Sunday, November 3, 2019
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.”
You really don’t have to raise your hands, but how many of you would call yourself a fan of some kind? It could be a sports fan. It could be a fan of some music group, or of an actor or actress. In other words, if you’re enthusiastic enough about their activities than you could be considered a fan.
Now, how many of you would call yourself a super-fan? What separates a super-fan from a fan? Super-fans are people who will do some pretty extreme things to express their enthusiasm. They’ll stand in line for hours to buy tickets to a major concert. They’ll paint their face with team’s colors for the game. Super-fans put in the extra effort, some would say extreme extra effort, to show their support for a person or a team. Let me give you an example of a super fan.
There was a certain man from a certain United Kingdom country who was a super-fan of his country’s soccer team and was barred from attending any games at his local soccer stadium for twelve months because of his extreme behavior. Did this stop him from watching his favorite team? No-o-o! he was so determined to cheer on his team that he rented a crane with a bucket which he would park outside the gates of the stadium. On game days, this man would lift himself up and watch the games from high above the stands. Now there’s a super-fan. Maybe someone in this room today is a super fan or at least is married to a super fan.
I wouldn’t call Zacchaeus a super-fan of Jesus, but there had to be a reason he climbed a tree to see Him. Maybe Zacchaeus had a super-need. We hear in our lesson that Jesus was passing through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem. And of course, a large crowd gathered to see the man who did miracles, who healed diseases and taught with authority about the kingdom of God. This curiosity and support is another example of what Jesus would experience when He got to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, people would line the streets and shout for joy and treat Jesus like visiting royalty.
It reminds me of the story of a rookie police officer whose first assignment was to ride with an experienced partner. A call came over the police radio telling them to disperse some people who were loitering on a certain street. The officers drove to the street and observed a small crowd standing on a corner. The rookie rolled down his window and said, Get off the corner. No one moved, so he yelled again, Get off the corner!
Intimidated, the group of people began to leave, creating puzzled glances from most of them in his direction. Proud of his first official act, the young policeman turned to his partner and asked, well, how did I do? Pretty good, replied the veteran, especially since this is a bus stop.
By now, Jesus was accustomed to having crowds follow Him and stare at Him and ask Him for things. And the crowds would reach their climax when He entered Jerusalem. And then, within a week of His entry into Jerusalem, Jesus would be arrested, put on trial, tortured, and crucified. And all the crowds would disappear. All the fickle fans would turn against Him. Even His disciples would leave Him alone at that point. It was, at this moment with Zacchaeus, the last personal, face-to-face ministry we see Jesus do in the Book of Luke. So why did Jesus choose this man at this moment? What do we learn about God from this encounter?
I'm sure the one thing we learn from Zacchaeus’ story is you never know who’s looking for Jesus. Sometimes you’ll be surprised. Zacchaeus was a hated tax collector. He was the lowest of the low in the eyes of most Jews. Yet there he was in a tree looking at Him. You never know who might be searching for Jesus.
Anyone you meet may be just be that person who is searching for Jesus. The unkept vagabond, the person who ask you for a handout to buy some food. The person who cut you off in the grocery line or took the last can of corn off the shelf. Or even the walking by and asks you a question. The one you’d think would be the farthest gone are the ones that are most apt to listen. The most unlikely people may be searching for the hope only Jesus can provide.
Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. Tax collectors worked as representatives of the oppressive Roman government. Not only did they collect taxes from Rome’s reluctant citizens, they were allowed to add more to each person’s tax, and they could set it as high as they could get away with. So, tax collectors earned a reputation for being greedy extortionists and traitors to the Jewish people. Because of Zacchaeus’ profession, as I mentioned last week, he was barred from attending the local synagogue.
A pastor tells of a time in his younger years when he followed in Zacchaeus’ footsteps. He worked as a parking lot attendant. He got paid an hourly wage plus tips. Each attendant was supposed to turn over his tips to the parking lot owner each night.
But since no one was watching them, he and a few of the attendants only gave back a tiny portion of the tips and kept most of them for themselves. The parking lot owner didn’t even know that he was being cheated.
But then he became a Christian. Suddenly he couldn’t keep cheating his boss. He began turning over all his tips each night. Now his co-workers were mad at him because they couldn’t explain why he was turning in large tips while they were turning in measly amounts. His newfound faith in Jesus came with financial and relational costs, but he never considered cheating anyone again since that day.
God’s great gift to us forces us to notice the “God-shaped hole” that comfort and wealth and all other blessings simply can’t fill. There’s a good chance that at some point in your life you’ll come to know the Giver of life more than you ache to receive the gifts of life. I think that’s where Zacchaeus was at this point. You never know who is looking for Jesus.
But you do know who Jesus is looking for, don’t you? That’s our second point. You never know who is looking for Jesus, but you do know who Jesus is looking for. If you’ve read even a little bit of the New Testament, you don’t have to guess who Jesus is looking for. He’s looking for you. And me. All of us. And Zacchaeus. He’s searching for every sinner you can possibly imagine. Look at what Jesus says to Zacchaeus in verses 5 and 10 in this passage. In verse five, Jesus looks up into the tree and says, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”
Out of all the people in the crowd that day, Zacchaeus was a shameless sinner and an outcast in the Jewish community, and he’s the very person the Messiah, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, MUST hang out with. Why is that? Jesus says right there in verse 10, “. . . for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
A priest with a sense of humor had a special tee shirt designed. In three of the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, someone in some crowd makes a fuss because Jesus eats and drinks with sinners. So, this priest had a tee shirt made with the verse in Greek, He eats and drinks with sinners. The priest would wear the tee shirt when he went into bars. Some curious person would always ask, that great Lutheran question, what does that mean? He would follow with the question, Who eats and drinks with sinners? Imagine the joy the surprise of his listener when he told them, Jesus ate and drank with sinners. God in the flesh. One of the standard responses he gets to this tee shirt was, well, if Jesus wants to eat and drink with sinners, He has come to the right place.
Yes, he has. Jesus always meets us where we are, where we need him most, whether we know we need him or not. You never know who is looking for Jesus. You do know who Jesus is looking for, however. Zacchaeus had a need. Jesus had a purpose.
And that brings us to our third point: when seekers meet their Savior, lives are transformed. Yes, I said lives. Zacchaeus wasn’t the only one who benefited from his encounter with Jesus. Listen to verses 8 through 10: Then Zacchaeus stood and said, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.
And Jesus said to him, Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.
So, salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house, but wealth and generosity and restoration came to many houses because of Zacchaeus’ transformed life. A life transformed by Jesus is never just a solitary blessing.
Imagine the joy of some poor citizen of Jericho who received some of Zacchaeus’ wealth and possessions. Imagine the delight of those who had been extorted by Zacchaeus now being repaid with interest. Imagine how his change of heart would inspire them to ask the question, “Who is this Jesus?” And that question opens the door to seeking the Savior that was seeking them in the first place, and to more transformed lives, and to the coming of the kingdom of God on this earth. Such a ripple effect occurs when Christ comes into anyone’s life, including ours.
Zacchaeus had a need. Jesus had a purpose. We were made to have our needs transformed by Jesus’ purpose. I think if you or I were to meet Zacchaeus after he gave away half his wealth and repaid all his victims, he would say that he was a much richer man than before he met Jesus. Because that’s what a life transformed by Jesus looks like. The limitless riches of God’s grace and love and peace.
And today we rejoice in the knowledge that our loved ones now enjoy that limitless love and are now in the presence of God and the great cloud of witnesses. And today we remember we love and fondness those who have received their crown of life in the past year, beginning on November 4, 2018. Some are members of Bethel and some are our immediate family and still other are members of the family of God when they passed through the waters of holy Baptism, but all are now numbered with the saints of the past.