GOSPEL OF MARK – ROBBY GALLATY – Program 3
By: Dr. Robby Gallaty
|By: Pastor Robby Gallaty; ©2010|
|Matthew is called, and Jesus changes his name from a tax-collector, rejected by society, to a Gift of God!|
A Tax Collector’s Change
The title of the message is this “A Tax Collector’s Change.” In order for us to really understand this passage, let me bring you back to last week so that we can get a running start on the text this week. If you remember, Jesus was at Peter’s mother-in-law’s house, we believe. Then all of a sudden four men come to the house with their buddy on a stretcher and they say, “Jesus, we need you to heal this man.” Jesus says, “Before I heal him, let me forgive his sins.” And then the crowd goes berserk, basically. “Who is this man that says he can forgive sins. Only God can forgive sins.” And Jesus says, “Which is it easier to say? ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘rise, take up your bed and walk?’ To prove to you that I can forgive sins, I’m going to heal this man.”
And something Jesus does in the Gospels all the time is what I’m about to explain to you. In order for us to understand this, it really takes an expository, systematic approach to Scripture, and we see that this morning. Jesus will always—notice this, church—He will teach on something; and then He will take His disciples into the world; and then He will perform it through experience. Or He’ll teach on something and then He’ll say a parable to explain it or vice versa.
You see, this morning that’s exactly what Jesus is doing. He talks about forgiving sins, and then He goes out into the community and finds a sinner. His name is Levi or Matthew. He’s a tax collector. If you have your Bibles, I hope you do, turn with me to Mark 2:13. There’re going to be two responses in our church, where everyone can be classified into two categories. There are those in here this morning who have accepted the call to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. And in the other category are those who have abandoned the call or rejected the call to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. And if you’re in here this morning and you have already accepted the call to follow Christ, I want to ask you, what is the next step of obedience? Because God doesn’t just call us one time to follow. I believe, church, it’s an every day event. We’ve got to continue to keep on following the Lord. And that’s what we’ll see this morning. A Tax Collector’s Change. Mark 2:13.
“He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
Let me show you two different progressions in the text, and it’s two different groups of people. The first, if you’re taking notes, is this: I want you to notice the accepted call. And it’s a call where a sinner repents. It’s a man by the name of Levi or Matthew. He goes by two names in the Bible and we’ll get to that shortly. But let me break that down into two categories.
First of all, in order for you to understand Levi, you have to understand the system of taxes that he was in; and if you’re taking notes, write down a corrupt system of greed. That’s what he was in. Tax farming, as it was called in the first century, was a system set by Rome in order to collect taxes. What would happen is this: Rome would say you need to collect this amount of money, and anything above and beyond that amount, you could pocket. It’s easy to see how people hated tax collectors. You see, Matthew was a Jew. He was raised in a Jewish home, raised by Jewish parents studying about a Jewish God named Yahweh. And somewhere along the way, things got hairy for him. He’d turned from God. And Matthew was a man bent on self, he was bent on sin.
We don’t know much about what happened to him but we do know he was hated by Israel. In fact, Matthew was hated so much that he couldn’t testify in court as a tax collector, did you know that? In addition to not testifying in a court, he couldn’t enter a synagogue or a temple for the rest of his life because of his occupation. It’s clear to see that he was isolated from his own people. Many times, because he couldn’t collect the money, he would have a gang of thugs or a gang of collectors that would go out on missions for him to redeem the money. See, if a tax collector loaned you money, you couldn’t take it as a Jewish man because it was considered to be tainted.
I’m trying to paint here to see the isolated world that Matthew lived in. In fact, in the book of Luke he equates tax collectors with robbers, evil doers and adulterers. Matthew would have been vile, he would have been wicked, he would have been despicable. Even in his own Gospel he equates tax collectors in Matthew 21 with prostitutes. And then in Matthew 18, he even equates tax collectors with Gentile pagans. You would have looked at Matthew, if you’d have seen him on the road back then, with the same disgust as a drug dealer or a gang member. That’s what you would have thought of him.
Tax collectors always in the Bible are associated with sinners. Did you know that? “Tax collectors and sinners”; it’s always in the Bible. But something interesting happens in this story. We know there’s a corrupt system of greed. But I want to draw your attention secondly to who is a converted sinner by grace. Look at it in the text.
“And [Jesus] passed by [and] saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he [simply] said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And [Matthew] rose and followed him.”
I want to bring you into the mind of Matthew. In fact, all week I’ve prayed, “Lord let me feel what it was like to be called by you if I was Matthew.” Matthew was a man who was bent on sin and self. It was all about making money. It was all about success. He had worked all his life to get to that place. He’d gotten the Ph.D. and the MBA. He was accountant of accountants. But the difference was he was bent on self and sin. He was bent on taking advantage of people. He was bent on greed and what he could gain from people.
And so Matthew, I want to submit to you, was raised in a Jewish home, and I want to submit to you that Matthew some time long ago followed God. Robby, how do you know that? This is how. Levi, the guy in the story we’re talking about, is the same Gospel writer, Matthew, where we get the first book of the New Testament. In the book of Matthew, he quotes more Old Testament passages—don’t miss this—than Mark, Luke, and John combined. He has a handle on the Old Testament. Now, he didn’t just learn that after coming to Christ. I believe that he grew up in a Jewish home loving the Scripture, listening to the Scripture, memorizing the Scripture, meditating on the Scripture. He loved God.
In addition to that, Matthew was a man who respected God with such esteem that he wouldn’t even mention the name of God. In fact, what Jewish people would do is, in order not to defame the name of God, they wouldn’t even use “God;” they would insert the word “heaven.” You know the phrase “kingdom of heaven” is used 32 times in the New Testament Gospels. It’s all used in one book. Guess what book it’s in? Matthew. Thirty-two times. Matthew doesn’t say “kingdom of God,” he says kingdom of what? Heaven. He has such a respect for God. He loved the Lord. He grew up, probably, following the Lord.
But don’t miss this. Somewhere along the way, he got sidetracked. We don’t know how it happened. We don’t know why it happened. But somewhere along the way he got sidetracked. And because of his occupation, he could never step back into the temple or the synagogue again. I bet, church, he missed God. But because of his occupation, he couldn’t go back to God.
And then all of sudden because of this man set on material possessions or selfishness or desires, Jesus walks by the roadside and he sees him sitting at the booth and he says, “Matthew, follow Me.” I mean, here’s an opportunity. He’s been isolated. He’s been separated from God, and Jesus gives him a chance. I believe Matthew was looking for an out in his life. You ever been there before? You’re just looking for someone to rescue you from the mess that you’re in and I believe that was Matthew. How does he do it? He responds to the Lord. Go with me to Luke 5; the same story in a different gospel. Luke 5:28: “And leaving everything,” underline that; don’t miss that, “leaving everything, he rose and followed [Jesus].”
Those two words; let me explain them to you in the Greek. The first word “leaving everything” is in the aorist tense. And in the Greek, what that means is this: he completely cut off the past. He didn’t turn around. He completely severed the past. And then it says he “followed Jesus,” which is in the imperative tense. And basically what he means is it’s something that he continually did. He didn’t just one time turn to the Lord; he continually followed the Lord as a pattern of his life. He got up to his feet. He left it all. He left his wealth. He left his job. He left his career. He left his finances. He left his 401(K). He left his pension plan. He left his success in the world. He left the Mercedes-Benz. He left the Lexus. He left the house on the hill to follow a traveling rabbi who was broke.
“Matthew, what are you doing? I mean, you worked your whole life to get here. I mean, if you leave this, you’ll never have this opportunity again. Don’t you remember all the schooling you went to? Don’t you remember all the time you put in? Don’t you realize where you are? And you’re going to leave this all for this guy named Jesus? He’s got nothing!”
Friends, Matthew’s call was unlike the other disciples. This is why. See, Peter, James, John, and Andrew could go back to fishing. Matthew couldn’t. See, the way the tax table worked was this: Matthew was given a table on a well-populated intersection in Capernaum, probably, or the Galilee. And as he sat by this table, as people walked by he would stop them and he would charge them money. The moment he leaves that table—feel the weight of this?—he can’t go back. Rome will have somebody the next day or the next moment. If he gets up, walks away, he cannot go back. The Bible says without thinking, he got to his feet and he followed Jesus. Isn’t that the way salvation should be? I mean, we should completely and utterly disown ourselves from the past and sin and self and completely come to God.
But don’t miss this. I don’t want you to focus on Matthew so much as I want you to focus on Jesus. You see, it’s one thing for Matthew to hang out with Jesus. It’s another thing for Jesus to hang out with Matthew. Because He was a rabbi, right? The rabbis are supposed to be better than everyone else. There were supposed to hang with the elite, the religious leaders of the day. But Jesus kind of turns the tables upside down, right? But He does that all throughout Mark. I mean, “Jesus, why are you hanging out with a guy who’s the object of God’s divine wrath?” But then He changes his life and makes him a demonstration of God’s unending love. Did you see it? I mean, Matthew is under the wrath of God for being a sinner, and Jesus calls him to Himself. He always does that. He heals the helpless. He mends the brokenhearted.
Let me remind you what happened just a few chapters earlier in Mark. Go back to Mark chapter 1. You’ll notice that Jesus always loves the unlovable, right? Remember what He did when He touched the untouchable man who had leprosy? He was never supposed to do that. He touches the untouchable. He heals the leper. Secondly, He forgives the unforgivable when He sees the paralytic. And then, finally, with Matthew He accepts the unacceptable. And He says, “Mathew, come follow Me.” Aren’t you glad the Lord saved you?
Man, I think I enjoyed this week because I think Matthew and I could have been friends a couple of years ago, right? I mean, we were both selfish. We were both bent on sin. And maybe you can resonate with Matthew. I remember Matthew because I was Matthew. And maybe there’s some in here this morning that are still like that. You’re far from the Lord. You miss the presence of God this morning. What I love about Jesus is Jesus doesn’t see us as we are. Jesus sees us as we will be. And that’s what He says. He says, “Matthew, you follow me. I’m not going to judge you on your past. I’m going to judge you on what you will be for me.”
And Matthew responds how? There’s a blowout party! He invites all his buddies, the thugs of the day, right? The lowlifes of the day. He says, “Hey, were going to have a celebration.” I don’t know if you caught this but Matthew is actually throwing his own going away party. Look at Luke. I mean, he invites all his friends and he says, “This is it, guys! Next time you see me, I won’t be in the world.” In fact, what he does is what all believers should do when they come to Christ. He invites all his friends to meet who? Jesus, right? I mean, picture Jesus. He’s in the middle of this party with sinners, with tax collectors, with people bent on self. Look at Luke chapter 5. Look at what it says, “And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them.”
You know from Jewish custom that they didn’t eat in chairs. They would recline on their left side, laying on the ground with the table and they would eat with their right hand. That’s how they ate. And so that’s what happened. They had this huge feast in the house and Levi paid for it all. I mean, this wasn’t a cheap endeavor, here. He probably threw a blowout for Jesus. He hired extra servants to take care of the guests. It was wall-to-wall with people. And he was probably thinking, “If I can just get people to meet Jesus.” Friends, that’s how beautiful salvation is, right? When a person converts from death unto life, their actions should follow, right? A true biblical salvation is followed by actions expressing faith. And that’s what Matthew does.
Now let me just pause here for a moment. Because when Jesus issues the invitation to us to “follow Me,” it’s a two-fold invitation. There’s a public call and a personal call. The public call to “follow Me,” if you’re a believer you received this; and if you’re an unbeliever here it is: The public call is to repent and to believe. It’s a public call to all. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe. And after you respond with repentance and belief and confess to the Lord, it’s time for you to be obedient to God’s Word and to God’s ways. That’s the public call. But as the public call goes out, there’s also a personal call to each and every one of us, right? And the personal call, although it’s the same, it is expressed differently.
The personal call always for you as a believer, if you are a believer this morning is, what is the next step of obedience, right? Is my life glorifying to God? Ask yourself that question this morning. Am I truly following Christ? How’s my hands; the things I do? How’s my eyes; the things I look at? How’re my ears; the things I listen to? Don’t miss this. How’s my heart; the things I covet? How’s my mind; the things I think about? How’s my feet; the places I go? Does everything in my heart line up and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ? Because if it doesn’t, your next step is to be obedient to God. Amen?
But there’s also a personal call, and the personal call may be different for each of us. Maybe God’s calling some people to take the next step of obedience, and that’s to attend a Bible study. Maybe you’ve been visiting Brainerd for a while and the next step of obedience for you is to develop friendships and fellowship with believers at our church. Maybe the next is to join the church. You know, God does not like Lone Ranger Christians. In fact, you can’t find them in the Bible. It’s always about community. Maybe the next step for you is to teach Sunday School, to serve in our Children’s Department, to serve in our Pre-School Department. Let me ask you one question: Why not? Give God one good reason why not.
Maybe God’s calling you to go on a mission trip. Listen, you’re not too old to go on a mission trip. We have story after story every time. People coming back and saying, “I didn’t know about it but I went and God changed my life.” And not just missions overseas; missions in Chattanooga. Maybe it’s to be a better husband or to be a better wife. Maybe it’s to be a better father or be a better mother.
I don’t know what it is, but this is the question: What is God—you need to ask yourself—what is God calling ME to take the next step of obedience to do? For Matthew, it was to leave it all. For Robby Gallaty, leave it all. For you, it may be to leave it all and to go into ministry. I don’t know. Maybe to be surrendered to the gospel ministry, to go as a preacher or a teacher. I don’t know. Maybe not. Maybe for you, maybe it is to be faithful in one area of your life. I want to ask you, what is God calling you to do?
You know, in the Bible story we read this morning, there’s a contrast between two groups. There’s the first man, which is Matthew, and it’s a group of sinners. Matthew invites all the low life of society to the house and the house was filled with a bunch of sinners that knew they were sinners. But those who were on the outside looking through the window—the Pharisees and the scribes—were self-righteous but they didn’t know it. You see the difference? One group are sinners and know it; the others are self-righteous and miss it.
And that’s the second part of the message. The first was a converted man who responded to the call. The second was an abandoned call sinners reject. Look at it in the text. “And the scribes of the Pharisees, [came to Jesus and said], ‘Why does [this man] eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”
See, the Pharisees had separated themselves from society. In fact, the word “Pharisee” means “separated one”, right? It means a separatist. That’s what the Pharisees were. And they justify that by Leviticus 10:10. You remember what Leviticus says. It says do not associate or distinguish between the holy and common, distinguish between clean and unclean. And so they justify their actions by saying, “We’re not going hang out with sinners.” They would have never come to that party. In fact, they probably looked through the window outside. “What is going on in there?” See they had separated themselves so much from others that they didn’t even associate others. They had rules on what they could eat and places they could go and people they could hang out with and possessions they could have.
It was a legalistic system of rules that they followed and they’d become so separated from others—don’t miss this—they had isolated themselves from God. Let me say it again. They had separated themselves from others and in turn isolated themselves from God. Remember the story in Luke 19 of the tax collector and the Pharisee that went up to the temple. The Pharisee gets there and he says, “I thank you God that I’m not like this bum here, this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give alms to the church. I’m not a sinner. I’m faithful to you. I thank you God I’m not like this man.” And then Jesus says the tax collector, with his head down beating his chest, walks up to the Lord and says, “God have mercy on me a sinner.” And Jesus says, “I tell you the truth. The second man, the tax collector, went home justified.”
See, that’s the problem with the Pharisees. They had become so separated, they had become so religious, that they had isolated themselves from others. They wouldn’t show mercy. They didn’t show love. See, they had it right. They checked all the boxes. They knew all the Scripture. They read the Scriptures probably every day. They memorized the Word. They showed up at every gathering at synagogue. They taught people. They instructed people on how to live. They fasted. They tithed. They went out around the community. But their hearts were far from God, right? On the outside you would have looked at them and said, “You guys have it all figured out.” But on the inside they were dying. Jesus called them whitewashed tombs. Jesus says, “I want you to care about people. I want you to reach out to, I want you to show love and mercy to other people.” Remember in the Sermon on the Mount, he said blessed are those who merciful for they shall be shown what? Mercy. It’s the idea of loving another person.
Here’s the problem. The Pharisees were so religious, they missed it. They checked all the boxes. They showed up at church. They knew all the songs. They sang out of the hymnbook. They could quote scripture if you asked them. But their hearts were far from the Lord. You know, if we’re not careful in church, we get that way. Did you know that? You know, if we’re not careful in church, we can become like a club, like the Kiwanis Club or the Rotary Club. And there’s nothing wrong with these two groups. They have a great mission. But they don’t have the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ: that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, that He provides redemption from sin and access to God and new life in Christ. Friends, we have a bigger and greater mission than any club in this world and if we’re not careful, we get that way.
I want to ask you, have you isolated yourself from sinners? Have you gotten to the place where you don’t hang out with someone; you would say, “Pastor, I can’t even name someone who’s a non-believer.” We can become so religious like the Pharisees that we can overlook the people Jesus looked for, right? We just begin to overlook those Jesus actually looked for. I love this verse, the memory verse, because it reminds us that we’re all sinners, right? Every single one of us in this church is a sinner saved by grace.
I believe that’s why Paul at the end of his life said this, “I am the chief of sinners. I am the worst of sinners. If you put a list together of sinners, I’m the top guy.” Now how can Paul, at the end of his life say that? It’s because he never got over being saved. Aren’t you glad God called you? I know I’m glad that God called me.
You know, when people come to church or when I’m out in the community inviting people to church, I’ll share with them. I’ll say, “Listen, why don’t you guys come to church? Do you have a church? Do you know the Lord?” And I always hear this. I don’t know if you hear this but they’ll say, “Pastor, or Robby, let me clean up my life first and then I’ll come. I’m just not ready to go to church.” Have you ever heard that before anybody? “I’ve got some things I have to take care of and when I get my life cleaned up, I’ll come to church.” And my common response to them is this, “When do you go to the doctor? When you’re well or when you’re sick?”
You can’t get yourself well enough to go to church. In fact, you can’t do it. There’s no one righteous. No, not one. All have turned away. They’ve all together become meaningless. There’s no, not one righteous. No, not one. You can’t clean up your act. Why won’t you come to the Physician? Jesus said, “I didn’t come to call the well. I came to call the sinners.” And friends, you can’t clean your life up. The church is not a hotel for the saints, it’s a hospital for sinners. And let’s make sure we remember that at Brainerd Baptist. We’re not a hotel for saints. This is an Emergency Room. An ER room for people who are sinners and, praise God, He gave us grace because we’re all sinners.
But here’s the question. The question is: why does Levi have two names? Have you thought about that this week? Because I’ve thought about it this week. See, I believe the main difference between Levi and the Pharisees and scribes was he knew he needed a savior, they didn’t. You know, the one thing that’ll keep a man or a woman from coming to the Lord Jesus Christ is this: thinking you’re okay. Right? “Pastor, I’m okay. I’m not as bad as so and so. I’m okay.” Friends, unless you get to the place where you’re desperate for the Lord Jesus Christ, you’ll never come to Him.
I heard a pastor a couple of years ago say, “Robby, a comfortable person will never come to Christ because they don’t need Him.” “I’ve got a good job. I’ve got a nice family. I’ve got a good house and I got a great car and I got a good future. Why do I need Jesus?” I’m glad the Lord had to bring me to the end of my rope when I realized I needed the Lord. See? And that’s what Matthew did. He got to the end of his life and he said, “I need Jesus. I need a way out from this mess that I’m in,” and he came to God.
Now, we don’t know for sure if his name was Matthew at the time Jesus called him or not. Many commentators believe his name was Levi and through the process of following Jesus—church, get this—Jesus changed his name. Now, God always does that in the Bible. Remember the Old Testament? God will give a person a new name to give them a new identity. He did it with Abram. Abram was the Father and God changed his name—or High Father—and God changed his name to Abraham, which means Father of the multitudes, father of all the nations. Remember Sarai. Her name was My Princess and then God changed her name to Sarah, which means Mother of Nations. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Jacob’s name was the Supplanter. That’s what it meant. God changed his name to Israel, which means Mighty with God.
And one of the favorites in the New Testament is Simon Peter, remember? Simon’s name in the New Testament meant God has heard, and Jesus said, “Your name is going to be Petras—Peter—rock. That’s what we’re going to call you.” We don’t know for sure, but I believe and many commentators believe that Jesus changed his name from Levi to Matthew. He went from Levi, the rip-off con artist, the sinner bent on self and greed, and Jesus changed his name to Matthew, which means Gift of God. The selfish con artist became the evangelist Gospel writer of the first Gospel in the New Testament.
What’s amazing about Jesus is this: He sees in us what we don’t see in ourselves. Amen? And He saw something in Matthew that Matthew wouldn’t even believe if He told him. And isn’t that what God does with us? He takes imperfect people. He takes many of us who are sinners bent on self and serving self and desires for our own wellbeing and Jesus takes and does something with us that, even if He told us, we wouldn’t believe. I love the verse in Ephesians 2:10. “For we are God’s workmanship [God’s craftsmanship] created in Christ Jesus for good works before the ages began.”
And I just want to ask you as we close this question: What could God do with your life if you completely surrendered to Him? What could God do with your talents if you completely surrendered to Him? What could God do with your time if you completely surrendered to Him? What could God do with your treasure if you completely surrendered it to Him? Your abilities? Your knowledge? Your wisdom? Your schooling? Your education? What could God do with you if you said, “God I’m going to leave it all and I’m going to follow you. I might not leave it all physically but I’m going to leave it all for you.”