“As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ So he arose and followed Him.”—Matthew 9:9 (NKJV).
Matthew is here writing about himself. But note the modesty of his expression: “a man, named Matthew.” He even omitted the fact that the feast referred to in verse 10 was held in his own house.
The story is placed immediately after the miracle of the healed paralytic, as if to hint that Matthew’s own conversion was a miracle. There are several points of similarity between the miracle and the conversion. Matthew was a spiritual paralytic for his sins and his moneymaking schemes. As a result, he needed the divine command—“Arise! Walk! Follow me!” Jesus says.
Jesus had often been to the town of Capernaum which He had actually selected to be His own city (verse 1), and yet Matthew remained lost in Jesus’ own town. Was it likely that he would ever be called now? Had not his day of grace been gone? Jesus was about other business, for we read: “As Jesus passed on from there.” Would He now be likely to call Matthew? But Jesus saw him, foresaw him, and foreknew him and thus called him even as He calls each of us today.
Matthew worked in a very degrading business. Nobody but the lowest of the Jews would care to collect taxes for the Roman Empire. His following Jesus would bring no honor to the Lord, since Jewish tax collectors were considered traitors of their own people—enriching themselves at their own nation’s expense. And yet, Jesus chose Matthew to be His disciple. Likely, he would have been repulsed by the other disciples had Christ not extended the invitation.
Matthew’s call was a call of grace. And when God calls us, He calls us by His grace. He sees in us what He saw in Matthew, and yet He still calls us—men and women to minister for Him. And when He calls, like Matthew, we must respond. The Lord calls whom He pleases, but He also sees what we are doing. Sovereignty is not blind, but it acts with boundless wisdom.
Matthew followed immediately, bringing his voice and his pen with him. He followed ever after, never deserting his Leader. His salvation encouraged others, including the other publicans and sinners who sat and ate at his table with Jesus. So much so that the Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating with sinners. Matthew’s personal ministry brought others to the Savior. And so will yours.
“The Lord pardons all who repent of their sins. It is from those who do not repent, those who bolster themselves up in self-confidence, that He turns away. Never will He refuse to listen to the voice of tears and repentance. Never will He turn His face away from the humble soul who comes to Him in repentance and sorrow. . . .
“The church member who believes the Word of God will never look indifferently upon a soul that humbles himself and confesses his sin. Let the repenting one be taken back with rejoicing”—Reflecting Christ, p. 203.
As we contemplate on the fields that are still white for the harvest of souls like “the man named Matthew,” we thank God for the more than 5,000 precious men and women, boys and girls that were won to Christ during the special emphasis of NY13 in metro New York City during 2013.
We also look forward to the training and soul-winning emphasis of NETS (Northeast Evangelism Training School) here in the Atlantic Union territory that will bring glory to God as we prepare for the triumphal return of our precious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Donald G. King is president of the Atlantic Union Conference and chairman of the Atlantic Union College Board of Trustees.