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A Lesson Learned From A Snake

Sunday, October 30, 2016 
Pastor Donald Beaumont

Luke 19:1-10


A Knoxville, Tennessee homemaker was preparing to paint her back porch. To protect the floor, she carefully placed Scotch tape around the edges of the floor, the double-sided kind. Her plan was to place a drop cloth over the floor and secure it with the tape.

After going all around the entire surface, she went inside the house to get a drop cloth. Returning to the porch sometime later, she found that all the carefully placed tape was gone. She was confused. Where could it be? Who would have taken the time to pull up that tape and why?

As she was standing there, she noticed something moving in the back yard. Looking closer she discovered that it was a snake. Even though it was rather large, it wasn’t a threat. The reason, it was hopelessly immobilized by being totally tangled in a large ball of Scotch tape.

Evidently while she was in the house the snake had crawled up on the back porch and had slithered onto that two-sided tape. Sensing that the tape was sticking to its skin, the snake obviously put up a terrible struggle. In doing so it pulled every bit of tape from the floor. The harder it fought, the more hopelessly it became tangled in its cellophane prison until now it was totally captive.

That poor snake reminds me of a few people I know, and of course, me as well. We all made mistakes, and rather than calmly analyzing the situation and correcting it, we react impulsively. Soon our lives are like that snake’s. The more we struggle, the more entangled we become, totally immobilized psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. 

I'm thinking Zacchaeus was that way when he went looking for Jesus. This wealthy tax collector was so desperate to see Jesus that he climbed a sycamore tree. Why did he climb the sycamore tree? He was vertically challenged, or in the words of our text, short of stature and couldn’t see over the crowd that had gathered to welcome Jesus to Jericho.

Can you imagine one of our city officials climbing a tree to catch a glimpse of a popular religious figure? It’s absurd, but Zacchaeus was desperate. He was unhappy about something in his life. Something was gnawing at his insides, something that money or position or power couldn’t satisfy. Perhaps this teacher from Galilee could help him untangle his life. It was a long shot, but it seemed worth it to Zacchaeus or he wouldn’t have climbed that tree. 

Nevertheless, Zacchaeus wasn’t prepared for what happened next. As he sat in the sycamore tree, he heard someone call his name. Jesus had spotted Zacchaeus perched in the tree. And it was Jesus who was calling Zacchaeus, to come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.

Zacchaeus came down and Jesus went to his house. Somehow he knew that this was exactly what he’d been looking for. The effect of Christ on Zacchaeus was so profound that following the meal he stood up and said, Yo Jesus! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount. If there was any doubt about Zacchaeus’ sincerity, Jesus erased it by declaring, today salvation has come to this house. 

Notice, that Jesus was more eager to see Zacchaeus than Zacchaeus was to see Jesus. Even though Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore, it was Jesus who called out to Zacchaeus, rather than the reverse. That says two things to me.

First, it speaks of Jesus’ purpose for coming into this world. For the Son of Man came, to seek and save the lost. That was His entire reason for being. If you’re feeling lost this morning, if your life is in a helpless tangle, if you feel powerless by doubt or fear or guilt, Jesus is looking for you. You may have come here looking for Him. But rest assured, He’s here looking for you. 

Jesus was looking for Zacchaeus more than Zacchaeus was looking for Jesus. That says something about Jesus’ purpose, but it also says something about Zacchaeus’ potential. 

Have you ever thought what a difference you could make for the Kingdom of God if somehow Christ could make the change in your life that He made in the life of Zacchaeus? God sees the awesome potential that we’re probably not even aware. It’s always inspiring when we hear of someone who sees potential in a person that no one else sees.

It’s interesting to notice how Jesus treated people, whether it was a woman of the streets or a tax collector in a tree. He saw something no one else could see. 

The second thing is that Zacchaeus was changed not only by what Jesus saw in him but also by what he saw in Jesus. Two words seem to characterize what Zacchaeus saw in Jesus, hope and holiness.

Jesus represented hope to Zacchaeus and he knew in his heart that here was more than just another religious leader. Here was the man who was the answer to his problems. 

There’s a story about an ancient king who had injured his ankle quite severely. None of his doctors knew how to help him. A member of his court told him about a slave who was said to have great insight into matters of the body.

The king sent for the slave who was brought to him weighted down with chains and dressed in rags. The slave helped him with his problem. The pain ceased and the ankle soon healed. The king was grateful for the slave’s help. He was so grateful that he sent the slave a gift, a new set of chains made of gold. The slave was greatly enriched, but he was still a slave. Some people shy away from religion because they’re afraid that they may be trading in one set of chains for another. Religion can do that to people, but not a relationship with Christ. Christ sets us free! 

While riding a train from Glasgow to London, across the Yorkshire moors, a man saw a lovely white cottage. It was shining brightly in the afternoon sun and looked so clean and white. A few days later he was returning home along the same route. A lovely snow had fallen. Soon the white cottage came into view. But in contrast to the snow, the clean cottage looked drab and soiled and almost grey, in comparison with the whiteness of the snow.

That is how Zacchaeus saw his own life in the presence of Jesus. This was a natural response to the change that had taken place in his heart, he wanted to resolve the contrast he saw between Christ’s life and his own and this made him want to make restitution for his sin. 

That’s important to us. Many of us want to be half converted. We want to see Christ as hope but not as holiness. We want to be set free from guilt, without changing, so we still wear the chains of slavery. We’re still tangled in a prison of cellophane. We see now what Jesus saw in Zacchaeus. We also see what Zacchaeus saw in Jesus. 

What did the crowd see? That crowd of people who had gathered mostly out of curiosity to see this popular religious figure who had come to their town, what did they see?  They also saw two things.

First, they saw Jesus go home with a sinner. What??? They murmured among themselves. Religious people always seem to murmur among themselves. Have you ever noticed that? God save us from people who are converted just enough to criticize everyone else. 

Mark Twain was cynical about religion. He said on one occasion that if Christ were here now, there’s one thing he would not be, a Christian. Unfortunately, Twain was confusing deeply committed followers of Christ with the half-converted and that makes a difference. 

The crowd saw Jesus go home to eat with a sinner. But they also saw something else. They saw Zacchaeus become a new man.

When a light is turned on in a dark room, it’s obvious. If a corpse were to rise from its coffin and live again, there’d be no need to hang a sign around the persons neck to tell the world there had been a change. When the doors of a prison swing open and a prisoner walks into freedom, it’s immediately apparent. So, it is when a man or woman encounters Jesus Christ. It was certainly apparent to Zacchaeus’ neighbors that something dramatic had happened in his life.

One of the most popular weekly programs in the early days of television was “Father Knows Best.” One of the stars of that show was little Lauren Chapin who played 11-year-old Kathy Anderson. Those who are familiar with this program remember little Kathy in all her innocence and charm.

Unfortunately, Lauren Chapin’s life was nothing like Kathy’s. Lauren’s mother drank very heavily. When the “Father Knows Best” series ended, Lauren couldn’t get another job in television. Alienated from her mother and from the world of make believe, she began running wild. She turned to drugs, casual lovers and fast company. The next several years of her life were filled with eight miscarriages, welfare, a mental hospital and time in and out of jail. 

At 38 years of age, Lauren Chapin encountered Jesus. During her wildness, the Prince of Peace came to her and gave her a peace she never ever knew.  A sudden clarity came over her, she no longer had to live up to the impossible example of Kathy Anderson.  She said, all my life I’ve wanted to be loved, God’s love is the most complete love, and I think that’s what I was looking for. 

That’s why Christ came into the world, to seek and save the lost, to free us from our hopelessly entangled lives. Jesus sees within each of us more potential than we see in ourselves. In Him we see both hope and holiness. That’s why in any encounter with Christ, the believer seeks to correct the problems in his or her own life, not out of duty, but out of joy, out of a determination to resolve the difference between Jesus’ life and ours.

No wonder Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus into his home. Wouldn’t you, if you believed that such a change could take place in your life today? Is the metaphor for your life, a snake entangled in cellophane? Isn’t it time you find the clarity that Lauren Chapin found by encountering Christ?

Bethel Lutheran Church

32410 Willowick Drive
Willowick, OH 44095

P: (440) 943-5000

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