“Matthew’s Calling”

Everything we have been saying about Jesus’ authority to forgive sin carries over into the next story, which is why Matthew has included the account of his own calling to be a disciple in Matthew 9. He told about the calling of some of the first disciples earlier. He will provide a full list of the Twelve in chapter 10. Here he includes his own calling to indicate that, like the paralyzed man, he too needed to be healed by Jesus and that the malady he most needed to have cured was his sin. The account shows that his friends needed the same healing as well.

There are several obvious verbal links between the two stories that make these points explicit, and one of them is that just as the paralyzed man was a sinner, so too are the people appearing in this story. In the opinion of the Pharisees, Matthew and his friends were mere “tax collectors and ‘sinners,’ ” the kind of people with whom they would not associate. But it is precisely sinners that Jesus came to save, and Matthew is happy to put himself in their company as merely another sinner saved by grace.

Matthew is doing in his narrative what the great Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn did in one of his most famous paintings of the crucifixion. He portrayed all the characters one would expect in such a scene: Jesus, the two thieves, the soldiers, and a large crowd of onlookers. But down in the corner of the painting, as one who shared in the guilt of the crucifixion and is not afraid to admit it, Rembrandt has painted a portrait of himself. Thus, as Matthew, he has testified to the fact that he too was a sinner and that he trusted in Jesus as the one who died to save him from his sin.

One of the remarkable incidents in the last chapter was how Jesus helped a Roman centurion, a Gentile whom most Jews would have called unclean and with whom they would have had no social contact. But Matthew himself, though a Jew, was even worse than the centurion in their eyes. He was unacceptable in at least three ways.

As a tax collector he was politically unacceptable. He was one who had collaborated with the occupying authorities. That was enough to ostracize him. But in addition, tax collectors often grew rich by extorting more than was owed, and they were hated for it. There were three main statutory taxes: (1) a ground tax of one-tenth of the grain and one-fifth of fruit and grapes, (2) an income tax of 1 percent of a person’s income, and (3) a poll tax imposed on all males fourteen to sixty-five, and every female twelve to sixty-five. In addition, however, the collectors grew rich by overcharging on many other taxes. A duty tax of 2.5 percent to 12.5 percent was levied on all imported and exported goods. There were taxes for using main roads and for crossing bridges, for entering market towns or using harbors. Pack animals were taxed, as were the wheels and axles of carts.

Capernaum was a town where major roads came together. Therefore, Matthew was at the junction to levy taxes on goods that passed by.

Secondly, he was religiously unacceptable. He was considered unclean. Jewish law barred tax collectors from all synagogue services on the basis of Leviticus 20.5, which required orthodox Jews to cut off anyone who was guilty of “prostituting [himself] to Moloch.” Tax collectors were not even allowed to witness in a court of law.

Finally, he was socially unacceptable. Religious people spoke of those who failed to keep every petty detail of the law as the ‘am ha’arets (“people of the land”). The orthodox were forbidden to go on a journey with them, do business with them, give them anything, receive anything from them, have them as guests or be guests in their homes. Matthew was one of these.

But here is the wonderful thing. Though politically, religiously, and socially unacceptable to the self-righteous leading Jews of his day, Matthew was not unacceptable to Jesus and therefore not unacceptable to God, which is what really mattered. Jesus called him to “Follow me,” just as he had called the earlier disciples. When he did, Matthew did exactly what the paralyzed man had done when Jesus forgave his sins and healed him; he “got up” and followed Jesus, being as thoroughly healed of his deep-rooted sin as the paralyzed man was. Matthew does not mention this, but Luke adds that he “left everything” – that means his position, job, and income – to follow Jesus.

Was Matthew truly converted? Absolutely! And he showed it in at least three ways, two of which we just mentioned.

First, he “got up” and followed Jesus. An inactive faith is no faith at all. Saving faith shows in one’s actions. Secondly, he left everything to do it. Nothing is ever allowed to stand in the way of one who is a genuine disciple. Truly converted people leave houses, land, family, and everything else to follow Jesus. Third, he arranged to have his friends meet Jesus. This is another link between the story of Matthew’s calling and the story of the healing of the paralyzed man in the first paragraph. In the first story, the friends of the paralyzed man brought him to Jesus to be healed. In verse 10, Matthew tries to do the same thing with his unconverted friends. This is a natural act for those Jesus has saved, and it makes us ask, Are we in that great company of witnesses? Are we introducing our friends to Jesus? We cannot make people Christians; it is something only God can do. But we must do everything possible to tell them about Jesus and have them meet him.

Maranatha!

“Who Can Forgive Sin?”

People who read Matthew for the first time may think the arrangement of material is haphazard or at best merely topical. It is not haphazard. It is topical. But it is more than topical. First of all, we see a progression in the nine miracles. They start with simple physical healings: the man with leprosy, the sick servant of the centurion, Peter’s mother-in-law. Then they advance to Jesus’ power over nature, as He quiets a storm on the Sea of Galilee, and even over demons when He casts many of them out of the demon-possessed men from Gadara. In chapter 9, Jesus raises the dead and restores sight and speech to people who are blind and mute. Continue reading ““Who Can Forgive Sin?””

“Thomas in Jesus’ Last Days”

“The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me.” No disciple better personifies this truth than Thomas who we find in all four apostolic lists. Only John refers to him by name. Ironically, despite knowing little about him and despite the fact he wrote no Gospel or letter accepted by the early Church, he may well be one of the more generally well-known disciples of Jesus. Unfortunately, this popularity is associated with the familiar moniker, “Doubting Thomas,” that has unfairly singled him out from the other disciples. Despite what the other disciples told him; Thomas doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead. But when he saw the marks in Jesus’ hands left by the nails of the crucifixion, Thomas was persuaded of more than the resurrection! Amazingly, he called Jesus his Lord and his God (Jn.20.28). Continue reading ““Thomas in Jesus’ Last Days””

“Annas in Jesus’ Last Days”

Someone has said that “God prepares men then launches the events of history.” If all history is really the narrative of God unfolding His redemptive plan for mankind, then all history is worth studying. As we do, we discover a fitting plan whereby the right man (or woman) is present and prepared – at just the right time. Today we look at Annas, a person who figures significantly in Jesus’ last days, as we do, we see God’s Sovereignty. Continue reading ““Annas in Jesus’ Last Days””

“Easter’s Four Imperatives”

In Matthew 27, before Peter and John saw the resurrected Lord. He was seen by the women first, those who had been last at the cross and were now first at the tomb. Jesus met them on their way home after they had gone to the tomb, seen the angels, and heard about Jesus’ resurrection. The angel’s message contains four imperatives that are as important today as they were on that first Easter day for those women: “But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen…” Continue reading ““Easter’s Four Imperatives””