security and comfort. He did this to enter into a life-changing relationship with Jesus that would mean lowly accommodations, lots of travel, and even persecution that would lead to martyrdom. Consider this for a moment with me: The call to follow Jesus is one that is costly. When Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me,” He is saying, “Your service to me will be one of regular sacrifice.” Have you counted the real cost in following Jesus? Are you aware of the ways in which you fight this call of the Lord by holding on too tightly to what you want instead of that to which He has called you?
What an example of the crucified life disciples like Matthew give us. Paul says it well in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Looking back, what have you given up in order to serve and follow Jesus? Looking forward, what do you need to give up? What idol or fleshly pursuit is holding you back from living the crucified life for Jesus?
Let us not forget the amazing transformation God is able to do in His people. Matthew not only received a new name, but he lived a completely different life the remainder of his days. When we give our lives to the Lord, we truly die to ourselves and now love Him. May we be ready to sacrifice it all to take up our cross and follow Jesus to whatever He has for us, for His glory and others’ good!
I remind you of the passage we read on Tuesday. May we see it and receive it in a new light today and for the rest of our lives.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
By His grace and for His glory,
Pastor Joshua Kirstine