Jesus' Disciples: Matthew / Levi

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, October 5, 2020 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

Matthew and John are the only ones of Jesus’ twelve disciples to have written gospel accounts that are included in our Bible. Mark, also known as John Mark, was believed to be too young to be one of the twelve, but he followed Jesus’ ministry closely. Luke was a physician who likely did not actually follow Jesus’ ministry while it was happening, but he investigated and wrote about it after the fact from firsthand sources.

So who was Matthew? It is believed that he was first named Levi, but he likely changed to being called Matthew (which means “gift of God”) after being called into Jesus’ disciples. In Mark 1, Jesus calls His first disciples and begins His earthly ministry, including performing many healings. At the beginning of Mark 2, Jesus already starts to get the religious leaders of the day riled up by forgiving a man’s sins while healing him. Then in Mark 2:13-17, we see the account of Jesus calling Matthew:

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

We see from this account that Levi was a tax collector, but he immediately got up and followed Jesus when Jesus called him. This same account is recorded in Matthew 9:9-13 and Luke 5:27-32. He is listed under the name Matthew in the listings of Jesus’ disciples that we find in Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, and Luke 6:13-16, indicating that his name change was likely due to his change in lifestyle.

Know how many people don’t like the IRS today in the U.S.? Well, it was significantly worse for tax collectors back in Israel under Roman rule. The job of being a tax collector was one where a man could get rich quick. If the tax collector required you to pay a certain amount your taxes but you actually owed less, he would pocket the difference. It was both a coveted job for financial reasons, and it was a hated job because nobody liked tax collectors. Tax collectors were notorious for being incredibly dishonest, so naturally, they didn’t have a lot of friends.

When Levi left his job as a tax collector, he would not be able to return to it. The position would have already been filled by some other greedy person who didn’t care about his reputation, and once Levi experienced the love of Jesus, he would not want to go back to that sinful lifestyle.

Knowing this, it’s important to look at the whole passage quoted above regarding Levi’s call to be a disciple, not just the first part. Jesus and His other disciples had dinner at Levi’s house. Tax collectors were not someone you wanted to associate with, yet they not only hung out with the guy but had dinner at his house! Obviously, the religious leaders of the day questioned this, as they would never be caught dead doing such a terrible thing (in their minds). Jesus responds to them by declaring His mission: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus lived out this mission by calling men like Levi to be in his inner group. He wasn’t just saying that, but He was living it out by inviting one of the lowest of the low in society to be part of His inner circle, who carry on the message of salvation to the whole world. But what happened to Matthew after this initial calling by Jesus? We don’t see him mentioned specifically in any of the gospel accounts after being listed as one of the Twelve. We do see him listed in Acts 1:12-14 as being among those who were present right after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, so we know he stuck with the group and continued being one of Jesus’ disciples.

But, as I mentioned previously, Matthew wrote the gospel account with his name on it. Scholars likely believe it was written between 60-65 AD, though we have no record of how or exactly when Matthew died. Just as with the other gospel writers, he wrote it from his own point of view. Matthew wrote to a primarily Jewish audience, and his point is to prove that this Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah who had been promised to the Jews in the prophecies found throughout the Old Testament. His gospel account is full of references to those prophecies and how they were fulfilled in Jesus. Matthew’s gospel has significantly more Old Testament references than the other gospel accounts.

So what can we as Jesus’ disciples today learn from Matthew? We can have greater assurance that Jesus was and is the promised Messiah, based on all of these references to the prophecies of the Old Testament. But we can also remember Jesus’ mission: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” It is not our mission to seek out those who already know Jesus as much as it’s our mission to seek those who do not yet know Him. Yes, we need to encourage and equip our fellow believers, but as Jesus points out, it’s the sick who need a doctor, not healthy people. Those who do not yet have a saving relationship with Jesus are the ones who need Him most. What are you doing in your life to promote this mission?

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