Passing from thence, Jesus happened upon one of the most despised types in the society of that age, a tax collector.  Apparently these publicans were held in even lower esteem than our modern day IRS.  Yet, even among the hated and wicked of this world the Lord Jesus has His sheep whom He must call out.  Though Matthew was a man of some means, yet when he heard the divine command, “Follow me,” at once he forsook his comfortable, secure life to follow after that Man Who had not where to lay His head.

Immediately also, upon being called into the service of the Lord Jesus, Matthew had the Lord into his house for dinner.  Also present were many “publicans and sinners,” the riffraff of society as it were, all of them eager to hear the words of this Man from Nazareth.  Very different this from the blasphemous picture so often painted today of Jesus going into the brothels and bars to honky-tonk with sinners.  Rather, we see Jesus in the house of one of His followers, and the sinners coming to Him, not in order to draw Him into their sinful vanities, but rather to hear from Him the wonderful words of life.  They came to Him as those who were sick, needing a Physician.  They came to Him as sinners, to be called unto repentance.  This the blasphemers of our day utterly leave out.  Repentance is a foreign notion to them, but with Christ it was an absolute necessity.  He would welcome even the basest of sinners into His presence, but He did so that He might command them to repent, to confess and forsake their evil ways, so that they might take up the cross and follow after Him.  Our Lord Jesus never aided nor abetted men in their sin.  He showed compassion upon even the lowlifes of society, but forevermore His message to great sinners was what He commanded the adulterous woman of John 8, “Go, and sin no more.”

But the self-righteous hypocrites of that age thought these sinners beneath contempt, unworthy of the mercy of God, nor of the attention of this young rabbi.  As they so often did, the Pharisees first confronted the Lord’s disciples, demanding how He could eat (mealtime was then a time of fellowship) with publicans and sinners.  But when Jesus heard their proud objections, He took the opportunity to preach the Gospel, and show for what reason He had come into the world.  He came as a Physician to heal those who were terminally ill with the disease of sin.  Those who recognize their native depravity, and realize that they are utterly incapable of curing themselves, soon learn to seek after the great Physician.  The Pharisees would not seek Him, because they thought themselves hale and hearty, perfectly acceptable to God because of their virtuous standing in society.  Those who do not see their sin in its true light will never see their need of Christ, and will never flee to Him.  Happily, very often the Lord grants even the scum of society to see themselves for what they are, wretched sinners condemned in the sight of a holy God, whose only hope is that their filthy garments be exchanged for that glorious robe of righteousness prophesied of by Isaiah.  This the publicans and sinners in Matthew’s house did.  They came to the right source, and were granted faith and repentance by the grace of the Lord Jesus.

Christ warns His enemies to hearken to that line from Hosea, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.”  Be not so much concerned with the punctual performance of religious ritual as with showing mercy upon the needy, and enabling insofar as we are able the seeking sinner to obtain the grace of God.  The rigorous performance of rites and ceremonies is useless unless the heart be purified by faith, and we walk righteously before God.  This the Pharisees should have learned through their study of the prophets.  Instead, they thought themselves righteous before God simply for being sons of Abraham, and because they adhered to the letter of the law.  Thinking themselves righteous due to their own good efforts, they had no sympathy for those who had fallen into sin.  Much different is the attitude of the Sun of Righteousness, Who alone among men had the right to turn His nose up at sinners, for in Him was no sin.  But His heart also overflowed with grace, and it was His delight to turn sinners into the ways of God.  “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  For every one who sees himself to be a sinner, this is the happiest news in all of the Word of God.