Bible Characters: Matthew A Disciple

A brief history of the bible character Matthew the tax collector, a disciple of Jesus Christ. He went from serving money to serving God.

Disciples of Christ: Matthew The Tax Collector

Matthew was a "publican" or tax collector for the Romans. Tax collectors made a good living. They were generally despised by their fellow Jews and merely tolerated by their Roman employers. Tax collectors were creative in finding ways to tax the people. Luke 3:13 states, "They overcharged [and] brought false charges of smuggling in the hope of extorting hush-money". Other ways of making money included taxes on axles, wheels, animals, roads, highways and admission to markets. Some even charged pedestrians taxes.

Mark (Mark 2:14) and Luke (Luke 5:27) refer to Matthew as Levi. Matthew may have been from the tribe of Levi. The tribe of Levi was largely absorbed by the tribe of Judah after the kingdom of Judah had been exiled and returned from Babylon several centuries prior. Matthew was probably fluent in Greek and Aramaic. Greek was the official language while Aramaic was the local dialect. Matthew was literate and an educated writer and scribe. It is also believed that he knew a form of shorthand called tachygraphy. This may be the reason why he was able to write the detailed accounts of Christ's spoken sermons including the long Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew resided in Capernaum located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This was a large region that was heavily populated. Many lived and worked around the lake. It had numerous fisheries and lots of surface traffic because it was a major trade route through the region. The Romans set up a customhouse in the region and appointed Matthew as the tax collector. This was considered a lucrative and powerful position because he was supported by the strength of the Roman Empire. Rome was the greatest power on the earth. Because of the lucrative trade and fishing industries, Matthew probably had a very profitable position and was probably considered wealthy.

Matthew had a very profitable career, backed by the power of Rome. He probably had acquired great wealth and was not lacking in worldly needs. He was able to have lavish feasts to entertain many guests. Though he was despised by most of his fellow countrymen, he probably had other friends that were also quite wealthy and only concerned by worldly goods. He probably entertained officials from Rome who merely acknowledged his presence but benefited from the food and wine.

Matthew abruptly went from serving money to serving the Lord. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all recorded Matthew's calling. Scripture implies Matthew willingly gave up everything as required by Christ. "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate [that is, to love less or place in lower priority] his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26-27). One day, Matthew was sitting at the tax office when his life changed from serving man to serving the Lord. Matthew 9:9 describes the change: "As Jesus passed"¦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 responded with great enthusiasm at His calling by Jesus Christ. Matthew prepared a feast for Jesus and His other disciples. Matthew also invited his other friends who included other tax collectors, scribes, and Pharisees. This feast provided a spiritual lesson. While wining and dining his guests, the Pharisees asked Jesus and His disciples "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? Jesus answered them and said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance" (Luke 5:29-32).

The scribes and Pharisees held a self-righteous attitude. They did not consider themselves sinners. They felt they had no reason to change.

In contrast to Matthew, there is another story of another wealthy young man. This young man approached Jesus and asked what was required for eternal life. Point blank, Jesus answered "keep the commandments" (Matthew 9:17). The young man asked Him which ones he meant. Jesus responded by citing several of the Ten Commandments.. The young man replied that he had faithfully kept the commandments since childhood. He asked what else he could do. Jesus replied, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Matthew 19:21). The young man walked away dejected, "for he had great possessions (verse 22). Jesus turned to His disciples: "Assuredly, I can say to you that is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (verses 23-24).

Matthew willingly chose to follow Christ. The young man placed material wealth over spiritual wealth. This is so common in the present. There is almost a quest for the almighty dollar. But at what price? Is the dollar worth more than a child's first step? Is the dollar more important than self worth? What price are you willing to pay? Do you want the rewards of this Earth or do you want the rewards in heaven? Matthew was posed these same questions. He had worldly possessions and wealth. He chose to cash this in for spiritual wealth. Given the opportunity, would you do the same?

Matthew followed Jesus' call. He gave up the rich luxurious life to become one of Christ's disciples. Matthew was blessed to witness the miracles that Christ performed. He went on to write the Gospel that has detailed so much of Christ's time on earth. Matthew was once a publican; He answered the call to become one of Christ's disciples. He gave up material wealth to become one with God. Matthew witnessed and recorded the crucifixions, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Would you do the same?

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