OF the Roman officials in Palestine, none
were more hated than the publicans. The fact that the taxes were imposed by a foreign
power was a continual irritation to the Jews, being a reminder that their independence had
departed. And the tax gatherers were not merely the instruments of Roman oppression; they
were extortioners on their own account, enriching themselves at the expense of the people.
A Jew who accepted this office at the hands of the Romans was looked upon as betraying the
honor of his nation. He was despised as an apostate, and was classed with the vilest of
To this class belonged
Levi-Matthew, who, after the four disciples at Gennesaret, was the next to be called to
Christ's service. The Pharisees had judged Matthew according to his employment, but Jesus
saw in this man a heart open for the reception of truth. Matthew had listened to the
Saviour's teaching. As the convicting Spirit of God revealed his sinfulness, he longed to
seek help from Christ; but he was accustomed to the exclusiveness of the rabbis, and had
no thought that this Great Teacher would notice him.
Sitting at his toll booth one
day, the publican saw Jesus approaching. Great was his astonishment to hear the words
addressed to himself, "Follow Me."
Matthew "left all, rose
up, and followed Him." There was no hesitation, no questioning, no thought of the
lucrative business to be exchanged for poverty and hardship. It was enough for him that he
was to be with Jesus, that he might listen to His words, and unite with Him in His work.
So it was with the disciples
previously called. When Jesus bade Peter and his companions follow Him, immediately they
left their boats and nets. Some of these disciples had friends dependent on them for
support; but when they received the Saviour's invitation, they did not hesitate, and
inquire, How shall I live, and sustain my family? They were obedient to the call; and when
afterward Jesus asked them, "When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes,
lacked ye anything?" they could answer, "Nothing." Luke 22:35.
To Matthew in his wealth, and
to Andrew and Peter in their poverty, the same test was brought; the same consecration was
made by each. At the moment of success, when the nets were filled with fish, and the
impulses of the old life were strongest, Jesus asked the disciples at the sea to leave all
for the work of the gospel. So every soul is tested as to whether the desire for temporal
good or for fellowship with Christ is strongest.
Principle is always exacting.
No man can succeed in the service of God unless his whole heart is in the work and he
counts all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. No man who makes
any reserve can be the disciple of Christ, much less can he be His colaborer. When men
appreciate the great salvation, the self-sacrifice seen in Christ's life will be seen in
theirs. Wherever He leads the way, they will rejoice to follow.
The calling of Matthew to be
one of Christ's disciples excited great indignation. For a religious teacher to choose a
publican as one of his immediate attendants was an offense against the religious, social,
and national customs. By appealing to the prejudices of the people the Pharisees hoped to
turn the current of popular feeling against Jesus.
Among the publicans a
widespread interest was created. Their hearts were drawn toward the divine Teacher. In the
joy of his new discipleship, Matthew longed to bring his former associates to Jesus.
he made a feast at his own house, and called together his relatives and
friends. Not only were publicans included, but many others who were of doubtful
reputation, and were proscribed by their more scrupulous neighbors.
The entertainment was given
in honor of Jesus, and He did not hesitate to accept the courtesy. He well knew that this
would give offense to the Pharisaic party, and would also compromise Him in the eyes of
the people. But no question of policy could influence His movements. With Him external
distinctions weighed nothing. That which appealed to His heart was a soul thirsting for
the water of life.
Jesus sat as an honored guest
at the table of the publicans, by His sympathy and social kindliness showing that He
recognized the dignity of humanity; and men longed to become worthy of His confidence.
Upon their thirsty hearts His words fell with blessed, life-giving power. New impulses
were awakened, and the possibility of a new life opened to these outcasts of society.
At such gatherings as this,
not a few were impressed by the Saviour's teaching who did not acknowledge Him until after
His ascension. When
the Holy Spirit was poured out, and three thousand were converted in a
day, there were among them many who first heard the truth at the table of the publicans,
and some of these became messengers of the gospel. To Matthew himself the example of Jesus
at the feast was a constant lesson. The despised publican became one of the most devoted
evangelists, in his own ministry following closely in his Master's steps.
When the rabbis learned of
the presence of Jesus at Matthew's feast, they seized the opportunity of accusing Him. But
they chose to work through the disciples. By arousing their prejudices they hoped to
alienate them from their Master. It was their policy to accuse Christ to the disciples,
and the disciples to Christ, aiming their arrows where they would be most likely to wound.
This is the way in which Satan has worked ever since the disaffection in heaven; and all
who try to cause discord and alienation are actuated by his spirit.
"Why eateth your Master
with publicans and sinners?" questioned the envious rabbis.
Jesus did not wait for His
disciples to answer the charge, but Himself replied: "They that be whole need not a
physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have
mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to
repentance." The Pharisees claimed to be spiritually whole, and therefore in no need
of a physician, while they regarded the publicans and Gentiles as perishing from diseases
of the soul. Then was it not His work, as a physician, to go to the very class that needed
But although the Pharisees
thought so highly of themselves, they were really in a worse condition than the ones they
despised. The publicans were less bigoted and self-sufficient, and thus were more open to
the influence of truth. Jesus said to the rabbis, "Go ye and learn what that meaneth,
I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." Thus He showed that while they claimed to
expound the word of God, they were wholly ignorant of its spirit.
The Pharisees were silenced
for the time, but only became more determined in their enmity. They next sought out the
disciples of John the Baptist, and tried to set them against the Saviour. These Pharisees
had not accepted the mission of the Baptist. They had pointed in scorn to his abstemious
life, his simple habits, his coarse garments, and had declared him a fanatic. Because he
denounced their hypocrisy, they had resisted his words, and had tried to stir up the
people against him. The
Spirit of God had moved upon the hearts of these scorners,
convicting them of sin; but they had rejected the counsel of God, and had declared that
John was possessed of a devil.
Now when Jesus came mingling
with the people, eating and drinking at their tables, they accused Him of being a glutton
and a winebibber. The very ones who made this charge were themselves guilty. As God is
misrepresented, and clothed by Satan with his own attributes, so the Lord's messengers
were falsified by these wicked men.
The Pharisees would not
consider that Jesus was eating with publicans and sinners in order to bring the light of
heaven to those who sat in darkness. They would not see that every word dropped by the
divine Teacher was a living seed that would germinate and bear fruit to the glory of God.
They had determined not to accept the light; and although they had opposed the mission of
the Baptist, they were now ready to court the friendship of his disciples, hoping to
secure their co-operation against Jesus. They represented that Jesus was setting at nought
the ancient traditions; and they contrasted the austere piety of the Baptist with the
course of Jesus in feasting with publicans and sinners.
The disciples of John were at
this time in great sorrow. It was before their visit to Jesus with John's message. Their
beloved teacher was in prison, and they passed their days in mourning. And Jesus was
making no effort to release John, and even appeared to cast discredit on his teaching. If
John had been sent by God, why did Jesus and His disciples pursue a course so widely
The disciples of John had not
a clear understanding of Christ's work; they thought there might be some foundation for
the charges of the Pharisees. They observed many of the rules prescribed by the rabbis,
and even hoped to be justified by the works of the law. Fasting was practiced by the Jews
as an act of merit, and the most rigid among them fasted two days in every week. The
Pharisees and John's disciples were fasting when the latter came to Jesus with the
inquiry, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but Thy disciples fast not?"
Very tenderly Jesus answered
them. He did not try to correct their erroneous conception of fasting, but only to set
them right in regard to His own mission. And He did this by employing the same figure that
the Baptist himself had used in his testimony to Jesus. John had said, "He that hath
the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth
him, rejoiceth greatly because of
the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is
fulfilled." John 3:29. The disciples of John could not fail to recall these words of
their teacher, as, taking up the illustration, Jesus said, "Can ye make the children
of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?"
The Prince of heaven was
among His people. The greatest gift of God had been given to the world. Joy to the poor;
for Christ had come to make them heirs of His kingdom. Joy to the rich; for He would teach
them how to secure eternal riches. Joy to the ignorant; He would make them wise unto
salvation. Joy to the learned; He would open to them deeper mysteries than they had ever
fathomed; truths that had been hidden from the foundation of the world would be opened to
men by the Saviour's mission.
John the Baptist had rejoiced
to behold the Saviour. What occasion for rejoicing had the disciples who were privileged
to walk and talk with the Majesty of heaven! This was not a time for them to mourn and
fast. They must open their hearts to receive the light of His glory, that they might shed
light upon those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death.
It was a bright picture which
the words of Christ had called up, but across it lay a heavy shadow, which His eye alone
discerned. "The days will come," He said, "when the bridegroom shall be
taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days." When they should see
their Lord betrayed and crucified, the disciples would mourn and fast. In His last words
to them in the upper chamber, He said, "A little while, and ye shall not see Me: and
again, a little while, and ye shall see Me. Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall
weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow
shall be turned into joy." John 16:19, 20.
When He should come forth
from the tomb, their sorrow would be turned to joy. After His ascension He was to be
absent in person; but through the Comforter He would still be with them, and they were not
to spend their time in mourning. This was what Satan wanted. He desired them to give the
world the impression that they had been deceived and disappointed; but by faith they were
to look to the sanctuary above, where Jesus was ministering for them; they were to open
their hearts to the Holy Spirit, His representative, and to rejoice in the light of His
presence. Yet days of temptation and trial would come, when they would be brought into
conflict with the rulers of this world, and the leaders of the kingdom of darkness; when
Christ was not personally
with them, and they failed to discern the Comforter, then it
would be more fitting for them to fast.
The Pharisees sought to exalt
themselves by their rigorous observance of forms, while their hearts were filled with envy
and strife. "Behold," says the Scripture, "ye fast for strife and debate,
and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make
your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to
afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and
ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?" Isa.
The true fast is no mere
formal service. The Scripture describes the fast that God has chosen,--"to loose the
bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that
ye break every yoke;" to "draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the
afflicted soul." Isa. 58:6, 10. Here is set forth the very spirit and character of
the work of Christ. His whole life was a sacrifice of Himself for the saving of the world.
Whether fasting in the wilderness of temptation or eating with the publicans at Matthew's
feast, He was giving His life for the redemption of the lost. Not in idle mourning, in
mere bodily humiliation and multitudinous sacrifices, is the true spirit of devotion
manifested, but it is shown in the surrender of self in willing service to God and man.
Continuing His answer to the
disciples of John, Jesus spoke a parable, saying, "No man putteth a piece of a new
garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was
taken out of the new agreeth not with the old." The message of John the Baptist was
not to be interwoven with tradition and superstition. An attempt to blend the pretense of
the Pharisees with the devotion of John would only make more evident the breach between
Nor could the principles of
Christ's teaching be united with the forms of Pharisaism. Christ was not to close up the
breach that had been made by the teachings of John. He would make more distinct the
separation between the old and the new. Jesus further illustrated this fact, saying,
"No man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles,
and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish." The skin bottles which were used as
vessels to contain the new wine, after a time became dry and brittle, and were then
worthless to serve the same purpose again. In this familiar illustration Jesus presented
the condition of the Jewish leaders. Priests and scribes and rulers were
fixed in a rut of
ceremonies and traditions. Their hearts had become contracted, like the dried-up wine
skins to which He had compared them. While they remained satisfied with a legal religion,
it was impossible for them to become the depositaries of the living truth of heaven. They
thought their own righteousness all-sufficient, and did not desire that a new element
should be brought into their religion. The good will of God to men they did not accept as
something apart from themselves. They connected it with their own merit because of their
good works. The faith that works by love and purifies the soul could find no place for
union with the religion of the Pharisees, made up of ceremonies and the injunctions of
men. The effort to unite the teachings of Jesus with the established religion would be
vain. The vital truth of God, like fermenting wine, would burst the old, decaying bottles
of the Pharisaical tradition.
The Pharisees thought
themselves too wise to need instruction, too righteous to need salvation, too highly
honored to need the honor that comes from Christ. The Saviour turned away from them to
find others who would receive the message of heaven. In the untutored fishermen, in the
publican at the market place, in the woman of Samaria, in the common people who heard Him
gladly, He found His new bottles for the new wine. The instrumentalities to be used in the
gospel work are those souls who gladly receive the light which God sends them. These are
His agencies for imparting the knowledge of truth to the world. If through the grace of
Christ His people will become new bottles, He will fill them with new wine.
The teaching of Christ,
though it was represented by the new wine, was not a new doctrine, but the revelation of
that which had been taught from the beginning. But to the Pharisees the truth of God had
lost its original significance and beauty. To them Christ's teaching was new in almost
every respect, and it was unrecognized and unacknowledged.
Jesus pointed out the power
of false teaching to destroy the appreciation and desire for truth. "No man," He
said, "having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is
better." All the truth that has been given to the world through patriarchs and
prophets shone out in new beauty in the words of Christ. But the scribes and Pharisees had
no desire for the precious new wine. Until emptied of the old traditions, customs, and
practices, they had no place in mind or heart for the teachings of Christ. They clung to
the dead forms, and turned away from the living truth and the power of God.
It was this that proved the
ruin of the Jews, and it will prove the ruin of many souls in our own day. Thousands are
making the same mistake as did the Pharisees whom Christ reproved at Matthew's feast.
Rather than give up some cherished idea, or discard some idol of opinion, many refuse the
truth which comes down from the Father of light. They trust in self, and depend upon their
own wisdom, and do not realize their spiritual poverty. They insist on being saved in some
way by which they may perform some important work. When they see that there is no way of
weaving self into the work, they reject the salvation provided.
A legal religion can never
lead souls to Christ; for it is a loveless, Christless religion. Fasting or prayer that is
actuated by a self-justifying spirit is an abomination in the sight of God. The solemn
assembly for worship, the round of religious ceremonies, the external humiliation, the
imposing sacrifice, proclaim that the doer of these things regards himself as righteous,
and as entitled to heaven; but it is all a deception. Our own works can never purchase
As it was in the days of
Christ, so it is now; the Pharisees do not know their spiritual destitution. To them comes
the message, "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need
of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind,
and naked: I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich;
and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not
appear." Rev. 3:17, 18. Faith and love are the gold tried in the fire. But with many
the gold has become dim, and the rich treasure has been lost. The righteousness of Christ
is to them as a robe unworn, a fountain untouched. To them it is said, "I have
somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from
whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee
quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." Rev.
"The sacrifices of God
are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise."
Ps. 51:17. Man must be emptied of self before he can be, in the fullest sense, a believer
in Jesus. When self is renounced, then the Lord can make man a new creature. New bottles
can contain the new wine. The love of Christ will animate the believer with new life. In
him who looks unto the Author and Finisher of our faith the character of Christ will be