Jesus, walking along the shores of Galilee followed by six to eight disciples, had just returned to His home in Capernaum from a preaching tour that had taken Him throughout all of Galilee. He had healed broken and burdened bodies, cast out demons, and instructed His disciples concerning the coming Kingdom of God. He had preached repentance and righteousness to the multitudes. He might well have been physically exhausted, but there was a meeting that He would not miss. So He made His way to the Gate of Receipts where the Tax Collector, Matthew or Levi by name, was stopping people so that their goods could be inventoried, with special attention given to what might be an import or export subject to taxation.
Matthew was hated by the people of Capernaum for two glaring reasons: (1) He was a religious misfit, for according to Jewish tradition taxation was more than a nuisance—it was illegal and immoral. Tithes were paid to God, but to be required to pay taxes to the state, especially to a foreign entity, was contradictory to their customs, laws and traditions; (2) He was also a political renegade, aligning himself in his employment as a representative of the Roman empire, a traitor to his own nation. He was, therefore, hated and despised.
Yet it was to this man at that place that Jesus made His way, and with the bustling city of Capernaum on one side and the beautiful blue waters of the Sea of Galilee on the other side, Jesus and Matthew met. The Tax Collector that day had no business with Jesus, for Jesus owned nothing, not even a place to lay His weary head. But Jesus had business to do with the Tax Collector. He was to lay claim on his very life, his soul’s destiny.
In Matthew’s later account of that life-changing encounter, recorded in Matthew 9:1-13, the conversion of this rebel Jew is recounted. One would have to conclude that it was sovereignly wrought. There was nothing religious about the man Matthew. He was not moral, and his friends were “publicans and sinners.” Yet, he was instantaneously converted when he heard the invitation of Christ to follow Him. Jesus saw in Matthew not only what he was, but what he would be. Matthew did not have to be told that he was a sinner; he lived with that reality daily. And, meeting the Savior, God’s Spirit had prepared his heart to believe and to receive the invitation of this itinerant preacher who had come to seek and to save that which was lost. Matthew, Levi, was on the spot saved by grace through faith, repenting of his sin and accepting the Messiah as his Savior. The same way every person, great or small, has ever—or ever will be—saved.
We see Matthew’s conversion and also his call to be a disciple. It is said that, immediately, Matthew left his tax table and followed Jesus. He surrendered for service and his first act in service was to testify to his fellow publicans what had happened to him when he met his Master. He prepared a dinner and invited all who would come to enjoy company with his newly found Lord and Savior.
I thought of what Matthew could have said in response to Jesus’ invitation: “Follow Me.”
- “Hey, Man, been thinking about what all I have heard about You since You moved to Capernaum; I might be interested, but just let me finish what I am doing here and I’ll be right along. OK?”
- “Me? Follow You? Well, You’ve got too many hypocrites aboard Your ship. I know Peter, James and John; they can cuss right along with the rest of us reprobates and sinners. No, I’ll stay here with my own crowd. Thanks!”
- “Hey, I think I’d like to, but come around next year. I’ve got to get caught up on some bills, and get better established, but one of these days I’ll really give myself to following You. Serious.”
- “Do You know who my father was? He was the late Alphaeus, one of the most religious men in these parts. Why do You think I have a name like Levi anyway? I come from a very religious background. No, I’m alright, Sir. You’d better spend Your time trying to get the bad boys straightened out.”
- “So, You want me just to get up and follow You? What do You think my family would say? They’d call me a religious fanatic for sure. I can’t just traipse around the country following Someone I’ve never met before. Besides, I have a certain income requirement I doubt You could meet. No, I had better pass on this one.”
- “I’ll follow You, but there are some things I don’t understand that You’ll have to answer for me first.”
- “Follow You? Not on Your life! Why, I’m rich; I’m well liked by other publicans, and we’re just having a ball. Your religion is for old ladies.”
- “Well, I might, but You see I once knew this prophet who claimed to be a man of God, and he ran off with the Temple secretary and I decided right there this religion stuff was not for me.”
- “So, You want me to follow You? I know what You are after…You want to rake your fingers through some of these coins; you’re just after me for my money. Nothing doing!”
- “Well, I’d like to, but it just seems too simple; there has to be more to it than to just ‘Follow You.’”
But the text says that when Jesus told Matthew to “Follow Me,” Matthew “arose, and followed Him.” No questions. No hesitation. No protestations. He arose and followed Jesus. He would be numbered among the Apostles of our Lord. And the Tax Collector, faithful as a follower in a few things, would be responsible for great things in the Kingdom of God. He became a leader in the early church, and through him God would give the world the Gospel of Matthew, proving to the Jewish world that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Son of David, Son of Abraham, Son of God, the long -awaited Messiah.
“And He said to them all, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall save it.” (Luke 9:23,24)