Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
September 21, 2008
Text: Matt. 9:9-13

This morning we give thanks and praise to God for the blessed apostle and evangelist, St. Matthew. As apostle, literally “sent one,” of our Lord Jesus Christ, St. Matthew is a gift from the Savior who “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” for the equipping of the saints, which is to say you and all who are in Christ Jesus, for the work of ministry to you and all who are in Christ Jesus, for building up the body of Christ, again, all of you who are in Christ Jesus (Eph. 4:11-12; ESV). Our Lord Jesus gave St. Matthew to the Church so that we could attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God (v. 13). In other words, He gave St. Matthew for the sake of the Gospel. And for this reason He chose St. Matthew not only to serve as one of the Twelve, the blessed apostles upon whose doctrine the Church is built, but also as an evangelist, one of the four Gospel writers, so that from the time of St. Matthew right up through the present the Church has cherished and been nourished by the book that bears his name, a book that is, in fact, in many ways foundational for the whole New Testament.

So this morning, we give thanks and praise to God for the blessed apostle and evangelist St. Matthew as a gift of the Gospel, a gift of Jesus Christ Himself. This is good and right. Lutherans have always held the saints in high esteem, honored them and been strengthened in faith and good works by their example. Thus we confess in the Augsburg Confession, “It is also taught among us that saints should be kept in remembrance so that our faith may be strengthened when we see what grace they received and how they were sustained by faith. Moreover, their good works are to be an example for us, each of us in his own calling.”[1] Now don’t confuse this with the way other churches regard the saints. This is far different than, for example, the Roman Catholic cult of the saints. As Lutherans, we maintain that we should never pray to the saints, or invoke them, or trust in their merits in any way for our salvation. In fact, we affirm that the saints were sinners in their earthly lives, just like we are. And we also affirm that in truth, a saint is broadly speaking anyone who is a Christian, who is in Christ, and in this sense you are as much a saint as St. Matthew. St. Matthew is in no way saved by his works any more than you are. Both you and St. Matthew stand as saints before God by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ alone.

But in a narrower sense of the word “saint,” we do regard certain heroes and heroines of the faith from the Scriptures and Church history as worthy of our special honor. This may be because they led an exceptionally holy life, at least outwardly, and in this way serve as examples to us. It may be because they persevered in the faith of Jesus Christ under great trial and tribulation, perhaps enduring severe persecution, and perhaps even dying a martyr’s death. Tradition says, for example, that St. Matthew was beheaded in Ethiopia for his confession of Christ. It is often the case that we honor a saint because of what they have written, or because of the way in which God has used that saint for the building and strengthening of the Church. Both of these are the case with St. Matthew. He left us with the beautiful, precious Gospel that bears his name, telling us of the life of our Lord Jesus, that perfect life that He lived in our place, fulfilling the Law for us before God; His sin-atoning death on Calvary for our forgiveness; and His victorious resurrection, wherein He has conquered death forever and gives us new life. And though we know little about St. Matthew from the Holy Scriptures, other than that he was formerly a tax collector, also known by the Hebrew name Levi, and the circumstances surrounding his call, we can conclude from tradition and plain reason that God used St. Matthew to accomplish great things for His Kingdom. Tradition is certainly fallible, but it can give us a good idea of the history of the Church, and even aid our faith as we remember the saints for our encouragement and as examples. Listen to this beautiful description of St. Matthew’s writing and work among his own Jewish people from a book called Voices of the Martyrs:

"Matthew remained a son of Abraham. His Gospel is filled with notes and
highlights designed to clarify for the chosen people that their Messiah had
come. One of the persistent ancient traditions about Matthew is that he was
the only Gospel author to write his account of Jesus’ life in Hebrew.

"Given Matthew’s passion to reach Israelites with the good news about their
Messiah, we shouldn’t be surprised to discover various traditions about
Matthew’s ministry among the widely scattered communities of Jews
throughout the Roman Empire. As an itinerant missionary, it’s quite possible
that Matthew visited many locations. Matthew’s apostolic assignment was
to Ethiopia… where he was beheaded while carrying out Jesus’ commission
to reach the world."[2]

St. Matthew was a martyr for our Lord Jesus Christ. The word “martyr” literally means witness, but it has come to be associated especially with those who shed their blood on account of their confession of Christ, and this is certainly the case with St. Matthew, who boldly confessed Christ in spite of the bodily consequences. But St. Matthew is a martyr, a witness, in so many ways, chief among them, that he is the writer, verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit, of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. If this were all we had as evidence of the gift God has given us in St. Matthew, it would be enough for our unending praise and thanksgiving, for by means of this precious book of Scripture the Holy Spirit has called many sinners out of their bondage to sin, death, and the devil, to a saving and living faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And by means of this Gospel the Holy Spirit has sustained and strengthened the faith of many Christians, including you and me. The Gospel according to St. Matthew has been called the Catechism of the Jews, originally written for a Jewish audience, but it is also a Catechism for the Gentiles, you and me, for it tells us all that we need to know and believe about Jesus Christ for salvation.

One of those things, those very important catechetical points that Matthew makes in his Gospel, is that Jesus came to call sinners. Jesus came as the Great Physician to heal those who are sick with sin. He proves it by calling Matthew to follow Him, calling Him to faith, to be His disciple, to be an apostle, to be an evangelist. Matthew, a despised tax collector, called to be one of the Twelve great apostles of the Holy Christian Church! Now it’s not a sin in and of itself to be a tax collector, understand. IRS agents are no more sinful than you and I. But it was quite common in the ancient world for tax collectors to collect more than necessary in order to pad their own pockets. And herein lies the sin. Needless to say, tax collectors were despised by the people for this practice, even the innocent ones. But Jesus, in His grace, in His mercy, calls Matthew. He calls him out of sin. He calls him out of the tax office. He has another vocation in mind for Matthew, that of Apostle. And then He goes to eat at Matthew’s house. He reclines there at the table with many other tax collectors and sinners, real undesirables, disreputable and unsuitable for polite company, prostitutes for example. He eats with them and converses with them and calls them to repentance and faith and a relationship with Him. Jesus has come to heal them from their sin-sickness. The Pharisees are very upset about this. How can Jesus act this way? How can He associate with these people? And He calls Himself a good Jew, a Rabbi even! But they just don’t get it. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).

Beloved in the Lord, Jesus comes to you this morning, wherever you are, in whatever vocation, and calls you through the pen of the blessed Apostle, St. Matthew, “Follow me” (v. 9). Are you trapped by sin? Jesus has come for you, to heal you. He says to you, “Follow me.” Do you believe your sin is too great to be forgiven? Jesus has come for you, to give you the healing balm of His Gospel. He says to you, “Follow me.” Are you carrying a burden of guilt or shame? Jesus has come for you, to carry your burden all the way to the cross. He says to you, “Follow me.” Whatever your circumstance, whatever your lot in life, whatever your vocation, wherever you are and whatever you are doing, Jesus says to you, “Follow me. I know the way out of sin and death. I will carry you out. The devil cannot harm you anymore. I have conquered him.” Jesus calls you out of your former bondage, to faith and new life in Him. And then He eats with you. He invites you to His own gracious meal, the Holy Supper of His body and blood. Jesus sinners doth receive. He forgives you all your sins. He pours out His gifts upon you in Word and Sacrament. This morning we thank and praise Him especially for the gifts He pours out by His Word recorded by St. Matthew, and for this blessed saint who serves to strengthen our faith by demonstrating the grace he himself received from God, and as an example to us to spur us on toward good works. May God ever keep us in the faith of St. Matthew, and may He bring us also to the beatific vision of Christ that St. Matthew enjoys even now in heaven, and may He finally, on that Last glorious Day, raise us bodily along with St. Matthew, in the resurrection that St. Matthew so faithfully proclaimed. God is faithful. He will surely do it. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] AC XXI:1, Tappert, p. 46.
[2] Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs (The Voice of the Martyrs, 2007) p. 12.


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