When we read through the Scriptures, it seems remarkable—perhaps even incomprehensible—how Jesus sets His love, time and time again, upon those we would call the unlovable. He set His love upon people whom society had no interest in . . . and He did it to show us what a Gospel-saturated love is to look like.
9 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. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13)
The term “tax collector” wasn’t simply a title for a job; it was a label of the utmost judgment. “Hated” and “despised” are two words that best describe the tax collectors of Christ’s day, and that is what Matthew was: a hated and despised tax collector. Israel’s Roman conquerors had hired Jewish men to collect taxes and gave these men the authority to keep anything they collected over and above the money that was due to Rome. So the tax collector was not only working for the hated Roman invader, who held his people in bondage; he added insult to injury by collecting more than he needed—lining his pockets at the expense of his own people! To say that the tax collector was viewed as a scoundrel is an understatement! His neighbors would have seen him as a traitorous villain.
Now enter Jesus. Jesus was well aware just how much the people despised Matthew. Jesus used tax collectors as examples of “the lowest form of life” on more than one occasion, such as the time He delivered this stinging rebuke to the Jewish elders and chief priests: “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 1:21). By equating tax collectors with prostitutes, Jesus was simply acknowledging what was a widely held opinion.
And yet in spite all this, Jesus called Matthew to “Follow me!” He even went to Matthew’s house to eat with him, a sign of friendship and intimacy. Christ knew the condemnation that would greet His decision to pour love out on the unlovable, but He never hesitated. He had come for sick sinners who desperately needed a doctor; the Great Physician had arrived to pour out His love on those who were “kicked to the curb,” so to speak. When was the last time you felt like that?
Jesus came for people like the tax collector, the prostitute, the immoral, the beggars, the blind, the crippled, the sinners, and even self-righteous Pharisees . . . people just like you and me! We all have one thing in common with Matthew, which is that we are all sinners in desperate need of a Savior. We can try to save ourselves or we can trust in the only Savior of the world: the Lord Jesus Christ. As for me and my house, we will choose the Savior of the world!
You remember the rest of Matthew’s story, don’t you? The hated tax collector became one of the twelve apostles and, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gave us the very first book of the New Testament.
You see, it doesn’t matter where Jesus finds you—whether you’re in the pit or in a palace. It only matters whether or not you heed His call to follow Him, regardless of where He leads you. Matthew knew full well what everyone else thought of him; but he heard the call, got up, and followed Jesus. In keeping his focus on Jesus, Matthew never let the opinion of others derail his divine destiny.
What about you today? When you get right down to it, we are all tax collectors—our sin makes us ugly and unlovable—yet we all have a willing Savior who is ready to pour our His love on one who is so unlovable.
One last question: are we willing to do the same to others? “Freely you have received,” Jesus said, “freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Will you share Christ’s love with those who need a healing touch from the Great Physician?
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!