The Disciples: Matthew (Levi), who sacrificed to follow

(Written by Ange van der Leeuw)


Unfortunately, we know very little about Matthew. He was the son of Alpheus and most likely James the lesser, one of the twelve Apostles, was Matthew’s brother. He lived in Capernaum

In the gospels of Mark and Luke, he is referred to as Levi. It was a common custom in the Middle East at the time of Christ for men to have two names. Matthew’s name means “gift of God.” The name Levi could have been given to him by Jesus. Mark describes his calling in this way: “As [Jesus] passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and said to him, ‘Follow me. And he arose and followed him” (Mark 2:14, Matthew 9:9 & Luke 5:27-28). He was a tax-collector. The King James Version calls him a publican, which in Latin is Publicanus, meaning engaged in public service, a man who handled public money, or a tax-gatherer. Tax collectors were generally despised, for not only did they collect money for the occupying power, but they were also usually dishonest, charging more tax than was legally required in order to boost their own income.

Of all the nations in the world, the Jews were the most vigorous haters of tax-gatherers. To the devout Jew, God was the only one to whom it was right to pay tribute in taxes. To pay it to anyone else was to infringe on the rights of God. The tax collectors were hated not on religious grounds only but because most of them were notoriously unjust. In the minds of many honest, Jewish men, these tax collectors were regarded as criminals. In New Testament times they were grouped with harlots, Gentiles and sinners (Matthew 18:17; Matthew 21:31,33; Matthew 9:10; Mark 2:15,16; Luke 5:30). Such was Matthew. In Matthew 9:10-13, we see that Jesus did after He called him, went and had dinner at his place. “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples [This was declaring I accept this man, by dining with him I am paying him the greatest respect.] 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Yet, Jesus chose a man all men hated and made him one of His men. Jesus Christ to saw the potential in the tax collector of Capernaum.

Matthew was with Jesus from the early days of his ministry. Matthew was unlike the other Apostles, who were mostly fishermen. He could use a pen, and by his pen, he became the first man to present to the world, in the Hebrew language, an account of the teaching of Jesus. The gospel named after him. It is clearly impossible to estimate the debt that Christianity owes to this despised tax-gatherer. The average man would have thought it impossible to reform Matthew, but to God all things are possible. Matthew became the first man to write down the teachings of Jesus. Nothing definite is known of Matthew’s later life, but he is believed to have been a Missionary of the Gospel preaching around Palestine. He later died a martyr in Ethiopia.

The apostolic symbol of Matthew is three money bags, which reminds us he was a tax collector before Jesus called him, and the battle-axe by which he was killed.

Jesus not only accepted Matthew as he was but he saw what he could become. Who are the people who have believed in you? Who has spurred you on to better things? Who has encouraged you to go deeper with God? Who are you encouraging? Who do you believe in?

PRAYER: Lord, give me eyes to see others as you do. To look beyond the here and now, beyond the surface to see the potential. To the ‘tax collectors’ and ‘harlots’ I meet may I show your kind of unconditional love, acceptance and hospitality . . . they may be angels!!. In Jesus Name, AMEN

SONG: You Raise Me Up by Silvia Palladino –