The following is an overview of one of the Bible studies from The Forgiveness of Jesus DVD Bible study in the Deeper Connections series:
Do you ever feel like you are too far gone for God to forgive you? Or, maybe you feel like he might forgive you, but he does it grudgingly? This fear is the main reason that I published The Forgiveness of Jesus because nothing could be further from the truth.
When Jesus calls Matthew the tax collector (Matthew 9:9-13), it shows us that God seeks out the lowest of the low in order to show that he loves to forgive. But in order to fully understand the meaning of this text, we must understand the first century context. When we take the time to learn this historical context, the passage comes to life!
Matthew was a wealthy, Jewish man who worked for the hated Romans who controlled Israel in the first century. Since he worked for the occupying power (Rome), Matthew was seen as a traitor. Tax collectors were despised in Jesus’s day. Matthew loved money more than his own Jewish people and traditions. He had sold his soul to the pagan superpower of the first century. In addition, tax collectors were famous for being dishonest and greedy. Matthew was a sinful traitor who loved money more than righteousness. Certainly, there would be no place for him in the kingdom of God, right? Wrong.
Jesus constantly surprises us. Not only does he not shun or avoid Matthew, he seeks out this hated tax collector to follow him. Matthew responds by getting up out of his tax collector’s chair and walking away from the whole operation. Matthew’s break with his past is radical—he burned all the bridges for his future in order to follow Jesus. A celebration is in order! Matthew has been forgiven.
Matthew decides to invite his best friends, who are described as “tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:10), to a dinner with Jesus. In that culture, sitting down for a meal with someone was extremely significant. The practice, known as “table fellowship,” was reserved for intimate friends and implied that you accepted them into your fellowship. Of course, by eating with these so-called sinners, Jesus wasn’t endorsing their rebellious behavior, but he is willing to be misunderstood in order to extend God’s grace and forgiveness to even the worst of sinners. Perhaps some of these “sinners” will leave their life of sin and begin to follow Jesus.
Jesus states, “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (9:13b). Jesus did not come into this world to avoid sinful people, but to call them to a new life as a follower of Jesus, leaving their sinful lifestyle behind them. Jesus separated himself from sin itself, from evil deeds, but he never isolated himself from sinful people. He reached out to Matthew, a sinful tax collector, and today he continues to do the same. You are never too far gone for Jesus. He continues to call us to return to him and welcomes us to the table.