“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick….I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13..
Matthew was a tax collector. That means he’s a Jewish person who decided to sell out to the Roman government and collect taxes from his people. In those days, the way they collected taxes was Rome said, you go collect this much tax and whatever you get above and beyond that is yours. It was completely illegitimate. Tax collectors were basically stealing. They would put up a gate with a booth or tent, and say, “You can’t cross here until you pay the tax.” They were hated..despised may be a better word.
There is a parable of the Pharisee and tax collector found in Luke 18: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ (Luke 18:10-13)
That would have been the only way that a tax collector could have ever felt about himself because at the end of the day he knew that he was a crook, he knew that he was a sell-out to Rome, he knew that he was a bad guy, so the only thing he could do was say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” That’s all he could do. In Verse 14, Jesus says, “ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The tax collector knew he needed God. The reason we need to connect with people who are outside of the church is that they know deep down that they need God. We all have self-doubt. We all know that we’re not all that good. The farther a person is away from God, the more they need Him.
That’s what should make Matthew 9 so incredible to us. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Now, imagine you’re the disciples and you’re walking along the road and all of a sudden you see this tax booth and you’re thinking, “I hate those guys. I can’t believe we’ve got to pay more taxes.” But instead, you hear Jesus say, “Follow me.” It’s the last two words you would expect Jesus to say to a tax collector.
Jesus was a friend of sinners not because He ignored sin, or enjoyed having a little fun with sinners. Jesus was a friend of sinners in that he came to save sinners and was very pleased to welcome sinners who were open to the gospel, sorry for their sins, and on their way to putting their faith in Him.
By doing the same, you will give great meaning to your own life, and help many others in the process.
- What can we learn from the story of Matthew?
- Since God is gracious to undeserving sinners, what can we do this week to do the same?