Luke 5: 27-39: New Truths for Old Mindsets
“And after that He went out, and noticed a tax gatherer named Levi, sitting in the tax office, and he said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And he left everything behind and rose and began to follow Him. And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house, and there were a great crowd of tax-gatherers and other people who were reclining at the table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with the tax-gatherers and sinners?’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’
“And they said to Him, ‘The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers; the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same, but Yours eat and drink.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is still with them, can you? But the days will come, and when the bridegroom is taken from them, then they will fast in those days.’
“And He was also telling them a parable: ‘No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new, for he says, ‘The old is good enough'” (Luke 5:27-39, NASB).
When we read the Scriptures and look at the ways that the Lord Jesus called the apostles into His service, we need to stop looking at these men as being of extraordinary piety or a unique holiness that they exclusively possessed. These men did not have halos glowing around their bodies, and none of them were of a part of the higher social status, or had wealth, or influence, or were educated theologians. These were, as John MacArthur said in his outstanding work on the apostles, “twelve ordinary men.”
Most all of them had made their living as fishermen and skilled laborers, making a living for themselves and their families by the sweat of their brows and the strength of their flesh. They were plain spoken, rough around the edges, honest, blunt, opinionated, egotistical, often unable to grasp what Jesus was trying to teach them, and argued among themselves as to which one of them was the Lord’s favorite. They each had unique strengths and characteristics. They also abandoned Jesus in His most desperate hour of need and sorrow; one denied Him, and one permanently walked away from Him and sold Him out to His enemies for a few silver coins, damning himself in the process for eternity. Each man’s life and work will be examined later.
Luke gives special attention to one particular man who would not only end up as one of the apostles, but would also write one of the other gospels specifically for his fellow Jews, showing them through Scripture references and eyewitness testimony that Jesus was the Promised Messiah through the line of David. This man was a tax collector who had gotten rich off of not just taxing goods, services, transportation, and other means of collecting revenue, but also added fees and surcharges above what was legally required by Caesar from his subjects, Judea included.
Matthew’s obtainment of wealth was not without cost. He had been cast out of the synagogue and shunned by his fellow Jews for siding with the Romans, whom they bitterly hated as the occupiers and rulers of the land. He was to be avoided and shunned at every opportunity for what the people deemed an act of treachery and betrayal of the Jewish nation and faith. He had no friends except the societal outcasts, which consisted of what would be referred to as “low-life” such as his tax-collecting colleagues, the local prostitutes, and all who were of bad reputation or character. There is no doubt that his contemporaries had little admiration or liking for him for what he had chosen to do for a living.
Many commentators have tried to establish a personality for Matthew with a varied range of emotions. A recent internet production entitled “The Chosen” centers on the life and work of our Lord Jesus Christ and the people who were a part of His world and ministry. The writers of the series portray Matthew as focused to the point of obsession on one topic or subject of interest, showing uneasiness around people, having difficulty showing empathy towards the less fortunate, not really being able to process some situations, and introverted – preferring to be alone but yet comfortable with people they know and trust. Their overall intelligence can tend to be borderline genius in special subjects such as mathematics, the sciences, or technical work, among other interests. Matthew is depicted as having high-functioning autism, known today as Asperger’s Syndrome.
I am all too familiar with this because I have the symptoms, and so does my adult son who lives on his own quite well. He maintains his own household, has a job, and earned a 4.0 GPA in his college studies. He is good with numbers and mental calculations, as was Matthew in his day. He mentally calculated the exact amount of material needed for a construction project he and a contractor were working on a few years ago and has calculated the exact budget he needs to sustain for the new place he will be moving to in a month or so. My daughter is no slouch, either. She is good with tools and assists her husband in construction projects. She was spared the autistic traits.
The main point of Matthew and his condition is that our LORD is able to use anyone from any background, regardless of personality, education, status, physical difficulties, and other issues that the religious officials of Jesus’ day would have never considered being of use or value for the service of God. If you read the Gospels, none of the apostles had degrees from universities, or were trained in advanced theological thought and practice, or were men of wealth and power.
Matthew had been given the offer of forgiveness and the chance to start a new life. He was now part of a group who would learn from the Lord Jesus the truth of God, the purity and power of the Word of God, have the privilege of taking Jesus’ message to all points of the Roman Empire, write what would be the New Testament, teach about the grace, mercy, and saving power of Jesus Christ for the remainder of their lives and at the cost of their lives as well.
That would all come later; but for now, Matthew invites his friends over for a celebration and the opportunity for him to tell them about the love and grace of Jesus and to receive the salvation and freedom from sin that he had been given that day. He and his peers were part of the “new wine” and “new cloth” made by the Lord Jesus through His mission of redeeming fallen man and freeing them from religious bondage as well as the judgment that they would surely face from God if they had rejected Him. The world, as a whole, will not taste this new wine of spiritual liberation, and will be content with the idea of going at it alone or giving God “lip service” every so often to ease their gnawing consciences and blindness towards their sin and rebellion.
A sick person can do one of two things. He can seek the services of a physician who can accurately diagnose his condition and provide the medication or procedure that will restore him to his previous healthy condition, or ignore it to the point where any attempt to prescribe a cure is at a point of despair and ineffectiveness. Matthew and his friends, like everyone else who has lived or is on the Earth now, suffers from sickness that leads to eternal death. It is Jesus Christ and Him alone who provides the cure that will bring total health and eternal life. Millions of people from that day have partaken of the cure and have tasted the new wine of redemption.
What about you? Have you made your peace with God through Jesus Christ? Do so this day and let the great Physician heal your life for all time.