THE TWELVE — MATTHEW
by Pastor Mike Fortune
July 11, 2009
Introduction Video: Challenging the Ordinary
- God calls ordinary people [Luke 6:13-16; Ezekiel 21:26; Matthew 9:9]
- To know the Lord [Hosea 6:3; Matthew 9:10-12; Luke 5:29]
- And their constant need for His righteousness [Hosea 6:6; Revelation 3:14-18; 2 Corinthians 12:9]
Surprisingly, we don’t know how many disciples Jesus actually had. Luke 10:1 says at one point, Jesus sent seventy out in pairs to evangelize in communities where He was preparing to visit. But the total was certainly more than that. Scripture says multitudes followed Him. From this multitude of disciples, He called twelve men to become apostoloi or apostles in English which literally means “messengers or sent ones.” The last 18 months of Jesus’ life on earth, these men were given a unique role as Christ’s ambassadors. Though they carried full authority from Christ, they themselves apparently felt uncomfortable with that authority. Matthew uses the term apostle only once in his Gospel (10:2). Same thing with Mark (6:30) and John (13:16). Instead, these three men, in the books they wrote, humbly refer to themselves as “The Twelve” and so like we did last summer, we will too.
We already talked about Peter, Andrew, James and John. We also studied what Scripture says about Philip and Nathanael. So if you missed those, you can catch up on our church website www.toledofirstadventist.org and then click the sermons link on the left. This summer, we’re studying four more apostles starting with Matthew.
Some of you may remember that there are four lists of the twelve apostles in the New Testament: Matthew 10:2–4; Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:13–16; and Acts 1:13. Here’s how the list reads in Luke’s Gospel: “When morning came, He [Jesus] called His disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom He also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.”
In all four lists, the same twelve men are named and the order in which they are given is similar. All twelve apostles, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, were from the predominantly rural towns and villages collectively called Galilee. Its people were not elite. Or educated. They were very ordinary. Primarily common fishermen and farmers. Jesus deliberately passed over those who were aristocratic and influential choosing instead those who recognized their need and were willing to learn. That is how it has always been in God’s economy. And that is point number one. God chooses ordinary people. Who, as our video clip reminded us, can become extraordinary servants and worshipers and followers of God.
Isaiah 26:5–6 (NIV) says it this way, “5 He humbles those who dwell on high, He lays the lofty city low; he levels it to the ground and casts it down to the dust. 6 Feet trample it down—the feet of the oppressed, the footsteps of the poor.” God told Israel in Zephaniah 3:12 (NIV) “12 But I will leave within you the meek and humble, who trust in the name of the LORD.” And in Ezekiel 21:26 (NIV) he repeated, “26 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low.’”
So it shouldn’t have been a big surprise to the religious establishment that when it came time for Jesus to choose and appoint 12 apostles from among the multitudes of disciples that followed Him, that He selected 12 men with simple faith who were by earthly standards common and low. And of all the twelve, there was probably none considered more ordinary than Matthew. Mark 2:14 calls him by his Jewish name, Levi the son of Alphaeus as does Luke in chapter five verses 27–29. Some folks think he had a brother named James for according to Mark 2:14 and Mark 3:18, both Matthew and the other James in the lists of the twelve apostles were “sons of Alphaeus.” Other scholars say Matthew and James the sons of Alphaeus weren’t brothers or Scripture would’ve specifically said so as it does for Peter and Andrew and James and John. So, we don’t know for sure, but if they were brothers, for those keeping record at home, that’s 4 sets of possible brothers among the apostles—2 biological pairs Peter and Andrew and James and John—and 2 pairs that Scripture describes as friends closer than brothers such as Philip and Nathanael whom we’ve already talked about in addition to Matthew and possibly the other James as the sons of Alphaeus. In case you’re ever on Jeopardy! and Alex Trebek is asking about the apostles, now you know.
Anyway, Matthew’s Gospel has 28 chapters so one might expect to know more about him than his family tree, but the fact of the matter is we know very little. In his entire Gospel he mentions his own name only two times. Once when he records how Jesus called him to follow him in 9:9 and once when he lists all twelve apostles in 10:3. Which provides a clue regarding his growth in grace and humility. Because tax collectors weren’t shy. They couldn’t be to collect money from the multitudes. Their jobs demanded a certain amount of arrogance and confidence in dealing with crowds and hanging out in public. People like Matthew sat behind a tax collector’s booth and dealt with people face to face, actually assessing the taxes, tolls, and tariffs and then collecting the money. As such, Matthew was the individual people saw and resented the most. Which often made them easy targets for assassination by zealots like Simon, who Jesus also called to be an apostle even though he was a member of the Sicarri—the most feared terrorist organization of that day.
But you didn’t have to be a terroriest to hate tax collectors. Pretty much everybody despised and rejected them. All of Jewish society deemed tax collectors lower than Galileans taunted by the Pharisees in John 7:52. They were reviled more than the Nazarenes that Nathanael initially hated in John 1:46. And were considered more worthy of scorn than the occupying Roman soldiers. But Matthew 9:9 (NIV) records the calling of one such tax collector. “9As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. ‘Follow Me,’ he told Him, and Matthew got up and followed Him.” Matthew instantly and without hesitation “got up and followed Him.” He left his toll booth on the Capernaum turnpike (cf. Matthew 4:14; 9:1) and walked away from his lucrative profession forever. For there was no shortage of money grabbing greedy despicable men willing to sell their soul for monetary gain. As soon as he stepped away and followed Jesus, you can be sure someone else stepped in and took over. Matthew had to have known that once he walked away from his booth, there was no going back. But he went anyway.
Could it be that deep down inside he knew that possessions and power weren’t satisfying? Most likely after he had chosen his despicable career and undoubtedly broken his devout parents hearts, the Holy Spirit kept reminding him that he could still live up to their high hopes and his high priestly birth name of Levi and serve the King of Kings. Which is what God wants from each of us. To love and serve the King of Kings.
I was reminded of that this past week when I saw the multitudes of ordinary people, not just Hollywood stars, gather in Los Angeles to mourn the loss of the self-proclaimed “King of Pop.” Philippians 2:11 says one day multitudes of people will bow before Jesus—the King of Kings [Revelation 19:16]. And that in the meantime, what’s eternally significant is knowing Him. The prophet Hosea knew that. In chapter 6 verse 3 (KJV) he longed for the same thing. “3Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD.”
Point number one. God calls ordinary people. To know the Lord. And this is point number two. Though Matthew was ordinary and reviled and even hated, he was not ignorant. He knew the Lord! He quotes the Old Testament in his Gospel 99 times—which is more times than Mark, Luke, and John combined! Apparently, to fill the spiritual void in his life from not being allowed to participate in worship and community in the synagogue, he had turned to the Scriptures and read widely from all of it. Later, he would write his Gospel to his fellow Jews around 70 AD, making sure to quote from each section of the Old Testament: out of the Law, out of the Psalms, and out of the Prophets so they too might know and believe in Jesus, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, that Hosea longed for.
But in addition to devout parents with high hopes for their priestly Levi and familiarity with Scripture, Matthew must have also known about Jesus because sitting at the crossroads in a turnpike toll booth, he would have heard the latest scoop and headline news on Jesus’ miraculous ministry and preaching. So much so that when this truth speaking, miracle working, extra ordinary guy from Nazareth actually showed up and invited him—a despised and rejected Jewish sell out searching and seeking for truth and meaning—he jumped at the chance. His faith is clearly indicated not only in the immediacy of his response, but also in the fact that after following Jesus, he held an evangelistic party in his home.
Let’s read about that party in Matthew 9:10–12. “10While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came and ate with him and his disciples.” How many? A heapin’ helpin’ full! In Luke’s parallel account of this passage, in Luke 5:29 (NIV), Luke says, “29Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.”
Luke reveals that this meal with Jesus was actually an enormous banquet that Matthew himself held at his own house in Jesus’ honor. As we saw in the lives of Andrew and Philip, a genuine Christian’s first impulse after following Jesus is to bring their closest friends and family and introduce them to Jesus. Obviously, Matthew knew the Lord and loved to talk about Jesus. So he invited a large number of his fellow tax collector friends and social outcasts neighbors to the party so he could share. And because he had a relationship with them, they came!
Verse 11 says, “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” That’s a good question. And here’s another one. Why weren’t the Pharisees invited? Why after they saw this party take place did they have to approach the disciples to ask them about it? Was there not enough room in the house? Hardly. The fact that his house was large enough for a great banquet and a large crowd of people in it reminds us how much more affluent he was than the other apostles. He had plenty of room for whoever wanted to come. But no Pharisees came because they were either not invited or wouldn’t have come even if they were. Tax collectors and sinners were the only kinds of people Matthew hung out with. And according to Matthew 21:32, everyone except Jesus thought tax collectors and prostitutes were hopeless sinners. So much so that the Jewish Talmud even taught that it was righteous to lie and deceive a tax collector because that is what a professional extortioner deserved.
Therefore, Matthew’s only friends were riffraf, petty criminals, hoodlums, prostitutes, and thugs. From Galilee. Nazareth. Cana. You name it. This was a big party for the lowest of the low. The guest list reminds me of that Garth Brooks song with the lyrics that go “I’ve got friends in low places where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away.” Jackie loves country music. Me? Not so much. Anyway, there were apparently quite a few of Matthew’s friends from low places there and Luke says it had to be a “great banquet” for a “large crowd.”
Which is interesting I think. For whether you’re a despicable, vile, unprincipled, dishonest, greedy man ignoring your Levitical call to priesthood obviously stealing money from your own countrymen and considered ceremonially unclean by your church like Matthew OR if you’re the son of a respectable fisherman in the lineage of the high priest like the apostle James making a decent living with multiple boats and hired hands—to Jesus—you’re BOTH a sinner needing to be saved by grace. Your good deeds aren’t good enough. And your bad things obviously aren’t either.
Jesus knew He was taking a huge risk just showing up at this party much less sitting down and sharing a meal with them. But he went anyway because he calls ordinary people to know Him. If there was ever a choice to be made between people and policy, he chose people first. Jesus cared more about lost people than his reputation. He’d rather hang out with “whiskey downers” and “beer chasers” than hypocrites. Why? Because they at least recognized their constant need for His righteousness. And this is point number three.
This “all have sinned” message infuriated the Pharisees. Notice, they were outraged and scandalized not primarily by the miracles Jesus did—for there were far too many to deny. Not primarily by the fact that Jesus ate with sinners—if He wants to be ceremonially unclean, religiously worse than a Gentile, that’s his problem. The Messenger they could tolerate. The Message they could not. For what Jesus was really saying, like John the Baptist before Him, is there is only One who is good [Matthew 19:17]. Everybody else, even after they go to church and do good things, constantly need a Savior. That’s why, as shocking as it sounds, Godly living is not primarily about what you do! Even if its good. It’s about who you know. So Jesus tells them to go read Hosea 6:6. (Mike’s paraphrase). “I desire mercy and grace, not sacrifices and good deeds.”
Ordinary people like Matthew already knew they were despicable, vile, unprincipled, dishonest, greedy, wretched, blind, and poor and readily admitted it. They pretended about nothing. And because they were prepared to confess their sin, they could be forgiven and redeemed. No wonder Jesus replied to the Pharisees criticism with these words found in Matthew 9:12 (NIV). “‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
Matthew knew he was a sinner, the worst of the worst, effectively cut off from his own people and from his God, banned from the synagogue and forbidden to sacrifice and worship in the temple, worse than a Gentile. So when Jesus asked him to come he came. The Pharisees didn’t. And Laodicea is the same way. John, writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to already churched church members, said in Revelation 3:14–18, “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Ruler of God’s creation. I know your [good?] deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. You say ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”
The Messenger they could tolerate. The Message of Christ’s righteousness alone they could not. And point number three is just as true today. The 1st angels message of righteousness by faith and the everlasting Gospel message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is as controversial and criticized today as it was in Jesus’ day. Both inside and outside the church. It’s too simple. Too good to be true. Too dangerous. It will encourage lawlessness. I used to believe all that. But not any more. Because Jesus died for me while I was still a sinner. Long before I ever wanted to be one of His saints. So I stopped trying to become one. And accepted that I am one! I decided to start trusting Him to sanctify and change what needs to be changed in me. I decided to care more about people than my reputation. And somehow in the past 10 years of my life, Jesus has hard wired within me an undying loyalty and a never ending passion to know Him closer, and better, and more each day. It’s what I live for. And long for. And what wake up thinking about sometimes at 2:00 AM. It’s what I pray my family understands. And what I pray my church family never forgets. It’s what Matthew eventually died for.
We know Matthew wrote his Gospel with a Jewish audience in mind. And that tradition says he ministered to the Jews both in Israel and abroad for many years before being martyred for his faith. And while there is no reliable record of how he died, the earliest traditions indicate he was burned at the stake. But when he died, however he died, it was not just as a forgiven tax collector. But as a justified one. Who, after following Christ, never was despicable. Justification means Matthew never was vile. Never was unprincipled. Never was dishonest. Never was greedy. In God’s eyes, Matthew never was a tax collector. Because Christ’s perfect life was lived for him and covers his. That’s what the everlasting Gospel is. Really good news. And the same invitation Jesus made to Matthew He is making to you. “Follow me.” “Know me.” “Recognize me.”
God calls ordinary people to know the Lord and to recognize their constant need for His righteousness. Have you accepted His invitation? Do you want Jesus to forgive and justify you? Will you, like Matthew, choose to love those He loves? If so, would you please read 2 Corinthians 12:9 with me off the screen? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Amen. For more information see John MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men pages 149-157.