5th Sunday in Lent – Rev. Tim Boyle Preaching – The Gospel According to the Life of Matthew

Join the welcoming community of West Tokyo Union Church for an online worship service at 10am Sunday, March 17th. For our overseas members, remember that is 10am Japan time. Rev. Tim Boyle will be bringing us the message, “The Gospel According to the Life of Matthew.”  (Transcript attached below.)

The Scripture readings are Isaiah 6:1-8 and Matthew 9:9-13. The hymns are: Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee (Ode To Joy), Just As I Am, and In Christ There Is No East or West.

Kazuko is our organist, Misae is preparing the slides and Ruth will be joined by her puppet friends to bring a lively children’s message.

Thank you to all who help make our services happen. Our small community is blessed by active members who hold each other up in prayer.

The Gospel According to the Life of Matthew

Text: Matt. 9:9-13

Last time I was with you, I gave a message on the life of Mark and how the Good News that he experienced was that God always works in our lives to give us second chances.  I want to continue in that same vein by taking a look at the life of Matthew and what we can learn about how God worked in his life and to see what the “Gospel according to the life of Matthew” is.  While the message of the Bible is applicable to people living in any age and culture, the way the Good News of Jesus Christ impacts each individual is a bit different.  As created individuals, we all share equally in the image of God, but we are also unique individuals, and so the specifics of how the Gospel of Jesus is realized in our lives is specific to each of us.

There are a number of other biblical characters whose lives were transformed by their encounters with Jesus Christ that likewise point us to principles we can apply to our own lives, and so today, let’s look at what we can discern from the life of Matthew and how the Good News of Jesus applied to him and how it can also apply to each one of us.  Earlier, we read the portion from Matthew’s gospel of his own calling, and so now let’s see how that same event is described in Luke.  It’s recorded in Luke 5:27-32, where it says, “After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me!’ So, leaving everything behind, he got up and began to follow him. Then Levi hosted a grand banquet for Jesus at his house.  Now, there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others who were guests with them. But the Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus replied to them, ‘The healthy don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

You’ll notice several differences between the two accounts, primary of which is the name used, as Luke refers to him as “Levi” while Matthew refers to himself using the name “Matthew.”  We have no written account as to the reason for this, but it very well may be that Levi is his actual Jewish name and Matthew is the new name that Jesus gave him, much like Jesus giving Simon the new name of Peter.  In the Greek, Peter is “Petros,” which is derived from the Greek word for “rock,” “petra.” Jesus chose this name because Peter’s faith was like a rock.  Scholars think that the name Matthew is derived through the Greek from the Hebrew words meaning “gift of God.”  What a beautiful name that is. In both Mark and Luke, he is called Levi when he first encounters Jesus, but then later on, he is always just referred to as Matthew.  I think this is one way the great change in Matthew is emphasized, and it’s part of the message we get from “the gospel according to the life of Matthew.”  He truly was a “gift from God.”

There in Japan, the time for filing your income taxes just finished, while here in the US, we still have a month to go.  Filing taxes is not exactly my favorite activity, and I would imagine that in any country, tax collectors are not likely the people you most want to meet – at least not for their jobs, anyway.  I remember when we were in Israel many years ago, just after we had visited the “Wailing Wall,” which is all that remains of the ancient temple in Jerusalem, our guide mentioned to us as we drove past the equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service there, “This wall over here is what the Israelis refer to as ‘the other wailing wall!’” Well, in ancient Israel, it was much more than that, as tax collectors were considered to be among the greatest of sinners and were probably more despised that anyone else in society.

The tax collecting system the Romans had then was to farm out the collection of taxes they imposed on those under their control to what amounted to independent contractors.  The Roman authorities would set the total amount of taxes to be collected from a particular region and then would leave it up to the official tax collectors they had recognized to come up with that amount.  Whatever amount in excess of that amount that the local tax collectors could collect, they could just keep it for themselves.  They used various forms of pressure to squeeze out as much tax as they could from the citizens, and so they typically became rather wealthy.

There was, however, a social cost for becoming a tax collector, as the local populace viewed them as social outcasts, and if a fellow Jew stooped to that level, they were viewed as traitors. Zacchaeus is another example of that, as he is described by Luke as being a “chief tax collector” who was very wealthy.  He was shunned by the rest of Jericho, and so while he may have had an easy life with respect to wealth, it came at a great social cost. But like Matthew, his life was transformed by his encounter with Jesus.

Luke also records another story that illustrates how radically different Jesus’ attitude was towards these outcasts from that of the religious leaders and indeed society as a whole. Luke 18:9-14 says: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘ ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ ’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘ ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ ’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’”

Levi, who later became Matthew, was just such a person as this.  Whether he had literally gone to the temple to humble himself as in Jesus’ parable, we don’t know, but he clearly had in his heart, which is why Jesus chose him to be one of his 12 disciples.  And just like in the parable, Matthew, who had humbled himself, was exalted to such an extent that the gospel account that he compiled later became the first book in the New Testament.  

When you consider this background, it is indeed a miracle that we have this book, “The Gospel According to Matthew.”  I think it’s no accident that the story of Matthew’s calling is right in the middle of a list of many miracles Jesus performed.  His calling in itself was a great miracle, in the sense that Jesus would take this despised man who had strayed so far from the path of righteousness and raise him up to be one of his 12 disciples and eventually one of the 12 apostles.

One interesting thing about the way the calling of Matthew is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, is that it simply says Jesus told him to come and be his follower and Matthew immediately responded.  Now, obviously there’s got to be a lot more to the story than that. It’s kind of hard to imagine some stranger he knew nothing about coming up and telling Matthew to follow him, and then Matthew doing just that, leaving everything behind. We can only speculate, of course, but I think Matthew must have heard Jesus before this, and it must have moved him so much that he longed for a new life. Jesus saw into his heart and knew what was there.  And like in the story of life of Mark, Jesus gave him a “second chance”— but not just a chance to reform his tax collecting methods but to a radical transformation of his whole person.

How do you suppose Matthew felt about this?  He doesn’t directly say, but we can get a hint from the way Matthew himself reports his being called by Jesus to how Mark and Luke report it.  While the 3 reports are essentially the same, there are 2 details that Matthew leaves out of his report. Matthew just says that he got up and followed, but Luke adds the phrase, “leaving everything,” emphasizing how great a personal sacrifice it was.  And when you think about it, it truly was a much greater sacrifice than any of the other disciples.  For a fisherman, it would have been relatively easy to return to their former occupation if things didn’t work out with this itinerant teacher.  But Matthew would not have had the option to return to being a tax collector, as there would have been no possibility that the Roman government would have allowed that.  He was truly burning the bridge behind him.

But that was not important to Matthew. I think he considered the great honor he was receiving to far exceed any sacrifice he was making. He was receiving something far beyond his wildest dreams—something no amount of money could buy. Not only was he being accepted and loved just as he was, but he was also receiving a life of purpose, where he could contribute to something of great value that would last forever.  So, rather than feeling he was making a great sacrifice, he felt he was gaining everything.

The other difference in the accounts is that Matthew doesn’t mention that it was his own house where he was hosting the banquet.  It just says, “the house”, though some English translations do add that detail in, since both Mark and Luke state it directly.  But it’s not there in the original Greek of Matthew.  It seems like a minor point, but it does show Matthew’s humility in not wanting to put himself out front any more than necessary.  He was only thinking of what Jesus was doing for him, and it was in tremendous gratitude that he put together this great banquet. All three accounts continue with the description of the banquet as having a large number of “tax collectors and sinners” enjoying the feast with Jesus and his disciples. When you stop to think about it, however, who else could Matthew have invited? If he had tried inviting the up-standing, self-righteous people of the town, they would have been shocked and would have thought of it as an insult.

They were, however, intensely interested in what was happening, and it wasn’t difficult to find out.  The construction of houses in that day were such that it would have been easy for those not at the banquet to peak in and see what was happening.  The Pharisees and other religious leaders of the Jews were doing just that, and they were scandalized to see Jesus eating and having fellowship with these “deplorables,” to use a contemporary expression.

Something that is no doubt common to all human societies is that eating a meal with someone equates at least to a certain degree with accepting that person on an equal basis.  In the cultures of the ancient Near East, however, this was much more so than what we experience in the modern cultures we are familiar with.  The Jewish law was such that Jews were forbidden to eat with non-Jews, because to do so was thought to bring defilement onto the Jew.  Thus, in the early church, as it was breaking out of its narrow Jewish mold, God used various circumstances and events to lead the disciples away from such discriminatory attitudes.  One incident was that of the vision God gave to Peter showing various animals that were considered unclean in Jewish law and telling him to kill and eat them.  Peter found that difficult to accept, but God told him not to call unclean what God had made clean.  And then God sent Peter and the other Jewish believers that were with him to the house of a Roman centurion named Cornelius, where a large crowd of Gentiles were gathered in preparation to hear God’s message through Peter. They gladly received the message of Christ, and they then experienced what could be called a “second Pentecost”, with the same infilling of the Holy Spirit that had occurred at the first Pentecost. These people, then, became the first non-Jewish followers of Jesus.

Old habits, however, are not easy to break, and this is particularly so with discriminatory attitudes. Indeed, even several years later, Paul had to admonish Peter and other Jewish believers in Antioch for the hypocrisy they showed when they shied away from fellowship with Gentile believers by avoiding sharing a meal because they were “afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.”  During the early years of the Church, there was a strong movement of Jewish believers referred to as the “Judaizers” — rather like the more modern issue of what is referred to as “westernizers.”  Judaizers believed that in order to really come to God, non-Jews had to first submit themselves to the Jewish law, just as the Jews did.  Paul, of course, was at the forefront in combatting this, but apparently Peter wanted to avoid conflict with this group and so he and others had stopped eating with their Gentile brethren when the Judaizers were around.  The account in Galatians 2 says that “even Barnabas was led astray” by this hypocrisy.

At any rate, this issue of fellowshipping around a meal is something that is important in all cultures, and it is a point at which discriminatory attitudes often rear their ugly heads. It is also, however, something that symbolizes acceptance and love, when we make an effort to invite people into our homes or eat with them in other settings. Perhaps the most meaningful invitation of all is what Jesus says to each of us as recorded in Rev. 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”  I guess you might say that that is the ultimate in “inviting yourself over for dinner,” but Jesus could have just as easily said, “I am sending you an invitation to come to my house for dinner.”  Indeed, that is basically what he is saying to each of us when we partake of holy communion.

This, of course, is on the spiritual level, but in his physical life here on earth, Jesus did the same thing.  He welcomed everyone and was willing to eat a meal with anyone.  This is something that the self-righteous religious leaders of his day detested, as it went against everything they held dear.  To their way of thinking, such actions on the part of Jesus lowered Jesus to the level of those sinners. This brings up an important point that often leads to some confusion among Christian believers, and that is the difference between accepting someone in love and supporting their lifestyle choices.  These two actions are often in tension.  While the Bible records Jesus accepting and relating to all he came in contact with, this same Bible also counsels us to be careful of who we associate with lest we be negatively influenced and tempted into sin.  Jesus, of course, was not faced with the same limitations that we have—namely human weaknesses and a sin nature.  On the level of his human nature, he was faced with the same temptations we all are, but his divine nature gave him the power to resist them all and not fall into sin.  So, we do need to be aware of our own limitations and not get in over our heads, so to speak.  And part of that is keeping clear the distinction between accepting and interacting with every person and necessarily affirming the way that person lives.

A good example of this principle is the relationship between parents and their children.  While you unconditionally accept and love your child, you also need to discipline your child and train him or her up in moral behavior.  While in the physical sense, Jesus did not have children to raise, in the spiritual sense, we all are in that category of needing such discipline and training from our “Heavenly Parent,” as it were, or to use another expression, our “Heavenly Big Brother.” We see that principle being applied in Matthew’s life in the story of his calling by Jesus.  So, let’s take a look at that scene as it’s described in the synoptic gospels. As I mentioned earlier, in all probability, this feast in honor of Jesus was held in the inner court of Matthew’s house.  As the religious leaders were really bothered by what Jesus was doing and saying, they were peaking in to see what was going on.  To them, it was scandalous, and so they asked one of his disciples who was close by, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Whether Jesus could overhear what they were saying, we don’t know, but he didn’t really need to.  It was obvious from the disapproving looks on their faces, and so he called out to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. … For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

This is such an interesting response. What they were implying is that since Jesus was associating with sinners, their sin would rub off onto him, making him a sinner too. Now, if I were in that situation, my natural response would likely have been to get mad and say something like, “You guys are full of it! You’re nothing but a bunch of hypocrites!” Admittedly, there were some occasions where Jesus did use some pretty strong language to express his righteous indignation of those who were abusing their power and oppressing the weak of society.  But here, he doesn’t do that but instead answers them in a way they can’t argue with, first by recognizing their outward righteousness.  I think we could rephrase Jesus’ response as saying, “You all are healthy, upright people. But what should healthy people be doing? Shouldn’t they be helping unhealthy people just like a doctor does?”

They were in effect saying, “He is with those people because he is just like them.” But Jesus was saying, “No, I am with these people precisely because I am fundamentally unlike them.” Who would criticize a doctor for being in a hospital all day long? “What’s he think he’s doing, associating with sick people all day long? He must be sick himself!” That, of course, would be a ridiculous thing to say.  But that was in effect exactly what the Pharisees were thinking. So, what Jesus was asserting is that strong, healthy people should be helping those who are facing various forms of infirmity.  And if that is true with physical infirmities, it’s also true with infirmities of the heart and spirit.

Lastly, I want to bring up one more point that we can learn from “The Gospel According to the Life of Matthew,” and that is God seeks to have us dedicate the talents and gifts he’s given to each of us as individuals to his service.  God doesn’t want you to strive to be somebody else, somebody you are not.  On the contrary, God wants you to use the personality and natural gifts he has endowed you with to serve God and all those he has created in his image.  Matthew was Matthew, and so God was not asking Matthew to become like John, Peter, or Paul.  Matthew was a businessman and had come out of a highly competitive business world.  Thus, we can surmise that he was a very practical man who probably thought very little about religious and spiritual things.  After all, those would likely not have been topics of discussion among tax collectors.  He would not have been someone who knew a lot about the spiritual world, but he certainly did know a lot about cut-throat competition in the economic sphere and how economic forces affected the human heart.  For years, Matthew would have been keeping detailed tax records, and so we can assume that he was naturally a very meticulous person.  We can see that coming out in the way he crafted his gospel account.  The gospel writer who put together the most orderly and detailed account of the representative teachings of Christ in what we call “the Sermon on the Mount” was Matthew.  His gospel account was one that emphasized actions over theologizing, and so was practice oriented.  Likewise, compared to the other gospel writers, Matthew emphasized teachings relating to the business world.  While Jesus used a variety of illustrations to teach with, it is only Matthew that records those having to do with economics.  For instance, there are the parables comparing the kingdom of heaven to someone discovering hidden treasure in a field and then selling everything he had to buy that field and to a merchant dealing in pearls who finds the ultimate pearl and sells everything he has to buy it.  Likewise, only Matthew records the basic teaching that one cannot serve two masters, namely God and money. 

It’s really a beautiful thing to see how Matthew poured out his God-given personality and natural abilities into the writing of his gospel.  There is so much we can learn from that.  That is especially so if you are one who subconsciously feels you need to somehow become someone you are not in order to serve God.  One way you can most faithfully serve God is in the station of life you find yourself in, be that your school, your job, your home or your retirement years.  God has endowed each of us with a variety of talents and gifts, and we can contribute most to the building up of God’s Kingdom by using those for his glory in our daily lives and in his church.  That is the gospel message from Matthew’s life.  He came just as he was to let Jesus transform his life and use his natural talents.  May each of us do the same.  In doing so, God will bless us and lead us into a life of purpose and joy.  

Let us pray:

Our Heavenly Father, we thank you that you are a God who accepts us just as we are, but also that you are a God who doesn’t just leave us there but who guides us as we yield our lives to you.  Help us to learn from the life of your servant Matthew that we too can contribute meaningfully to the building up of your Kingdom here on earth through using the unique personalities and gifts you have given us.  For it is in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ that we pray.

WTUC Sunday Worship Zoom Link:


Meeting ID: 840 9415 4793. Passcode: 583756

Information about our speaker: Tim Boyle is a native of Arizona and earned a B.S. in physics from Arizona State Univ. and received an NSF fellowship at Florida State Univ. to get a PhD in weather science. That, however, was interrupted by the draft and the Vietnam War. God used that, however, to direct his steps towards going into the ministry. Tim received M. Div. and D. Min. degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary. Tim first studied Japanese at the East-West Center in Hawaii in 1967-68 and then served as a short-term missionary for 3 years on the northern island of Hokkaido from 1971-74. He married Yuko, a native of Japan, in 1974 before entering seminary. He is a member of the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church.Tim and Yuko (Juji) Boyle were first appointed to serve in Japan in 1982 by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in a joint appointment with the United Methodist Church. Their first assignment was to a rural church in Hokkaido, and then from 1986, they served for 21 years at the Tsukuba Christian Center in Tsukuba Science City. His last assignment until retirement in 2016 was as a professor at Kwansei Gakuin Univ. They presently reside in the Penney Retirement Community in Florida and spend their summers in Japan.

We hope that many of you will be able to come and worship with the WTUC family!

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