A Wee Little Man Meets Jesus
February 2, 2013
The only thing worse than being lost is being lost and not knowing it. A few years ago I was driving out to speak at Village Creek Bible camp in Iowa. I usually go up through Wisconsin and drive to Iowa that way. Instead of getting on 90 to go to Rockford, I was on 294. Both routes take you to Wisconsin, but 294 just takes you north and not west. I was having a wonderful drive until I started seeing signs for Milwaukee. That’s when I knew I was not on the right road
Being on the wrong road can have significant implications for where you end up. This is not only true when it comes to going on a trip. It is also true when it comes to spiritual things.
The Bible describes people without Christ as being lost. God is our creator who loves us. Our sin separates us from God and that makes us lost. What is worse there is no way that we can find our way back to God on our own.
So God sent his son, Jesus Christ into the world. Beginning today until Easter we are going to be looking at a number of lost people who were found by Jesus, because, you see, Jesus “came to seek and to save the lost.”
I. SEE A MOST UNLIKELY OBSERVER OF JESUS. Lk.19:1-4
Just to give a little context here, in Lk.9:51 we read, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Beginning with Lk.9, Jesus is on his way to the cross. In Lk.18:31-33, it says, “Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” So as Jesus approaches Jericho we realize that he is getting closer to Jerusalem.
Then again, in Lk.18 we read about a blind beggar sitting on the roadside. As the crowds gathered to see Jesus, the beggar wondered what was going on. When he learned that Jesus would be passing by, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” The crowds told him to be quiet, but he cried out all the more and Jesus stopped and healed him.
When we come to Lk.19 we read about a man named Zacchaeus. He had also heard of Jesus and wanted to see who he was. Both the blind man and Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. Both had reasons why it was difficult. Zacchaeus was a short man (“a wee little man”) and could not see over the crowds. Again, just like with the blind man, the crowd was a hindrance. The crowd is usually a hindrance if you want to see Jesus. So Zacchaeus found a sycamore tree and climbed it. Problem solved.
But there’s a little more to this than meets the eye. You see being short wasn’t Zacchaeus’ greatest problem. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. Tax collectors have never been popular with the public. But in Palestine, hatred for tax collectors was at a whole different level. You see tax collectors worked for Rome, and the Jews hated Roman occupation. Jericho was a regional hub for taxes. Zacchaeus, being a chief tax collector would have had people working under him, collecting taxes. In those days, Rome set the amount that was to be collected. Tax collectors inflated the amount in order to make a profit. Usually they were corrupt and fleeced the people for as much as possible. Zacchaeus would have taken his cut from those working under him. He was rich. This is why I say that Zacchaeus was an unlikely observer. Tax collectors were shunned from Jewish society, even though they may have been Jewish, like Zacchaeus. So it is very possible that when Zacchaeus went to see Jesus that people were muttering under their breath, “What’s he doing here? Look at that fool climbing the tree.”
From the text it would seem that Zacchaeus was curious. And yet, one has to wonder if there was more that was drawing Zacchaeus to seek out Jesus. Maybe he had heard that Jesus was more than willing to hang out with tax collectors and other kinds of sinners. Maybe, as he was growing older, he had fond memories of his Jewish childhood and was growing weary of being shunned by his own people. Maybe he was beginning to feel guilty for cheating his people out of money. Zacchaeus may have just felt a sense of uneasiness about his life and couldn’t exactly put his finger on it. At any rate there he was up in the tree waiting to have a look at Jesus.
Now it could be that you are in a similar situation as Zacchaeus. You’ve come perhaps, out of curiosity. What do these Baptists do anyway? Or maybe there is a bit more going on under the surface. Maybe you are disappointed with your life, or you are being weighted down by burdens. Or, perhaps you feel guilty about things in your life that others do not know about, and you don’t know where to turn or what to do about it and somehow you ended up coming to church. If others knew that you were here, they might be scratching their heads because going to church isn’t your style. Like Zacchaeus, you are an unlikely observer of Jesus
II. HEAR JESUS’ UNEXPECTED SELF-INVITATION. Lk.19:5-7
Now this is very interesting. My hunch is that the last thing Zacchaeus expected was for Jesus to stop the procession and look up into the tree at him to have a conversation. In fact, it wasn’t much of a conversation. It was more of a self-invitation. Jesus was inviting himself into Zacchaeus’ home. And the way Jesus phrased his words gives us the impression that Jesus already knew that Zacchaeus was in the tree and we get the idea that, all along, Jesus had intended to spend some quality time with Zacchaeus.
Actually, it is very important that we not miss the significance of what Jesus did. No one else was interested in the spiritual welfare of Zacchaeus. To the people, Zacchaeus was a lost cause. But Jesus was interested in Zacchaeus. Jesus didn’t invite Zacchaeus to attend a preaching service later on that evening. He didn’t hand Zacchaeus a gospel tract. He didn’t call Zacchaeus out because of how he had cheated people. Instead Jesus was very affirming of Zacchaeus. He even knew Zacchaeus’ name. “Zacchaeus, come down from the tree, I must stay at your house today.” We get the idea that Jesus was intentionally looking for Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus must have been surprised, and we see that he was indeed, pleasantly surprised. He climbed down the tree and it says, “he welcomed Jesus gladly.” And why not? Jesus welcomed Zacchaeus and made it clear that he wanted to spend time with Zacchaeus.
I wonder how we would have felt if we had been standing there listening to this conversation. How would we have felt if we had been the ones who Zacchaeus had cheated? Is it possible that we might have felt like the people did in v.7? It says, “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner. What is wrong with Jesus?” They were not very impressed.
For those of us who are followers of Christ, this act of Jesus should cause us to recognize that no one is beyond the pale when it comes to the love of Christ. Jesus and Zacchaeus probably had different political views. They probably didn’t agree on religious matters. They obviously had different world views, and yet, that didn’t hinder Jesus from engaging Zacchaeus.
Brothers and sisters, many of you know that I tend to be conservative in my political views. In fact, I am more of a social conservative. But I have to tell you, as much as I love America, and considerate it a privilege to live in this country, in relationship to the importance of knowing Christ, politics is low on my personal agenda. Christians are called to be salt and light wherever they live, whether it be in a democracy like our own, under a monarchy, or under a dictatorship. This country is going to hell like all the others. The republicans and the democrats are not our saviors. When a church, be it conservative or liberal, aligns itself with a political party, that church is confused in its mission. I am not saying that we should hide our moral views, rather I’m saying that we must not confuse the gospel message with political philosophy. Many people think that the white, Evangelical church is in the back pocket of the Republican party. Many would say that the Latino and African American Evangelical church is in the back pocket of the Democrat party. This isn’t helpful. We are not first republicans or democrats giving our republican or democrat version of the gospel. We are followers of Christ who are to be seeking the lost. Political and social change is important, but the gospel is far more important.
But let me move on to say, that whoever you are, Jesus knows your name. He loves you, and is very interested in helping you enter into a personal, life-giving relationship with God. He knows your burdens and fears. He knows your secrets and your sins. He has come to help you into a brand new life that is eternal and is unlike the life you currently live. Jesus would love to invite himself into your home, into your life.
III. CONSIDER THE MARVELOUS CHANGE JESUS BRINGS TO ONE’S LIFE. Lk.19:8-10
Obviously there are a number of details left out of the story. It would seem from v.7 that Jesus and Zacchaeus went to Zacchaeus’ house. They hung out together for awhile and at some point in some sort of public way, Zacchaeus stood up and what he said must have come as a bit of a shock to his listeners.
“Look Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” The Greek construction here indicates that Zacchaeus did indeed cheat people. It could be translated, “Since I have cheated.”
This is pretty astounding. What happened to Zacchaeus? Jesus explains what happened. He says, “Today salvation has come to this house. Zacchaeus was saved. He was born again. Now I can’t say this for sure, but it doesn’t strike me that Jesus sat down with Zacchaeus and said, “Hey look buddy, if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going straight to Hell. You better straighten up and fly right. I’ve got my eye on you.” That doesn’t seem to be Jesus’ approach. Instead my sense is that Jesus explained to Zacchaeus that the Kingdom of God was available to him. He could enter into a brand new way of living that would blossom out into eternal life. By repenting of his sin and becoming a follower of Jesus, Zacchaeus could enter into the love and joy of God. Zacchaeus could begin to depend upon God to provide for his life and live according to the wisdom of God. He could know God personally.
Look, Zacchaeus had a good gig going. He was making money with the approval of Rome. He had people working for him. He was his own boss. You don’t leave that kind of thing unless you are convinced that there is something better, something that is more important. Jesus captured Zacchaeus’ heart and mind.
Contrast this with the story of the rich young ruler in Lk.18:18-30. That rich man was very religious, but when Jesus challenged the young man to leave all and follow him, the man went away sad. He was sad because he could not let go of his wealth and give himself to Jesus. At the end of that incident we read, “Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
The response of Zacchaeus flowed out of his new found life in Christ. Because of what Christ had done for him, he wanted to make things right with God and others. His change of behavior was the evidence that Christ had done a saving work in his life. So here was a man who had a lot going for him in life except for one thing. His life, compared to the life Jesus offered him, was not fulfilling or meaningful. O it had some meaning. There was some fulfillment, but little compared with the life that comes with knowing Christ.
This is why it is so important to not mistake baptism, going to catechism and receiving the Lord’s Supper and church membership with knowing Christ. There are many who think that because they are in the church, that they know Christ. Many of these people have never had a personal encounter with Christ. They know about him but they don’t know him. Once Zacchaeus gave his life to Christ, entrusting his life and eternity to Jesus, his life began to change big time as we see in these verses.
And if you give your life to Christ, your life will begin to change big time. O it won’t happen all at once. But as you turn to Jesus and begin to live for him, he will begin to change you from the inside out. It doesn’t mean that all your problems go away. But it does mean you are not alone in dealing with your problems. In 2Cor.5:17, we read, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Have you found this to be true in your life? What difference is Christ making in your life?
Lest you wonder if God can truly change your life, listen to these stories cited by Pastor and author, Bruce Larson. C.S. Lewis (Narnia Tales) was a militant atheist and an Oxford don. The last thing he wanted was to be converted. But God snuck up on him, and one day Lewis was “surprised by joy.” He said, “I was dragged kicking and screaming, the most reluctant convert in all the world, into the Kingdom.” Or there is John Wesley. Wesley was the fanatical son of a minister who became a missionary to America. Wesley had a great theological mind, but was a total failure as a human being and minister. One day as he was sitting in a chapel in England, a total failure as a missionary, his heart was “strangely warmed” as he listened to a layperson read the introduction of Luther’s commentary on Romans. He was converted to Christ and his life became a great fountain for life. And the Bruce continues, “Or my neighbor in Sanibel Island [years ago]. I had a neighbor in his eighties who had been a vice-president for McGraw-Hill, one of the great publishing firms of our land. He was a brilliant businessman. He was a senior vestryman in the Episcopal church, on the city council in Sanibel, respected, and loved by all. One weekend, he went off to a Cursillo Movement conference with a bunch of lay people who began praying with him and talking about Jesus. This beautiful man came home transformed and said to his neighbors and friends, “I met Jesus.” “What happened to you?”
He says, “I don’t know. I fell in love.” “He’s always been a good man,” his neighbors said, “but now he’s a new man.” Or there’s the missionary, Frank Laubach in the Philippines, who from bitterness and anger turned to Christ and at age 45 became the man who invented the system of learning that has taught millions and millions of people in the world to read. Or Saint Augustine, the monk with a mistress, who was struggling with his soul, sitting under a tree, saying, “O Lord, make me pure, but not yet.” One day God got a hold of him, and Augustine became Saint Augustine. God changes the lives of those who turn in faith to Jesus Christ for salvation. What about you?
There’s William Booth, a very unlikely, rough-cut man, who says over a hundred years ago, “Nobody in London cares about the poor, the drunks, the winos.” He invented the Salvation Army. One day he said, “Lord, I give you everything there is in this man William Booth. Do with me what you will.” A movement starts that changes the lives of tens and hundreds of thousands of people, because one man is suddenly converted.