The Call and Response of Matthew
“And after these things He went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and He said unto him, Follow Me. And he left all, rose up, and followed Him. And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against His disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. And they said unto Him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but Thine eat and drink? And He said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them and then shall they fast in those days. And He spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” (Luke 5:27-39)
We have really three distinct narratives in these verses but they are all linked together: the last two springing out of the first. The Lord Jesus passing by the custom office saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and He said unto him, “Follow Me.” Levi is the author of the first Gospel in the New Testament and in that record uses his other name, “Matthew.” The author of this Gospel gives him his Hebrew name.
They use the word ‘publican’ in Great Britain for one who keeps a tavern. In the Bible, it refers to a tax collector, one who was enriching himself by oppressing his own people. Under the Roman Government in Palestine, the chief publican was generally a Jew who purchased the office from the Government and farmed the taxes for his own benefit. Matthew belonged to this group. Some one has said that he was probably the man who taught Peter to swear! I cannot say this was true, but I can understand people saying that. Twenty per cent of all the fish which were taken out of the lake were collected as taxes at the port of Capernaum. How that would rile Peter to have to give up the best of his catch, and so it possibly did start him swearing. Matthew was therefore of unsavory reputation among his own countrymen.
I do not know how frequently he saw and heard Jesus and beheld His works of power, but he was familiar with His ministry and so when the Lord Jesus called him, saying, “Follow Me,” Matthew left all and rose up and followed Him. That does not mean that he left everything immediately, but that he turned over all the accounting and satisfied the Roman Government and said to them, “I have heard the voice of Jesus of Nazareth and henceforth I give Him my life and all that I have.”
For Matthew, following Jesus meant that he must give up all dishonesty and selfishness. Jesus said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” What is your response to this call? When Matthew heard the call, he wound up his business and recognized Jesus as the Lord of his life. Then, ere he left all for good, he made a great feast. I suppose he was a comparatively wealthy man and he called a big company of those he knew well and they all sat down at the feast together. He invited Jesus and His disciples also, and they came. To the Pharisees it seemed strange that Jesus would accept such an invitation.
They were more concerned about the details of the law than they were about the souls of men. They found fault with the Lord because He healed on the Sabbath day, and associated with publicans and sinners but these despised people were the very folk that He came from heaven to save. Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
There is a Saviour for you if you are lost. If you are not lost, if you have always done the best you could and obeyed the law and kept the Golden Rule maybe you can get along without Jesus! But if you are a poor sinner, and if your heart is black from sin, you are the very one that Jesus is seeking after. He longs to have you know Him.
One thing you may be sure of, He was not having a jolly time with them. One of the great curses today is the devil’s mission of amusement! Have you ever thought of what the word amusement means? Muse means “to think,” and the a is “the negative,” so amuse means “not to think.” David said when he was musing the fire burned. The devil finds all sorts of things to amuse the people in order to keep them from thinking and facing the realities of eternity.
Jesus did not meet with Matthew’s friends in order to amuse them. He was speaking faithfully and earnestly about things pertaining to the kingdom. Always serious, He was there to save them and bring them to God. These scribes and Pharisees looked on to criticize. They were just as bad as those they despised, in the sight of God. The Lord heard them murmuring and said to them, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
There are some folk who are never happy without a doctor, but ordinarily people do not want the doctor if they are well, only when they are sick. So when people know that they are sinners, thank God, there is a Saviour to save them!
Someone may say, “I am too great a sinner to be saved.” But you can never be too great a sinner for the Lord Jesus to save. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” The chief has already been saved and is in glory so any other sinner may be saved if he wills. “Whosoever will may come.”
I was having a meeting for boys and girls and I held my New Testament up and asked, “Who would like to buy this for $1.75?” No one had the money to buy it. Then I announced, that “whosoever” would come up and claim the New Testament might have it freely. A little fellow looked up and finally came out in the aisle and said to me, “I will take the Testament, please.” I said that I would give it to “whosoever will” and the little fellow realized that “whosoever” included him.
If you are ready to take your place among the “whosoevers,” there is salvation for you. Levi took that place and trusted Jesus before he followed Him. You are not saved by following Jesus, but you are saved by trusting Him. That is what Levi did.
The scribes and Pharisees could not enter into the joy of the feast. They said, “Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but Thine eat and drink?” In other words they were saying unto Jesus, “Your disciples are too happy and John’s and ours are more sober.” Jesus replied, “Can you make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?” That is, as long as He was there, why should they not rejoice?
Then He spoke a parable unto them in order to show them that they should not piece things together which are not suitable. “No man putteth a piece of new garment upon the old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old.” You would rather find a piece of cloth that is similar. The piece that was taken out of the new is not in harmony with the old. You are not to try to mix the grace of the Gospel with the cold legality of Judaism.
The law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. The law comes from God to man, and says “This do” and “Thou shalt not do.” Grace declares the salvation of God which is apart from human merit.
“And no man putteth new wine into old bottles, else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.” He was speaking of leather bottles made of the skins of animals. You put new wine into new bottles and when fermentation begins the bottles will give. You can’t take the living truth of the Gospel and put it into the ordinances of the law. If you try to confine it in them it will burst all bounds. “No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” And so these Pharisees would go away saying, “We are satisfied with the old wine,” and legalists and worldlings are like that today. They are apparently content with what they are trying to enjoy down here and don’t care for that which God offers them in Christ Jesus. You remember that fable of Aesop’s, in which he tells of an eagle flying in the heavens who looked down into a well and saw a stork feeding on frogs. The eagle asked the stork why he did not come up there where he was and the stork asked him if there were any frogs up there. The eagle replied that there were no frogs there but told him how beautiful it was to fly up into the open heaven. The stork replied, “You can keep your heaven and I will keep my frogs.”
Men say today, “You may have your Christ and your heaven, and we will keep the things of the world.” These poor legalists said the same thing. Is that what you are saying? God give you to rest in Christ as your Saviour if you have not done it before!