Summary: How do we serve God in all that we do?
Looking Up Without Looking In
Let’s look at two Biblical stories; one is found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 19 verses 1-10 and it is about about a man that went up to see Jesus, and the other is also found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 5 verses 16-26, and it is about a man who came down to see Jesus. In both cases, their eyes were completely on the Lord, they were not looking inward other than desiring a drastic change in their lives. Let’s read Luke chapter 19:1-10:
What can we learn from Zacchaeus? We know very little about him. This is the only mention of him in Scripture. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. He was passing through Jericho, an historic Biblical city 7 miles away. When we were in the Holy land, we were unable to go to Jericho as today it is Palestinian controlled. We could see the city in the distance as we passed by. It is located at the bottom of the mountain leading up to Jerusalem, somewhat near the River Jordan, and it is a steep climb. Jesus was passing through with no agenda, no miracles planned, and no stops for teaching. I’m sure His mind was on the upcoming week and all He would endure. But then Scripture tells us Zacchaeus “sought to see Jesus.” He ran ahead, went way out of his way, for it was important to him that he be in the very presence of Jesus. Because he was short in stature, he ran ahead and climbed a tree so he could see Jesus passing by. In my younger days I remember climbing a tree to watch the Rose Parade. I had a perfect, albeit a little uncomfortable, vantage point. I could see everything as the parade was approaching and after it passed by. Zacchaeus had the same seat, although he watched something much better than the Rose Parade. He found a Sycamore tree along the way. These can be tall trees, some over 100 feet, and the name ‘Sycamore’ can refer to other trees as well. It is a generic word for a sturdy tree with low spreading branches. And Zacchaeus found one of the low branches and waited for Jesus. So I guess you can say Zacchaeus went out on a limb for Jesus. Do we?
Knowing that Jesus was going to pass by, he waited patiently in the tree. And when Jesus came to the place, he said to Zacchaeus, “Come down from the tree quickly.” Jesus sought out and was merciful to Zacchaeus in spite of the fact that he was the chief publican. I mentioned last week as we were reading from the Gospel of Matthew who also was a publican, they were tax collectors for the Roman government. They were normally Jews who had sold themselves out to the Romans for their own profit. They were considered to be renegades, who sold their services to the foreign oppressor to make money at the expense of their own countryman. This work gave them opportunities to take advantage of the people. In collecting taxes often they had cheated the people, taking much more than was required. This extra money was used for their own gain. No one liked a tax collector but because of their dishonesty they were hated. However, Zacchaeus was not only a tax collector but the chief tax collector, so he was likely hated even more. Tax collectors were mentioned in one breath with sinners. The phrase, publicans and sinners, occurs eight times in the gospels.
Back to the story – this the only time we find in the Gospels that Jesus invites himself over to someone’s house, for He said, “Today I must stay at your house.” What a thrill and what a stress builder all at once! First, Zacchaeus will have the opportunity to spend time alone with the Son of God, but second, Jesus is going to see his house. What if Jesus were to come into our houses, what would He find? Guess what, He already knows. Zacchaeus didn’t even have time to dust or make the bed.
Scripture then says Zacchaeus came down and was immediately filled with joy to be in the very presence of Jesus. And then the people started to complain, both the religious rulers and the common people, because Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a sinner. Why would Jesus choose him? Think about the ministry of Jesus and His teachings. He loved being around genuine people who were sinners, he despised being with the elite, hypocritical religious rulers of the day.
Zacchaeus confesses that he has done wrong with a repentant heart; that he is making restitution by giving half of what he has to the poor and repaying those he has stolen from four times the amount stolen. Jewish law required repayment of one or two fold, but Zacchaeus gave back fourfold. This is an important act. He was not saved because of his works, but because of his faith. His restitution was a result of his conversion. No longer did his material wealth matter, he had gained incomprehensible spiritual riches that were far more valuable.