Man Out On a Limb
Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going pass that way. When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. "Zacchaeus!" he said. "Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today." Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. "He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner," they grumbled. Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, "I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!" Jesus responded, "Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost." Luke 19:1-10
Alright, so if you listen to our scripture reading this morning, I'm not going to ask all of you to sing, Zacchaeus was a wee little man with me.
But it's a familiar story. It's one that we know, and if we made a top 10 list of Bible stories that children learn aches is probably in there, because those memorable children's stories often have a song that goes along with them, and they have a way of sticking with us. But the problem when we come to stories like Zacchaeus is that because we've known them so long, we think we understand that we've read that we've been there, we've done that, and there's nothing else to say or hear about it.
But I wanna take us through a little bit of a journey to get to Luke Chapter 19, 1-10. Because there's a lot of things in Luke's gospel that tie into this particular story, if you ever watch any of the crime and detective shows on television, when they're trying to solve a case, you'll see that board where they have pictures and places and people and those pins with the strings or lines connecting all of these different things. Well, Luke 19 is one of those that has a lot of lines and are connected to other parts of this... Luke's gospel. And so we begin with Jesus entering Jericho. It says He was passing through. Now we're in Luke 19. If we go back to Luke Chapter 9, verse 51, the text tells us that the time had come for Jesus to be given up. And so he set his face on Jerusalem at that point in Luke chapter 9-10 chapters earlier, Jesus has set his face on Jerusalem, that at that point everything begins moving him toward Jerusalem and the cross, but that takes 10 chapters for him to get there, and so this journey follows Jesus as he makes his way there through Jericho, which is kind of on the way.
If he was coming down the Jordan river, you'd have to go through Jericho on His way over to Jerusalem. But he's taking his time. We could call it Jesus Farewell Journey. So he said his face on Jerusalem, and on his way, he gets there and there's this tax collector that we hear about, this aches, we know the story of Zaccheaus running ahead and climb in the tree. And Jesus calling and saying I'm coming to your house, and Jesus' critics are watching the same look at that.
He's going to the house of a sinner.
But it's not the first time Jesus has done this. In fact, earlier in Lou, in Chapter 5, beginning of the gospel, when Jesus is calling His disciples in Chapter Five, he goes to the house of Levi, who's a tax collector, and Jesus calls him to be one of His disciples. Levi throws a party. And all the on lockers are saying, he's at the house of a sinner. Sound familiar. And at that time, Jesus said, What do you want me to say? Physician heal, thyself said, I came for those who need deliverance, much like the message that we hear with Zacchaeus, Jesus calls Abraham then recalls a aches rather, a son of Abraham, when He declares that righteousness has come to his house, again, this is not a first time that Jesus has used this expression in Luke 13, there's a story of the woman who's been afflicted by an ailment of disease, something that's caused her to be paralyzed for 18 years, and she calls out to Jesus for healing, and again, he's criticized saying, Why are you healing on the Sabbath, and Jesus response to the crowds is, is she not the daughter of Abraham and deserving of salvation and deliverance from her affliction? So that idea of being a child of Abraham comes up.
That final verse in what we heard this morning, when Jesus says, is he not a son of Abraham, for the Son of me, I'm talking about himself, did not come to be served but to seek and to save the lost. He came to seek and save the lost. A few weeks ago, we were working through the Gospels or through this portion of Luke earlier in Chapter 15, and we had that story of the lost sheep and of the lost coin, and while it wasn't a part of the lecture, I didn't preach the story of the Lost or prodigal son.
In each instance, that which is lost is found, and Jesus says there's more rejoicing in heaven over that which is lost being found, and so he reminds the crowds once again, the seeking that which is lost is my primary mission.
In the chapter preceding 19, we see a number of things connecting to this story, we're told that Zacchaeus is not just a tax collector, but that he's rich as well. If we're honest, things don't often go well for the rich... In Jesus' stories, in Chapter 18, there's the rich young ruler who comes to Jesus and says, What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus is the... What are the scriptures tell you? And he says, Well, you know, we've got the commandments, don't kill, don't murder. And he said, I've done all of those things. And Jesus looks at says, there's just one other thing you need to do. You need to sell your possessions and give everything away, and this rich young ruler hangs his head and walks away dejected, and the disciples Look at Jesus as who can be saved then? And Jesus says, Well, with human beings, it's impossible, but with God, all things are possible. And we go from that story of that rich young ruler... Actually, I'm out of order. Prior to that, we have Jesus telling the story of blessing little children of people bringing children to Him, and the disciples say, No, no, no.
Keep them back. Keep him back. Keep him back. And Jesus, no, no. Let the little children come to me. And drawing one of those little children into His lap, he... Everyone must become like this child if they're gonna inherit my kingdom, and Jesus' farewell tour continues. Jesus finds himself at odds with the Pharisees, and he tells a story of a Pharisee and a tax collector who is going up to the temple to worship, and the tax collector laments and stands off at a distance. Saying, God have mercy on me, a sinner.
And yet the self-righteous Pharisee also sends at the distance and says, thank you God that I'm not like him.
And it's in this mix of all of these things that Jesus finds himself and Jericho, and as he's approaching the city, we're told that there's a blind man that calls out to Him, Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me. And again, they shush him and said, Be quiet. And Jesus calls out to the man, it says, What do you want? And he says, I wanna see. And he does, because Jesus heals him. Prior to this, Jesus had foretold of his death of all that was awaiting him once they did arrive in Jerusalem, and Jericho is not that far. They were getting her. And he tells the disciples this, and in Verse 34 of Chapter 18, it says, but they understood nothing about all these things, they did not grasp what was said, they didn't grasp Jesus' prediction and talking about what was to come, but the truth of it is, in all of these things that are going on, they're not understanding probably came into play with a lot of it, the Blind Man is healed, and they enter Jerusalem, Zacchaeus, again, this chief tax collector, not just a tax collector, but the only time it appears in the gospels, a chief tax collector.
So he was in charge probably of other tax collectors, and the reason the tax collector was considered a sinner is that they were considered traders... They betrayed their own people. He was a resident of Jericho, he was most likely Jewish himself, and yet he was working on behalf of the Roman Empire. His job was to collect those taxes, and so even though we're told in the story that he has small in stature, he probably showed up with several Roman soldiers to be the muscle and make sure that everybody paid up, and we're told that he was rich. Did I mean that he had just simply done a good job, although I guess that's the truth of it, he had done a good job because a tax collector's job was to get as much as they could for the Romans. With the understanding that they were gonna be skimming off the top for themselves, and so he was a tax collector among tax collectors who'd gotten rich in the process, and he hears this commotion, and we're told that he wanted to see who Jesus was. Now, we don't know if there's a sense that he feels that he needs healing or forgiveness or anything like that, my suspicion is that something's going on and he's curious, who is the sky? Why is this crowd following him? But Zacchaeus, who was an outcast among his own people because of his job, and also was too short to see over the crowds, we're told runs ahead, and climbs a Sycamore tree to see what was going on.
He left the crowd, he ran ahead, he climbed a tree, and there he was. Now, this is a man who had a position of power, this was a man who was wealthy, and this is a man who well, didn't act the way the mature respectable men acted. He ran. Running is an indignation.
It's below a man of his position... Never
Mind climbing a tree. It's almost as if Zacchaeus, even before median Jesus has become a child, kind of like Jesus talked about in Chapter 18, he becomes childlike and he runs and he climbs, and there he is in his perch, looking down to see what's going on...
Have you ever gotten to a point in life where you find yourself in a situation and you suddenly stop and take inventory and say, How do I get here?
How did I end up where I'm at right now?
It may be a moment of reflection upon the joys and blessings the life has, but my suspicion is most people that come to that moment are not necessarily longing for or expecting their circumstances, and I have to wonder if that didn't go through Zacchaeus' mind as he's perched in that tree, out on a limb, waiting to see Jesus come thinking, How did I get here? What circumstances, what events, what choices in my life have brought me to this moment of running and climbing a tree like a kid, and it's in that moment... Out on a limb, that Jesus comes along, he takes no aches and says he's...
Come on down here. Quickly, come down here.
I'm gonna come and stay at your house. I'm guessing there was an audible gasp from the crowd, they all knew who was up in that tree, certainly he'd been knocking on their door, asking them to pay up and get Jesus.
Calls him by name and says that he has gone down... I'm coming to your house. As if they're old friends. The scandal, the indignation.
How dare he? We're told, comes down and he says, Lord, look, half of my possessions, I'll give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone anything, I'll pay back four times as much. It's interesting that in most of our modern English translations of the Bible, there's a future-looking... To this text, I will do this, I will give to the poor, I will repay. But the tense in the original text makes it seem as though this is something that he is claiming that he does already. Look, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I defraud anybody, I give back four-fold. Well, we don't know if that happened or not. We don't know how much Jesus' next words have to do with what Zacchaeus says, as much as Jesus speaking to the crowd that is there...
Zacchaeus makes his proclamation, and some would look at this and say, See, he repented, he changed and because he did that, Jesus has declared the salvation has come to him, but that would seem to indicate the Zacchaeus somehow was worthy or deserving of this.
Remember, he didn't find Jesus, Jesus found him up in the tree and said, Hey you, I'm not down here and come into your house to stay for a while. And I think Jesus' words at this point are more for the crowds who are looking on, shaking their heads, judging and condemning than they are for Zacchaeus. Because Jesus says Salvation has come to his house today. It wasn't because he deserved it, is because he needed it. And Jesus was the only one that could get an offering... Jesus said, I have come to his house. Salvation is here. He too is a son of Abraham. And I don't know that Jesus would have done so, but it's almost as if he's pointing the finger at everybody else out there that is making a comment about Zacchaeus being a sinner, he's a son of Abraham, and so are all of you. I came to seek and to save the lost. If I came to seek and save him, then I certainly come to seek and to save. Every one of you, Jesus had set his face on Jerusalem, that was the destination, and often we want to, in our faith, rush to that moment of the passion of the things leading up to His crucifixion and resurrection.
But Jesus is in saying that, stopping in Jericho and staying at a chess House for a while as a distraction or even a detour, he says, Zacchaeus and his need for salvation is exactly why I'm here. I have come to seek and to save the lost. Like him, like the blind man, like the little children, like the woman with the illness, like Levi and those that I called to be my disciples, like everyone who came before in need of healing or encouragement. I have come to seek and to save the lost. Friends, we all are at a different place in life, some might be accounted among the rich, like Zacchaeus, others might resonate more with the blind beggar or any other host of characters in these stories of Jesus and the people that he meets along the way. We, like Zacchaeus, might find ourselves in a crowd that looms large over us and blocks our view of what's going on.
Like Zacchaeus, we may have some curiosity and interest in knowing who this Jesus is.
But like Zacchaeus, whether we were perched in a tree or out on a limb, hiding in a closet, sitting on the couch, take on a walk down the street. Jesus probably showed up in your life at a time when you weren't expecting it, at a time when life was just laid bare and you were at the end of your rope thinking, I don't know what's next, that's... Often in those moments that Jesus comes and calls us by name and says, I'm coming to spend some time with you. Come on down and let's go. Friends, when salvation comes, it's not because we deserve it, it's not because we've earned it, it's because we need it, and that salvation is a gift from God through His son Jesus. Jesus is the one and only who can offer it, and if you haven't yet received it, it's right there, Jesus meets you where you're at, he calls you by name. That says, friend, I can make a difference in your life. So hurry. Don't wait. Let's get on with this. Receive my gift. Because that is why Jesus came, his mission, his one and only defining mission in his life, in his teachings, in his ministry, in the healing and the miracles, in his death and in his resurrection, is that he came to seek and save the lost.
And if you haven't figured it out by now. We are all lost. And we need a savior. And his name is Jesus. Amen.