Let’s take a walk together through the Judean countryside. The time is around 33AD. It has been a long arduous journey and we are anxious to get home. You know what I mean, “There is no place like home!” We have only to pass through customs on the road ahead and we will almost be there. Oh no! What is this? Look at the line backed up at the collection booth! We will never make it home in time for dinner! What could the problem possibly be? Word begins to pass down the line - one of the travelers who doesn’t really seem to have much to declare has held up the whole process. He doesn’t have anything more than the sandals on his feet and a staff in his hand.
He must be one of those people who doesn’t have the right change! If I strain my eyes, I can just about see the toll booth - even though the line has stretched out so far. Oh, I can see the tax collector getting up out of his booth. This stranger is going to be in trouble now - I bet he doesn’t have the money at all and the “revenuer” is going to turn him over to the Roman authorities. They will know what to do with such a deadbeat! How dare he inconvenience all of us.
No, wait a minute!? What is this? The agent is going with him! He is leaving his business behind and he is following this strange man. What can this mean - I have never seen anything like this!? There is no one left in the booth. The whole line is surging ahead without paying a single coin. Well, I don’t know what I just witnessed - but at least I will be home in time for dinner.
I am sure that by now you have figured out that the tax collector in the narrative is the Gospel writer and disciple Matthew.
As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. Matthew 9:9
Matthew stood up - meeting Christ’s gaze eye to eye - and they walked off together.
The Pharisees of His day or the religious legalist of our day (and we all have some of this in us): “Would first make him a penitent, and then bid him welcome to God; Christ first welcomes him to God, and so makes him a penitent. The one demands, the other imparts life.”
Jesus didn’t call Matthew to repentance (9:13 KJV), but to Himself. Repentance will follow. Matthew arose and turned to face Christ and then walked away from his business–a true change of heart.
“But when (the call) came, and Jesus fixed on him that look of love which searched the inmost deep of the soul, and made Him the true Fisher of men, it needed not a moment’s thought or consideration.”
“That was a gain that day, not of Matthew alone, but of all the poor and needy in Israel–nay, of all sinners from among men, to whom the door of heaven was opened.”
Now let’s look at this scenario from another view point - the other end of the line. This account of Matthew’s calling is also recorded in Mark and Luke, but they refer to him as Levi - his Hebrew name. Matthew will not call himself that - he only goes by his more common name. He was known as other things by his fellow Jews - thief, traitor, sellout, blasphemer...
If he did not hear them say these words, he saw it in their eyes–one by one and day after day. But he needed this job, he had no other way to make a living - no other choices. He was a slave. But when his eyes met the eyes of the Savior he saw something he had never seen before - unconditional love. He simply records: “He saw a man called Matthew,...” Levi-Matthew was so compelled that he could only get up and follow - the love was irresistible. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul - my life - my all! Isaac Watts 1707
And Matthew is the only Gospel writer that includes these words of Isaiah in his account - for he was a bruised reed. He had been bruised by condemnation, accusation, self-righteousness and judgement - stones hurled against his very soul. Yes, words can hurt - very deeply.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”
Matthew 12:20-21 NIV
I love the way this is expressed here: “He will not crush those who are weak, or quench the smallest hope, until he brings full justice with his final victory.” NLT
This speaks of his mission - and to those that he invited into his home to meet the Messiah. That night Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to be his dinner guests, along with his fellow tax collectors and many other notorious sinners. The Pharisees were indignant. “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” they asked his disciples. Matthew 9:10-11
‘Expecting a Messiah who would crush the sinful and support the righteous, they had little place for one who accepted and transformed the sinner and dismissed the righteous as hypocrites.’
Matthew had become a fisher of men. "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." Although Matthew and the rest would face many struggles in the days ahead, the call of Christ was compelling - irrevocable. David Platt writes, “These men decidedly do not warrant Jesus’ pursuit. (They) become disciples of Jesus solely because of the initiative–and invitation–of Christ. No one has ever been saved from their sins because they have pursued Jesus. Everyone who has ever been saved from their sins knows that they have been pursued by Jesus–and their lives haven’t been the same since.”
For this account to have even a greater grip on our being we need to appreciate the analogy that is being drawn first by the Prophet and then in the life of Matthew Levi.
The piper walked down to the edge of the stream to examine a stand of reeds. He was in need of a new instrument as his old one was worn out and would not produce a melodious sound. “Ah, here is a healthy looking one,” he says to himself as he plucks the stem from among the others. Yet on closer examination he sees that it is bruised–it has been injured. With disgust he fractures it even further and discards it into the stream - being sure that no one else would have any use for it.
As the current carries the bruised reed toward the sea of death it bumps into the bare leg of another who is standing in the stream. He is in the midst of the stream with the reed. As a hand gently lifts it from the waters a miracle occurs - it is healed. This One saw a worth in the reed that the piper could not. He then draws the reed to his mouth filling it with the breath of life–a beautiful melody is produced. This melody is a call - a call to others who are bruised - to come and be restored.
The innkeeper goes to prepare the room for his guest. As he enters, he sees that the lamp on the table is barely flickering. It is low on oil and as a result it is producing more black smoke than it is producing light. The innkeeper quickly moves toward it to snuff it out so that its soot will not dirty the room.
But the guest has arrived and he pushes past the innkeeper to lift up the lamp in his hands. As he draws it toward his gaze something miraculous happens! The well of its being is suddenly filled with fresh oil. No longer is it a smoldering wick–now it is a brilliant light filling every corner of the room with its luminescence. It beckons others to come to the light.
Melodious harmony bringing understanding (brings order) to their confusion and a brilliant light dispelling the darkness.
“the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." Matthew 4:16 NIV
Levi Matthew uses these analogies for he was a bruised reed and a smoldering wick. Early in 1982 as the Father began to call together a community of believers gathering in our living room, this was the message He gave to us: “The bruised reed He will not break and the smoldering wick He will not extinguish.” It was and is a message of healing for the wounded spirit: “UNTIL HE LEADS JUSTICE TO VICTORY.”
Let our minds think on these objects of creation - a reed and a flax - as harbingers of the age that now is and is yet to come. This is so well expressed in the words of this modern hymn by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend
Creation longs for His return,
When Christ shall reign upon the earth;
The bitter wars that rage
Are birth pains of a coming age.
When He renews the land and sky,
All heav'n will sing and earth reply
With one resplendent theme: The glories of our God and King!