Matthew: Disciple

Over the Easter period, I had the privilege of sharing a series of stories that walked through the death and resurrection narratives. In a conversation with someone afterward, the question was asked about just who Matthew the tax collector really was. The person asking the question was intrigued by the lack of information we have about many of the disciples, and wondered if it were actually possible to really connect with them as characters in the story. What a great question! It certainly got me thinking…

Matthew or Levi?

In Mark and Luke’s account of the calling of the tax collector, they use the name Levi. We are not entirely sure why, but there are a couple of possibilities. Levi may have been his name before he became a follower of Jesus. Jesus may have given him a new name, in the same way he called Simon the fisherman Peter. It’s also possible that he may of changed his own name, or that he was known as Matthew from the tribe of Levi. The truth is, we don’t really know. What we do know is that Mathew is a shortening of the name Mattathias, which means “gift of Yahweh,” or simply “the gift of God.”

The other thing we can determine from the story is the effect that Jesus had on him. Matthew lived and worked in Capernaum, which is where Jesus was currently living. Did Matthew and Jesus have a prior knowledge of each other?  Had Jesus paid his taxes to Matthew in the past? What had Matthew seen and heard about this Jesus, his miracles and teachings? Perhaps he had heard Jesus teaching in the synagogue.

It’s highly likely that Matthew knows the government official who’s son Jesus had healed by just speaking the words… or the local Roman Centurion who asked Jesus to heal his dyeing servant. Both these men came from Capernaum. Could it also be that Matthew has seen the transformation that has taken place in the lives of some of the other locals who are now following Jesus… like Simon and his brother Andrew. And what about the sons of Zebedee, James and John?

Influence

We don’t know what influence Jesus or any of the other disciples had in Matthews life, but we do know that when Jesus stopped and said “Follow Me”, everything changed. When he got up and walked away from his tax-collecting booth, he was virtually guaranteeing himself unemployment. It was alright for some of the other disciples… they always had fishing to return to, but for Matthew, there was no turning back.

And that is one of the things that I admire about him. When Jesus called Matthew to follow him, he got up and followed.

Interestingly, there are no other stories in any of the Gospels about Matthew as a disciple of Jesus. He appears in the list of the disciples who were appointed by Jesus to be Apostles; and he is listed as one of those present in Acts when Matthias was chosen to replace Judas… but other than that, we know next to nothing about him, except what we can deduce from the story.

For example, Matthew would have been reasonably wealthy, because he could afford to throw a lavish banquette in his home. And he was also certainly literate as well. He would have kept immaculate records of the tax collected and paid. In all likelihood, Matthew would have spoken both Hebrew and Aramaic and probably Koine Greek, which was the everyday language used throughout the Roman Empire, especially east of Rome. There is also a good chance he could read and write in the legal language of the Roman Empire, which was Latin.

But did Matthew use his literary skills to write the Gospel that bears his name?

The short and honest answer to that question is… we don’t know. What we do know is that the Gospel of Matthew was accepted by the early Church as authoritative and inspired before the end of the first century. We can also be sure that the author of Matthew wrote with a Jewish audience in mind. Unlike the author of the Gospel of Mark, the author of Matthew never bothers to explain Jewish customs, since his intended audience was a Jewish one.

Even the placing of Matthew as the first Gospel serves a purpose. There is nearly 400 years of silence from God in the Scriptures between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and Matthews account of the birth of Emmanuel breaks that silence. It is the perfect introduction for the Jews to a new and better covenant.  The author of Matthew wants his audience to understand that not only is Jesus King, born in the line of David, but He is also the long awaited for and prophesied about Messiah.

So what might we learn from the life of Matthew the Disciple?

Whether Matthew the tax collector wrote the book or not… the recorded actions of this Jewish man speak volumes. When Jesus called Matthew to follow Him, Matthew got up from his place of security, power and privilege… and allowed Jesus to reshape His identity as a disciple.

That is something I need to do every day.

A Strange Plan Indeed

God had a strange plan for the battle of Jericho. He told Joshua to have the armed men march around the city once each day, for six days. The priests were to carry the ark, blowing trumpets, but the soldiers were to keep silent.

On the seventh day, the assembly marched around the walls of Jericho seven times. Joshua told them that by God’s order, every living thing in the city must be destroyed, except Rahab and her family. All articles of silver, gold, bronze and iron were to go into the Lord’s treasury.

At Joshua’s command, the men gave a great shout, and Jericho’s walls fell down flat! The Israelite army rushed in and conquered the city. Only Rahab and her family were spared.

Rahab is one of those unexpected characters in the Bible. She ran an inn, where she hid the spies that Joshua had secretly sent to scout out the fortified city of Jericho. When the king of Jericho learned the men had been to Rahab’s house, he sent orders for her to turn them over. She lied to the king’s soldiers concerning the whereabouts of the spies, and sent them off in the opposite direction.

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When the invincible city of Jericho did fall, Joshua gave orders to rescue Rahab and all in her house. She and her family were adopted by the Israelites and stayed with them.

Rahab eventually had a son called Boaz, who had a son called David. David became the King of Israel and it is from this family line that the Messiah, Jesus, was born.

As I contemplate the implications of this story in my life, I am struck by the illogical and ridiculous nature of God’s instruction to Joshua. And yet Joshua carried out God’s instructions faithfully and completely. There is no doubt that Joshua was able to draw on his past experience of the way God worked, as he remembered the impossible deeds that God had accomplished through Moses.

But I wonder if he had any idea about what God was wanting to accomplish through Rahab? She was not the first and she would not be the last broken person, who would be used by God to accomplish His purposes.

Stepping Out In Faith

AbrahamAndIssac062211I am always amazed by Abraham’s demonstration of faith when he set out from his home, with his son, on a journey that no father would want to undertake.

Yet there is something profound in his actions, something that compels me to examine my level of willingness to follow God. This is a story that raises questions.  This is a story that makes me just a little uncomfortable.  This is a story that draws my attention to something… someone… much bigger than me.

You can read the story in Genesis 22:1-19

Up Hill

unimprovedroadThe distance from Capernaum to Cana is about 35km’s. Its a days walk. It’s uphill all the way. A certain man, a royal official, is walking 35km’s, uphill, to ask a carpenter for help. Why? Because his young son has a fever and could very well die. What does that tell you about this man?

It tells me two things. He is desperate and he loves his son very much. Who is this man? What is his story? Who does he think Jesus is? The truth is, we don’t really know. What we do know is that here is a man who is willing to risk everything in a last ditch attempt to save his son’s life. Is he a man of faith? Maybe. Does he have anything to loose? Probably not. Does he have hope? Absolutely. Why else would you make a mad dash up the hill to intercept a man you had only heard rumors about?

read the full story here

What, No Fish?

netWhen Jesus asked the fishermen, “…haven’t you any fish?”… he is simply inquiring as one who wished to buy fish. But at the same time, he can see that they don’t have any.

Another way to ask this question would be, “Hey fellas, you don’t have any fish, do you?”

Remember, they don’t know who this guy on the beach is yet. As far as they are concerned, it is just some prospective customer looking to buy some fish. Of course, Jesus knows that they haven’t caught anything, and by asking the question in this way, he is setting the scene for what he wants to teach them.

The text says they answered with a simple “No”. I would love to know the tone of voice that accompanied that “No”? Was there a hint of exhaustion? An edge of irritation? A trace of embarrassment? We don’t know.

What we do know, is how Jesus responds to their “No”.

“Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

What amazes me is in this story, is that the disciples actually did what the man on the shore suggested. You would think experienced fishermen, who had been up all night and caught nothing, would resent advice from a bystander.

Considering the mood that they were probably in, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had ignored the stranger all together and wrote him off as just another fishing wannabe who didn’t know what He was talking about.

But do you recall the last time these fishermen found themselves in this situation? In Luke chapter 5, Jesus instructed them to put out into the deeper water and let down the nets… again, after they had been fishing all night and caught nothing.

Simon Peter’s response then was, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

But on this particular occasion, it appears that the disciples simply did as they were told. I find that absolutely amazing… and I must confess that I am not sure if I understand why they act in this way.

They didn’t know it was Jesus… and they probably just wanted to get the boat in, clean the nets and go home.

But verse 6 simply says, When they did…

It occurred to me, as I though about this, that professional fisherman would have noticed a large school of fish near the surface so close to the boat. True to the nature of faith, could it be that the fish were not actually there until the net hit the water. When they did, they were rewarded for their faith. When they did, Jesus was able to provide for them in a miraculous way.

I wonder, what might your net be today? What is it that Jesus might be asking you to trust Him with? What do you need to ‘throw to the right side of the boat’?

I look forward to hearing your stories of ‘When you did…’