Summary: Experiencing Christ's full salvation means more than just meeting Christ, it means allowing Christ to transform our whole lives.
A few years ago, I was on staff at a relatively large downtown church. I observed something in my time there that I had never encountered at any other church. For lack of any better way to describe the rather disturbing trend at this church, I’m going to call it “resume members.” Let me explain what I mean. This particular church had a relatively large contingent of what we might call “high profile” members who would make an appearance on a Sunday morning about once every four to six months. They were members of the church, but they were also prominent businessmen and women in the community, or politicians, or otherwise independently famous or wealthy. Now don’t get me wrong; for every one of these “resume members”, there were two to three others just like them who did regularly participate in the worship and other activities of the church. The reason I share this with you, though, is in order to offer a good example of how we Christians often “use” our Christian faith to our advantage.
For these “resume members”, their church membership at this high-steeple, downtown church, allowed the people to, in essence, use their Christianity to make themselves look good when they wanted the next big promotion or were trying to get more votes at the polls. They came just enough to be seen and to be able to say they were Christian, but not so much that their important schedules were disrupted. Now, before you start judging these people, whom you don’t even know, understand this—we all do this to some degree. We all “use” our Christian faith at times to get something we want; whether it’s a free pass to a glorious afterlife, or just a good feeling in worship, sometimes we all lose track of the true role of faith in our lives.
If I’m being honest, I have to say that there are times when my work as a minister is just that—work, a job; it’s not about my faith or service to God at all, it’s just about the paycheck. And if I can say that to you all, then you can all probably think back over your time as a Christian and see those moments when you, too, have lost hold of the true faith. We complain about worship because it doesn’t make us feel good, even though worship isn’t about us anyway. We put our faith on the back shelf whenever something better comes along; we can always pick it back up when we’re done, we think. We feel like we want to grow closer to Jesus, but we are afraid that we might lose friends. We say we’re Christian when it will get us something we want or need, but we hide that truth when it might bring shame.
But the thing about our Christian faith is that it should mark a complete change in our lives; it should define all of who we are and everything that we do. And that’s what this story of Zacchaeus is all about. If there’s anybody who should be ashamed, it’s Zacchaeus. If there’s anybody who might use a newfound Christian faith to his advantage, it’s Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, and we all know about tax collectors, but it wasn’t even that Zacchaeus was just a tax collector; he was a chief tax collector. So take everything you know about tax collectors and multiply it a few fold, and you come up with guys like Zacchaeus. He was a turncoat Jew, pilfering his fellow Jews for all they were worth, but then on top of that he almost certainly made even more money from the tax collectors working under him. We can only imagine the reaction of his neighbors as Zacchaeus’ home become more lavishly decorated, his clothes became finer, and his food became richer. There can be no doubt that on the streets of Jericho, Zacchaeus was a dirty name.
With such a reputation, public appearances would have been uncomfortable at best for Zacchaeus. He would have been sneered at on a regular basis, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the residents of Jericho openly mocked Zacchaeus about his short stature; their only line of defense against this shameless robber. Keeping in mind Zacchaeus’ less than ideal reputation around town, it’s a little bit surprising to find him in this story in the midst of a great crowd waiting to see this prophet named Jesus. If Zacchaeus knew what was good for him, he would’ve just stayed home, out of the way. But as it was, he found himself in the midst of the mob, so completely surrounded that he couldn’t see the road, much less who might be coming down it. He was probably getting pushed and shoved around, more on purpose than by accident most likely, as people saw a unique opportunity to give Zacchaeus a little taste of his own medicine. And yet, that didn’t seem to bother Zacchaeus. He was not deterred by the mob surrounding him, there was something about this man Jesus that had compelled him to be there, and he wasn’t even going to let his vertical challenge keep that from happening.