Mark 2:13-17 13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
As Jesus began His public ministry He performed all kinds of miracles that resulted in large crowds of people following Him but most were following Him for the wrong reasons. He performed the signs not to attract the crowds but to prove that He is indeed the Son of God and the Christ who came to save the world. He did not come to save us from our problems that are temporary but eternal. He came to save us from our sins and to restore a right relationship with God the Father through His sacrifice upon the cross. Continually He would correct the crowds and would surprise them by His actions. He healed a leper and yet told him to report to the priests and keep silent. The lepers actions showed that he didn’t understand the corruption within his soul and was only focused on temporal healing. A paralytic was lowered through a roof in order to be presented before Jesus. But rather than healing the man Jesus declares that his sins were forgiven. He claimed equality with God. And then He healed the man authenticating His Words revealing His power to forgive sins. And now, Jesus does something that would have turned even more heads.
The call of Levi, or Matthew which was the name given to him by Jesus, would have been a complete shock to all. No one would have expected it. Matthew was a tax collector. He was not like the paralytic or the leper who were a part of the nation of Israel but were outcasts because of sickness and disease. These were not outcasts by choice but the tax collector was. Anyone who was a tax collector was someone who was willing to betray his own people- to work for the Romans and collect the tax for Rome. They were despised by the Israelites. The lepers and the diseased were separate from the people but they weren’t hated as the tax collectors were. No one was upset when Jesus healed the sick but they would be with how he accepts Matthew as one of His disciples.
It is not likely that Matthew was a disciple of John the Baptist prior to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Matthew’s tax booth was by the Sea of Galilee- the lake where Jesus had preached in the past and Matthew must have heard Jesus and was moved in his spirit to repent and believe. But Matthew never left his tax booth. He simply sat there and listened. God had changed his heart but nobody knew it. He had been born again by the Spirit of God as he heard the words of Jesus. He would have wept over his sins and was drawn to Jesus as the only means of his salvation. But what could he do? He was a tax collector. He was hated by everyone. He couldn’t go with the crowds who followed Jesus. What could he do now?
And then Jesus passes by his booth. Jesus, the Christ of God, who sees the heart of every man knew that Matthew was a changed man. He was no longer a tax collector but a child of God! He could not go back to the life that he once lived. A man who was despised by the people was now loved by God! And so Jesus says to Levi, “Follow me.” Everything was different from Matthew from that point forward! He was taught by Jesus Himself and was among those who willingly gave up their lives for Jesus! He would end up writing the book of Matthew recorded in the New Testament. How could this be that God could use such a man for His glory who was despised by his own people? Because the grace of God can cover any sin!
Matthew’s previous friends were not among the respected people in Israel. As Matthew had been an outcast, his only friends and companions were among those who were like him. And unlike the leper who went to tell everyone about Jesus for personal gain and benefit, Matthew tells his friends of the salvation that Jesus can provide them! He had tasted first hand the love of God at the hand of Jesus and he desired that the people he knew would come to know the Christ who had saved him! Jesus would eat with them and preach to them and witness to them. He came to call sinners to Himself!
But what a contrast with the scribes and the Pharisees who were among the religious elite in Israel- respected and looked up to by all the people. They would follow the Old Testament Law (all 613 commands) to the letter (or so they thought) and would have nothing to do with these sinners. In their eyes they could not be saved. They had chosen the path to destruction.
But the Good News is that anyone can be saved! It does not matter what evils we have done or what predicament we are now in that has caused us to be hated by those around us. If we will look upon Jesus Christ, if we will hear His voice, and His call for us to turn away from our evil ways and to surrender to Him, we can be saved like Matthew! Jesus Christ has the power to wash us clean and to keep us for Himself- a holy and a pure people separate from the world! Not in the way that the scribes and the Pharisees believed by living in self righteousness but by living in the eternal Kingdom of God where Jesus Christ is King and He is the One at work in us to use us for His glory!
It is often those who are outcasts that see the love of Jesus Christ for what it truly is. The scribes and the Pharisees and most in the large crowds that followed Jesus could not see the state of their own hearts because of how they viewed each other. They were righteous in their own eyes. They did not recognize their condition before God. They were sick and in need of the Eternal Physician but could not see it. But not so with Matthew- God used his state of misery and despair to enable him to see Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ! He knew he was a sinner and his only hope was found in Jesus Christ!
Can you relate to Matthew’s condition or is the state of your heart still the same as the scribes and the Pharisees and most of those in the crowds? Jesus came to call sinners to Himself!
Pastor Murray Hack