Haven't written a sermon out in a long time. Here's what I'm aiming at today. Since I don't use notes, it may wind up being more or less (wait a minute - what am I saying? I'm a Baptist preacher, it's never going to be less. :) ) But I thought I'd share it here.
1 Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town.2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich.3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd.4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name.
“Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy.7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will
give them back four times as much!”9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham.10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:1-10 (NLT)
A few months ago, no one had heard of her. Born when her mother was 47, during a difficult delivery in which she was deprived of oxygen for several minutes, she was the target of bullying all through her school years. They called her “Suzy Simple.” Graduating at the bottom of her class with few prospects, she gained employment as a cook trainee. It didn’t last long, but while she worked there, she used to go over during
lunch and watch the actors and singers rehearse for the theatre. She’d always wanted to sing.
People would tell her that she had a nice voice and that “she ought to do something with her talent”, but time and time again when she did, nothing really happened. She’d sung in some local venues, she’d sung at church, at karaoke night in the local pubs, even auditioned for a TV show several times. But nothing ever seemed to go anywhere.
Finally her Mom saw a show called “Britain’s Got Talent” and urged her daughter to give it one more try. You know that show was the forerunner of “American Idol” right? And that both were the brainchild of one of the sweetest people in all of show business – Simon Cowell. Well, when Susan came on stage to audition for the judges, she chose a song that spoke to why she kept on trying to make it. The title of the song was “I
Dreamed A Dream.” At last count, over 150million people have watched it on You Tube, and Susan Boyle’s first album has hit the top of the charts around the world.
The moment you stop dreaming and believing that you can change is the day you begin to die.
Oh you may be 16 when it happens, or 35, or even 65 – age really doesn’t matter. You may take up space on this earth for a good long time after it happens. But inside – in your heart – you’ve decided to die. Nothing’s going to change. It can’t. YOU CAN’T.
Friend, I am here to tell you today that you can change. You can begin again.
There are many stories of changed people in the Bible. But this morning God has led me to draw your attention to one located in the book of Luke, Chapter 19.
The man we’re going to look at is in a tough place in life. He’s hated by pretty much everyone for what he’s done or really, for who he is. When I took the time to think about what he’s gone through I frankly am amazed that he’s even in the Bible for us to get to know. His name of course is Zacchaeus. Those of you of a certain age will never be able to rind yourselves of a children’s song you learned about him growing up in church. What did that song call him?
“A wee little man.”
Well, if he was a “wee little man” then he was an even smaller boy in a culture that was supported by the ability of men to do manual labor. Those who couldn’t soon found themselves the object of ridicule. There’s not a whole lot you can do to change your height in a culture like that either – no platform sandals or stilts. So you go through your life that way and maybe over time those slights and sarcastic cuts pile up. That whole
“sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” deal? Not all that true it turns out.
Meanwhile, things are changing where Zack grows up. His people, the Jews are proud. They are the chosen ones of God and are to be His sovereign possession and His alone. But over the centuries they have been conquered again and again and forced to pay tribute to their conquerors. In some cases their rulers simply worked through the existing Jewish leadership to collect the tribute in taxes. But there’s a new ruler, and he began his rule by having every single male return to his homeplace and be counted. They called it a census and the idea was simply to make sure they got every last bit of coin they could. The Romans were good at a lot of things and collecting taxes was one of them.
In the more settled provinces, those who worked for the government were of the warrior class. But in Judea, there wasn’t one. So they looked for people on the fringes of society that weren’t fitting in and maybe had a grudge against the tight knit Jewish society. People like Zack. Once you crossed that line though, there was no turning back. You had gone against family, against clan, town and people. The only reason you lived was
because were you to be struck down, the Romans would come and grab a dozen or so in the village and crucify them. Served as a strong discouraging force.
Knowing that, tax collectors not only might collect the taxes and a reasonable percentage for themselves, but they might be tempted to see just how far they could go. Most would have done it just to be rich. But I wonder if Zack had other reasons as well. Whatever the reason, Luke makes sure we know that Zack wasn’t just rich. He was VERY rich.
Power and money. Most people dream of them. Fewer find satisfaction even when they achieve them. Zacchaeus didn’t. He wanted to change – to begin again. Lots of people do. Especially at this time of year. It’s the season for it. Resolved – that in 2010 I will… and so it goes. But here we are on the third day of a New Year and I think I’d be safe in guessing that at least some have already fallen short of their goals. It’s always that way when all you do is believe and don’t act on it. “I can finish that.” “I can lose that.” “I can change that.” “yes we can.”
No we can’t, unless we move from passive belief to action. Words. Just words.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal.”
How long did it take for what the founders wrote to actually come true? And how great was the cost of change? I’ll tell you this. If those who followed the founders had acted to make it so instead of just hoping that one day it would happen, we never would have suffered the horrible rending of the Civil War or the costs associated with desegregation.
“We hold these truths…” Great. Then live them.
Zacchaeus knew he was living a lie. On the outside he looked like he had everything. But inside he was cold and empty. He needed a rescuer. So on the day Jesus came to town, he knew his day had come. Normally he would have traveled with his bodyguards and never would have mingled with the common people. But on this day he pushed through the gathering crowds and when he saw that he’d never be able to meet Jesus that way, ran ahead and climbed a tree to be sure to catch Jesus’ eye. BTW, how many trees have you climbed lately? I can assure you that adults back then didn’t climb much either.
So Zach is in position and the crowds and Jesus come by.
When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy.
It worked! Everyone’s thrilled and overjoyed!
Uh, no. 7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. Luke 19:7 (NLT)
Now Jesus was collaborating too they thought. It could be a death sentence. Remember when the Pharisees asked Jesus whether or not they should pay taxes to Caesar? The idea was to trap him regardless of whether he answered yes or answered no. A “yes” would discredit Him with the Jews and a “no” would put him in jail as a traitor to Rome subject to execution.
Zack didn’t waste any time.
8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Luke 19:8 (NLT)
Zach was saying that he was going to follow Jesus by getting rid of the things that kept his focus off God and by actively trying to do the things God would have him do. The words used here are a little hard to get a sense of. A loose paraphrase would be “ Lord, everything under my hand I give half of to those who have been under oppression. And those who I have oppressed, I will now bless. I know that many of the translations say “if I have cheated…” but the word used here means to extort, to use power to manipulate and abuse people. There’s no question Zack did this. The only question is how many did he do it to. When Zack says “everything under my hand” he’s not just talking about his direct actions, but those that took place under his direction as “chief” of the tax collectors there.
Zacchaeus connected the dots and realized that the way to show you love God is to care for the people God has placed in your life. No doubt some of the people Zack is talking about are the same ones who have treated him so badly. Zack won’t have any Roman cover for this either. And the people who were in his chain of command aren’t going to appreciate what he’s doing either. He’s taking a big risk. But he knows that in order to change, he has to.
9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham.10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:9-10 (NLT)
When Zach took the job as tax collector, he was instantly cut off from worship at the temple. No longer could he offer sacrifices or even be present when others did. Only those who were of Abraham’s faith could. Ah but notice what happens here. Zack gets what he longed for – rescue from his sins and a new beginning. That changes everything. The Bible in 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that 17 …anyone who belongs to Christ has
become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Cor 5:17 (NLT)
And the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel pronounces him “a true son of Abraham.” Zach achieved that by putting feet to his faith and pursuing hard after God. His deepest desire, his greatest dream was to be in fellowship with Holy God and in harmony with His will. Jesus is telling everyone who will hear that Zack has been restored to God and to his people.
Usually we see that and don’t really pay attention to the last verse. But let’s drill down into it.
For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.
Jesus is telling everyone there that if Zach hadn’t changed, he would have died in his sins. Oh sure, there would have been a lot of stuff around him when it happened, and he might have even been promoted several times by then. But he would have died without God and spent eternity without any grace or mercy. Thank God Zach was moved to change.