When was the last time you asked someone to tell you their story? Everyone has a story to tell. One of the problems with our super busy culture is that we do not stop enough to listen to people’s stories. We think that we know people by how they dress, the mannerisms, where they grew up, or by what they do for a living, but is thinking you know something the same as knowing something?
Take Todd for example. Todd is married with 4 children and lives in a nice home in a nice
Or maybe take Susan. She has been homeless for several years and is addicted to heroin. She only eats full meals twice a week when a local church opens their soup kitchen. She rarely bathes and always seems to be carrying a foul odor. In looking at Susan, you may think you know her, but you may not know that she is the daughter of a prominent business owner in the neighboring county. She grew up in a Southern Baptist Church where she was active in her G.A.s and her church youth group. She was the youngest of three daughters who all were members of the National Honor Society. She met a boy after high school that introduced her to marijuana which quickly spiraled into cocaine. Her parents tried to convince her to leave her boyfriend, but only drew her farther into his arms. She left home at 19 married her boyfriend who left her within 6 months after introducing her to heroin. She misses her family, but cannot break from her addiction.
When was the last time you asked someone their story? Or when was the last time you were bold enough to share your true story? You may be surprised on the stories of the people you will find sitting next you. We all have a story and it is important for us to understand the stories of others. In this text, we have the privilege to get a glimpse into the story of a man named Zacchaeus.
The Story of a Sinner
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.
Jesus is continuing his journey to Jericho. Last week, we discussed how Jesus met the blind man begging on the side of the road while today we meet a man from the other end of the spectrum. His name was Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and was rich. The title of chief tax collector is only used here in the New Testament. Jericho would have been a major toll collection point for those traveling both from the east and the west.
Tax collectors were Jews who were tasked by the oppressive Roman government to garner the wages of the people. Tax collectors were despised by their fellow Jews because they were willing to work for their enemies, the Romans. The Romans allowed tax collectors to take more than the required amount for their wages. Most tax collectors did not only take what they needed to live on, but rather charged the Jews far more than what was required. They stole from their own people to pad their pockets. They were the Bernie Madoff’s of their day, but what they did was legal. They stole from their own people and were despised because it.
Zacchaeus was one of the chief tax collectors either in collecting the most taxes or in overseeing other tax collectors which made him rich. This is the third person classified as “rich” over the last few chapters. Luke introduced one rich man who interacted with Lazarus and the rich young ruler who had an encounter with Jesus. Zacchaeus is rich and based on the previous information in this gospel, we would assume that what would follow would show the negative aspect of that wealth.
There are many questions we could ask, but we will never get the answers to those questions from the text. I think it is important to realize that Zacchaeus had a story as all sinners have a story. And beloved, we are a church full of sinners who all have a story. Do you think we would be a closer community if we knew more of each other’s stories? Do you think it would grow our empathy and love for one another?
The Seeking of a Sinner
And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.
Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was. This is the beginning of faith. He was curious about whom Jesus was and the miracles that he did. And we see that he overcame some obstacles in order to get a good view of the real Jesus.
His height limited him from seeing so he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a tree so that he could see Jesus. Something was happening in Zacchaeus’s heart that encouraged him to go the extra mile in order that he could see Jesus. This past Wednesday there was a lunar eclipse. I was invited to meet at a parking lot at 6:15 a.m. to watch the eclipse with friends. And you know what I did? I slept in until 7 a.m. The desire to see the lunar eclipse was not motivation enough for me to go the extra mile of getting out of bed early to drive across town before dawn. And yet, the desire for Zacchaeus to see Jesus made him willing to do whatever he had to do to see Jesus.
We do not know exactly when Zacchaeus becomes a believer in this story. Did he have saving faith before he climbed the tree or after he invited Jesus into his house or after his pledge? We know that he eventually had saving faith, but we can see that he was being drawn to Jesus long before he made the final decision to follow him. Something was going on in Zacchaeus that was encouraging him to take a long hard look at the person and work of Jesus Christ. This should be encouraging to us, because God is still working in our lives and the lives of our lost family and friends.
When we share our faith, we have to believe that God is already moving in the lives of the people we are talking to. During a mission trip, a few of my teammates went to a local pool to go swimming. The problem was the pool was closed and my friends jumped the fence to cool off on a hot day. A police officer saw the break-in and came to arrest them. As the police officer was questioning my missionary friends, he gave his life to Christ. God was already moving in that man’s heart long before my friends ever had even decided to go swimming. God is drawing people all around us to Himself. They are beginning to seek Him. We must open our eyes and look at who the Lord is drawing to Himself.
The Seeking of the Savior
It is interesting that as the lost Zacchaeus is going the extra mile to see Jesus, Jesus has already gone the extra mile to seek Him. Luke 19:5-6,
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.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.
Jesus came to Zacchaeus and called him into fellowship. And Zacchaeus received the invitation with joy.
Friend, if you are here and would not consider yourself a follower of Jesus, have you ever considered how merciful God has been to you in your story? The Bible says that none of us deserve mercy, but wrath. We deserve to pay for our sins. Zacchaeus deserved to pay for his, just like you and me. And yet, God gives us time to turn to him. He fills our days with countless examples of his mercy that we so often take for granted. Even as we sit in this room, we are experiencing the mercy of friendship, air conditioning, hearing, speaking, and thinking. Every breath we take is a symbol of his mercy. The greatest mercy that has ever been known is God becoming man to bring us mercy. I pray that as we study how God brought mercy to Zacchaeus that you would see that God can bring divine mercy to you.
It is not always a blessing when people invite themselves over to your house, but Zacchaeus did not look at this as an inconvenience. He was delighted to bring Jesus into his home. It would have been very rare for a righteous teacher to enter into the home of a tax collector. Some scholars even would say that the joyful response of Zacchaeus shows the beginnings of saving faith. And as Zacchaeus was thrilled, the rest of the crowd grumbled.
The Slander of a Sinner
And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
The crowd was unhappy with Jesus’ choice of a houseguest. Luke comments that “they all grumbled,” showing how pervasive the negative view of tax collectors was in the culture. The crowd was outraged that Jesus would go and eat with a sinner. Grumbling is almost always framed with negative connotations in the New Testament. Their grumbling is not a good thing, but why do you think they grumbled? How did their cultural context condition them for outrage over a simple choice of a traveling teacher?
As I have said before, everyone has a story and even the people in the crowd have a story. Let us ask, “Why did they all grumble?” How many times had the crowd been taken advantage of by Zacchaeus? How many times has he knocked on their door and asked for their taxes? How many times has Zacchaeus taken their money leaving them with little money for food? Maybe their hunger or poverty is intimately connected with Zacchaeus. Remember tax collectors were looked at as traitors so it is possible that Zacchaeus was the symbol of betrayal. Their grumbling could be a sign of their own jealousy and pride. They could be mad that their homes were not chosen by Jesus. Maybe their pride was hurt because they felt they should be rewarded for their good deeds rather than a thief and a traitor.
The text does not give us the reason behind their grumbling, but we know that their grumbling is wrong. And even though their grumbling is wrong, it is important to understand the story behind their grumbling. There are going to be people in your life that are going to grumble against you. The natural response is to get angry or hurt, but the way of love is to empathize with those who “appear” to be against you. I have been leading organizations since my mid 20’s and I have received a lot of grumbling against my leadership during those years. At first, I responded with exasperation and frustration that people would be against my decisions, but I have learned that it vital to understand the reason behind their frustration and grumbling. Sometimes in learning people’s stories I have found that their grumbling has more to do with them rather than me, and other times I have found that their grumbling was sparked by something that I had done. Learn the story of saints and sinners before responding in frustration.
I believe that the crowd grumbled because they saw Zacchaeus as an enemy rather than one who needed the mercy of God. They looked down upon Zacchaeus because of his sin, forgetting that they too are sinners in need of Jesus presence.
The Salvation of the Savior
And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
The story seems to skip to after the meal at Zacchaeus’s house. It is as if you were watching a movie and see Jesus meeting Zacchaeus on the road, then the screen goes black and the next moment they are finishing up the meal at the house. We do not know the details of the conversation that took place over the meal, but we can imagine it had to do with repentance and the kingdom of God.
Zacchaeus was confronted with his sin of defrauding the people and his need to repent and receive the Jesus Christ as Lord. And we find out that is exactly what he did. Zacchaeus stood up and said, “Behold, Lord.” Zacchaeus is submitting himself to the Jesus Christ, and notice that true faith does not come in mere words, but in action. Verse 8,
Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything I restore it fourfold.
Zacchaeus repented. He changed his behavior. True belief always comes with a change of behavior.
This is the story of salvation. Everyone has to be confronted with their sin and realize they need a Savior. The first step to salvation is the knowledge that you need to take the first step. It is only in Jesus Christ graciously confronting Zacchaeus in his sin that causes him to turn. It is not the condemning nature of his sin that causes him to turn, but the overwhelming grace extended to Zacchaeus in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came to seek and save the lost. He came to Zacchaeus with grace and love. Verse 9 is a powerful verse,
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.”
It is an interesting statement because Zacchaeus was already a physical son of Abraham. He was a Jew, therefore he was a son of Abraham…or was he?
We all have a story. Our stories are all different, and yet, they are all the same. We all have sinned and we all need a Savior. Jesus Christ came to take your sin upon the cross. He came to seek you and to save you by offering his life for yours. The details of our stories may be different, but the only story of salvation comes through the cross of Christ. Where are you in the story of salvation? Are you like Zacchaeus at the beginning of the story: curious about Christ, yet unsure? Or are you like him at the end of the story, where his joy in Christ caused him to give away his treasured possessions because he had found a better Treasure? Or maybe you are like those grumbling along the way, so focused on yourself that you cannot see how Jesus is seeking those sinners around you? What’s your story?
Regardless of where you are in your story, know this; Jesus invites you to be part of his story. He is inviting you to join his story of salvation by repenting of your sins and trusting in his life, death and resurrection by faith. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. We all have our own story, but I pray that you allow His story to become your story.
image credit *http://www.exedes.com/graphics/stories/saw.jpg)
image credit (http://www.scottbyersdesign.com/wp-content/themes/ePhoto/images/Biblical/5074bgct-Zacchaeus-E.jpg)
image credit (http://joshfults.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/seek-truth.jpg)
image credit (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BkNq7TuCcAEnipT.jpg:large)