The Apostle Who Wrote A Great Gospel

"Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them saying, "All authority has been given to me in heaven and earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. (Saint Matthew 28:16-20) "And the gospel must first be preached to all nations." (St. Mark 13:10)

The choice of Matthew by the Master is a further proof that He attracted men from every walk of life, often from a class which might not have been expected to supply Him with followers. He met with sympathy where we would not have looked for it. Do not the actual disciples of Christ surprise us? Because He came as the One, holy, harmless and undefiled, we would not have been surprised to see the pious of the land, such as godly Simeon and Anna, supplying Him with adherents. But who would have looked among the publicans for an apostle? The warped nature of Matthew, which became harder under the scorn and loathing heaped upon him because of his trade, would surely make him immune to divine influences!

But the marvel is that as soon as Matthew heard the call, he responded, and his surrender to Christ is one of the most inspiring incidents in the gospel, and full of encouragement for those who labor for the salvation of souls in most unlikely places. Perverse ill life, selfish of gain, Matthew adopted a profession arousing the ill will of his fellow Jews. Doubtless he was the heartbreak of his godly parents. Yet when he looked into the holy face of Jesus, sinner and Savior became one forever. John Keble in his poem on Saint Matthew in his "Christian Year," has familiarized us with the way Jesus "took the things which are not to bring to nought the things that are."

The saintly poet writes of the way Jesus "bade the meek publican his gainful seat forsake," and goes on to describe those who in

... this loud stunning tide of human care and crime
Carry music in their heart
Through dusky land and wrangling mart
Plying their daily task with busier feet
Because their secret souls a holy strain repeat.

When Jesus affirmed that He came, not to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners, He indicated that He would find His jewels in most unlikely places. How He loves to mend the broken earthenware of life, and to transform even rebels into kings and priests! Wherever Jesus went preaching it was "the publicans and sinners who gathered themselves together for to hear him." Later on, another most unlikely convert was to write "that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called."

I take Thee as my Wisdom too, For Wisdom's sum Thou art; Thou, who dost choose the foolish things, Set me henceforth apart, That I may speak and work for Thee As Thou shalt work and speak in me. Among the twelve Jesus chose there was not one rich man, not one of noble birth, not one of acquired culture and education. Perhaps Matthew had more money and education than the rest. Over half of them were humble, unlettered peasants and fishermen of Galilee. When He called Matthew to follow Him, He set every consideration of worldly prudence at defiance, and disregarded the maxims of worldly wisdom. The eye of Jesus was single as well as omniscient, and thus He looked on the heart, having respect solely to the possibility of spiritual fitness. His love has a deep look as can be gathered from His contact with the rich young ruler whom beholding, He loved.

1. A Hebrew Son
A fact that must not be forgotten in any study of the twelve apostles is that they were all Jews, and that, belonging to the house of Israel, they were probably familiar with Old Testament Scriptures from their earliest days (II Tim. 3:14,15). Therefore when Jesus appeared as "the glory of [His] people Israel" (Luke 2:32), hearts longing for His coming, instinctively recognized Him as the Promised One, as did Bartholomew or Nathanael (meeting Him, they greeted Him as the King of Israel). Matthew came from a pious parentage, and the gospel he came to write reveals how conversant he was with the Old Testament and also the traditions of the rabbis. The masterly way in which Matthew sets forth his material on The King and His Kingdom, proves that he had been carefully instructed in all that pertained to the Jewish religion, and that he had enjoyed a general education well above the average.

While we learn practically nothing about Matthew himself from the gospel he wrote, his knowledge of the history and noble traditions of his race appears on almost every page. Once Matthew fully committed himself to Jesus and heard Him expound the Scriptures, he became a fiery herald of the coming glory the King of Israel would bring. His very name, Levi, related to the priestly order, indicated his membership in the tribe set apart for the worship and service of God (Num. 3:6; Deut. 10:8, etc.). According to Mark and Luke, his birth name was Levi-which means "joined" (Gen. 29:34) - a reference to the adherence to Aaron for priesthood ministry (Num. 18:1, 2). The apostle speaks of himself as Matthew, but Mark and Luke used his old name Levi, being unwilling even after thirty years or so to identify him with Matthew the apostle. But he made the identification to prove that by divine grace Levi the customs officer, became Matthew the apostle (Matt. 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32; Acts 1: 13).

It was likely, after his call by Jesus, that his name was changed from Levi to the Greek name Matthew, Levi being his national name as a Hebrew, and Matthew, his Christian name - a name commemorating the triumph of Christ in his life. Twice-named men are common in Scripture - Jacob became Israel, Simon became Peter, Bartholomew was Nathanael, Joses became Barnabas etc. Anxious to magnify the goodness and mercy of God in his salvation and election to apostleship, the apostle preferred to refer to himself under the dishonorable term of "Matthew the publican"- the symbol and memorial of the most important transformation wrought by Christ in his heart and life. Probably a Galilean and born at or near Capernaum, Matthew was the son of Alphaeus and Mary, the latter possibly being a relative of Mary the Virgin. Matthew's pious parents must have been heart-broken when their Levi chose a profession of ill-repute, as orthodox Jews deemed that of a publican to be. As he sat at the receipt of custom, adding up his ill-gotten gains, Levi must have been haunted by the vision of the haggard face and dry-eyed grief of his noble father and the tense quivering features of his saintly mother over their son's despicable position. To think that their son, who had brought them such joy when he was born into the world, had, because of his love for mammon, taken the hire of the alien and found himself bound fast by the gilded fetters of the Roman state, must have been a heavy cross for his loved ones to bear.

2. A Roman Taxgatherer
If it be true that the average Jew can add to his wealth where a man of another nationality would die in penury, then, if the love of money was Matthew's besetting sin, the fatal flaw in the marble of his character, we can understand how his ruling passion brought him to a most unworthy way of amassing riches - even to that of being a pariah of the worst type, an outcast from the Jewish synagogue and society. Levi became - not a priest - but a publican. Who or what was a publican? The profession of a publican represented the profession of a tax-collector. Caesar's tollmen were usually Roman gentlemen sent into the provinces of the Empire to collect the tribute for the Emperor.

The officials responsible for the security of the Roman revenue were called publicani, from the Latin publicanus, because of their close relation to the public purse. The pasha system that was common to Egypt came very near the publicani type of operation in Ancient Rome. "The Publicani of Rome were active workers at the digging of the grave of the Empire," because of their corrupt ways and gross injustice in the modes of levying dues. All who undertook this odious work had their reward in that they could extort for their own benefit more than the Caesars demanded. It was for this reason that they were known as leeches, seeing they were allowed to gorge themselves in their task. In his confession to Christ, Zacchaeus, the rich chief of the publicans, hints at the terrible extortion that had produced his wealth when he spoke about restoring four-fold to the poor he had robbed (Luke 19:8).

The Jews who chafed under and deeply resented Roman domination, held that if anyone of their nation took on the office of publican for the Romans, he was disloyal to God and outside the pale of decent society, and must be classed as a sinner. Matthew became a customs officer in the territory of Herod Antipas, and earned the contempt of his fellow Jews among whom excess taxation was the badge of foreign servitude and was especially galling to all their inherited hopes. Any Jew, then, entering the publicani, was regarded as "a social outcast, a renegade from the national faith and a betrayer of the Messianic hope." Added to the fact that the Romans diligently sought Jews, who were not averse to collecting taxes from their own people, to fill such a post, was the dishonesty of both the greater publicans like Zacchaeus, and the smaller ones, like Matthew. Wealth procured by dishonest taxation was hinted at by John the Baptist when publicans came to him for baptism and asked of him "Master, what shall we do? He said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you" (Luke 3:12, 13).

No men were more detested in Jewish communities than Roman tax-collectors and so, when a Jew accepted such an office, he was looked upon as one who had sacrificed his patriotism and sold himself for gain to his Roman masters. It was not surprising then that in popular sentiment a tollman was classed with the most disreputable of people. This is why "publicans and harlots," and "publicans and sinners" are grouped together (Matt. 9:11). A common proverb among those who hated these pests of society was- "Take not a wife out of that family wherein is a publican, for they are all publicans, or thieves, robbers, and wicked sinners." In his desire to gain tainted money, think of what Matthew lost. He sold his home circle, and placed himself outside the fellowship of his loved ones, orthodox Jewish friends and acquaintances. He sold his country. His kinsmen writhed under the tyranny and oppression of Rome, and when he entered its service, the flame of pure patriotism he had known was quenched by a baser love. He sold his conscience for he knew that, generally, tax-collectors represented a most dishonest profession, a set of unscrupulous extortionists. Lust for money stifled the warning of the inner bell. He sold his faith. His very name Levi was a link with a godly ancestry, running back through a long line of priests to the son of Jacob. Emerson is credited with saying that "The worst of money is that it so often costs so much to get it." Money cost Matthew separation from his tribe and nation, and exclusion from the synagogue with all the anathemas of the religious vocabularies.

In a great book Victor Hugo portrays the chief character as having a gigantic wrestle with himself about a man whom he knows is liable to be sent to the galleys as an escaped convict. Valjean knows himself to be the convict; he knows the man charged to be innocent. He salves his conscience by specious reasoning, and decides to save himself at the expense of the other. He proceeds to destroy all links with the past, hearing an "internal burst of laughter." He is assured that though men will see his mask, God will see his face; although his neighbors will see his life, God will see his conscience. Then he remembers "a little wood near Paris, where lovers go to pick lilacs in April." He enters the town, which gives its name to the wood. The streets are silent. Silent men lean against the walls. Behind every tree, every door, round every corner, stands a silent man. Earth is gray; heaven is lead! He beholds a naked horseman with a heavy, supple wand, who rides into the silent town to chastise its inhabitants. In horror Valjean leaves the town, only to be followed by the crowd, who at last recover their lost voice. This is what they say: "Do you not know that you have been dead for a long while?" Valjean would have killed himself in destroying his conscience: that is Hugo's great lesson.

Matthew had been dead for a long while because honor had been sold, and conscience had been all but stifled!

Dr. W. Graham Scroggie suggests that we may see traces of Matthew's former occupation in his use of the word tribute for money, instead of penny, and in his recording the miracle of the Stater (Matt. 17:22-27; 22:19 with Mark 12:15). Then there is more frequent mention of money in Matthew's gospel than in any of the others, and more and rarer coins are introduced. Mark refers to three coins only, and these, the poorest: mite, farthing, penny. Luke refers to the mite, farthing, pound; but Matthew, who was in the habit of handling money, refers to the coins of highest value at the time - talent, for example, which was worth about sixty times as much as the pound. Whereas Mark speaks of brass, 6:8, and Luke of silver, 9:3, Matthew speaks of gold, silver and brass, 10:9 - a great deal of which he handled while sitting at the receipt of custom.

3. A Sacrificial Convert
It is most interesting to observe how and where the Lord met those He challenged to enter His service. The call came to them right where they were. They did not have to dress up and go to church to meet Him. Peter and Andrew were casting their nets, and James and John were mending their nets when, as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, the miracle happened and they became His disciples. Saul of Tarsus was on his way to Damascus to persecute the saints of God there, when at noon on the highway, the Christ he rejected appeared to him and instantaneously his rebellion ceased, and he found himself charmed and captivated by the voice divine. And here is the story of Matthew who was sitting at his table attending to his business as customs officer at Capernaum on "The Great West Trunk Road from Damascus and the Far East to the Mediterranean Sea," where he heard all the news that was going. All at once, the Stranger of Galilee he had heard about appeared, and approaching the tax- man, commanded him to rise and follow Him.

In all probability Matthew may have been one of the eager listeners as the new Teacher preached His memorable Sermon on the Mount, and His all-penetrating glance may have caught Matthew's eye as He underscored the tax-collector's besetting sin, "Ye cannot be a bond-servant to God and mammon." What is evident is that when Jesus met Matthew at the receipt of custom, He read the secret of his heart in his face, and knew there would be no hesitation about the response to His appeal, "Follow me!" Such a brief appeal or regal command found Matthew prepared. Without a moment's delay he rose, left his business and associates and followed Jesus; and as he did so he stepped into liberty and peace. Immediately, the pent-up forces of his nature were emancipated, the accumulated guilt of years removed, and his head anointed with the oil of gladness.

For all we know Jesus may have had Matthew under observation for awhile, and as He watched him at the tax-booth, saw in him capacities He could discover and use, when his feet, swift to run in the wake of mammon, would be made speedier as a herald of the Prince of Peace. The double call of Christ came to Matthew simultaneously, Believe and Follow -"And he arose, and followed him." There can be no doubt that he understood the condescension of the Master's call, and how, by it, he was being exalted to the peak of privilege after having touched the depths of degradation. Having sold himself to the highest bidder in the Roman Empire, he now gives himself up to the service of the King who was greater than Caesar. Instead of greedily counting his silver and gold unjustly secured, he was now to experience the spiritual wealth the Master offered.

What a searching test it must have been to leave his most lucrative occupation, and follow Jesus with no prospect or promise of material support! It is true that the other disciples had made sacrifices in their surrender to His claims, but it is quite probable that Matthew had more wealth to forsake than the rest. Before, he had a public post and office, books, accounts, profits, and perhaps employees. Yet with rapidity of judgment, strength of will, clearness of vision, he gave up everything in response to Christ's call which was to put on him the hallmark of grace. Out he went to experience that it was no cross to bear the cross of Him who had made him His disciple. The immediate reaction to the divine appeal resulted in the new birth of the whole man, and with the vigor of a mind touched by Christ, and the energy of a body quickened by Him, Matthew rose from his desk and moved toward the Master.

Richard Glover, in his most profitable commentary on Matthew, suggests many marvels associated with the Master's call and the Publican's response. Here is the outline, worthy of development by a preacher:

Its Solemnity. It calls to sacrifice of wealth, occupation and habits, for an unknown and perilous future. Its Mercy. For none would have fellowship with a publican - yet Jesus offered Himself as the Savior and Friend of such a sinner. Its Promise. Apart from Christ, Matthew was on his own. Christ's call to follow Him was a promise of salvation, fellowship, guidance and protection. Its Light on Transformation. Yesterday, Matthew was a companion of sinners; today, a disciple; tomorrow, a prophet of the kingdom. Its Honor. The call testified to the way Jesus honored a sinner to become His fellow-worker, and an apostle. Its Essence. At the heart of the call, Follow Me, is the surrender to a Person, not a creed. Obedience to, confession of, and fellowship with Christ are all involved in the Master's command.

We read that Matthew arose, left all, and followed. Telling his own story, Matthew ignored the sacrifice. Thus we note these benefits of obedience to the call.

The courage and vigor of his decision. That the bravest are the easiest courses. The wisdom of it. It led to salvation, peace, and honor, for Matthew came to write a gospel which has blessed millions all down the ages. If Matthew had turned from Jesus as the rich young ruler did, how much the church would have lost! But he obeyed. Have we? Christ still needs the Matthews, who rise up and leave all at a word, in the assurance that it comes from One who can make life supremely blessed under any condition.

Jesus is calling in accents of tenderness, Jesus is calling, my brother, to thee, Just as of old, by the waters of Galilee, Fell from His lips the command, Follow Me!

4. A Grateful Host
Before he ostracized himself from his godly home and the synagogue, Matthew must have read the Psalms many times and have been familiar with the exhortation, "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy" (107:2). Now delivered from the power of his enemy, Matthew redeemed from his greed and guilt wanted to "say so" to as many as possible. Having experienced the joy of sins forgiven, he sought to tell others the good news, and he chose a novel way of doing so. Now that the revenue dues had been left behind for someone else to collect, the transformed tax-collector arranges a feast on a grand scale and begs Jesus and the disciples, and also a great company of his fellow-collectors to come. Matthew himself puts it, "Behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples" (9: 10). Luke is more descriptive and says that "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" (5:29).

The large number of those who were still outside the pale of honorable society would not find it hard to accept an invitation to a feast given by one who had been one of them for so long. Matthew did not turn his back upon those he had labored with in the service of Rome. He wanted these men, warped and twisted by their business, to share his joy, and follow the One who was his Master, and he saw to it that it was not an occasion for mourning, but of joy and gratitude. We can imagine how Matthew gave Jesus the seat of honor at the table. Jesus joined in most heartily at the feast, for it was at His call that Levi arose as Matthew, "God's free man." With his newly found faith, Matthew wanted the men among whom he had lived, and who knew the seamy side of his life, and whose low ideals he had shared, to be there as he confessed his faith and its Author, in whose presence he was not afraid.

Altogether, there are five feasts in which Jesus took part: at the house of Simon the leper (Mark 14:3); with the woman who was a sinner (Luke 7:37); unwashen hands (Luke 11:38); taking the chief seats (Luke 14:1); and here, in Matthew's house. Of all these feasts Jesus attended, perhaps none was so completely dear to His heart as Matthew's, seeing that it was the feast-offering of a grateful soul who with gratitude wanted to tell his "raptures all abroad." This was Matthew's way of showing that he had forsaken his old life, and that he was not ashamed to own the One who had made all things new. His was indeed a true missionary spirit. This, then, was a feast - not a funeral. Matthew and all invited could eat, drink, and be merry, for the lost was found, and the dead lived again. One wonders how many of his old conferees also rose up and followed Jesus. There are several aspects of this great feast worthy of notice:

  1. It was arranged in Matthew's Own house which must have been a large establishment to hold a great company, and all the tables and couches necessary for them. This was no poor man's house. Both the house and lavish entertainment testified to the affluent life of Levi. Before long, however, he knew what it was to share the poverty of his Master.
  2. The invited present a strange selection. All the publicans and sinners in town were there. It is more than likely that Matthew's relations and his one-time religious friends were also urged to come, for he wanted all to meet the Savior who could do the same for them, as He had done in restoring his soul. This was his way of introducing Jesus to his old associates and other present who needed salvation. That glad day, other outcast souls heard the voice of Jesus say, "Come unto me and rest," and, as Dr. J.D. ]ones expresses it: "Of Matthew's house and Matthew's feast it will be declared in The Great Day - that this and that soul was born there."
  3. There were discordant voices. By eating and drinking with publicans and sinners, Jesus laid Himself open to misrepresentation but He braved the ignominy of the self-righteous. To the joy of Matthew the publican and to the chagrin of the Pharisees, Jesus sat down with the pariahs of society, and met the charge first formulated here that He was the Friend of publicans and sinners. The Scribes and Pharisees murmured against the feast. These religious hypocrites shut up in their own conceit and narrow sectarian jealousy had to learn that Christ came not "to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance:" His presence at the feast was a fulfillment of His mission in extending to outcasts the offer of forgiveness. So with impatient scorn Jesus turned upon His accusers in ridicule, charging them with ignorance of the true spirit of divine sympathy. Accusing them of the lack of the simplest elements of grace and godliness, Jesus told them to go and learn the message of Hosea, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice" (6:6).
  4. Jesus suffered shame gladly for the sake of Matthew and his friends, and such an attitude must have resulted in the sudden deepening of Matthew's own spiritual life. The Pharisees grumbled - they always do! "When Jesus is born into a world of publicans and sinners, all worlds marvel. When He admits them to His Communion table, they marvel still more. When He takes publicans and sinners, saved by grace, to feast with Him in heaven, they marvel at it most of all."
  5. The Pharisees were not the only ones to censure Jesus. The devout disciples of John the Baptist were also disturbed over His presence at a feast. Perhaps it was only natural that the followers of the austere "Apostle of the Wilderness" should wonder why there was feasting instead of fasting. A comparison of the gospels suggests that the Pharisees, knowing of the misgivings of the Baptist's disciples, stirred them up to ask the questions they did (Matt. 9:14,15; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33). It will be noted that there was no rebuke for John's followers- such as there was for the Pharisees - but a wonderful explanation in which Jesus vindicated the freedom of His own disciples. Two principles were laid down by Jesus:
    1. Natural is a legitimate guide in all things harmless and innocent.
    2. In religion, the mixture of incongruous elements is to be avoided (Matt. 9:15-17).

Out of the Feast, there came some of the Lord's most precious sayings, more valuable than pearls of great price. Rich truths fell from His lips. These helped to make the feast which Matthew gave more memorable still. Go through the records of this feast and make a list of the rich utterances of Jesus and you will find that supreme among them is the announcement of His mission, "They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

5. A Humble Apostle
Matthew came to possess a self- effacing humility enabling him, even as an apostle, to lose sight of himself in adoration of his Hero. In his record of the names of the twelve apostles, Matthew is careful to attach to his name the epithet - the publican - as a reminder of his debtorship to divine grace (Matt. 10:3). There was no need to mention this fact, which does not appear in any of the other lists of the apostles. As Elder Cumming reminds us, "There was almost a reason for not saying anything of it, for it took from the dignity of the others, and almost of the Master, that one of the unpopular servants of Rome should be one of His apostles." But it was a characteristic mark of Matthew's true and honest spirit that he added the record of his unflattering past to his name: He wanted it never to be forgotten or overlooked that he had been a sinner. It kept him from pride to be reminded of all he had been before Christ came his way. Are you not grateful that the name of a once sin burdened and guilty sinner is found among the twelve? Then he further presents a bright example of humility in the way he describes his abandonment of every worldly prospect. You would think it was someone else who wrote, "As Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow Me. And he arose, and followed him" (Matt. 9:9). This manner of presentation suggests to us the prayer for grace to forsake as Matthew did, all covetous desires and inordinate love of riches, and the willingness to follow the same Lord. A characteristic feature of the writers of the gospels is their silence as to many details respecting their own personal history. Nowhere do they make themselves prominent. Their theme was not themselves, but Christ Jesus their Lord. Dr. William Cave in his volume on The Apostles reminds us that what appears to be the most remarkable virtue of Matthew was his humility. He was "mean and modest in his own conceit, in honor preferring others before himself. Whereas the other Evangelists, in describing the Apostles by pairs, constantly place him before Thomas, Matthew modestly places him before himself."

Matthew says little about his experiences among the other disciples. Whether the recollection of his former life restrained him, or a natural timidity prevented him from saying much about himself, we do not know. What is evident, he made much of Jesus in his gospel. With the rest of the evangelists, Matthew was sublimely unconscious of himself as he wrote. "No other authors whom the world has known have so completely lost and hidden themselves in their subject as these men," remarks Greenhough. And Matthew, more than the rest, kept his own person and thoughts in the background, telling us nothing, directly or indirectly, about himself. He wanted the One who had done so much for him to be exalted. His ambition can be summed up in the lines.

Not I, but Christ, be honored, loved, exalted,
Not I, but Christ, be seen, be known and heard;
Not I, but Christ, in ev'ry look and action,
Not I, but Christ, in ev'ry thought and word.

6. A Gifted Author
In the choice of Matthew we have evidence of the far-seeing discernment of Christ who knew what was in men. Seeing the tax-gatherer at his task, He could see that the literary gifts of such a man who, although then disreputable, would render invaluable service in His cause. Although We have no record of Christ committing any of His messages to writing, it was part of His divine wisdom to choose those who would be able to take careful note of all He said and did, and then, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, He was to bring all things to their remembrance, to write and preserve a careful account of all the Master said and did. Thus in His choice of Matthew as an apostle, He secured a choice biographer.

Trained to systematic methods, and gifted with his pen in connection with his old trade, Matthew was to learn how his Lord would consecrate these faculties to higher use. It would be most interesting to learn when the first hint of the divine use of his pen reached him. Did Matthew, we wonder, see Luke taking notes one day, and learning the physician's purpose to write a gospel, determine to do the same? In his remarkable Bible Characters, Dr. Alexander Whyte says that, "When Matthew rose up and left all and followed our Lord, the only thing he took with him out of his old occupation was his pen and ink." How grateful we are that he did take his pen and ink to write for posterity the glorious gospel that bears his name! After the record of the great feast, which Matthew provided, he disappears from history; but in the gospel he wrote he lives on to comfort and gladden the souls of men.

Whether it was by observation or intuition, inspiration or command that Matthew came to write his record of Christ, and unveil Glory as Israel's King, this fact is certain: he never dreamed, when he rose up from tabulating taxes, the use the Master would make of him in after days. We may not have the privilege of writing gospel about the King, but we can live and labor for Him, allowing Him to liberate undeveloped powers within us, and consecrate them to holy purpose. We can become epistles of Christ written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, and shine thereby, as lights in the world (II Cor. 3:3).

It was, then, from Matthew's consecrated pen that there came the first gospel in our Bibles which has been referred to as "The most important book of Christendom," and as, "The most important book that has ever been written." Written around A.D. 70 Matthew met the need of early Christians for a record of the life and teachings of Christ. Churches were multiplying and the apostles were passing away, thus eye-witnesses of all He accomplished were obliged to recall the past. In passing, let it be noted that although Matthew, because of his alliance with the Roman Government, was practically a social outcast as far as the Jews were concerned, yet he must have been a man of education to work with Romans and Jews as he did when a tax-collector. His shady past by no means implies that he was uncultivated or had no learning. He must have been acquainted with the Aramaic and Greek languages. Matthew wrote his gospel in Greek, although Aramaic was the popular language of the time.

The gospel of Matthew was written expressly for the Jews of Judaea, probably under pressure of the last agonies of Jerusalem under Titus in A.D. 70. This gospel is the link between the Old and New Testaments, and its first sentence proves that the writer was well acquainted with the Jewish character, religion, and hopes and set out to commend Christ to the Jews. Christ came as the Son of David, and was the Heir of the kingdom; He came as the Son of Abraham, and was the Heir of the Blessing. These facts influenced Matthew in the selection of material for his gospel, which has many Hebrew characteristics, making it "The Hebrew porch of the New Testament."

Tradition is unanimous in the affirmation that the gospel was for the Jews, as its complexion and content prove.

Irenaeus said of it, "Matthew issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews. . . . The Gospel of St. Matthew was written for the Jews."

Origen observed, "St. Matthew wrote for the Hebrews." Eusebius also held that "Matthew . . . delivered his gospel to his countrymen."

Of the four Gospels, Matthew is the one Jewish gospel, written by a Jew for his brother Jews, and reveals how he was immersed in the Jewish thought of the Old Testament. To him the Christ of history was the Christ of prophecy. Further, his gospel is Galilean, and more than the other evangelists, dwells upon the Galilean work of Christ. Matthew alone quotes the great promise given by Isaiah, "Galilee of the Gentiles; the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up" (Isa. 9:1,2; Matt. 4:15,16).

For the coverage of every phase of the contents of the gospel, the reader is referred to the remarkable section in Dr. Graham Scroggie's A Guide to the Gospels, dealing with Matthew. All that we can do in our profile of the apostle is to touch briefly upon one or two aspects of his gospel. Characteristically, it is the gospel of discourses; of types in history, law, worship, prophecy, and the kingdom. Prominent throughout the book is the idea of retribution. We might title it The King and the Kingdom. Further, Matthew has the qualifications of love of truth, sensibility to the mercy of God and misery of man; and he was an eye-witness of the events he described, and an eye-witness of the discourses he recorded. Thus Matthew magnifies the Lord. Of the 1071 verses forming the gospel as we have it in the authorized King James Version, 644 verses (or more than three-fifths of the whole gospel) contain words of our Lord. As there is much in it not found in the other three gospels, how impoverished we would have been if Matthew had not written his gospel, or if it had been lost.

The keynote of the gospel of Matthew is righteousness - the words "righteous" or "righteousness" occur sixteen times in the book. Christ came to fulfill all righteousness (3:15; 5: 17), that is, to fulfill all the requirements of law and prophecy. Our Lord was the embodiment of every precept and every requirement of the ancient Law. Taken as a whole, then, Matthew presented the image of the Messiah as it fell upon him - a Messiah who was to bless the whole world through "the chosen people - a Messiah who would realize the world hopes. Thus, Matthew's gospel can be divided into three parts.

  1. The Early Days of the Messiah (Chapters 1 - 4: 16)
  2. The Signs and Works of the Messiah (Chapters 4:17-16:20)
  3. The Passion of the Messiah (Chapters 16:21 - 28:20).

It is generally supposed that for eight years after the ascension of Christ, Matthew preached the Gospel in Judaea. Beyond this we have no reliable evidence as to where he journeyed or how he died. Socrates, the ecclesiastical historian of the fourth century, speaks of Matthew preaching in Ethiopia and Arabia. From other sources it is said that he labored first in the Syrian colony established at Palmyra, or Tadmor, in the wilderness between Damacus and the Euphrates, and that he passed eastward to the Median people of Carenania. Yet another tradition takes him to labor with Andrew among the man-eaters on the coast of the Black Sea. The fact is that the truth of his travels for the advancement of the Christian faith are irrecoverably lost in a crowd of legendary tales.

Numerous miracles were said to have been performed by the apostle, like that of the wand he received from Christ who appeared to him in the form of a beautiful youth. Matthew pitched the wand into the ground, and immediately it grew up into a tree. As to his death, an ancient writer affirms that he suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, being slain by the sword. Dorotheus recorded that Matthew was honorably buried at Hierapolis in Parthia, one of the first places in which he preached the Gospel, though the resting place of his mortal remains is not important. The Church will ever remember the great transformation wrought in his life by Christ; and how he became the writer of the first book of the New Testament which even Renan, the brilliant French skeptic, said was "the most important book of Christendom - the most important book that has ever been written."

In conclusion, Matthew will ever remain an inspiration, as long as his gospel is read. His transformed life is a reminder to the outcasts of society today that they can also experience the power of Christ to change the foul current of life. Then the apostle wrote all he did about the Savior that his readers might experience in their lives His power ever able to make them disciples. This is the individuality of the Gospel we must not lose. If we cannot tell all that Christ is, we can tell all we have seen and experienced of His grace, and our representation of Him in life and witness will prove to be a guidepost to others who have lost their way. May your life and mine present as faithful a portrait of the King, even as Matthew's gospel does!

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