Summary: Using Jesus’ example with Zaccheus, a sermon on moving toward unbelievers with Christ’s claims.
Trinity Baptist Church August 13, 2006
Winning Ways (series)
Being Where People Are
One time a fitness center offered a $1,000 prize to anyone who could demonstrate they were stronger than the owner of the place. Here’s how it worked. The owner was a muscle man, and he’d take a lemon and squeeze it ‘til all the juice ran into a glass. Then he’d hand the lemon to the challenger. Anyone who could squeeze just one more drop of juice out would win the $1,000.
Lots of people tried - weightlifters, construction workers, professional wrestlers; but nobody could do it.
Then one day a skinny little guy came in and signed up to try. After the laughter died down, the owner grabbed a lemon and squeezed away. Then he handed the wrinkled remains to the little man.
The crowd got quiet as the man clenched the lemon in his fist -- then six more drops fell into the glass. The crowd cheered, the manager paid out the winning prize. Then he had to ask: “So what do you do for a living?? You can’t be a lumberjack or a professional weightlifter are you???” The man replied, “Nope -- work for the IRS.”
Tax agents have never had a good reputation. Mostly of course, because people don’t like to be separated from their money. Long before there was an IRS, there were tax collectors of a very different breed.
Throughout history, governments and other entities have often decided that extracting excessive amounts of money from people was a great way to raise large amounts of revenue. That was rarely more true than within the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was, after all, an expensive proposition: all those roads, government buildings, local rulers and soldiers had to be underwritten. Heavily taxing the local citizens was an answer to the money need.
In the Israel of Jesus’ day, the Romans recruited locals to be their tax collectors. Local citizens would know who had money and who therefore could be squeezed for larger “contributions“. We meet such a Roman employee today.
Zaccheus is famous to New Testament readers, not because of his occupation, but because of his size. His short stature, not his short-changing of people in Jericho are how Bible readers remember him. We read in Luke 19, he hears that Jesus and a crowd were about to pass through, so he shinnied up a tree to catch a glimpse of the famous teacher.
But there’s much more to Zaccheus than his height. His Roman employment made him an outcast. Fellow residents of Jericho would have treated him like a Gentile -- a non-Jew and a foreigner -- because of his work. He’d have been considered a collaborator of Israel’s enemies and hated because he helped Rome maintain its occupation.
Back one chapter in Luke’s gospel, Jesus had just told the story of another tax collector, one who went into the temple to pray. Near him stood a pompous Pharisee. Jesus’ descriptions of the two men would have left His audience expecting Him to applaud the Pharisee and condemn the tax collector. But as Jesus told His story, most listeners were dumbfounded when He declared the tax collector who recognized his sin, left the temple justified. The Pharisee did not.
And why? Because with the God of all grace, Jesus showed, it’s never proud, self-assured religious people who gain God‘s acceptance. God demonstrates His grace in the life of the one who knows his sin and takes hold of forgiveness. Jesus said, the sick need a doctor,
not the ones who consider themselves to be healthy.
Now, in this account in Luke 19, Jesus not only deigns to talk to this person considered a “lowlife“, He chooses to go and spend time and break bread with him.
For three weeks we’re thinking about Christ‘s commission for us to communicate His claims to people around us. We moderns don‘t seem to be doing very well with that mission. Bill Bright said once, “in millions of surveys done by Campus Crusade around the world, approximately 98 percent of Christians do not regularly introduce others to the Savior.”
We’re not a very vocal generation of believers. Howard Hendricks said, “In the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering!” If you’re like me, you need some help. I know no better person to instruct, motivate and mobilize us to share Christ’s good news than Jesus Himself. The gospels reveal that He very often spent time with individuals clarifying the Truth of His Nature and His mission.
This very personal example with Zaccheus helps us zero in on one of the principles we talked about last time: being where the people are. Last time in Acts 19, we saw Paul moved out into natural gatherings of people -- he regularly went to the synagogue and into the market place and engaged people with the claims of Christ. We witnessed him walk through the open doors of opportunity God gave him. Jesus does that as well, in ways that neither His followers nor His critics often understood.