When we read the Bible, it is apparent that God is unique in so many ways but especially in who He calls to do his work here on earth. One of my favorite Bible passages is 1 Corinthians 1:20 – 29 (read). This is a great passage to show God uses whomever he pleases to accomplish his will and purposes.
For example, He makes a promise and a covenant with an ordinary gentile man from a place called Ur to become the chosen Father of a great nation. He empowers a murdering adopted Egyptian Prince to free the Hebrews from a miserable existence and life of hard slavery. He uses a prostitute living in the walls of Jericho to assist Israelite spies to overthrow the city. He commissions a shepherd boy and adulterer to become one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history. He sends a defiant, rebellious, and racist man (with the assistance of a whale) to bring an evil city to repentance. He uses a baby with no earthly father and a teenage virgin mother to be the savior of the world. He grabs hold of a Christian murdering Pharisee to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles and ending up writing 2/3’s of the New Testament. These are only a few of the people God used for his plan.
I honestly cannot think of a single affluent or “qualified” individual that God called to ministry. Everyone was either not qualified or disqualified for ministry, yet God still used these men and women. This has always been encouraging for me since I often feel overwhelmed and unqualified to do the work God has called me to. It is humbling to know God chooses you and me to do great things for his glory. We may at times feel insignificant or less than worthy and we may feel like the Psalmist who writes, “What is man that you are mindful of him…” Or maybe you are like me and often ask this question, “Why God did you choose me to be your child and how are you planning on using me for your greater purpose and plan?”
Today we are continuing our series titled “Ordinary Rebels” and we will look at two individuals today Matthew the tax collector and Simon the zealot. These two were men that many would never even consider God could or ever use because of their profession and affiliations. Both were feared and despised by the masses, but regardless of who they were these ordinary men were called by Jesus to be disciples. With one he was a hated individual among Jews, but God used him to be a vessel and a voice to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations. The other… well we don’t know much about him except he was probably an insurrectionist affiliated with a terrorist group. Let’s begin with the taxman…
Watch: Corner Gas: Taxman Video
The Tax Collector
Not much has changed in 2,000 years… tax collectors were not and still are not well-liked or respected individuals. In fact, they were despised by Jewish society specifically because they worked for the Roman government. They wereknown as publicans and their job was to charge tolls and taxes on behalf of the Roman government. They were private government subcontractors who would tax travelers carrying merchandise between locations or delivering goods along certain well-known roads. Rome would hire local individuals who were familiar with an area's occupants, properties, and roadways so they could be more effective in collecting taxes. Some tax collectors were responsible for large areas, and they would hire employees to collect the taxes. It is likely Zacchaeus fit this category, as he is designated as a “chief” tax collector.
Tax collectors made their living by demanding or extorting higher taxes from the locals than they had originally prepaid to the Roman government. Not surprisingly this flawed system led to widespread greed and exploitation. This profession was flooded with corrupt people who overtaxed others to increase their personal gain and profits.
There are about 20 references to tax collectors in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and they all refer to or are connected to sinners.
Matthew (A.K.A. – Levi)
The disciple Matthew was a tax collector called by Jesus Christ (Matthew 9:9). He was also known as Levi the tax collector (Luke 5:27).
Now, we read in Marks Gospel that there were among Jesus’ followers many tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:14 – 15). Jesus was highly criticized for his association with tax collectors and sinners. But in this account Jesus not only associates with tax collectors but he calls one, in particular, Matthew to follow Him as a disciple. In response to the criticism he faced Jesus informs the religious leaders it is not the healthy who need healing, but the sick (Mark 2:16 – 17). When Jesus called Matthew he rose and immediately followed him and leaving his life behind to follow the savior.
We do not know much more about Matthew. We can make some strong assumptions about him.
A common interpretation of the title “Zealot” credited to Simon is that before he became a disciple of Jesus, he was a member of or affiliated with the radical Jewish group called the Zealots. Zealots were a politically minded group who hated the Romans. Their one and only goal was to overthrow the Roman government and their occupation of Israel. They would use guerrilla and covert acts of violence and terror. The zealots, like the Pharisees, interpreted the law literally and they believed only God had the right to rule over the Jewish nation. Thus, they believed they were doing God’s work when they assassinated and killed Roman leaders, soldiers, and anyone who worked with the Romans (including tax collectors). This is one of the groups who firmly believed the Messiah would come and lead them in conquering the Romans and reestablishing Israel to its former glory.
In A.D. 6 it is believed a group of zealots under the leadership of Judas the Galilean waged a violent revolt against a Roman tax census. These zealots believed firmly that paying honor to any pagan king was an act of sedition against God. This group of zealots carried out terroristic warfare against the Romans, but not soon after it began Rome flattened the uprising and killed Judas causing the zealot party to go underground.
Simon the Zealot
The second ordinary rebel is a man we know ever less about, he is named Simon “the Zealot”. Really all we know about Simon is that he is one of twelve disciples (Matt 10:4; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15) and we assume he was once part of this zealot group I mentioned earlier.
Simon is given the title of “Cananaean”, and some have misinterpreted this as Simon the Canaanite. It is believed and widely held by biblical scholars that the interpretation of the word Cananaean should be translated as “the zealous one”. Luke gives him the title “Zealot” both in his Gospel and in the book of Acts
Both titles, “Cananaean” and “Zealot”, point to the idea that he is referred as both to distinguish between he and the other apostle, Simon Peter.
Interestingly as soon as we are introduced to Simon, we no longer hear about him. What little we do know comes from extrabiblical historical sources and traditions. One source Passion of Simon and Jude, Simon the Zealot is recorded as traveling and preaching as far as Egypt, Persia, and various parts of the Near East and is believed to have been martyred in Persia (James, Apocryphal New Testament, 528–29). Perhaps due to this work, in some church traditions Simon became closely identified with the Apostle Jude
Other sources believe that after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Simon headed to the British Isles and preached the Gospel and was eventually martyred. We are not sure what became of him, but many accounts say point to the belief he was killed for preaching the gospel.
It is interesting to note that Simon and Matthew, who were at complete opposite ends of the political spectrum, became spiritual brothers in Christ. Matthew, a man working for the man (Rome) was called to follow Jesus and a man who, at one point in his life would have had no issue at all killing the tax collector was working by his side and for the same cause of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, what is our takeaway for today? What can we learn from these two ambiguous disciples that Jesus calls to become his followers?
 Bashaw, J. G. (2016). Matthew the Apostle. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
 Lowe, J. T. (2016). Simon the Zealot. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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