Study 2 MATTHEW THE TAX COLLECTOR
TEN NEW TESTAMENT CONVERSIONS
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portion: Luke 5:27-32)
Matthew’s conversion is recorded in Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:13-14; Luke 5:27-32, and it is significant that when Matthew is giving his testimony (in Matthew 9:9) he does it in one short verse! Perhaps this indicates the modesty of the man who became one of our Lord’s most trusted first followers. Levi, or Matthew as he became known after his conversion, was a tax collector for the Roman government and it is possible that he, like Zacchaeus and many of that day, lined his own pockets very well at the same time. If this was so he would be a hated man, regarded as an extortioner. On the other hand we must remember that Levi was a deeply religious man. For this reason, at any rate, he should have been an honest tax collector! We now read of the day when the Lord Jesus passed Matthew’s office, saw him hard at work and called him to follow Him. It happened as simply as that (verse 27); and what was Matthew’s response? It was unreserved and immediate (verse 28). Notice the three pictures that are brought before us.
1. Matthew counting his money
Luke 5:27 tells us this. When Jesus saw him he was sitting at his tax booth. His money bags were full and his account books were kept meticulously. We know this because Matthew’s care for accuracy and detail is very evident in his gospel. So look at Matthew counting his money, Matthew immersed in his job, Matthew who was not liked by the people, Matthew who was wealthy and perhaps lonely, and Matthew who was efficient and methodical – obviously a keen businessman. This was the man Jesus called while he was doing his ordinary job. It’s interesting that Jesus chose him! How often this incident has been repeated down the centuries! D.L. Moody was selling boots when Edward Kimble called on him in his Boston shoe shop and led him to Christ. One of today’s great preachers spent most of his time in his consulting room when God called him away to work full-time in Christian ministry. Others have been preparing for brilliant professional careers when God has laid His hand upon them and led them to serve Him in very different work. Often God does the unexpected thing. We would not have thought of Matthew becoming an ardent disciple of the Lord Jesus, or for that matter Peter, James or John, but such are God’s sovereign ways (Luke 4:18-19). Compare John 20:21. Perhaps we should point out here that it is not necessary to leave a secular calling to become a Christian, a wholehearted and dedicated follower of the Lord. Matthew did have to do this, for obvious reasons, so have a good look at him – counting his money!
2. Matthew changing his mind
A tremendous change took place very quickly in this man, which we read about in the second part of verses 27 and 28. Did all this really happen as suddenly as that? Yes and no! Yes, because verse 28 leaves us in no doubt about it. Matthew’s response was immediate. But in another sense it may not have been as immediate as it seems, for surely Matthew had given this matter a good deal of thought. Dr Alexander Whyte suggests that Matthew had been acquainted with Jesus for a long time, and that perhaps Jesus Himself had visited Matthew on a number of occasions to pay taxes. We do not know, but what we do know is that he was a thoughtful man, and here we are told that he was a man who changed his mind. That is what repentance is (Isaiah 55:7). To repent is to change your mind about God, about Christ, sin, self, the Christian life and the things of time and eternity. So in all probability Matthew was ready when the call came, prepared by the Lord Himself; he was religious but longing for reality, just like so many people today. He had probably recognised Jesus as the promised Messiah and was already convinced of this, so that when Jesus called him he was ready to get up to follow Him.
3. Matthew confessing the Master
He had no thought of doing this secretly. He did it so publicly that in no time his action would have been the talk of the town! Notice that there were at least three ways in which Matthew confessed his Master:-
- 1. By leaving his sins. When we are told in verse 28 that he “left everything” it certainly includes the whole idea of turning away from anything which was shady, underhand or dishonest in his business. To become a Christian means this: being utterly honest before God and before others (Proverbs 11:1; 12:22).
- 2. By telling his friends. He did this in a special way. Verse 29 tells us that Matthew made a feast in his house to which he invited friends to meet the Lord and hear about his conversion. Of course, this resulted in opposition (verses 30-32), but Matthew knew he was now on the Lord’s side, and the Lord was on his side (Joshua 24:15).
- 3. By writing his book. What an achievement it was to write what we now know as “The Gospel According to Matthew”! What a book!
Love always finds many ways for quiet but definite open confession of the Lord Jesus. Matthew found at least these three ways; he left his sins, he told his friends, he wrote his book. Take a good look at Matthew confessing his Master. Are you a definite, open, dedicated follower of the Lord Jesus?