This Sunday evening, we begin a new sermon series on Matthew’s Gospel entitled, ‘The World’s True King, The King’s True People’. This series will be preached at our 5.30pm services over the next few months, and I hope many of you will be able to join us!

To catch up on the sermons you’ve missed, click here.

THE WORLD’S TRUE KING, THE KING’S TRUE PEOPLE’ 

We have no clear idea why the young Jew, Levi, perhaps still in his late twenties, slowly abandoned his religious past within enemy-occupied 1stcentury Palestinian Judaism amid its ‘freedom fighter’ bitter antipathy to the enemy invasion of the Roman Empire. Levi had experienced Rome’s pagan life-styles, false worship, and iron-fisted oppression, so it is puzzling that he then suddenly exchanged his biblical faith for a life-style as far from Torah obedience as it’s possible to get. But abandon it he did, in as sudden a ‘turn-coat’ abandonment of loyalties, and deep betrayal of his people as it’s possible to commit.

The result was his relentless slippage into once-unthinkable reckless behaviour involving running with ‘the wrong crowd’, consorting with prostitutes and most shockingly, collaborating with despised Roman governors and soldiers as one of their corrupt tax-collectors – a sudden traitor to Israel and one who regularly enriched himself by creaming off his substantial ‘cut’ at the expense of his own countrymen. In short, Levi became a despised outcast and crook, accepted or welcome only in the company of fellow ‘outcasts’ and ‘low-lifes’ who had also burned their bridges behind them as runaway prodigals just like himself.

Living estranged from ‘The Father’s House’ and on the run deeply into ‘The Far Country’ meant that Matthew, the name by which we most familiarly know him, surely spiraled downwards into drunken partying, illicit violence, callous intimidation, casual sex with strangers, and self-centred exploitation of ‘suckers’, in a lifestyle of the very worst kind. The result was a growing sense of self-destruction, with no way out and no way back. Until, that is, the day Jesus passed by his Inland Revenue tax-table at the town Customs Gate. Jesus looked Matthew straight in the eye, then issued his compelling summons to this totally lost man – “Follow me!”

Exactly why Matthew’s immediate and unhesitating response to this mysterious stranger was to instantly stand, then suddenly abandon his sordid life-style and dubious career we’re not entirely sure. But abandon it he did! One of the most surprising results was Matthew’s eagerness to immediately throw a huge ‘leaving party’ with his fellow cronies and friends, a party to which Jesus was invited as No.1 celebrity guest! Amazingly, Jesus – who would later pay the price of being condemned as ‘A Friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’ by his enemies for his taboo-breaking ‘mixing it’ with ‘no-goods’. He still remains the best friend we’ve got, and the only one we all most need!

The rest as they say is history. But more than that, it also made history! Matthew’s life and lifestyle was not only rescued from its living death, it was utterly transformed. He became a founding apostle and ambassador for Jesus, in our Lord’s plans to renew and reform Israel and the whole world into One New Man – Jews and Gentiles joined together in Christ – the true Messianic community. Matthew not only began to preach what Jesus said, he also did what Jesus did until the day it went global around the then known world!

The biography of Jesus that Matthew eventually penned, detailing the stunning discourses and whirlwind events of world-shaking teaching and miracles he’d experienced with Jesus, is one of the most priceless documents we possess from the ancient world. It is an exquisitely constructed journey through Jesus’ Words, Works and Wonders. It can’t fail to introduce us afresh to the stunning Figure who’s centre stage, with the result that Jesus will walk off the pages of this Gospel, so real to us that we cannot fail to meet him again and again, as if for the very first time!

Come and re-acquaint yourselves with the wonderful person of Jesus then! Be entranced by his greatness, mercy, and compassion for us all. His saving actions wrought by his life, crucifixion, and death-destroying resurrection from the grave, systematically undo everything sinful men and demons have done to ruin this planet and the lives of everyone on it. And that is nothing but ‘good news’ for a world swamped by evil reports!

One of the earliest and most colourful translators of Matthew into vivid English was William Tyndale (c.1492-1536), a courageous Reformer and scholarly man whose sole ambition was to ensure that even a common ploughboy would know and understand more of the Bible than the ignorant priests of his time. He once vividly summarized his translation of the New Testament by describing the Gospel in this striking way:

“Evangelion (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word; and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance and leap for joy…Now can the wretched man that is in sin and danger to death and hell hear no more joyous a thing, than such glad and comfortable tidings of Christ; so that he cannot but be glad, and laugh from the low bottom of his heart, if he believe that the tidings are true.”

(Doctrinal Treatises, Ed., H. Walter, 1848, p.8-9)

This is surely a vivid summary of what actually happened to our evangelist Matthew himself, after he encountered Jesus at the very beginning of Christ’s public ministry. It will surely be a repeated in all of our lives again and again as we rediscover the real Jesus in the remarkable Gospel that Matthew has left to the world as his greatest legacy. May God open our eyes to see something of the compassionate tenderness and fierce love of our incomparable Lord Jesus Christ, who saves and rescues us, so that the life God always intended us to re-discover can finally be lived to the full by all.

GREG HASLAM

Westminster Chapel, September 2012