Matthew 10:1-4 – These Guys Changed the World? Part 3 (Matthew)

Posted: November 20, 2015 in Gospel of Matthew
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Matthew 10:1-4
These Guys Changed The World? Part 3 (Matthew)

For the last two days, we have discussed the disciples, Peter and John. Each of these men were significant in the Christian faith. Each were amazing leaders of the faith. Each were authors of New Testament books. Now, we move on to some of the lesser known of Jesus’ disciples. Today, let’s talk about Matthew. Matthew was a dishonest tax collector driven by greed, until Jesus Christ chose him as a disciple.

We first meet Matthew in Capernaum, in his tax booth on the main highway. He was collecting duties on imported goods brought by farmers, merchants, and caravans. Under the Roman Empire’s system, Matthew would have paid all the taxes in advance, then collected from the citizens and travelers to reimburse himself. Tax collectors were notoriously corrupt because they extorted far and above what was owed, to ensure their personal profit. Because their decisions were enforced by Roman soldiers, no one dared object. Matthew was named Levi before his call by Jesus. We don’t know whether Jesus gave him the name Matthew or whether he changed it himself, but it is a shortening of the name Mattathias, which means “the gift of God.”

On the same day Jesus invited Matthew to follow him, Matthew threw a great farewell feast in his home in Capernaum, inviting his friends so they could meet Jesus too. From that time on, instead of collecting tax money, Matthew collected souls for Christ. Despite his sinful past, Matthew was uniquely qualified to be a disciple. He was an accurate record keeper and keen observer of people. He captured the smallest details. For those who want the rich details of much of Jesus ministry, the Gospel of Matthew is the one to read. As said previously, his eye for detail came from his past as a tax collector. Tax collectors in those days, if they were to be rich needed a keen eye. They needed to have the ability to understand the business climate of their district. They needed to know what the occupation of every man was. They needed the ability to dig deeper into the details. They needed to be observers of facial expressions to know when people were lying to them. They understood the battle not to pay taxes. He knew all the tricks of the trade of avoiding taxes. Because of this experience, the necessary skills of a first century tax collector served him well when he wrote the Gospel of Matthew some 20 years later. This keen memory developed through years of tax collecting, his ability to remember and write down details all previously used for greed were now so beautifully used to record the life and times of Jesus Christ. By surface appearances, it was scandalous and offensive for Jesus to pick a tax collector as one of his closest followers, since they were widely hated by the Jews. Yet of the four Gospel writers, Matthew presented Jesus to the Jews as their hoped-for Messiah, tailoring his account to answer their questions. His gospel is a treatise on Jesus being the Messiah. He takes every chance to show what Jesus did in life to fulfill Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. As we stand here 9 plus chapters into his gospel, we know that this fact is true.

Matthew displayed one of the most radically changed lives in the Bible in response to an invitation from Jesus. He did not hesitate, he did not look back. He left behind a life of wealth and security for poverty and uncertainty. He abandoned the pleasures of this world for the promise of eternal life. The remainder of Matthew’s life is uncertain. Tradition says he preached for 15 years in Jerusalem following the death and resurrection of Jesus, then went out on the mission field to other countries. Legend has it that he died as a martyr in the cause of Christ while in African Ethiopia. His post-crucifixion life is less known that those of other Apostles but his Gospel is an essential part of the Christian faith. We may not know of all the details of his life after the cross, but we do know that his was a life changed forever by Jesus Christ. He may not be as popular Peter or John in the post-crucifixion Christian world, but we know that he did not go backwards. He kept pushing forward serving His Master until his death.

What can we learn from Matthew that we can use and apply in our lives today in the 21st century? There are several things. First, your past is not a disqualifier from following Jesus. Second, the talents that we have can be used by God. Finally, our ugly, sordid past can become part of our testimony of the power of Jesus Christ to change lives.

Matthew was a hated man in Jewish society in the first century. He was a greedy tax collector. The Romans would auction off districts to third party contractor tax collectors. It was a brilliant plan. It allowed them to use the local infrastructure and local people to get their taxes collected instead of having to build a tax collection infrastructure themselves. It was less expensive and allowed the empire to expand quickly. It also ensured a high rate of tax collection. Just brilliant. The franchise cost was set high so that these third party tax collectors would have an incentive to recoup their investment. It was also brilliant to that the Romans told these guys that whatever you collect over and above what we require of you, it’s yours to help you recoup your franchise cost and act as an incentive (because after recouping their investment, their excess collections would be pure profit to the franchisee). Those Romans, man, they were shrewd! Thus, this is Matthew’s story. He was certainly extremely aggressive and probably ruthless in collecting taxes for Rome. With Roman soldiers there to enforce his greed, he had great power to ruin the lives of many and he probably did. The Roman tax burden was great and became greater and greater over the years as Rome pampered itself in excess. Thus, this grew discontent in Palestine. This heavy burden of taxes on a people that was once a mighty kingdom of their own under David and Solomon. Matthew would have been despised but he probably took solace from being hated by the fact that he had money. In Jewish society, he was considered a sinner and was outcast. Thus, he would have been excluded from pretty much all of Jewish activities, Jewish festivals, and particularly Jewish worship. He would have had to settle for hanging out with other outcasts and those labeled unworthy of mainstream Jewish society. But Jesus saw through all of that. He saw a man that wanted more than his current life was offering. The lifestyle of the rich was vapid and empty to Matthew. He was searching. Living in Capernaum, he had most assuredly heard of this new, radical rabbi named Jesus. So, when Jesus called him, he did not hesitate. His heart was ready for Jesus. Jesus did not care about his past. That is the thing we take hold of right there. Jesus does not care about your past either. It does not matter what you have done. There is nothing that you have done in your past that excludes you from Christ’s kingdom. All you must do is repent of your sins. Walk away from your old life and live life anew in Christ. We leave our past behind when we lay our past at the cross and ask Jesus us to forgive us for who we are and what we have been. When we repent of our sins and ask Jesus to take over our life, nothing is too far gone. Murderers can be redeemed. Adulterers can be redeemed. Homosexuals can be redeemed. Lovers of money can be redeemed. Prostitutes can be redeemed. Whores can be redeemed. Embezzlers can be redeemed. Thieves can be redeemed. Slanderers and gossipers can be redeemed. Liars can be redeemed. You and I can be redeemed no matter what our past is that brought us to the cross. To Jesus, once we accept Him as our Savior, the only thing that matters is the path beyond the cross.

In Matthew, we see that he was natural born talent for details and accuracy. Some of us are born that way. I can identify with Matthew in that regard. In my writings in seminary, it was never a matter of not being able to put together a paper with enough length to meet the standards set by my professor. My problem was always writing too much. I would have to cut out things in my papers to get them under the maximum allowed by the professors in my various courses. They would always complain that I got too detailed at times. Matthew was that kind of guy. Keen eye for details. All of it sunk it. Everything was absorbed by Matthew and later deciphered. All of it was important and in the reviewing of the details the meat, that main idea, would fall out for Matthew. If you didn’t record all the details, for Matthew, you might miss the main idea! That eye for detail. That distillation of the main idea from all the detail was what God used. God gave Matthew this talent so that one day he could use it for the kingdom. And boy did he! The Gospel of Matthew is a literary masterpiece. It is awash in the details of Jesus’ earthly ministry. And because of the details, Matthew masterfully demonstrates to his original Jewish audience that Jesus is, in fact, the long-awaited Messiah. He proves it point by point from the details. If he had glossed over the details, the power of his proofs of Jesus’ Messiahship would not have been as convincing to his readers. That fact is so awesome to me. God can use no matter what talent you have for the kingdom. He can use your gifts, my gifts, all of it for the glory of the kingdom. If you have the gift of hospitality and compassion like my wife, he can use it. If you have the gift of mercy, say as a nurse or doctor, he can use it. If you have the gift of having a meticulous mind, say as an accountant, he can use it. If you can build things, like a carpenter or contractor, He can use it. If you have the gift of being comfortable in crowds or the gift of speaking to people you do not know, He can use it. If you have the gift of … insert whatever your talent is in this space … he can use it. Matthew is proof that He can use it.

Finally, in Matthew, we can see that our past before meeting Jesus can speak loudly of the power of the cross and Jesus’ ability to change lives from the inside out. Does you past include things that you are not proud of? Jesus can change it. There are so many people that I have known over the years that speak loudly of the power of changed lives through Jesus. Former drug addicts becoming powerful preachers of the gospel. Former alcoholics becoming great servants of Christ. The power of the cross changes people. Thank God for the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to change us from the inside out. Our past can become our testimony. No matter how ugly it may be. We can use our past to demonstrate the power of a changed life through Jesus Christ. Matthew’s testimony I bet was powerful to hear. A former greed driven individual who thought gouging others for money would make him happy. His testimony of wild parties and the excesses of new found wealth were probably part of his testimony. His testimony probably included how empty all of it made him feel. His testimony probably included how he wanted out of that life but society pigeon-holed him into staying in his own empty prison of life. Then came Jesus. Jesus saw his heart. Jesus said follow me. He knew that there was something special about this Jesus guy so he followed Him. Life changed forever with that decision. Matthew became a changed man. He became convinced of who Jesus was and was forever changed by it. In the absence of Jesus’ call, we would not even know who Matthew was. He would have died in his wealth and his vapid empty life, unknown, unhappy, and condemned by sin. We would have never heard of him. But with Jesus, Matthew became a powerful voice for God. His testimony is laid out in this gospel. That’s what we can take away here too. Our past is part of who we are. The power of our testimony is our past. The testimony of Jesus radically changing our lives. From self-destruction to life-giving. From self-loathing to being awash in the confidence of Jesus’ love. From greed to giving. From self-centeredness to selflessness. From condemnation to salvation. These are your and my stories. Stories that speak powerfully of the power of the cross. Amazing grace. Changed lives. Past left behind into newness of life but yet remembering that past as evidence of how knowing Jesus changes us. Wow, wow, wow! Good stuff!

Father, oh father, thank you for sending your Son to open our eyes. Thank you for seeing what we can be instead of what we are. Thank you for redeeming our past. Thank you for making us new. Thank you for using everything about us in your redemptive power to change us and use us in changing the world. These guys changed the world through Your Power. You can do it through us too. Amen and amen.

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