The story of Zacchaeus: one of the most famous vertically challenged people in the bible!
In verse 9, Jesus says, “Salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham”.
How does Jesus know?
1. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus
It might have been curiosity. It might have been because of the things people said about Jesus; it might have been the fact that Jesus had been nicking some of his employees. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector – and he was the man who would have been left with the headache when someone like Matthew left everything to follow Jesus. We don’t know.
But he had a desire to see Jesus. And it was not a simple, “I wonder what Jesus is like?”
It was a real desire.
We know that, because he was not put off by other people. He is a small man, there is a big crowd, and they’re not going to let him through. So Zacchaeus swallows his pride, gathers up his robes and climbs the tree.
So the first question that we need to ask of ourselves or of those for whom we pray is this:
Do I really want to know who Jesus is?
It doesn’t matter if it is out of curiosity: Who is this man who a quarter of the world professes to call Lord? Who is this man that they have built cathedrals and churches like St Mary’s after? Who is this man who has been more influential than any other person or movement in providing a foundation for the laws and customs in this land for the last 1000 years? Who is this man they changed the calendar for? Who is this man that people say is alive, who answers prayers, who heals, who transforms lives?
Of course it needs to be more than simple curiosity. Simple curiosity gives up at the first hurdle. We were in Barcelona last week (just thought I would drop that in), and visited the Gaudi ‘Sagrada Familia’ cathedral: it gave me some ideas for St Mary’s (joke). You could go up 120 metres in the lift and look out over Barcelona. We thought, “That would be interesting”. And then we saw the queue! So we said ‘no thank you’. We had a desire to go up to the tower and look out, but it wasn’t that big a desire.
Is our desire to find out about Jesus, to discover more about him, to see him, big enough to make us climb trees! Is it big enough to overcome the opposition of others? Is it big enough, for instance, to give up 4 Wednesday evenings and come along to the Introducing Jesus course?
It is very interesting that on this and two other occasions in Luke, it is the crowd that has to be overcome before people can get to Jesus. The friends bringing the paralysed man to Jesus (Lk 5) cannot get to him because of the crowd: so they dig through the roof. The blind man who calls out to Jesus as he is passing is told to be quiet by the crowd: but he persists until Jesus hears him (Lk 18); and the crowd here are the obstacle preventing Zacchaeus from seeing Jesus, so he climbs a tree.
Actually the crowd are an obstacle to Zacchaeus in two ways. First they are a physical barrier, and secondly they mutter when Zacchaeus goes with Jesus. The judgement of the crowd is that Zacchaeus, because of his work, is not a fit man for Jesus to be seen with. And there may well be times when you are told that you are not fit people to seek Jesus: too young (people like you don’t get interested in religion), you’re not respectable enough, you’ve messed up too much, abortion, living with someone and you are not married, practicing homosexual relationship, wrong profession.
If you want to see Jesus, don’t be put off by those who say that Jesus is not for you. Don’t be put off by the demands of family or work or special interests. If you have a desire to see Jesus, feed it. Come along to Introducing Jesus, go on to the web – there are some links on our parish website to some very helpful sites, read a book, talk to a friend.
How much do we really wish to see Jesus?
It is when people begin to seek him that things happen.
I remember a friend in a church in London many years ago. His name was R. He believed in Jesus, but he wanted to see Jesus. He wanted the sort of intimate relationship with Jesus that his wife had. He desired the power and the presence of Jesus.
And Ross became a real pain to us. He read, he prayed. He complained because nothing was happening. He hungered and he thirsted for Jesus
He was not really the sort of person who I would have expected to do so. He was 30 years old. He worked in the city. He earned £70k per annum, before bonuses (and that was 24 years ago).
And he would not be put off by my reassurances: “It is OK. We are called to live by faith and not feeling. Trust the promises of God. Not everyone’s experience is the same”. He would not settle for it. He wanted more of Jesus.
How does Jesus know that salvation has come to this house: because Zacchaeus because really wanted to see Jesus.
2. Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus when Jesus invites himself into his home
It is one thing to wish to find out more about Jesus
It is quite another thing to have Jesus come into our home and our lives.
It is about who is in control.
When we’re desiring to see Jesus, we’re in control. We can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. We can choose to climb the tree or we can remain on terra firma.
But when Jesus comes into our lives we give up that control to him.
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus.
He gets quite a shock: Jesus wanted to see him.
Jesus stops at the tree, he calls Zacchaeus by name, and he tells Zacchaeus, “I’m coming to stay with you”. It is a statement of fact. He doesn’t ask Zacchaeus, ‘May I come and stay with you?’
Have you noticed how, in the gospels, when it is a question of people becoming followers of Jesus, it is nearly always Jesus who takes the initiative? They come to Jesus with their needs, or because they wish to listen to him or ask him a question, but it is Jesus who calls them. He calls the disciples. He says to them, ‘Come and follow me’. And he calls Zacchaeus.
It is outrageous.
I mean Zacchaeus of all people. Rich, wealthy, immoral Zacchaeus. Shouldn’t Jesus be going to the poor and downtrodden and maybe vaguely moral or religious? No wonder the crowd mutter.
Of course it is outrageous. It is also astonishingly wonderful
In God’s love even Zacchaeus is called by Jesus. Indeed Jesus has come specifically to seek him out. That is what he says at the end, “The son of man has come to seek and to save the lost”.
And we know that salvation has come when we hear the self-invitation of Jesus into our lives and when we welcome him into our lives and into our homes.
And Jesus does invite himself into our lives. And he is always inviting himself into new and different areas of our life: the things we watch on TV or the websites we visit, where we go on holiday, our sex lives, how we spend our money, our political attitudes, how we treat our boides, how we relate to the mother-in-law or the person we disagree with, or to that very crabby but also quite lonely old chap who lives two doors away, what we do with our evenings, our work or business, our relationship with husband, wife, children, parents, brother or sister, how we look at ourselves.
And while we’re inside and he’s outside, we pretend we are in control.
But when we hear his self-invitation and welcome him, we actually let him take control.
Jesus knows that salvation has come to Zacchaeus house because Zacchaeus has welcomed him in.
Zacchaeus not only gives; on top of that he also makes restitution.
Notice, Jesus doesn’t ask him to do so. He chooses freely to do it.
One of the marks that salvation has come to us is that our life changes, and it changes not because we have been told to change it, but because it happens.
When a person becomes a Christian, their life begins to change. One of the most obvious ways that people change is how they use the name of Jesus. Nobody tells them they should stop using the name of Jesus or God as a swear word – they just stop using it. Or we see it when a person owns up to something, or begins to struggle against a destructive habit whereas before they would give in, or when a couple living together stop sleeping together, or choose to get married; or when a person chooses to forgive, or starts to spend time in prayer and bible reading. Nobody tells them that they should: as they listen to Jesus, it simply happens.
And, for Zacchaeus, the change in life was very marked. A man who had been always out getting started giving. He gave away half of what he had. And on top of the act of giving, he made an act of restitution – again choosing to offer more than the law required him to offer.
I spoke earlier of R who I knew 24 years ago. He did get his meeting with Jesus. It changed his life. One of the results was that he gave up his £70k pa job in favour of one that paid £16k I saw him again about 15 years after he made that decision. He has never regretted it.
I need to speak a word of caution here: as a person allows Jesus to come closer to them, so at times it feels as if our life is getting worse rather than better. Something we thought we had overcome comes back with a vengeance. And we wonder, “Has salvation come to my house. Why is my life not changing?” That is a question we need to ask. We may need to listen again to the self-invitation of Jesus, to submit again to Him, to confess and we may need prayer. But one of the ways that our life changes is that as we come closer to Jesus, as we allow him to come closer to us, so we become much more aware of just how sinful and mucky we are. And so rather than despairing when we see our sin, we can actually rejoice, and with God’s help deal with it. A spiritually dead person will not be aware of sin or their need for forgiveness: the fact that we see our sin means that God is at work in us.
Jesus knows that salvation has come to Zacchaeus house because Zacchaeus seeks him, because Zacchaeus welcomes him and because Zacchaeus life changes.
So I ask of you and me
Are we seeking him?
Have we welcomed him?
Is our life changing?
Because the bible teaches that as we look at Jesus, at his glory and his love, so we begin to look like him.