1/31/2023

Jesus’ most surprising Apostle

Experiencing God’s forgiving grace

The reason that sin is so damaging is that it pulls us away from intimacy with our Father. Yet today, God is inviting us to turn back to him and receive his incredible grace and love.

Devotional

Introduction

As we continue our week looking at the call in 2 Chronicles to turn from wicked ways, today we’re going to look at what we turn to. The reason that sin is so damaging is that it pulls us away from intimacy with our Father. Yet today, God is inviting us to turn back to him and receive his incredible grace and love.

Scripture

“As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him”

Matthew 9:9

Devotional

Being a tax collector was the most despised and immoral job in the Roman Empire. As we noted yesterday, tax collectors gathered revenue for the hated Romans and could collect all they wanted so long as they gave the Empire its share. But there’s more to the story.


Cicero, a Roman politician and writer, declared tax collectors and lenders to be the two worst trades.


And yet the Jews despised tax collectors even more than the rest of their ancient society. Tax collectors could not testify in court as a witness, for they were assumed to be liars. They could not even attend worship in the temple or synagogue, for they were considered unclean.


The reason for such disgust with tax collectors was simple: these men were cheating traitors. Rome hired them to tax their own friends and neighbors, collecting money on behalf of the enemy. And because they could tax as much as they wanted, they became thieves, taking well beyond what they needed in order to line their own increasingly wealthy pockets.


They taxed their fellow Jews on their grain, wine, fruit, and oil. They taxed their income and their commerce. They taxed those who crossed a bridge or used a road or a harbor. They could stop anyone, anywhere, examine his goods, and assess whatever taxes he wished. If the man could not pay what the tax collector required, he could loan him the money at an impossible rate of interest.


Matthew was one such tax collector. He did his work in Capernaum, where he taxed travelers along the great road to Damascus which came through their town. He taxed those who worked on the Sea of Galilee as well. He was one of the wealthiest men in the city and its most despised citizen.


By contrast, Jesus of Nazareth was easily their best-known and best-loved resident. Great crowds had been following him from the entire region. He had astounded them with his teaching, healed the sick, and calmed the storms.


Imagine the shock that went through the community when this great man of God called the despised tax collector to join his group of disciples (Matthew 9:9). And imagine Matthew’s shock at being the one invited.


In the moment of his decision to follow Jesus, Matthew abandoned his career and with it his wealth and the protection of the Roman Empire. We could say that, of all of Jesus’ Apostles, Matthew gave up the most to follow his Lord. But he knew that he had been forgiven much, and he responded to that grace with the devotion of his life (Luke 7:47).


What we can learn from Matthew is that when people “turn from their wicked ways” (2 Chronicles 7:14), they turn to their gracious Lord. May the same be true for us today: as we turn from our own sin and selfish ways, let us turn toward the love and grace of our father.

Prayer

1. Meditate on the grace of God to forgive sinners like us, no matter the extent of our sins.


“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).


2. Consider the worst sins you have committed. If you have not confessed them before, do so now. If you have, receive his astounding and transforming grace.


“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).


3. Like Matthew, choose to follow your Lord fully and unconditionally today in gratitude for his all-forgiving love.


“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:16).

Worship

Go

When Matthew chose to follow Jesus, he then invited his fellow tax collectors to meet his Lord: Matthew 9:10 says, “As Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.” When we receive a gift, we want to share it. When we learn that God can and will forgive our sins, we should want others to experience the same forgiveness.


The best missionary to tax collectors was a tax collector. The best person to help an alcoholic is a recovering alcoholic. What sins and failures have you been forgiven for? How can you help someone who is where you have been?


In Matthew 4:19, Jesus told his disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Who is God leading you to serve today?


Extended reading: Matthew 9


In Matthew 4:19, Jesus told his disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Who is God leading you to serve today?