If you are a pastor or lay person who wants to use this to preach in church – that is why I posted it. I don’t care about credit, I only care that God’s word is preached and Christ is glorified. I pray He uses this sermon in a mighty way through you. You have my permission to alter it and use it however God leads you. God bless you in your ministry. You can bookmark this to check out the other free written sermons on my blog.
Much of the beginning of today’s sermon I picked up from Bill Spencer, who leads a ministry called the Narrow Gate Foundation
and then researched it’s accuracy.
Jesus comes upon Levi son of Alphaeus (also called Matthew) sitting at a tax booth –
Not uncommon for Jewish males to have two names for people to address him –
One coming out of his Jewish heritage –
The second one coming from his station or role in life – a parental commentary
Levi was his Jewish name – Born into the tribe dedicated to temple service – to help Hebrew people pay homage to God.
And Matthew means “gift from God”.
So these names tell us who Matthew was meant to be – A gift of God meant to help people connect to and worship God.
This is not where we find him today. One way or another, Levi, this gift of God, had taken some wrong turns, or placed priorities on the wrong things.
Levi ends up as a tax collector, working for Rome – Rome who was the oppressor of the people who were being taxed. Rome was so large and had to have military presence in every land they claimed dominion over – in order to pay their Roman soldiers, Rome would tax the people who they ruled over. I know some of you are likely familiar with this –
What you may not be so familiar with is the tax system of the time –
There were two types of tax collectors –
Gabbai – a general tax collector – Collected taxes on land, income, and poll taxes. Simple and predictable – a formula and straight cut. I am thinking a more like a county assessor.
Mokhes – a special tax collector, a local person, who would often buy his way into the position. They would set up in a booth in a busy part of town and the taxes were unpredictable and subjective. To take this job, you would have to be willing to put the squeeze on people. Think about this: do you think tax collectors would be more likely to put the squeeze on people in power or the poor and vulnerable?
Levi had a booth.
The Mokhes might see a poor farmer going by with a nice animal, perhaps their only animal, and the tax collector would assess a tax on the farmer that the farmer could not pay. So to “help” the farmer pay the tax on the animal, the Mokhes would give the farmer a pathetic animal, near the end of it’s life, and take the strong animal and consider the tax paid by the difference in the value of the two animals. And where could the poor farmer turn? Nobody cared. And one could make a valid argument that not much has changed.
So you likely now have a better understanding of exactly what kind of person Jesus was calling to join Him.
And now, let me explain why it was so offensive to the Scribes and Pharisees –
Rabbinical Judaism, like every other religion in the history of the world believed that you needed to get your act straightened up before you could approach God. It is the idea that still persists in every other religion yet today– you get right and then come to God – you work your way into His good graces.
Your sin is paid for by your efforts and offerings, and you then are received by God.
So Jesus calls Levi/Matthew and Jesus goes to his house to eat, and who does Levi invite to have dinner with them? The people he knows. Who does he know? Who would associate with him? Other tax collectors and the worst kind of sinners.
What do we mean by the worst kind of sinners?
1. Some simple sins could be forgiven by being sorry – by simple contrition.
2. A little worse sin would be covered by contrition and then offering a sacrifice on the day of atonement.
3. A purposeful and sustained sin would require contrition, a sacrifice on the day of atonement, and personal suffering. This is where people like Martin Luther would have flogged themselves in the back – beat themselves. And Luther did.
4. And finally, the worst would be the sin they see in Levi/Matthew – to profane or deny the one true God – they would see this in Matthew by his swearing allegiance to another god which they would say he did in swearing allegiance to Caesar by being his representative in the tax system –
This sin could not be forgiven through anything I previously mentioned – but required death.
There was this idea then that the Pharisees called the “righteous” to repent and be forgiven– which was any of the first three categories of sin.
When Jesus says, the well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick….
when Jesus says, I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance… you get a better idea of what He is talking about. Jesus did not come to die for those who could make themselves right with God…. He came to die for the hopeless… those who were condemned.
But in contrast to the Pharisees – Jesus said – none are righteous.
He came to seek and save the lost.
Jesus calls the sinners to follow Him, not those who perceive themselves righteous and able enough to earn God’s favor on their own. We follow Jesus not as a result of our good works, but as a result of our complete dependence and reliance to His grace and mercy to redeem and empower us.
Jesus did not need Matthew. Matthew needed Jesus.
Can you not imagine Levi/Matthew thinking over his live – pondering his life – sometimes thinking about his purpose and thinking he was not fulfilling his purpose? The man who knew his name meant “gift of God”, who knew he was supposed to be connecting people to God and different choices and circumstances in his life have led him to a booth in town ripping off poor farmers?
It would have appeared there was no way out of this mess he had made of his life. Did he have wealth? Sure. Did he have status in Roman eyes? Yes. Would his parents have been proud? I doubt it. the one thing this story tells us for sure is that Levi/Matthew was looking for more than what he had become. And when Jesus called him, it was just the break he’d been looking for. Jesus said, follow me, and Matthew arose and followed Him. And in Jesus, Matthew found his purpose – and fulfilled his identity.
The only life-long solution to any problem is found in discovering your true identity in Christ.
Can you picture someone else taking Levi’s place as a tax collector? Someone would have thought, “Just the break I have been looking for”… And without a doubt, the person would have eventually discovered why Matthew left the booth. The material things of this world can not and will never fulfill you. Only Jesus fulfills you. Rich and famous people who we would say have everything have self destructed, died from overdoses, and taken their own lives.
Without Jesus, you can have everything and not be fulfilled. With Jesus, you have all you need.
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
– Jim Elliott – who lost his life as a young man in the mid 1950’s as a missionary to Ecuador.
Toby Mac – I don’t want to gain the whole world and lose my soul.
Thanks to Jesus, Matthew figured it out before it was too late. And when Jesus called THIS sinner to follow Him, Matthew said yes.
My prayer is that each person who hears this message, whether today or later, my prayer is that you would evaluate and reevaluate where you stand with Jesus. Did you come to Him thinking you are good enough, or that you got yourself straightened up enough to come to Him? Do you think He is fortunate to have you on His team? Do you feel like you are the gatekeeper of the Kingdom of God or His church? Or did you come to Him and continue to follow Him humbly, knowing He does not need you, but you cannot do without Him?
Jesus calls the sinners to follow Him, not those who perceive themselves righteous and able enough to earn God’s favor on their own. We follow Jesus not as a result of our good works, but as a result of our complete dependence and reliance to His grace and mercy to redeem and empower us. And He calls you today.
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling Calling for you and for me See, on the portals He's waiting and watching Watching for you and for me Come home, come home Ye who are weary, come home Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling Calling, O sinner, come home! Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading Pleading for you and for me? Why should we linger and heed not His mercies Mercies for you and for me? Come home, come home, You who are weary, come home Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling Calling, O sinner, come home! Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing Passing from you and from me Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming Coming for you and for me Come home, come home, Ye who are weary, come home Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling Calling, O sinner, come home! O for the wonderful love He has promised Promised for you and for me! Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon Pardon for you and for me Come home, come home You who are weary, come home Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling Calling, O sinner, come home!