One of the responsibilities that Jesus had while on this earth was to select his Apostles, that is select the men that would be responsible to preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15) after Jesus had ascended back into heaven. They began that work on the day of Pentecost as they preached the gospel and 3,000 people were baptized and added to the church (Acts 2:14, 38, 41, 47). One of the men was selected to be an Apostle in this manner; “And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom; and he said unto him, ‘Follow me’” (Luke 5:27). There are some very interesting facts to note concerning Jesus’ selection and what followed.
The individual identified simply as Levi in Luke’s account was identified as “Levi the son of Alpheus” in Mark’s record (Mark 2:14). In Matthew’s account of naming the Apostles he identifies himself as “Matthew the publican” (Matthew 10:3). The New King James Version of the Bible translates the Luke account in this way; “After these things he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi” (Luke 5:27). The term “publican” comes to the English from the Latin “publicanus” and was the term used for the Roman public contractors that served primarily as tax collectors during the time of Jesus.
The passage says that Jesus saw Levi “sitting at the receipt of customs” (Luke 5:27) (KJV), “sitting at the tax office” (Luke 5:27 (NKJV). It is evident that Levi / Matthew as actually at his place of work when Jesus approached him and called him to be an Apostle. The tax collectors at that time would have had balances for weighing merchandise on a table and generally located at the edge of town. The reason for that location was to be able to tax the people as they came and went from the city. There would be caravans of goods being transported that could be taxed, merchants that had come to town to sell their goods, and even farmers came to sell their produce at the markets were taxed. The Roman governments like all governments needed taxes in order survive paying salaries of officials in Rome and throughout the Empire, as well as to have roads, a postal system, etc. The problem was that the publicans often taxed the people at an unfair rate so that they could pocket some of the money and consequently they were linked right along with the most immoral sinners. However, the fact that many of the tax collectors were unscrupulous did not mean that all of them were and Jesus evidently noted faith in Matthew and that he would serve well as an Apostle.
Jesus selected Levi (Matthew) and the account says; “So he left all, rose up, and followed him. Then Levi gave him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors (publicans) and other who sat down with them” (Luke 5:27-28). The great faith of Matthew (Levi) allowed him to leave his secular work behind in order to serve in the kingdom as an Apostle. He may have lost financially, but he certainly gained spiritually as he was a part of the preaching of the gospel and growth of the church. In a sense every Christian is called to make certain sacrifices. Everyone is not suppose to leave behind their secular work as Matthew (Levi) did, but at the same time secular work should not hinder a Christian from never being able to serve in the Lord’s church. There is a place for both in the lives of the faithful Christian. Jesus saw a “publican” one that would not have been considered a servant in the kingdom of God by the Jews, but he became an Apostle. Don’t let anything stop you from serving, be a Levi (Matthew).