What does God see?
Matthew 9: 9-13
Sunday 5th September 2021
George Methodist Church
8am and 10am
Having a son called Matthew makes me very excited and enthusiatic to share a few thoughts on the book of Matthew – gift from God.
One of the most incredible things that Jesus does is to choose his disciples from a wide variety of personalities and giftings and he causes a great stir within his small group of followers when Matthew is added to their number.
When Jesus called Matthew to follow him, he was a tax collector (or “publican”)—one of the most reviled professions in ancient Judaism. But what does God see???
So often we will judge someone before we have any idea as to who they are or where they have come from. It’s clearly and biblically not our job to judge anyone by the way.
Why did Jesus pick Matthew? Why did Jesus pick a rich man to be His disciple? The answer is not found in Matthew’s wealth, because Luke says that he left everything.
And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him. Luke 5:28 (NASB)
Matthew left the tax booth, his employees, and the money. How many of us would walk away from our jobs in order to follow Jesus? Would you? What did Jesus see in Matthew? The answer is surprising. Jesus did not see a rich tax collector. Jesus looked past his occupation and saw a man who had the heart to follow after God. He picked someone everybody else would reject. He saw a man who was teachable and would some day be a great apostle for the cause and glory for God. He saw a man who some day would die as a martyr in Ethiopia for Him.
As we just learned in the passages above (Matthew 9:9, Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27–28), Matthew was a tax collector, or a publican—someone who was contracted by the Roman government to collect taxes. As a Jew, stepping into this profession was essentially an act of betrayal to his people.
Tax collectors had very little accountability. They’d be told to collect a specified amount of money, but they could tell people they owed a different amount, and they had no power to dispute it. Tax collectors earned a reputation for telling people they owed more than they did and pocketing the difference. To the Jews, tax collectors were the embodiment of sin.
It appears that Jesus was looking for Levi all along when He finds him in a tax booth. The tax booth was not a shaky four-sided wood frame with large openings on each side. History tells us that the tax booth stood high above the ground. It was more like a life-guard station on a beach designed to help the tax collector see boats and people coming and going. The tax collector could then approach the individual or individuals and collect taxes. The tax booth was located along a major commercial trade route which connected Damascus and the Mediterranean Sea.
When tax collectors came to be baptized by John the Baptist, they said, “Teacher, what shall we do?” and he told them: “Collect no more than you are authorized to do” (Luke 3:12–13).
Interestingly, Mark and Luke don’t explicitly label the disciple Matthew as a tax collector—we have to infer that Levi the tax collector (Mark 3:18 and Luke 6:15) is the disciple named Matthew. The Gospel of Matthew leaves little room for confusion though: he’s called “the tax collector” in the list of disciples:
Little is known about this apostle. Aside from a handful of mentions in the gospels, he’s a surprisingly obscure New Testament figure. And despite the fact that the church has long considered him the author of the Gospel of Matthew, little else was ever recorded about him.
While Matthew is honored as a martyr, no one knows for sure where or how he died. Various accounts say he was beheaded, stoned, burned, or stabbed—one even suggests he died of natural causes like John.
There are legends about his ministry, but no substantial records of his role in the early church.
So what do we really know about him? We’re going to look at what the Bible says about Matthew, what we know about the gospel that bears his name, and some other tidbits about this enigmatic apostle.
Who was Matthew in the Bible?
Virtually everything we really know about Matthew comes directly from the gospels. He’s mentioned in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and listed among the disciples in Acts. But that’s it. Including parallel passages, there are just seven mentions of him in the entire Bible. Only one (and its parallels) gives us any substantial details about him.
Also known as Levi
Matthew, Mark, and Luke have parallel accounts of Jesus calling a tax collector to become a disciple. Interestingly, Matthew calls this person Matthew, and Mark and Luke call him Levi:
“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.” —Matthew 9:9
“As he 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.” —Mark 2:14
“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, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.” —Luke 5:27–28
These accounts so closely parallel each other that it’s hard to imagine they aren’t speaking of the same person.
There are several possible explanations for this difference. Some argue that Levi was this person’s tribal name—meaning he belonged to the tribe of Levi—and that Matthew was a more personal name. Others suggest this person was originally named Levi, but that Jesus called him Matthew (similar to Simon, who Jesus named Peter). And it’s also possible that it’s simply a matter of him having a Greek name (Matthew) and a Hebrew name (Levi), like how the Apostle Paul was also known by Saul.
A “sinner” but God sees potential.
The Bible says we’re all sinners (Romans 3:23), but in ancient Judaism, the label was reserved for the worst of the worst—like tax collectors.
Tax collectors were sinners by trade, lying and cheating their way into riches and robbing from even the poorest among their people. They were religious outsiders, because the way they practiced their profession openly defied the Law of Moses. The richer they were, the worse they were assumed to be.
After Jesus calls him, Matthew hosts a gathering at his house, and as he and his unsavory companions dine with Jesus, the Pharisees ask why Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:11).
“On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” —Matthew 9:12
By calling Matthew, Jesus was proclaiming that no one would be excluded from his movement—not even those society considered irredeemable.
God sees An eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry – he has a party and invites his sinner friends.
Matthew has a banquet and invites his sinner friends to come. The greek shows clearly that it’s more than just a meal –
Matthew responded by holding an expensive party.
And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. Mark 2:15 (NASB)
The Greek word for “reception” that Luke uses (Luke 5:29) reveals that this was a huge feast and a very expensive one. Apparently, Matthew had invited his other friends: tax collectors and sinners. Maybe they were the only ones who would spend time with him, since the Jews would have nothing to do with tax collectors. Jesus and His disciples were also there. We are told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke that they reclined at the table. It would be like lying down on a sofa on your side while eating. This was a great party for all of his friends.
But why did Matthew have a party? Luke provides the answer to this nagging question when he says,
And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house . . . Luke 5:29 (NASB)
Matthew gave the big party for Jesus! It was a party to introduce his friends to Jesus.
Finally, someone asked Jesus why He was eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners.
And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17 (NASB)
Jesus told them that those who are well do not need a doctor. Only those who are sick really need one. Men and women are not any different today. There are those today who do not know that they are spiritually sick. Many of the Jewish religious leaders considered themselves to be spiritually well. Jesus’ message is clear. He did not come for them because they would not accept His message. He came for those who would respond.
The scribes did not care about the spiritual condition of the men and women at Matthew’s party, but Jesus did. Matthew adds these words to the end of his record,
But go and learn what this means: “I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,” for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Matthew 9:13 (NASB)
Besides this, Matthew gives Peter a good deal of positive attention in his gospel. It’s possible that out of respect, friendship, or deference, Matthew used Peter’s account for consistency’s sake.
Matthew is considered one of the “Four Evangelists.” This is a title reserved for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—the traditional authors of the four gospels. It comes from the Greek word evangelion, meaning “good news.” These four writers proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ with their writings.
The illustration of a converted Hell’s Angel who then invites us as a church to his home for a party !!!
God sees the storyteller.The greatest story ever told!!!
As a tax collector, Matthew’s job would’ve involved meticulously recording and documenting tax information. Some argue that Jesus referred to him in Matthew 13:52, because his job would’ve technically made him fit the description of “scribe.”
They call it the kingdom gospel and it really identifies the connection between the old testament story and the story of the Messiah. Prophetic promises fulfilled and the purpose of His life – The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Moses – Egypt, through the waters and then ministry and deliverence to promise. Five books of the Torah in Matthew – The arrival of the kingdom and God’s rescue plan for the whole world.
Beatitudes and sermon on the Mount – all are called to turn.
The kingdom in reality – 9 stories – three groups of three stories.
How to announce the kingdom and what to expect.
The stories and responses in the book.
The parables – commentary.
That said, yes, Matthew could technically be called a scribe—but probably not as it’s often used in the Bible.
What does God see and what do we need to see?
- An eyewitness to others.
- A story teller for the future.
Your potential is found in what God sees in you.
For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. 2 Chronicles 16:9