If not actually hated, Matthew was at least a man who was resented by most of the people with whom he had contact – he was a tax collector. He collected taxes and custom duties for Herod, the vassal king of Judea. It was an occupation that made him a traitor in the eyes of many.
And yet Matthew, also known as Levi the publican, was called by Jesus to be one of His apostles – one of the Twelve.
And after that He went out, and noticed a tax-gather named Levi, sitting in the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me.” And he left everything behind, and rose and began to follow Him (Luke 5.27-28).
Matthew’s initial response to Jesus’ invitation provides a great example for us. The first thing he did after becoming a disciple of Christ was to throw a party:
And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax-gathers and other people who were reclining at the table with them (Luke 5.28).
The interesting thing about this party was the guest list – more tax collectors, Matthew’s circle of friends. On the other hand, it was a party for the “outcasts,” those whom the general public and especially the self-righteous folk loathed and disregarded. The Pharisees and scribes grumbled, saying, Why do You eat and drink with the tax-gathers and sinners? (Luke 5.30).
Why did Matthew respond so readily? Perhaps he saw in Jesus something different from the religious environment he was used to. At the time he was called, the reputation of Jesus was widely known. Jesus had already preached His famous “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew may have even been in the crowd that day). He had healed a leper, cast out demons, cured a sick woman, and just that day had healed a paralytic.
He knew who Jesus was. Jesus wasn’t like any of the teachers or religious leaders he had ever been around. They condemned him, wanted nothing to do with him. The amazing thing to him was that Jesus knew who he was and had called him to be a disciple anyway! And so “he left everything behind.”
Sometimes our Christian walk devolves into drudgery, resentment, and complaining. I’m convinced Satan is really behind it; he’s big on discouragement always telling us it’s okay to give up and quit. When that happens it’s because we’ve lost sight of the prize and value of salvation.
Whenever our Christianity becomes a burden and the world appears to offer relief, we’re in trouble. That’s when Matthew is a good friend. You see, he had the world and left it “all behind” to follow Jesus. And when he did, he threw a party and invited every sinner in town to come. He stopped thinking about himself and began thinking of others. He wanted to give them the opportunity become followers of Jesus, too. That’s how Matthew began to change the world; he started with “his” world, with tax-gathers and sinners. What about your world?