Summary: A sermon about salvation by grace no matter who you are or what you have done.
“Up a Tree?”
“As Good as It Gets” is a 1997 comedy.
In it Jack Nickolson plays Melvin Udall, a crude, obsessive-compulsive author who offends everyone he meets.
But Melvin becomes enamored with Carol Connelly, a waitress played by Helen Hunt.
She has seen Melvin at his worst, but she reluctantly agrees to meet him at a fancy restaurant for a date.
While the other customers at the restaurant are impeccably dressed, Carol wears a simple red dress, the nicest dress she owns.
Melvin sees Carol at the bar and waves her over to his table.
When she approaches, Melvin hits an all-time low.
“This restaurant!” he says, “They make me buy a new outfit and let you in wearing a house dress.”
Carol is stunned and hurt.
Yet, she doesn’t leave.
Instead, Carol looks Melvin in the eye and says: “Pay me a compliment, Melvin. I need one now.”
Melvin responds, “I’ve got a compliment.”
What could he possibly say to undo the thoughtless comment he had just dished out?
Melvin then delivers one of the most romantic lines in big-screen history.
This deeply flawed man, his own worst enemy, looks at Carol with all the kindness and sincerity his shriveled heart can muster and says, “Carol, you make me want to be a better man.”
The story of Zacchaeus is pretty well known—especially if you grew up going to Sunday school and attending Vacation Bible School.
There is a children’s song about Zacchaeus that many of us sing at some point in our lives.
But in order to get to the real meat of this Scripture Lesson we need to get beyond the cute and harmless “wee little man” image of the Sunday school song.
There can be no doubt about it—Zacchaeus is a truly corrupt man.
Commentator Michael Card writes the following:
“Zacchaeus is not misunderstood.
He is not the victim of circumstance…
…he has chosen to work for the Romans, to bilk his own people.
So successful is he at his job that he has risen in the ranks to become a chief tax collector.
The people don’t despise him because they are closed-minded and judgmental; they despise him because he is a slimy, good-for-nothing thief.
And he knows it.”
So, why do you suppose that this rich and corrupt man becomes so determined to see Jesus?
What do you think?
Perhaps he looked in the mirror that morning and decided he did not like whom he saw.
Maybe he was tired of being excluded from the community.
Maybe he was tired of being lonely, of being an outcast.
Perhaps he’s finding that money can’t buy love and happiness.
Maybe the conflict between what he knows is right and how he is living his life has sharpened to the point of unbearable pain in his inner life.
In any event, we can surmise that Zacchaeus is a rich man with a big hole in his heart and life.
And so, when he hears that Jesus is coming through Jericho—Jesus, the religious teacher Who (they say) talks to tax collectors and sinners—Zacchaeus slips out of his house and heads down to Main Street where everyone else is waiting.
But there are too many people there.
Not only is Zacchaeus too short to see above the crowds, he likely doesn’t want to be seen by the crowds.
So, Zacchaeus goes further down the road and climbs a tree—but it isn’t long before the crowd, moving along ahead of Jesus, catches up with him.
I am sure you have heard the expression: “Up a Tree.”
Well, that’s a good description of the predicament Zacchaeus finds himself in.
It’s kind of like saying that someone is “up a creek without a paddle.”
The literal definition of the “Up a Tree” means to be in a difficult situation without a means to escape.
The expression is a colloquial term that dates back to the 1800’s.
It alludes to an animal, such as a squirrel or raccoon, that has climbed up a tree in order to escape danger only to find that it is stuck and can’t come down.
So, Zacchaeus is surrounded by people.
“Just sit quietly,” he might have said to himself.
“Maybe no one will notice me.”
But they do.
And suddenly Zacchaeus is the entertainment, the warm-up act for Jesus’ latest tour.
The people laugh and point.
Some of the children start to throw stones.
Zacchaeus climbs to the next higher limb, but the branch starts to bend.
The people laugh harder.
Now the ruler of the tax collectors is not only “up a tree”—he’s also “out on a limb.”
What a sight!!!
But then they turn away because Jesus has arrived.
And if the story ended here, it wouldn’t be a story about someone receiving the Kingdom.