March 25, 2020

Luke 19: Zacchaeus

Pastor Scott Jonas
Luke 19: Zacchaeus

            We continue through Luke’s Gospel.  I encourage all of you at home to take out your bible and follow along.  We are in Luke chapter 19.  Jesus has been teaching through parables about the kingdom of God.  In the kingdom of God our Heavenly father hears us every time so we should pray like the persistent widow.  In the kingdom of God, the haughty religious person is brought low and the humble sinner is raised up like in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector.  In the Kingdom of God, we learn from the vulnerability of children.  Also, the rich and poor share everything in God’s kingdom.
            Luke shares a story that is only found in his book.  In it Jesus enters Jericho.  That Jericho.  Joshua and the wall Jericho.  It is now a thriving wealthy city at the crossroads of commerce.  It’s a big city not unlike St. Louis.  A crowd formed around Jesus.  Let me remind you what a crowd is.  It’s when a large amount of people gather in the same public place.  You remember.  There was a man named Zacchaeus who was a rich chief tax collector.  He was the head taxing agent of a busy metropolis.  Rome gave Zacchaeus had the power to collect whatever he wanted.  All of the income generated in Jericho passed through him and he got his cut above what was reasonable and just.  Zacchaeus was a combination of a corrupt IRS official and a Mafia kingpin.  His position has made him wealthy but not happy.
            It was actually brave of him to show his face in the crowd for two reasons.  He was hated and he was small.  Everyone on that street had reason to want to attack him and he didn’t have the stature to defend himself.  Yet he sought Jesus who Luke reports is a friend of outcasts.  Jesus championed Lepers, widows and the poor who didn’t choose to be society’s rejects.  What will he do with someone like Zacchaeus who has chosen to be a pariah?
            As we know, he climbs up into a tree to see this “friend of sinners.”  The throng passes by with Jesus in the center.  Everyone wants his attention.  They all have their own problems, they’re own agendas.  He just wants a glimpse, a glimpse of someone who offers a kingdom totally different than the one Zacchaeus is a part of.  Jesus stops and turns towards him.  Imagine the fear he would be feeling.  This Godman is staring at him over everyone else.  What if this was you?  Jesus must think I’m the worst.  He sees right through me.  He’s going to purge the evil in his midst by getting this crowd to focus on me.  I’m a dead man and I deserve it.
            Jesus shouts calling him by name, “Zacchaeus hurry and come down, for I want to stay at your house.”  Do you feel the turn here?  Zacchaeus expects judgement and death and instead Jesus embraces him with hospitality and acceptance.  This kingdom is so different from anything anyone has ever known. This is actually the best example of repentance and forgiveness in all of the Gospels. 
            The same scene plays out in your life.  You and I are afraid that we aren’t worthy because of all of the stuff we’ve done and not done.  We are part of a corrupt system that keeps the poor down and favors the rich.  We want to be connected to God because we know that he’s our only chance at something better but we also fear his reaction to our choices.  One day we realize that he notices us.  We flinch, ready for scorn but instead he smiles upon us.  He invites himself into our life and offers forgiveness and blessing.  Every time we repent we are playing out this scene from Luke.
            Zacchaeus jumps down and joyfully hugs Jesus.  The crowd doesn’t get it.  They actually groan.  Those who are on the fence or against Jesus are groaning because this is another strike against him.  Jesus is validating a terrible human being.  At Zacchaeus’ house, the forgiven tax collector says “Lord, I will give half of goods to the poor and if I’ve defrauded anyone I will give them four times what I took.”  This is the true spirit of repentance.  Jesus doesn’t demand it but Zacchaeus is so grateful and changed by Jesus’ love that he offers it freely.  This is a staple of the new kingdom.  In Luke’s sequel, the book of Acts, the church will share all that they have, forgiven rich and poor living together.  Jesus is thrilled and declares, “Today salvation has come to this house since he also is a son of Abraham.  For the son of man came to seek and save the lost.”
            I know that in this season of suffering it’s easy to think that you are lost in a crowd.  It seems like God can’t possibly see you through all of those grimacing faces.  But Jesus does see you right now as we speak.  He knows you just like he knows Zacchaeus.  He knows all of your weaknesses and fears.  Jesus is not intimidated by the worst thing you’ve ever done.  When he looks at you the whole rest of the world fades away.  He is great enough to give you all of the attention you could ever need.  He wants to be as close to you as that hug Zacchaeus experienced.  He came that close in your baptism.  That was one example of his attention on you personally.  You looked into the eyes of God and he smiled.  He said “You know that this means I’m with you everywhere you go: your house, your school, your job, your church.  You can’t get rid of me.  All of your sinful choices are forgotten by me.  What do you have to do to forget them?  What do you have to do so that others forget them?
            Jesus declared that salvation came to Zacchae’s household.  In the book of Acts this means that the whole family from infants to the elderly, from family to servants were baptized.  Jesus is embracing and accepting the whole lot of them.  Then at the end he says, “For the Son of man came to seek and save the Lost.”  Being lost here doesn’t mean to be damned it means to be misplaced.  Zacchaeus was living a different life than he was supposed to.  God wanted so much more for him and his family than he was experiencing.  But God changed all that in an instant.  We don’t hear from Zacchaeus again but you can imagine that as a wealthy influential man he helped the early church greatly.  God placed him exactly where he was supposed to be.
            God can do the same for you.  You may feel lost right now.  Coronavirus has you spinning and you don’t know what you are supposed to do.  But even at home, in seclusion, you can be right where God needs you.  You have a unique set of family, friends and neighbors.  You are called by Jesus to bless them.  The six people in the sanctuary tonight are right where God wants them.  There is an impulse for all of us to be at home for this hour but God has called us to be here for the sake of the church.  That is a noble calling.  Everyone who is listening to this have your own noble calling.  He called Zacchaeus and he calls you.
            I’ll finish with a story of one of our members.