What’s the first book of the New Testament? You can name it, almost as automatically as you can name your own children. But wait! Think about this for a moment. The first book of God’s marvelous New Testament, where He is bringing His eternal plan to fruition, was written by a man named Matthew. Do you know who this is?
Matthew was a Jew, so it is not surprising that God would select a Jew to write this all-important book in revealing the unfolding of His plan. In fact, the second and third books of the New Testament call him by his more common name—Levi (Mark 2:14-15; Luke 5:27-29). But, here’s the deal. Matthew was a tax collector!
Tax collectors were despised! As ones who collected taxes for Rome, they were viewed by the Jews as traitors, oppressors and apostates, who were perpetuating the rule of a pagan power. Even more, they were considered to be dishonest scoundrels, as many of them demanded and collected more taxes than Rome required in order to enrich themselves (And…Rome allowed it). The animosity that was held toward these individuals is seen throughout the four gospels (Matthew 9:11; 11:19; Luke 18:11; 19:7). So, isn’t it intriguing that God would use a tax collector to write the first book of the New Testament?
Look at the passage where Matthew was called to be an apostle (Luke 5:27-32), and you will see why God chose to use such a man. When Jesus called Matthew to “Follow Me,” the very next statement says, “So he left all, rose up, and followed Him” (5:27-28). He immediately went after Jesus.
Matthew then invited Jesus into “his own house” and “gave Him a great feast” (5:29). How many others had done that with the Lord? Matthew apparently invited “a great number of tax collectors and others” to come and sit down with Jesus at this feast (5:29). He was trying to help others to see what he saw in Jesus.
Unfortunately, there were a host of critics who looked down on Matthew and his fellow tax collectors. Jesus was quick to answer them and remind them of that which should have been quite obvious—the Son of God came to call to Himself those who were spiritually “sick” (i.e., “sinners”), that they might have an opportunity to repent and be made right with Him (5:31-32). Matthew became the ideal disciple to write the book bridging the Old Testament and the New Testament. We would do well to see people the way God sees them—not as the world sees them, not as their past life sees them, not as “those you like to pin everyone into some category” see them. Everyone needs Christ and needs an opportunity to be made right with Him!