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"For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not of ourselves."


Tax Collector, Disciple, Gospel Writer

by Timothy Cross

Timothy Cross

The Call of Matthew

The Bible records how Jesus … saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him ‘Follow Me.’ And he rose and followed Him (Matthew 9:9).

This concise account of Matthew-Levi’s call to follow Christ has a lot more to it than meets the eye. It actually contains some implicit evidence for the deity of Christ. The question is begged: Who is this Who is able to give the authoritative command ‘Follow Me’? Who is this Who is able and worthy to command and demand our total allegiance and obedience? Surely only God Himself is worthy of such. In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah once issued the challenge: If the LORD is God, follow Him (1 Kings 18:21). Here however we see Jesus issuing the command ‘Follow Me.’ It shows that Jesus Christ is God.

The Conversion of Matthew

Matthew’s call to follow Christ was the biggest milestone in his life. Along with Christ’s summons, Christ’s salvation was imparted. Christ’s word accomplished a great work, for the commandment issued was also an enablement imparted. Matthew was never the same again. Therefore, if any one is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Humanly speaking, Matthew was an unlikely candidate for salvation. Few in Israel would have singled out a tax collector for divine blessing. Taking money off people never boosts your popularity! Tax collectors were a despised breed. They were well known for being less than scrupulous - even for being embezzlers and defrauders. They were also loathed for their being in-league with the occupying, pagan, Roman power. At the call of the Lord, though, Matthew left his tax office behind and became one of Jesus’ inner circle of twelve disciples. The differing and diverse backgrounds of these twelve disciples are a picture of the Gospel of reconciliation in microcosm. All were now one in Christ - though we could speculate on the nature of the banter and table talk which occurred between Matthew - a Jew formerly in league with Rome - and Judas and Simon the Zealot - disciples who were formerly not averse to overthrowing Rome by paramilitary force.

The Composition of Matthew

Under God, Matthew’s main legacy to the world is his Gospel - the written account and compilation of the life and teaching of Jesus which bears his name. Matthew’s initial occupation was such that he was used to writing and keeping accounts, and the Lord God sanctified this ability of his and put his talent to a higher use to write Matthew’s Gospel - the first book in our New Testament.

It is fitting that Matthew’s Gospel should open the New Testament, as Matthew’s Gospel is the Gospel with the most Jewish flavour to it, and as such is the ideal bridge between the Old and New Testaments. It has been well said that the New Testament completes what the Old Testament commences, and this is particularly true of Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew goes to great lengths to show that the many promises which God made in Old Testament times all have their fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ. All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet (Matthew 1:22). ‘Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them’ (Matthew 5:17). Truly, in the Lord Jesus, all the promises of God find their Yes in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

The Christ of Matthew

Each of the four Gospel writers has his own distinctive perspective on the life and ministry of Jesus. It is as though the same Person’s portrait is being painted from four different angles. Matthew’s particular emphasis is that Jesus is the Christ. He is the longed for Messiah promised by God. A turning point in his Gospel occurs when Peter makes the open confession to Jesus: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16).

‘Christ’ is a title, not a name. The title means ‘the anointed one.’ In Old Testament times, prophets, priests and kings were all anointed with oil at the outset of their ministries. It symbolised their being set apart by God and specially endowed with His Holy Spirit so that they could fulfil their specific callings. When the Lord Jesus commenced His ministry, Matthew records He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on Him (Matthew 3:16). As the Anointed One, Christ fulfils the roles of prophet, priest and king in His One blessed Person.

The Clue to Matthew

If there is one verse which gives us the key to unlock all twenty eight chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, it is Matthew 21:5. The verse - which again, is a fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy, namely Zechariah 9: 9 - reads:-Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.’

i. The Character of Christ

‘Behold your King … Kingship was a facet of Messiah-hood. The Messiah was One Who would bring in God’s everlasting kingdom. He would bring in eternal life - the life of the Age to come. The Jewish people looked back to the reign of king David as being something of a golden age, hence, when they looked forward to the Messianic Age, they viewed it through ‘Davidic spectacles.’ A Greater than David would come, right all wrongs and bring in the kingdom of heaven. And the Bible reveals Jesus to be ‘Great David’s Greater Son.’ He is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16) - the root and offspring of David (Revelation 22:16).

Matthew then wrote his Gospel to direct our attention to the Messiah-King: Behold your King … The Shorter Catechism states ‘Christ executeth the office of a king in subduing us to Himself, in ruling and defending us and in restraining and conquering all His and our enemies.’ If we belong to Jesus we are the glad subjects of His kingdom. We are under Christ’s crown and covenant. He has conquered us with His saving grace. He has made us His willing servants. We worship Him as One Who is enthroned in heaven at God’s right hand, working and weaving all things for the good of His people. He reigns and He will yet come to reign. When He comes again in glory, He will put down all who oppose Him and eradicate all that is contrary and incompatible to His rule of justice and love. Behold your King is coming to you.

ii. The Cross of Christ

The great King of Matthew’s Gospel is also, however - and most paradoxically - a humble king. Humble and mounted on an ass, and on a colt the foal of an ass. It reminds us that this King stooped to conquer. He bowed most low to lift His people most high. In fact, He conquered by seemingly being conquered, when the hands of cruel men nailed Him to a plank of wood and hung Him up to die. Matthew’s Christ is a crucified Christ. He records pointedly that when Christ was crucified, over His head they put the charge against Him, which read ‘THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS’ (Matthew 27:37). The notion of a crucified Messiah could not have been further away from the popular political Messianic expectations of the day. We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block (scandal) to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23). Yet it was by His cross that Christ gained the victory, for it was there at Calvary that He wrought the eternal salvation of His people which only He could win. On the cross His precious blood was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). On the cross the Messiah made purification for sins (Hebrews 1:3) and was offered once to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9:28).

iii. The Conquest of Christ

Matthew wrote his Gospel because he was concerned that we too should come to know and love the Messiah Whom he had come to know and love. When we read Matthew’s Gospel we are indeed brought face to face with the longed for Messiah - the One Who alone can give us entry into the kingdom of heaven.  That Jesus is indeed the Christ is fully and finally evidenced in Matthew’s last chapter, where we read of God the Father’s Own vindication of His Son by raising Him from the dead. The final words uttered by Matthew’s crucified and conquering King affirm that ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me …(Matthew 28:18). Peter likewise affirmed and confirmed this at Pentecost in the first ever Christian sermon when he proclaimed God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus Whom you crucified (Acts 2:36).

Matthew’s Gospel then thus repays our careful and prayerful attention. In reading its pages we are compelled to pay homage to the crucified, risen and reigning Messiah we encounter there.

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed
Great David’s greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed
His reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression
To set the captives free
To take away transgression
And rule in equity

O’er every foe victorious
He on His throne shall rest
From age to age more glorious
All blessing and all-blest
The tide of time shall never
His covenant remove
His name shall stand for ever
His changeless Name of love.

Timothy Cross

 Timothy Cross was born in Wales, of English parents, and spent some formative years living and worshipping in Northern Ireland.  A graduate of the University of Wales, Dr. Cross is an experienced preacher and the author of over twenty popular Christian books. His main interests include the original languages of the Bible, distance running, cats, and ‘wholesome comedy.’

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