April 3rd 2022: John Scanlon

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Luke 19:1-10

I’ve never been to Jericho, but it must have been an interesting city. It is mentioned quite a lot in scripture: in Joshua 6 we read of the walls of Jericho falling down, of David saying, “Wait at Jericho until your beards have grown, and then return.” (2 Samuel 10:5), in the New Testament Parable of the Good Samaritan. We cannot say how many times the Lord Jesus went to Jericho. We know this was His last visit to Jericho. The people might have listened more if they knew it was His last visit. We are very much in the same position. Opportunities pass us by. We do not know our day of visitation.

Here is the Lord Jesus walking into the city of Jericho. He has been hailed with a peal of praise as He has just healed Bartimaeus, whose sight was restored by the grace of God. As He entered the city the place was full of people full of anticipation at the great day of Pentecost, all hoping to glance a glimpse of the man who had healed Bartimaeus.

We are all familiar with the story of Zacchaeus. Luke has faithfully recorded highlights of what was being carried out, for there was so much going on. As John tells us And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20: 30-31).

Luke tells us of a blind man who cried out for mercy and Jesus restored his sight. This is itself a great miracle. If Jesus had any intention of entering Jericho unannounced, this man and his gratitude had changed all that. As Jesus now enters Jericho, he would touch only one man – a tax collector. So, the crowd gather. Then someone comes along who wanted to see what was taking place. He sticks out from the crowd. He tries to push though to find a place but nobody gives way to him. This man is Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus. We all know him. All that we know is recorded in these ten verses. He is a tax collector. He is a Hebrew. His name, Zacchaeus, means pure. Maybe, when his parents gave him this name, they hoped he would grow up pure. But he was crooked, the biggest rogue in the city! He had made loads of money and was chief among the tax collectors.

We all want to have more, but there is no satisfaction in this. Zacchaeus didn’t just want to be first, he was first. He was wealthy. Many people want to be rich, but it can be very lonely at the top. Zacchaeus had power, he had influence, he had wealth. It reminds us of one of the churches in Revelation. The word of God goes on to say in spite of all he had, Zacchaeus wanted more, He wanted to see Jesus.

Zacchaeus was arrogant, but underneath all that veneer there was a heart that sought reality. He was a soul needing to be redeemed. He couldn’t remain happy. He realised late that the true things of life are not material. Perhaps, he thought he would find a new life if he found Jesus.

But Zacchaeus had two problems: he was too small, and the crowd was too big. He couldn’t see Jesus. He was a little man in a big crowd. He couldn’t see over the crowd, he couldn’t see through the crowd, so he couldn’t see Jesus. I have heard of unbelievers who have been given a Bible and upon reading it ask, ‘Why does this book tell us different stories to what people preach?’ In other words, people don’t practice what they preach. Their own lives do not reflect the love of Jesus as much as they should.

How many Zacchaeus’ are out there and want to see Jesus, but can’t see because we get in the way? We are told to walk in the light, but not in someone else’s light, casting a shadow, when they themselves are looking for Jesus.

Zacchaeus must have been made of stern stuff. If there wasn’t a way through or a way over, then there’s a way round. He couldn’t see Jesus, so he ran further and found a sycamore tree. He waited for Jesus to come. When Jesus came, He looked up and saw him. That wasn’t part of Zacchaeus’ plan. It wasn’t what he was hoping for. We need to be careful when we are looking for God, for before you know it, He finds you. You can find yourself alone with God.

In no time at all, Jesus looks up and sees him. It is as if the whole of Jericho was waiting to see what Jesus, the son of a carpenter, the Son of God, would say to the biggest rogue in the city. Everybody was waiting. You could almost hear what they were thinking, ‘Go on Jesus, let him have it! Tell him what a terrible man he is. Condemn him for his wickedness and greed.’ What kind of people were these inhabitants of Jericho? They had just heard of a blind man being healed. They stood waiting, expecting to see more. They were anticipating entertainment. What they were about to witness was a miracle – a man who had been obsessed by world wealth about to be transformed. The love of money would be replaced by the love of Jesus Christ.

Jesus does not confront Zacchaeus. He lets him off the hook and simply says, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” (Luke 19:5b). What about sin? What about repentance? What about conviction? What about restitution? There is no mention. Jesus calls him by name and invites Himself to dinner. There is a chief sinner in Jericho who needs to be saved. Jesus did not come to condemn. He seeks him in love and a miracle takes place. We need more of the Spirit of God. When Jesus preached the gospel, He administered grace to the hearer and He moves in the love of God. Most times, when Jesus went fishing, He came home with a catch.

The crowd called Zacchaeus a sinner. We are all sinners. If were are not lost, we will never be found. Zacchaeus says, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” (Luke 19:8). I shouldn’t think he would have had much of his wealth left after that.

Salvation is more than an external transaction. When people are truly saved they are a new creation, new creature in Christ Jesus. They have a new set of values. Their priorities change. Their very reason for living changes. Zacchaeus revealed by his testimony that a transformation had taken place. He began with an act of benevolence in giving half his goods to the poor. Then he showed his willingness to make restitution to those he had wronged. He has learnt that to have your sins forgiven is more valuable than gold. Zacchaeus found forgiveness of sins. A free gift. There is a price to be paid for it; it is Jesus doing the paying. The Lord said, “Today salvation has come to this house, becausehe also isa son of Abraham;for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:9-10).

For as much as Zacchaeus was a son of Abraham, this wasn’t what the crowd had told him. They called him was a sinner. The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. We are told that it was Zacchaeus doing the seeking, who sought Jesus. But we know it is God who is seeking the lost. The Son of God has come. He seeks diligently and when He finds, He saves. Who did He come to save? The word of God tells us He came to save the lost. There is something final about the word ‘lost.’ There is hope for the sinner, for Jesus has come to seek and to save. It doesn’t matter how lost a person is, or how immoral or deceitful he might be, because God in Christ, has come to seek the lost and to save them. That has got to be good news!

September 29th 2019: John Funnell

John Funnell-sept19Luke 19:1-10

Winter is coming. Christmas is near. Some people love Christmas. We all know the story of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I haven’t read the book, but have seen the film. To me, Ebenezer Scrooge is Michael Caine! He was a wealthy, yet tight-fisted man. He treated Bob Cratchit and his family very badly. Through various ghostly and spiritual influences, Scrooge miraculously turns into a wonderful philanthropist. Everyone is happy. It’s a classic tale.

Many people see this story as quite similar to the story of Zacchaeus. Jesus turns a wealthy tax collector into a nice, generous person who gives half of what he earns to the poor. However, such a simplistic interpretation doesn’t do it justice. It limits us to read it as part of the crowd, who see Zacchaeus as a known sinner (verse 7). Once Jesus gets involved he becomes a generous Christian.

Viewing this story from the perspective of the crowd is limiting. Step back from the crowd and stop being simply a spectator. What truly matters is the viewpoint of Jesus, looking at this through Jesus’ eyes.

Jesus ignores the crowd. They swarm around Him yet He goes straight for the man in the tree. Why Zacchaeus? Dr. Luke provides us with many clues why. The crowds ‘pressed onto Jesus’. Why? Because they had heard God in flesh was there. To them, Jesus was an A-Lister celebrity. Zacchaeus was one of the people who wanted to see Jesus. Yet he had a problem; he was too short and couldn’t see over the heads of the crowd. His view is blocked. The detail of him being short didn’t need to be added. There must be a reason Dr. Luke added it to the narrative.

The Greek word for ‘short’ is interesting. It is not just used to describe height but also age. In John 19 we read of the blind man who was healed by Jesus. The Pharisees were not happy. His parents were called into court to be quizzed. Yet his parents say he is of age and can answer for himself. The same Greek word for age is used as to describe short. We see this again in Hebrews 11:11 when Sarah is described as beyond child-bearing age. It’s the same Greek word again. Dr. Luke adds the adjective ‘short’ because Zacchaeus was short but also because the word describes his status, especially in a society where age and status matter in a community. Dr. Luke added it not just to explain why he couldn’t see, but also to show Zacchaeus has a lowly status in his community. Zacchaeus’ ultimate problem was not his height but his family and friends had flocked to see Jesus and had left him behind. That’s the tragedy that sits behind the narrative. Zacchaeus was left behind by his community, abandoned by friends and family. He had no status. He was lost. Zacchaeus was all alone and without a loving community to guide him. Perhaps this is why he went down the wrong path and became a tax collector to Rome?

He climbed a fig tree – a symbol of prosperity. Fig leaves are a symbol of covering sin. Zacchaeus is trying to rise above. Jesus finds him in his sin, lonely, hiding up a fig tree. ‘And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”’ (Luke 19:5). Jesus calls out to Zacchaeus by name. He calls him down and reconciles him with his community. Jesus makes a public statement that he is a son of Abraham. He tells the crowd he is one of them. Zacchaeus is restored. Hallelujah!

‘And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.”’ (Luke 19:9).

 Jesus can come into the life of any person who has been outcast and left out by his community. He can bring them back into his community. This is a story about Christ, come into the world, coming to seek the lost. Hallelujah! “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

As Jesus was walking down the street He didn’t see what the crowd saw, He saw a broken man, trying to lift himself above his community, yet hiding. So Jesus came and He personally called him by name. And what did He do? He loved him. For the first time in a long time Zacchaeus knew he was loved. We see repentance. He gave half of his possessions to the poor. Zacchaeus gave freely and joyfully because He knew the overwhelming and overflowing love of Christ. Friends, the good news, the best news, is that Jesus’ love can do the same for us today.

If you have times when you feel low, exhausted, ashamed, overwhelmed, convicted by the weight of your sin, please know that Jesus is here for you. He will never ignore you for the crowd. He will call you by name. He’ll say, ‘My dear brother, my dear sister, ‘I love you.’ The creator of all time, space and matter says, ‘I love you.’ He says, ‘Come down from the tree of tiredness and shame, come down to your community, your church. I don’t care about your past, what anyone else thinks of you, I just want you. All that shame I buried at the cross.’

The call today to Christians and both non-Christians alike is ‘will you come down from your hiding place and take Jesus home with you, just like Zacchaeus? Will you let Jesus transform your life with His love? Today, salvation has come to the home. Will you take it?