Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:3d “. . .and Matthew the publican;. . .”
Simon the Leader, Andrew the Usher, James the Thunderbolt, John the Beloved, Philip the Analyst, Bartholomew the True, and Thomas the Melancholy are followed by Matthew the Tax Collector, and James the son of Alphaeus.
Matthew did not enter the Apostolic band with an impressive résumé. In Jesus’ day, collecting taxes was a dishonest and dishonorable business. Being employed by Rome made Matthew a thief and a traitor in the eyes of his own people.
The other three lists of the Twelve make no reference to Matthew’s former infamous job. Only Matthew himself refers to it. This was his way of humbly stating how unworthy he felt of God’s grace. Matthew never escaped what the Lord had rescued him from. Feeling deeply indebted to God, Matthew enjoyed reminding himself how far the Lord had brought him. It’s good to reflect often on what we once were or what we might have become, had it not been for God’s grace.
Matthew was a prime example of Christ’s love for sinners. Many sinners thrust themselves into Jesus’ path, almost forcing Him to deal with them, but Jesus went out of His way to find Matthew, who was working in a toll booth (MT 9:9).
By seeking out a despised social outcast, Jesus made a strong statement. He proved He not only can deal with sinners, but also wants to. Publicans were branded as bandits who sold their souls for money. Thus, when Jesus detoured toward the toll booth, He showed He was serious about being a friend to sinners.
In the wake of this public tidal wave of love, Matthew surrendered himself to Jesus. The publican made four responses to the Master’s summons on his life.
First, Matthew left his comfort zone. When Jesus said, “Follow Me,” the publican bolted from his seat and left behind forever a lucrative job offering power, wealth, and security. Matthew let his whole life be totally disrupted in order to follow Jesus. When did we last let ourselves be inconvenienced even a little bit for Jesus? Have we recently made a conscious sacrifice for Christ and His cause?
Second, Matthew made his house a holy place. He prepared a banquet and invited his sinful friends to come and meet Jesus (MT 9:10). What a difference it would make if we began to consider our houses as sacred as this house of worship.
Irreligious people who will never darken the doors of a church would come to our homes. Let them come see our religious trinkets, artwork, and wall-hangings. Let them see us pray before a meal, and hear Christian music in the background. Our house could be someone’s stepping stone to a mansion in Heaven.
Third, Matthew used his pen for Jesus. Matthew is a silent disciple. His lips never uttered one recorded word–no questions, no suggestions, no comments, nothing. He chose to speak through his pen. When he followed Jesus, Matthew left behind his job, but not his job skills. He brought all his talents with him.
He was well educated, good with figures and ledgers. Being the accountant type, he had a studious approach to things, an attitude of exactness, precise attention to detail. As a young man, he used his pen to keep meticulous records for Caesar. When he was older, the Holy Spirit nudged him and inspired him to take pen in hand and to chronicle what he remembered of Jesus. Eusebius, the early church historian, says Matthew began his ministry among the Jews, and then, before leaving to go on mission to other nations, wrote the Gospel bearing his name.
Appropriately, it is the New Testament’s first book. Matthew was given the honor to record more of Jesus’ words than anyone else. Matthew has the distinction of quoting more of the Old Testament than Mark, Luke, and John combined.
Matthew is my dad’s favorite Bible book, and the focus of my preaching future. About five years ago I decided I would spend the rest of my preaching days at the feet of Jesus. I hope to invest my last and best years of preaching in a close examination of my Master’s life. I want to remain near Jesus from now on, and have chosen to study my Savior through Matthew’s eyes. Matthew’s pen is drawing the beautiful portrait of Jesus I now enjoy in my study from week to week.
You quiet types, let Matthew be your patron saint. If you have trouble talking for Jesus, use the power of the pen. Hand out tracts, give away books, write letters to lost loved ones. We live in trying times. Every skill we have must be exercised for the kingdom. If sound is not your forte, then use ink, as Matthew did.
Fourth, Matthew laid down his life. Tradition says he met martyrdom in Ethiopia by crucifixion. While hanging on the cross, he was beheaded with a battle-ax. Matthew gave Jesus everything, including his life-blood. He harbored no regrets, and never looked back to the toll booth. Matthew could have sung with Isaac Watts, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Matt. 10:3e “. . .James the son of Alphaeus,. . .”
Tradition says James was stoned to death, and his body sawn in two, near the temple in Jerusalem. Apart from this, his words and deeds are lost to history.
James is one of the disciples who remind us, “the outstanding thing about these men is that they were not outstanding” (Hobbs). They were plain men, each possessing ordinary qualities the Holy Spirit flamed into extraordinary usefulness.
Our only hope for everlasting greatness, for true spiritual success, lies in what we do for Christ. “As the sun can turn a chip of glass into a flashing gem, or transfigure the dullest bank of clouds into a Himalaya range, so the least promising materials can in His hands be manipulated to grandest ends” (Reed).
Each of us possesses potential for spiritual usefulness and abundant attainment. In Napoleon’s army every soldier carried in his knapsack a field-marshal’s baton. This instilled in them the hope that, if they were bold and courageous, distinguishing themselves in battle, they might someday attain to that exalted rank.
Every Christian has the possibility of promotion to higher ranks in effective service for God. This is important to know, because our efforts to advance the kingdom are hampered by a defiant spirit (“Not me”), by a defeatist attitude (“Me? No way.”), and by low spiritual self-esteem (“Who? Me?”). A major barrier to effectiveness is this “Not me–Me? No way–Who? Me?” syndrome.
Many of us believe the Holy Spirit’s blessing and power are not meant for us. We fantasize a legion of super heroes, mighty saints, who are to get the work done. This hallucination is a huge stumbling block for multitudes to overcome.
Many of us hold back from service, believing we were left out when useful skills were distributed, but the Twelve remind us exceptional talent is not the issue. The Bible nowhere commands or expects us to copy their individual skills.
The disciples succeeded due to their availability, not ability. If we take time to look, we can all see ourselves in these ordinary men. They shared our flaws and temperaments. Every personality type exists in at least one of the Apostles. They represent us, and since they were usable in the Lord’s work, we are all usable.
And anyway, the issue is never who or what we are in and of ourselves. The crux lies in our willingness to lay down our will and life to be moldable in Jesus’ hand. What ultimately matters is what Christ does for us, in us, and through us.
On a train one day, Abraham Lincoln took a worthless piece of paper and jotted on it a few words. That paper is now one of the world’s most valuable documents, for it contains the text of the Gettysburg Address. Rembrandt would take a canvas worth a dollar, paint a picture on it, and make it priceless. A business tycoon can autograph a five-cent check and make it worth a million dollars.
This is what Jesus does for us. He takes ordinary and makes it extraordinary. He takes common and makes it unique. He takes unable and makes it able.
John MacArthur tells of a church in Strasbourg, France, that was bombed in WW II. A beam broke off the arms on a statue of Christ. A sculptor offered to restore the arms, but the people decided to leave them off. Without hands the statue would constantly remind them God wants to do His work through them, common folk. As His earthly hands, Jesus truly wants to use us, ordinary people, though we are imperfect and flawed. God conveys His treasure through earthen vessels to prove the power is from Him, not us (2 C 4:7). Next time we’re tempted to say “Not me–Me? No way–Who? Me?” think of James, son of Alphaeus, and the other disciples. Listen closely and hear them echoing through the ages, “Yes, you.”