First, we know that Matthew was a tax collector. This is found in Matthew 9:9, Mark 2:14, and Luke 5:27. In both Mark and Luke, Matthew is also called Levi. This is commonly used to describe someone from the tribe of Levi. Knowing this, we then see that Matthew was a Levite. This would have allowed him the opportunity to be a priest or at least a high level servant in the Temple. He was destined to serve in the Kingdom of God.
Matthew's Levitical heritage is further verified by earlier historians who cited that the original manuscripts of Matthew's gospel was written in Hebrew. Irenaeus lf Lyons made this assertion around 180 AD (Against Heresies 3:1:1). It is further confirmed by trusted historian Eusebius (History of the Church 3:24) as well as the scholar Origen in 244 AD. These reliable sources show that Matthew knew how to read and write in Hebrew, a privilege that was typically reserved for Levites.
What is the importance of this fact? Matthew had a spiritual purpose upon his birth. However, somewhere along the way he abandoned his birth purpose for the opportunities and the allure of the world. He became a traitor in the eyes of his people as tax collectors worked with Romans and secular Jews to disenfranchise the common Jew. The contrast of where he was and where he could have been couldn't be more stark. The stage was set for a great redemption story.
God loves a comeback story. Throughout the Bible, God picks people up who have fallen or turned away and gives them an opportunity to serve him. Matthew was no different than Jacob, David and Jonah. These were are all men who needed a chance at redemption. They all got that chance and seized it. When Christ offered Matthew the opportunity to escape the world and find redemption, he seized it:
And 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. (Matthew 9:9)
Waiting For Opportunity
Notice. There is no hesitation. He gets up from his table (his job and lifestyle) and walks away from it to follow after the way's of God. This wasn't the product of mind control by Christ. It is noted several times in all four gospels of how people refuse to follow when he offers. Matthew made a conscious decision to follow Christ. This shows that he was waiting for an opportunity.
There are those of us and those we know who are waiting for an opportunity to follow Christ and his plan for them. For some, it will come with a direct invitation from God himself. For others, though, it will be through invitations by those who bear Christ in their hearts. Will we be the one's who look for today's Matthew's? Will we see in the wayward and the fallen the potential that Christ found in the tax collector turned gospel writer? Will we invite them to a Bible Study, a church service, a fellowship meeting or even an opportunity to pray?
Response Leads to Greater Purpose
Matthew's response to Christ's invitation is far more involved than just following him. Mark catalogs it perfectly:
And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in [Matthew's] house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. (Mark 2:15)
Matthew responded to Christ's invitation with more than just his loyalty. He went and brought others to Jesus. Matthew understood Christ's great purpose: to seek and save that which is lost (Luke 19:10). Matthew would do this from the very moment he started following Jesus.
Imagine, had Christ not seen that purpose and potential in Matthew to lead people who had fallen back to God. Matthew would go on to fulfill the first purpose of the church. He wrote a gospel in Hebrew that reached for the Jews (Romans 1:16). He also reached for sinners, which was Christ's ultimate goal, a goal that others had failed to do in the life of Matthew. Christ's opportunity for Matthew led to his redemption and the fulfillment of his purpose in the Kingdom of God.
The same can happen for those of us who feel as though we have fallen or faded away. We can find redemption in Christ if we but accept his calling to come and follow. Who knows what opportunities await us on the other side of that decision?
Chris Farris is the author of The Way, a manual detailing how to implement the Beatitudes into your life. He review events and other media and offers other insights into writing and working for the Kingdom of God.