If you had retired from a career with the IRS, how eager would you be to admit that? In Matthew 9:9–13 the human author of this Gospel, a tax collector, recounts Jesus call to him to be his disciple.
Listen to the good news. This is the good news about Jesus Christ. In the opening verse of the book Matthew tells you what, or better, whom, he is writing about. He is writing about Jesus, the Greek form of the Hebrew name, Joshua, Jehovah saves. He concludes the birth narrative with the Baby being given that name. Christ in Matthew is usually a title. It means Messiah, or Anointed. Early in the life of the church, including in other Scriptures, the title became part of the name. The heart of the good news, which is what “gospel” means, is that God has sent his own Son into the world to save his people from their sins. As Matthew describes his own call by Jesus he will explain what that means.
This is Matthew’s good news. Matthew is one of the 12 disciples, see Matthew 10:2–4. While none of the Gospels have self-identifiers, Matthew has been associated with this Gospel from very early days. Papias (100-120 A.D) wrote that Mathew recorded the “oracles” about Jesus, and Irenaeus (c. 180) spoke of “a gospel written for the Hebrews in their own dialect.” When Mark and Luke record Jesus calling this disciple, they call him “Levi” (Mark 2:14–15; Luke 5:27–28). All three synoptic Gospels list his name as Matthew when recording the 12. Luke’s prologue tells us that many had written accounts of Jesus, and that Luke had studied them before writing his Gospel. It may well be that Matthew had seen Mark’s Gospel before writing his own, though that is a matter of debate, and the Bible is silent on the topic. In any case, Matthew’s Gospel, like the Scriptures that Paul speaks of, is God-breathed. It is the authoritative Word of God. This is not just a human book like any other first-century history account. It is God’s Word. If what Matthew records is true, that God became man to save his people, and his Gospel is the account of the divine-human person, God can also use humans to write his Word. The date of writing may well be in the 60s.
Appreciate Matthew’s perspective. Matthew may well have his fellow Jews largely in mind as he writes his Gospel. He has more Old Testament quotes and allusions than the other Gospels. He has a strong focus on the kingdom, which was at the heart of Jesus’ teaching and preaching. He intersperses accounts of the preaching with miracles, visible manifestations of the good news that Jesus proclaimed. As with the other Gospels, a major part of the book is the account of the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Christ. Matthew, like Mark, focus primarily on Jesus ministry in Galilee until he recounts the journey to Jerusalem and the suffering and death there of Jesus. “Matthew makes the most use of the Old Testament, both in explicit quotations and in innumerable allusions, so that it can be the first place Christian turn to for guidance on use of the Old Testament. In that capacity, it shows Christians how the old covenant promises are fulfilled in the new and how the law of Moses exercises its authority today. Thus Matthew may yet be the Gospel the church most depends upon, if not for evangelism, then at least for the task of making disciples.” (Daniel M. Doriani, Matthew, Vol. 1, page xiii).
Why does Matthew write? His account of Jesus calling him may help you understand that.
Follow Jesus! Matthew tells you about Jesus calling him to be a a disciple. Jesus finds him at his tax collecting work in Capernaum. Given that these taxes went to the oppressive Roman government and subordinate authorities, and that the tax collectors did their own evaluation of the goods they were taxing, and that they had a reputation for taking a substantial portion for themselves (remember Zacchaeus?), the tax collectors were not only despised, they were considered disloyal and treated as open sinners. Matthew, whose account is shorter, and who does not focus on himself, simply says that he got up and followed him. Luke, who calls Matthew by his other name, Levi, remarks that he left everything. As when he called the fishermen earlier, Jesus expects prompt and total obedience. Jesus and his disciples then attend a dinner, probably in Matthew’s house, to which many of Matthew’s fellow tax collectors. That brought the disapproval of the Pharisees, who demanded to know why Jesus was associating with tax collectors and sinners. In turn, Jesus responds that it is not the healthy, but the sick who need a physician. He quotes Hosea 6:6. That prophet’s marriage, as well and his preaching, had pointed out the sin of God’s people, had summoned them to repent, and then had assured them of God’s mercy. Israel had a superficial self-righteousness, but God requires obedience from the heart. Mercy, not outward religiosity, is God’s desire. The Israelites of Hosea’s day went about the forms of worship, including sacrifice, but they ignored the basic command of showing mercy.
Understand your diagnosis. The Pharisees considered themselves righteous. In so doing, they placed themselves outside the group of those who needed Jesus. The guests at the dinner, however, understood their sin and had in their midst the One who would deal with that. Christ does not wait for you to make yourself righteous before you can come. The purpose of his coming into the world is to save sinners. Appreciate the sweeping nature of God’s requirements. The antidote to works righteousness is to appreciate the holiness of God and the depth of commitment he requires. His standard is not technical obedience to man-made minutiae, but rather a wholehearted commitment to God that encompasses every aspect of your life. Matthew recognized that he needed Jesus and responded to the call. “[W]e have no reason to fear that Christ will reject sinners, to call whom he descended from his heavenly glory. . . . [P]ardon is granted to us, not to cherish our sins, but to recall us to the earnestness of a devout and holy life.” (John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospels).
Be a disciple of the King! In recounting the beginning of his own relationship with Jesus, Matthew hints at why he writes. Jesus is the promised King who will deliver his people. He summons you, as he did Matthew and the rest of the 12, to be disciples. That call will involve a sacrificial cost. But notice the note of triumph on which Matthew concludes his Gospel. The risen Christ, appearing to his disciples in Galilee, claims all authority in heaven and earth—and sends his church out to make disciples. Keep the account of Matthew’s call in mind as you seek to reach out with the good news. That news is not only for people just like us. If you find yourself thinking that, look out. Remember that Jesus came to redeem those who are sick, those who are lost. “Discipleship is not for the comfortable and respectable, but for those whom conventional society would rather keep at arm’s length. The Pharisees can only see their failures, but Jesus sees their need, and the fact that they acknowledge it themselves gives him the opportunity to fulfill his calling to ‘save his people from their sins’ (1:21)” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 350).
Spend time in Matthew in your own reading and meditation. As you do, throw yourself on the mercy of God in Christ. “So the Gospel of Matthew doesn’t scratch every itch of curiosity, but it does tell us what we need to know to come to faith and to live for Jesus, Lord and Christ, son of Abraham and of David, the God-man who gave his life as a ransom for many by dying on the cross and rising that first Easter Sunday.” (Daniel M. Doriani, Matthew, Vol. 1, page xv).