Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups
09/08/16 – 565 – Jesus Calls His First Disciples
One of the things that has caused a bit of confusion over time is the use of different names for some of the people in scripture. For example, in yesterday’s devotion we talked about the disciple Nathaniel, who seems to disappear after being called, only to be replaced by a new guy named Bartholomew. The truth is, he didn’t go anywhere. ‘Nathaniel’ was usually a first name and Bartholomew a surname (last name). So, when the New Testament was written in Greek, the Aramaic name Nathaniel bar Talmai (meaning Nathaniel son of Talmai) became Nathaniel Bartholomew. Later writers simply referred to him by his surname.
Sometimes names changed when there were significant life changes. We saw this when Abram entered into a covenant with Jehovah and became Abraham. Sometimes we just don’t know the reason for a person being referenced by two names, but we can know from the circumstances that we’re talking about the same person.
This is the case with the next disciple Jesus called. We know and love him as Matthew, the former tax collector. But the first time we meet him, it’s by the name of Levi.
Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
I think that most people know that tax collectors were not well liked in Jewish society to say the least. I will offer that as proof that some things really don’t change. However, as much as none of us really loves the IRS today, people like Matthew were pretty much hated by everyone. And I do mean hated.
To understand why, one has to remember that the Israelites lived under the iron hand of the Romans. One of the methods they used to keep peace in the nations they conquered was to use indigenous people to do a lot of the government work for them. These people ranged from puppet kings like Herod to tax collectors like Matthew.
The assumption was that these locals knew the people, knew their habits and could better find and collect taxes on assets that the people might otherwise be able to hide. So, they found men that were willing to betray their own neighbors and use them.
The return was that anything collected in excess of what was demanded by the Romans was theirs to keep, and these collectors had all the weight and protection of the Roman Empire to help them. Needless to say (but I will anyway), the job didn’t exactly draw men of highest moral character. So, when Jesus called him to actually become a disciple, it did more than just raise some eyebrows.
What happened next is something we still talk about today. We still talk about it but sadly, we too often forget about it. Stay tuned – we aren’t finished yet.
We’ve been talking about how Jesus called those who had been rejected by other rabbis as not being ‘good enough’. Yet here He goes far beyond, calling a man that no one would have considered worthy of bothering with, worthy of redemption. Worthy of grace. Do you think Jesus was trying to tell us something?
Let’s pray today that we get His message.