MATTHEW THE GOSPEL WRITER (Pt.2)
I can just see Levi sitting there in his office discontented, feeling empty even though his pursuit of worldly goods had gotten him every material possession after which men strive. But that ordinary day, he had an unplanned meeting with the Man everyone in Israel had been talking about. “And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.” (Matt. 9:9, KJV). The reality of Levi’s discontent is obvious when we see his response to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. “And he left all, rose up, and followed him.” (Luke 5:28, KJV).
What caused Levi to have no qualms about letting all of his While-You-Were-Out slips go unanswered that day and forever follow Jesus? What happened in that momentary encounter that made him never want to return to his office? I think we can get an insight here by taking a closer look at the way Levi himself wrote about this moment in his own writing of the gospel of Matthew. While everyone else looked at Levi as a hated ‘dog,’ or even as the gospel writer Luke simply named him, “a publican,” (Luke 5:27, KJV), Levi writes that Jesus saw a “man,” (Matt.9:9 KJV). Jesus saw Levi as a person, as someone worthwhile. Levi would never be the same. His direction of life completely changed and so did his name. Now he would be called Matthew, which means “gift of Jehovah.”¹ Jesus came by at exactly the right time and rescued Levi from his empty pursuit of selfish gain and gave his life a whole new meaning and purpose.
I’m sure Matthew had previously heard about this new prophet in Israel and knew that Jesus was getting a big following everywhere He went. He could hardly even imagine that this Man who was going into all the villages and towns, healing people and teaching them about God, would ever have anything to do with him, a hated tax collector. But when Jesus “saw” him, Matthew’s heart must have exploded with hope. If there were any doubts in his mind about the compassion and sincerity of this call to him by Jesus, they were fully and finally erased that evening when Jesus went to Matthew’s house for a party. That night Jesus defended Matthew and all of his outlaw friends against the attacks of the religious elite.
“And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matt. 9:10-13, KJV).
The Healing of a Broken Man
The transformation of this man’s life from one of brokenness and hurt to a compassionate disciple and apostle of Jesus, can be detected from the very gospel account which he wrote about Jesus. Matthew knew what it meant to be depressed, to feel so bad about himself that he didn’t see any hope for anything bright in his future. Maybe when he was sitting in the tax office that day staring out the window before Jesus showed up, he had finally given up on himself. Maybe the reality of how his countrymen hated him finally dawned upon him. Maybe he was realizing how he had been betraying his own people by cheating them through the tax system. Maybe he was thinking that his life might as well be over, that his future held nothing to look forward to. Maybe he was experiencing that day what one writer calls the fog of the broken heart.
“The fog of the broken heart. It’s a dark fog that slyly imprisons the soul and refuses easy escape. It’s a silent mist that eclipses the sun and beckons the darkness. It’s a heavy cloud that honors no hour and respects no person. Depression, discouragement, disappointment, doubt…all are companions of this dreaded presence.”²
This could be why he later included in his gospel account a quote about Jesus (Messiah) from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench,…” (Matt. 12:20, KJV). Matthew’s gospel is the only one of the four gospels to have this verse. He had truly felt that tender touch upon his broken life when Jesus not only noticed him, but actually spoke kindly to him, even asking him to be one of His own disciples.
The battered and bruised man was gently nurtured back to wholeness, the smoldering wick in his dark soul suddenly became a bright flame of passion toward the Master. Matthew was a first hand recipient of the Master’s tender compassion and forgiveness. No doubt with great expectations of giving hope to other bruised and broken people he penned the Savior’s words,
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30, KJV).
Throughout his gospel writing, it is very apparent that Matthew’s quest is to show Jesus as the promised Messiah to the Jewish people, the promised Son of David. He repeatedly quotes Old Testament Scriptures and references them to Jesus. He was most likely thrilled when the Holy Spirit inspired him to write the genealogy of Jesus, taking Jesus’ earthly ancestry back to Abraham, the father of the Jews. Convinced of the reality of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, Matthew put this genealogy at the very beginning of his writing.
“In the first chapter he divides the genealogy of Jesus into three parts: (1) from Abraham to David; (2) from David to the Exile; and (3) from the Exile to the ‘Son of David,’ Jesus the Christ. Moreover, he carefully arranges the generations in each of the three groups so that they number fourteen. Not only is this an especially sacred number, because it is twice seven or Sabbath, but, more important, it is the numerical equivalent of the name of David, the Great King! That is, the Hebrew letters which spell the name of David (and which also stand for numbers in Hebrew) add up to fourteen. This intricate arrangement of the genealogical table can hardly be accidental. It is Matthew’s way of emphasizing that Jesus is the promised Son of David, fulfilling the Messianic prophecies.” ³
Fear and helplessness have become a daily potion of life in today’s world when we look into the face of modern weaponry, big brother surveillance, corrupt political institutions and financial moguls who care only about amassing the earth’s wealth and resources for themselves. Is there any hope for us individually and collectively as we are literally seeing our world on the brink of extinction?
Matthew, the tax collector turned gospel writer, can be a source of great encouragement to every person. His life prior to Jesus reveals the very same emptiness every person faces sooner or later because of the disappointments and destruction, the brokenness and harsh reality a person can experience in this earthly life. Matthew’s life clearly gives each and every person hope. He assures us God looks beyond our faults and sees our need for a Savior, and loudly proclaims in his gospel that Jesus Christ is truly that wonderful Savior sent by God.