Matthew 9:9-13

We have so very much to do this morning that we won’t spend much time in historical review.  But as things come up in the text, especially in verse thirteen, things will be said in recollection of the context.  But let’s go right to the text.

Verse nine:  “And as Jesus was passing by there….”  That means as He was passing by the tax office, “…He saw a man sitting at the tax office…” or the tax booth “…one called Matthew, and says to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And having risen he followed Him.”

Now, Matthew was a customs officer.  And, as you might remember, Rome had ruled this whole part of the world since about 60 BC.  And they had set up an intricate system of taxation of the people which used the greed and malice of the people themselves.

In fact there was a taxing authority in the land that had to be bought from the Roman authorities.  And once it was bought, then the purchaser had the authority to tax the people in his district; and he had the responsibility to remit the assessed amount of money to Rome.

Then, once bought, the purchaser of a district would go out and hire customs officers to actually collect the taxes in a given area.  Some would be given polling places or census places, so that when the people went to be counted they would also pay their taxes.  That was the case, you remember, when Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem.  He had to go there because Caesar Augustus decreed a census in which each person in Israel had to go back to his own tribal land and, further, to the particular city in that land.  And Joseph and Mary had to pay the tax that Rome had decreed when they went there to Bethlehem.

Well, our text concerns events which happened only about thirty-six years later after that census.  And Rome is still the authority; and the taxes still have to be paid; and the system is still in place!  The tax is decreed by Rome.  And it has to be paid – whatever it is.  And Rome declares who collects the money; and the graft and corruption in the system is awful.  Because, as I mentioned, people buy the right to collect.  And the custom was to charge much more than was assessed – that is, much more than had to be turned in to the local Roman authority!

So the person who had the money power to buy a district really made a lot of money overtaxing the public!  The local owner of a tax district set the rates high enough to pay some and all of his collectors and make himself wealthy.  Which was easy enough to do – because all he had to do if someone refused to pay his taxes was call the soldiers!  It was dictatorship, not benevolent.

Zachaeus was one of these who owned a district.  Architelones – chief tax collector.  We’ll see Zachaeus in the text later on.

But Levi, son of Alphaeus, a Jew, who had somehow and sometime renamed himself Matthew, worked for one of these architelones – head tax collectors – and he had apparently been assigned to a toll booth, or a customs office, on that big road going from major population areas in Syria, such as Damascus, over to the coast on the Mediterranean!  There were some exceptional Phoenician cities, right on the water, and the road to them, from Syria, was fairly well traveled – since going around to the north of the lake was the simplest way to get to the seacoast. (See the map)

That main road was about a mile or so from Capernaum, and the text says that Jesus was passing by there.  So apparently this is the next event, historically speaking, after crossing over to the Gentile nations and then coming back to continue the separation of Israel from the covenant.  Maybe it’s the very next day – we don’t know, but certainly not a long period of time.

But, in any case, it is oh so very evident that the Lord Jesus Christ sought out this particular man at this time in history – and that He did so for particular reasons; and peculiar reasons!  We have to say that, other than writing this Gospel – which is in itself a monumental authorship – but other than that, Matthew’s history is almost non-existent, his importance (personally) in the outworking of the events in the Gospel is irrelevant, and his activities after the resurrection and early beginnings of the Church almost escaped attention altogether!

But he apparently was a man who had hired on as a Roman collaborator – doing so for his own gain – and seeing to it that his own country-men submitted to this awful, foreign dictatorship.  And make no bones about it, the people who did this were hated individuals!  A Jew who helped a foreign occupying army in the nation given by God was a loathed and despised person, lower than anything except a Gentile himself or a mixed-race person.  In fact, all mixed-race people are put into the same category as tax-collectors in this very text, aren’t they?  See verse eleven?  The Pharisees accused Jesus of eating with – having a covenant meal with – reclining at table – joining together in communion with – sinners, which was a euphemism for mixed-race, collaborators, Samarians, and tax collectors!  Matthew, who apparently had some of his customs officer buddies over to dinner with Jesus and some of the ones following him to celebrate, was hated as much as the Gentiles!  And Jesus was actually eating with mixed-race people (this One who people claimed was the very Son of Man prophesied in Daniel) and with tax collectors!

Now, there have been all kinds of speculation as to Matthew’s motivation for being a customs officer for the district tax-collector.  It’s said that the greed was the primary motivation – that there couldn’t be any other reason for the treasonous collaboration.  Others say that, most probably, Matthew had become fed up with the corrupt Jewish system, and he had decided to do this in protest….  But nobody knows.  But we do know that it did not endear him to the Jewish population; and it didn’t do Jesus’ reputation any good to seek him out – out there at the toll booth, and have him follow Him!

But the Bible describes him as a “publicanis” – a publican.  One who works for the public (in finance).  And since he did that, he certainly knew about Jesus already.  People traveling from place to place talked to others.  And no doubt Matthew had heard the stories about this man Who was “preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing all manner of disease and sickness.”

And that’s how this publican describes Jesus in two places in these first chapters of his Gospel.  Now, Matthew doesn’t show up doing much of anything in the rest of the Bible, as I mentioned earlier.  Some historians have him preaching in and around Jerusalem for fifteen years or so after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord; and then some place him in Arabia and Persia.  One story even has him martyred in Persia.  I don’t think anybody knows.

But one thing is for sure – he is the most read author in all the world.  The Gospel of Matthew, being the first book in the New Testament, is probably read before any other and more than any other.  And the One about Whom he wrote had to increase – but Matthew had to decrease.  And decrease he did.  The Word of God lives on by his hand, and his name lives on in the annals of the Church, but his person remains in obscurity.  At least to us.

And I want to talk about that for just a moment – because I think it’s so very important.  Not because it’s a direct application of the text, because it isn’t – indirect maybe, but not direct.  But Matthew’s decrease certainly stems from the reason for which he was called.  And we’ll get to that in a minute, because that’s the reason for this event in the ministry of Jesus being recorded in the first place!

But even beyond that – beyond the reason for his calling at this point in the history of the Kingdom – is the fact that his decrease – his passing from the scene after glorifying the Lord in this Gospel – is what is usually observed in the lives of God’s faithful men!  Isn’t that right?

Their doings, and their escapades, and their histories, and their works become irrelevant – to these men themselves.  Men of God – true men of God – don’t raise the banner of their own work before men!  They don’t elevate themselves to men!  They don’t want to be necessarily honored – they want Christ to be honored and worshipped!

As an example of that, this man never again even refers to himself by name in this whole Gospel – even though he’s writing it!  He wouldn’t even mention his own name!  He says – one time – the “one chosen.”  That’s all.  Not one who repented, and not one who followed.  The Gospel has a central figure, and His Name was Jesus.  And Matthew – writer of the Gospel – could not be interfering with the praise and glory of the Son of God.  And the Lord Jesus would be the Savior of the world – Matthew couldn’t do anything.  He had to de-crease.

And I hold that up for you to emulate.

Now, secondly concerning that, I would want you to see that Matthew was called by Jesus at a peculiar time and for specific reasons.  And you should see that not only Matthew’s salvation, and not only his inclusion in the twelve, and not only his writing of the Gospel resulted from his call; but that his profession and the timing of his call – plus the specifics of the text – all infer that the continuance of the separation and condemnation of the Jewish nation was, at least, one of the primary reasons!

It is impossible to examine all the facts of this case and not come to the conclusion that a major focus of Jesus’ calling of this Jewish customs officer (the hated infidel) was the hardening of Israel’s leadership.

I think that’s why his call comes in the historical sequence that it does!  I think that’s why it falls at this point in the text!  It makes Theological sense that the Son of God would choose one from so hated a segment of Jewish society – and make him a close and trusted apostle – if that whole society was being cut off and separated and disinherited!

It makes sense that the hatred for Jesus and His disciples was taken a step further, and that Israel was moved along further toward its inundation and casting away into the abyss.

So, when Jesus says to Matthew, “Follow Me,” and Matthew puts everything away and gets up and follows Him, the exact opposite thing is happening to the nation of Israel!  The whole process repels and makes them react in horror!  Just watching them eat together generates this anger and rebellion!  They’ve actually come to examine Jesus – to see if there are spots and blemishes in the sacrificial Lamb; and what they observe drives them further away into their demonic delirium!

But let me take this choosing of an apostle a step further.  Even if the only reason for choosing Matthew was to continue the separation of Israel – and we know it isn’t, because, although they are subsidiary reasons, there are other reasons why Matthew was chosen – but even if it were the only reason, it would have been enough!  God needs no other reason than His Own to choose to save us or to use us!  He has made us, and He has molded us as a potter molds the clay.  And if the sole purpose for Matthew’s salvation and His calling as an apostle was to set the Pharisees on edge, it was enough.

But no matter what His purpose, the glory is His, and we ought to be satisfied with it.  Matthew could look at the fame and success of Paul in all the Gentile Churches.  And he could have been jealous, I suppose, as he compared it to his own relative obscurity.  But God chooses the purpose for each, doesn’t He?  And if we fit that purpose, then we are completely in the will and purpose of God.  He has then brought all to Himself that He designed.  And although we might seek more, more often than not we have to be content with less as we look to do our jobs in the Kingdom.  God didn’t choose Matthew to be the apostle to the Gentiles.  He chose Paul to do that.  And where you’re concerned, even if he chose you and saved you only that you could raise Godly children in order to accomplish a major task in the next generation – be content with it.  It’s the Lord’s design for you.

But now I want to come to the main issue in this passage.  After having set up this confrontation with the Pharisees by making Matthew His disciple, and by going to Matthew’s house to recline at table with the sinners and tax collectors, Jesus takes note of the fact that the Pharisees are offended.  And He makes that comment to the disciple about the healthy ones needing no physician.  And I’ll come back to that in a minute or two.

But then He says, verse thirteen, “But as you go, learn what this means; ‘Mercy I desire, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

“Mercy I desire, and not sacrifice.”  Jesus has gone back into the Old Testament Scriptures in order to pass judgment upon Israel.  He set all of this up – this whole incident, this historical event – in order to complete this condemnatory step in the separation of the old covenant nation.

And point one is that Jesus’ constant condemnation upon the leaders of Israel was that they disregarded the prophets sent from God, and that they killed them and otherwise mistreated them!  And every time Jesus addresses comments to the Pharisees and Scribes – or even about them, as it is in this case – and does so from the prophets, the very mention of the prophets’ words is, by itself, condemnatory!  Because the leadership of the nation, and their forefathers, had disregarded the Words of God sent through those prophets.  And killed the ones He sent!

That’s point one.  Point two has to do with the message of this prophet.  And Jesus quotes from Hosea chapter six, verse six.  And speaking of the will of God for an individual, it was Hosea’s lot to be ordered by God to marry a harlot in order to signify and figure the state of the nation and its relationship to God!  On numbers of occasions God has used the infidelity of a whoring wife to signify the idolatry of this non-believing nation!  And Hosea’s wife continued to be a harlot after Hosea married her.  So the terrible heartbreak of an unfaithful wife was Hosea’s life – his call – in order that God might lay the groundwork for cutting off of the covenant people!

That’s point two.  Point three is that the nation itself – that is, the northern Kingdom of Israel to whom Hosea prophesied, had long since become idolatrous, and had slid even deeper into Godlessness under King Ahaz.  And God sent Jeroboam to bring them back to Godly worship, but he, too, became involved in the idolatry!  He was the hypocrite.  He was the one who would re-establish Godly worship to the Northern Kingdom, but he only outwardly did some things!

And this is the history and the theological situation of the times from which Jesus quotes!  The quote has to be seen in its context, you see, for its only in seeing that, that you can fully see the significance of what’s being said in our text!

And the hypocrite Pharisees are the ones who have approached to see Jesus eating with the Gentiles and tax-collectors.  And these Pharisees are the ones who have kept the outward forms of the ceremony, but who have left the faith for demonic mysticism and secular self-interest!  They are the hypocrites after the order of Jeroboam.  And they are the whoring wife who has left her husband.  And they are the ones who are pretending to be righteous and healthy, but, in reality, are the filthy and depraved!

And here’s point four – (and the Sword that pierces all the way down to humiliation) – since Jesus’ quote is in the context of the leader who pretends to be something he’s not – Jeroboam – and since the quote is, in itself, a condemnation of pretense, the Pharisees are here being accused by Jesus as being hypocrites.  They retain the sacrifices in the old ceremonies, but there is no Godliness.

He says to them “Hypocrites, you’re misinterpreting what you see here and condemning it based on your misinterpretations, and yet you, yourselves are covering up who you really are by retaining the old sacrifices! You’re just like your father Jeroboam who did the same things.  He was the hypocrite before you.  And I desired mercy then – and I desire mercy now!”

Now, Jesus isn’t condemning prescribed ceremony.  Do not believe that when people say it.  It’s true.  God condemns hypocrisy.  That is – using the ceremony of religion to cover up what’s really underneath!  That’s what God hates, and He cut off His adopted son because of it!  And He still hates it!

You see the leadership of Israel was using the prefiguring of the Lamb of God – the ceremonial and sacrificial system – as a cover for what they were inside.  And Jesus has exposed it for what it was with this quote here from Hosea, in verse thirteen of our text.  They were pretenders.  They pretended to be righteous, and Jesus, in verse twelve, says He didn’t come for them – only for those who were unrighteous – those who needed the healing of the Great Physician.  You’re not included!

And the separation of Israel was taken another step forward – the call of Matthew being the pivotal action taken toward that end.

May God be praised in using us whatever way He chooses.

It is a magnificent thing to see that the One whose call was to the end that His nation was cut off and destroyed is also the One with all the insights into that separating process – and the One who wrote this Glorious Gospel of the salvation of the nations.