Lessons From Matthew The Tax Collector

It is written:

As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. (Matthew 9:9)

There are many important lessons that we can learn from Jesus’ choice of Matthew as one of His disciples.

First, Matthew himself would have been hated by his fellow Jews. As a Roman tax collector, he would undoubtedly led a life which was extremely sinful so that he would have been despised by the Hebrew people.

“About Matthew himself we know very little. We read of his call in Matthew 9:9. We know that he was a tax-gatherer and that he must therefore have been a bitterly hated man, for the Jews hated the members of their own race who had entered the civil service of their conquerors. Matthew would be regarded as nothing better than a collaborator. But there was one gift which Matthew would possess. Most of the disciples were fishermen. They would have little skill and little practice in putting words together and writing them down; but Matthew would be an expert in that. When Jesus called Matthew, as he sat in the office where he collected the customs duty, Matthew rose up and followed him and left everything behind him except one thing-his pen. And Matthew nobly used his literary skill to become the first man ever to compile an account of the teaching of Jesus.” (William Barclay, Barclay’s Guide to the New Testament, 65-70 (Kindle Edition); Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press)

Never think that your past cannot be forgiven, and that God cannot redeem you and work through you to bring about amazing things. Matthew learned what so many of us today need to hear:

Matthew 9:12-When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

Second, the fact of Matthew’s profession helps to ensure the reliability of the Gospel which he wrote. Tax collectors were expected to be very detailed and meticulous in their record keeping, and they even had a very specialized form of shorthand which they used.

“What the critics forget to tell their readers (and the History Channel their viewers) is that in Matthew’s day – and long before – scribes and secretaries employed for all their various scripts and languages very efficient systems of shorthand. One of them is even mentioned in the Book of Psalms – Psalm 45:1 to be exact: “….my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” – Heb. sopher macher. The Greek version of the Old Testament (LXX) translates the term ‘ready writer’ as oxygraphos, a shorthand writer, or as we might say, a stenographer.7…“Again, as a Judaean tax collector, Matthew would have had to be proficient in the art of shorthand in three languages, Aramaic, Greek and Latin, and the Sermon on the Mount would have been delivered by Jesus at a considerably slower speed than that of normal conversation. He was addressing a large open air crowd, and His words would have been lost on the air had He spoken them quickly. But as it is, Matthew would have had no trouble at all with writing down the words of Jesus as He spoke them. So yes, we can trust Matthew to have written down the Sermon on the Mount–and all of our Lord’s other sayings and conversations which he records-accurately. 9 He’d been professionally trained to do it. Interestingly, Matthew had not yet been called by Jesus into discipleship when He gave the Sermon on the Mount. That Matthew was there, taking note of every word which was spoken, explains the readiness with which he left his customs office when Jesus did call him. That customs office, standing in a harbour close to Capernaum, has been excavated in recent years. It stood close to where the Sermon on the Mount was given, and Matthew would have had no great journey to get there when he heard that the crowds were gathering to hear Jesus. 10 Paying such close attention to His words that he could write them all down, he found the words of Jesus, in every sense, life-changing. That is why, when the call came, he was ready.” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity of the New Testament Part 1: The Gospels, 1134-1152 (Kindle Edition)

This is also a testament to the fact that Matthew did, indeed, write the Gospel that bears his name. Skeptics of the Bible are perhaps unaware of the evidence which supports the fact that Matthew wrote this book as an eyewitness of the Lord’s ministry.

For example:

“All the early adversaries of Christianity granted the genuineness of the New Testament books. These adversaries were men of talent and learning. By worldly interests and intense hatred of Christianity they were urged to use against it every possible weapon. The fact that they did not show its sacred books to be spurious is proof that they were not able to do so….”Testimony of Julian. The Emperor Julian composed his work against Christianity in 361. He united talent, learning, power, and persecuting zeal. If anything could have been said against the genuineness of the New Testament he would have been eager to make his attack from this side, but he did not. He bore witness to the genuineness of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. He concedes their early date and quotes them as the genuine works of their reputed authors. He quotes Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians. His whole attack assumes the genuineness and credibility of the New Testament…”2. Testimony of Hierocles. In 303 he was president of Bithynia; a cruel persecutor, and a sarcastic writer. He concedes the genuineness, and confines his efforts to the hunting up of internal flaws and contradictions. He refers to six of the eight authors of the New Testament. 3. Testimony of Porphyry. He was the most severe and formidable adversary of the primitive church…”He wrote about 270. He was well acquainted with the New Testament. He has plain references to Matthew, Mark, John, Acts, and Galatians. There is no trace of a suspicion that the sacred books were spurious. That he would have made this point, if possible, is evident from the fact that he did attack the book of Daniel in this manner…4. “Testimony of Celsus. He flourished about 176, and about 76 years after the death of the Apostle John. What we know about his work entitled ‘The True Word’ has been preserved by Origen. More than eighty quotations, made by him from the New Testament, have been thus preserved. His whole argument proceeds upon the concessions that the books he quoted were in existence, were held in high esteem by the churches, and were genuine. Thus by a plain and independent path we can trace the New Testament back to the Apostolic Age. It is also a remarkable fact that these bitter enemies are made to bear this unwilling, but decisive, testimony.” (Harvey W. Everest, The Divine Demonstration: A Textbook Of Christian Evidence, 54-55; Nashville, TN; Gospel Advocate Company)

Third, this fact also teaches us that God can make good use of whatever skills we possess. Matthew was a tax collector, and the Lord used saw in him skills that could be used to further the kingdom of Heaven. God has given to each person unique skills that can be used for His glory and for the help of our fellow man (1 Peter 4:10). What unique gifts to you possess that may be used by the Lord of Heaven and Earth?

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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