9) And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.
10) And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.
11) And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
12) But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
13) But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.Matthew 9:9-13 (KJV)
There is much to learn by reading and studying instances where Jesus called specific people to follow Him. This passage describes the calling of Matthew, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles. Before becoming an apostle Matthew was a publican or tax collector.
Here Matthew recounts his calling in his gospel. Mark 2:13-17 and Luke 5:27-32 also describe his call. While each of the gospels is true by themselves, and while neither contradicts each other at all, I recommend studying each of the three accounts of Matthew’s calling. The harmony between the various accounts paints a wonderfully full rendering of the scene.
It is paramount to pay close attention to the location of Matthew’s call. Geography is essential to Biblical narratives since all Biblical events took place in real places in real history. There is much insight to gain when we study the geography of the Bible.“Geography is essential to Biblical narratives since all Biblical events took place in real places in real history.”
At this time Jesus was teaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This is the “sea side” that Mark refers to. (Mk. 2:13 KJV) Specifically, Jesus was near the north shore. This is because Matthew’s seat of custom (a toll booth where he collected tributes/taxes for Rome) was located in Capernaum, which sat along the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Matthew was in the service of Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. Because his customs house was located in Capernaum it was situated along a busy and prosperous thoroughfare known in antiquity as, the Via Maris. The Latin translation of this ancient trade route meant, “Way of the Sea”. It connected Damascus at the north to Egypt in the south and still exists today.
As such, Matthew’s customs house would have generated considerable amounts of income for Rome and themselves from all of the traffic along the Via Maris. This is why, as we will see later, Matthew was able to hold a grand feast for Jesus, the disciples and his friends.
A corrupt profession
At the time, Rome commissioned local inhabitants to be tax collectors as public contractors. The administrative network this established made the logistics of taxation easier for Rome to manage.
Tax collecting was a lucrative enterprise for many publicans. They were known for increasing prices above the minimum required by Rome, which they would then take for themselves.
Rome was not bothered by this as long as riots did not result from their actions. Rome gave a lot of freedom under those they controlled as long as things remained stable.
Nevertheless, the general public despised publicans for their corruption and Matthew was no exception. He would have charged more than was necessary each day just to pad his salary.
In fact, Matthew would have been even more disliked than usual because he was from the tribe of Levi. Mark tells us that his real name before he followed Jesus was Levi the son of Alphaeus. (Mk. 2:14 KJV)
He was and would have been seen as not only betraying locals and travelers but, also, his heritage through his occupation. Couple this with the fact that his booth was situated at such a busy locale and you have a recipe for tremendous dislike.
What is interesting is that this was most likely not Jesus’ first encounter with Matthew. Jesus and Mary lived in Capernaum after leaving Nazareth. In addition, Peter was called in Capernaum and Jesus performed many miracles there, as well. Jesus probably paid tribute at Matthew’s post before and surely Matthew at the very least would have heard of Jesus.
God’s word is the power unto salvation (Rom. 1:16 KJV) and Matthew obeyed and answered the gospel call. In all three gospels that mention Matthew’s calling all that Jesus said was, “Follow me” and that is all that He ever needs to say, that’s the gospel.
Jesus’ call is powerful, He is the Word. (Jn. 1:1 KJV) He saves with words and spoke creation into being with words. “Follow me” was all He needed to say to Matthew to change his life.
These two words, no doubt, stirred Matthew to allegiance to Christ. I believe that at that instant Matthew got up (especially if he had known of Jesus before) and surrendered.
However, Jesus’ call here was not simply for Matthew to follow Him to the sea to be taught with the crowd. It was a call to follow Him forevermore. This is why Luke tells us that Matthew “left all” and followed Jesus. (Lk. 5:28 KJV) Matthew made up his mind to follow Jesus at that moment.
Later Matthew hosted a reception at his house for Jesus and His disciples. Also in attendance were his colleagues (publicans) and other associates (sinners). (Mk. 2:15 KJV)
The Pharisees and their scribes took notice of the event. In their religiosity they found Jesus’ association with the sinners and publicans to be contemptible. They “murmured” (Lk. 5:30 KJV) as they often did and asked the disciples why Jesus was eating with such people.
Notice that the Pharisees asked the disciples why Jesus was eating with publicans and sinners. They did not go directly to Jesus and ask Him. They knew what they were doing. They were trying once again to trap Jesus, discredit Him, and to stir up strife.“…self-righteousness will not get anyone into heaven. Only the acknowledgment of sinfulness from those willing to admit their true condition will lead to salvation by the forgiveness of sins through grace alone.”
Sadly, we do this often too. We murmur and stir up trouble instead of going to the only people that can make situations better.
Jesus, however, did not wait for the disciples to answer. Instead, He, as a perfect leader, took responsibility and addressed their concerns to protect the disciples. The Pharisees tried to put the disciples in the middle, to cause trouble, but Jesus did not allow it.
Jesus responded to them with one of His most famous statements: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick…for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matt. 9:12-13 KJV)
Jesus outlined the critical Biblical doctrine that self-righteousness will not get anyone into heaven. Only the acknowledgment of sinfulness from those willing to admit their true condition will lead to salvation by the forgiveness of sins through grace alone.
Matthew knew he was a sinner and a corrupt one at that. It’s amazing how many ways God uses us for His glory. He used Matthew as a way to teach doctrine. Matthew was not even aware. He was just hosting a feast to give God the glory for what He had done in his life and so that others may hear Jesus’ gospel.
As Christians, we must never shy away from those who “appear” to be “more sinful” than others. The gospel is for all and we are all sinners. (Rom. 3:23 KJV) We all need salvation.
We have seen the overall account of Matthew’s calling. Now there are some specific and vital lessons to learn from the calling of Matthew that I want to turn our attention to next.
3 things we can learn from Matthew’s calling
1. Matthew gave up everything
The calling of Matthew demonstrates how each person, when they follow Jesus, must leave their old way of life behind in exchange for a new life in Jesus.
While we must still reside in this world, we are not to follow its wicked ways. (Rom. 12:2 KJV) We must give up those things that cause us to stumble and that run counter to God’s commands and holiness. (Eph 4:17 KJV) We are to present our bodies a holy sacrifice as we set our minds on things above. (Rom. 12:1 KJV, Col. 3:2 KJV)
It is fascinating to compare Matthew’s calling with that of the rich young ruler who, unlike Matthew, refused to leave behind his wealth for Jesus. (Matt. 19:21 KJV) “All men after their own self-interest are not after God’s interest.”
Understand, money is not evil, it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. (I Tim. 6:10 KJV) However, for Matthew, much of his finances were obtained through unethical means, and his monetary corruption laid at the heart of his life.
He could not serve God and wealth. (Matt. 6:24 KJV) For Matthew, it was not serving Rome that was dishonorable, it was his corruption. He was taking money for himself, he was selfish, he was serving wealth, as well as himself. All men after their own self-interest are not after God’s interest. (Phil 2:21 KJV)
Matthew also gave up his name. He changed it to Matthew, which means “the gift of Jehovah.” He realized that gaining the world would not profit him anything. (Mk. 8:36 KJV)
Instead, like Paul, he counted all things as loss for the knowledge of Jesus. (Phil 3:8 KJV) Matthew truly, as Luke points out, “left all” and followed Jesus. (Lk. 5:28 KJV)
2. Matthew took action
Matthew “rose up” to follow Jesus. (Lk. 5:28 KJV) He physically left his old life behind and we must do the same. You cannot meet Jesus halfway; you must give up the former for the new. You have to decide to follow Jesus and then act on that decision.
When Jesus bids us to follow, it implies just that; we have to walk behind and with Jesus forevermore. We cannot stay seated at our own customs houses to serve God.
Like Lazarus in the tomb, Jesus calls us, “out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (I Pet. 2:9 KJV) Matthew’s sin and corruption kept him in darkness but Jesus called Him out of the darkness. He does the same thing for all who will trust Him as savior and repent of their sins.
3. Matthew was fruitful
Matthew’s reception is one of my favorite gatherings in scripture. It was really, as Luke tells us, a “feast”, which Matthew himself prepared. (Lk. 5:29 KJV)
Matthew was excited to share his newfound faith in Jesus with those he knew and went out of his way to make the gathering special. The guests were fellow publicans and sinners who Matthew knew. After following Jesus, however, he viewed them differently. He saw them as sinners and knew that they badly needed the same salvation that Jesus gave him.
Matthew knew the guests were all sick and in need of a healer. He used his status to bring others to Jesus. What the enemy meant for evil (Matthew’s corruption), God used for good. He was not afraid to share the gospel.“We need to be cognizant of the fact that our circles are a special and unique field waiting to be harvested for the gospel.”
The variety of those whom Jesus calls on is not only astounding but it also helps bring even more unique people into the fold of His church. We need to be cognizant of the fact that our circles are a special and unique field waiting to be harvested for the gospel.
“If not us then who?” must be our motto. For someone wealthy like Matthew, he had the means to host many people at his home and he had clout with his colleagues. As a result, they were more apt to listen to Jesus after being introduced to Him by Matthew himself than by anyone else.
Matthew bore fruit for the gospel right away. His greatest legacy, however, is his beloved gospel. Matthew’s gospel is unique in that it is tailored specifically to Jewish audiences. It is also unique in that it points out the kingdom of God to great effect.
Ultimately, the great concern that Matthew showed at the party, for those he knew best, was also a defining feature of his gospel and it has changed countless lives since he first wrote it.
Matthew’s calling is a great account of scripture. In the end, we see one of Jesus’ most uplifting and vital teachings: that He came to save sinners, which is you, me, and everyone.
Jesus was more than pleased to “sit with sinners” at Matthew’s house, and even though Jesus does not come with us physically to those we witness to today, He is right there spiritually.
When we sit with sinners and share the gospel Jesus is right there with us, just like it was at Matthew’s house. He is always more than happy to join us!
Who in your life could only be introduced to Jesus by you? Will you sit with them today?