Crossways Concepts

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Insights from the scripture as lead by the Holy Spirit

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Going Out On A Limb For Jesus

It is always amazing to hear of somebody who encounters Jesus and is changed dramatically.  It doesn't matter who the person is or under what circumstances.  It is just that every time we hear these stories we are reminded on what Jesus did in our own lives.

The Bible tells us of a bad man, a traitor and a thief who met Jesus.  This man made a total change in the twinkling of a eye.  When he encountered the real Jesus, he couldn't be unchanged.

He entered Jericho and was passing through.  There was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.  He was trying to see who Jesus was, but he was not able because of the crowd, since he was a short man.  So, running ahead, he climbed up a sycamore tree to see Jesus, since He was about to pass that way.  When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, because I must stay at your house.”

So he quickly came down and welcomed him joyfully.  All who saw it began to complain, “He's gone to lodge with a sinful man!”

But  Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, I'll give half my possessions to the poor, Lord!  And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I'll pay back four times as much!” (Luke 19:1-8)

As quick as can be imagined,  Zacchaeus is changed.  This is the power of Jesus, the power to make real changes in lives.

So who was this Zacchaeus?  The scripture tells us that he was a chief tax collector.  Israel was being occupied and ruled by the Romans.  The Romans were considered to be the enemy.  Yet Zacchaeus was a tax collector.  He gathered taxes from the Jews and paid it into the Roman treasury.  A tax collector will always be an unpopular person, but a tax collector who collects money for the enemy will be generally viewed as a traitor.

As if this wasn't bad enough, being a tax collector was a very poorly paid job because it was assumed that a tax collector will gather more than he had to in order to supplement his pay.  When the scripture describes Zacchaeus as rich, one can assume that he was relentless in taking more than he was required.

This means that Zacchaeus was viewed as a thief and a traitor to his people.  He came and took their money and gave it to the enemy, then he got rich off the process.  This is not a recipe for popularity.

I can imagine that people continually showed their distaste, disgust and outright hatred for him whenever he was in public.  I suspect that even the most hardened, self-satisfied person will be affected by being hated by everybody.

We don't know why Zacchaeus was so excited about seeing Jesus.  Perhaps he was just seeking to see a celebrity.  Perhaps he hoped to see one of the miracles he had heard about.

I believe, though, that God had been working on him, preparing him for a change in his life.  I believe that God took his unpopularity and guilt and made him ready for something different.  It seems that God can work for years to prepare a person for a moment.  I believe that this is one of those occasions.

For whatever reason, Zacchaeus climbed up that tree to see Jesus.  I doubt that having a grown man climb a tree was any more common in that day than it is today.  Perhaps, tree climbing was even more unacceptable in that day when you consider the clothing that men wore.

The interest that Zacchaeus had to see Jesus was not casual, it was extreme.  This appears to indicate a God involvement.  Let's examine the details.

I love the part that says that, “He was trying to see who Jesus was, but he was not able because of the crowd...”  This seems to typify so many people when God stirs a spiritual interest in them, they suddenly see the people as conflicting with their pursuit of Him.  How many people have had their heart stirred by a sermon, but been afraid of taking the next step because of the many people?  How many people might have missed their key opportunity to see Jesus, by being self-conscious?   Zacchaeus, though, was not going to miss out because of the crowd.

Zacchaeus went and climbed that tree as his solution to the problem presented by the crowd.  It is impossible to say exactly what he expected to come of this action, but I suspect he was shocked when Jesus spoke to him.  Not only did Jesus speak to  Zacchaeus, but He addressed Zacchaeus by name and honored him by announcing that Jesus was staying at his home.

Zacchaeus sought Jesus.  He sought Him without regard to how it might look.  Jesus was faithful to Zacchaeus going out-on-a-limb to see him.  Jesus knew everything about the life of Zacchaeus, but all that didn't matter.  The only thing that mattered was that Zacchaeus wanted and needed Jesus.

The response of Jesus to this man-in-a-tree is the truly incredible part of the story.  Here we have a guy that has lead a life focused on setting aside his morals in order to gain financially.  By the world's standards, this guy is worthless.  By God's rules, this is a man that is subject to punishment.

The last thing that this man could expect from Jesus is love and honor, yet, incredibly, this is exactly what he received.

I am sure that Zacchaeus was astonished that Jesus knew his name.  What Zacchaeus didn't know is that he was dealing with God in the flesh.  Jesus and God, the father, are just different sides of the same being.  The man that stood before Zacchaeus calling him by name was none other than his creator, Yahweh.  

Certainly God knows his name.  This is the same God that knit him together in the womb.  This is the same God that has the hairs on his head counted.   Zacchaeus was precious to His God, just as you are precious to Him.

This love wasn't dependent upon Zacchaeus following rules.  It didn't matter how much money Zacchaeus had extorted out of his countrymen.  It didn't matter if  Zacchaeus had served the enemy of Israel.  God just loved him.  God loved him enough to send him Jesus.

So, there, on the street when Zacchaeus sought Jesus, Jesus was there.  Jesus met him with love that he didn't deserve.  Jesus met him with love that he could never earn.  Jesus met him with a love that just 'is'.

This love is powerful.  I'm sure that Zacchaeus had never experienced love like this or his life would have changed a lot earlier.  When he came face to face with the love of Jesus and the person of Jesus, then his eyes were opened.  In that moment, he saw his life-goal of accumulating wealth as totally unimportant.  He saw that a righteous life and following Jesus was really important, everything else was secondary.

In the light of the righteousness of Jesus, Zacchaeus was led to make a life U-turn.  The direction his life had been going was shown to him to be all wrong and it didn't take him long to start down a new path.  Jesus prompted this change, this repentance.  For so many people, their attempts at repentance are only half-hearted and don't result in real change because they are trying to change in their own power and for the wrong reasons.

The commitment of Zacchaeus to give away accumulated wealth and to make amends with those he had wronged was huge.  From all appearances he had lived a life focused on the accumulation of money.  I suspect that this moment left the people open-mouthed in astonishment.

God has a way of doing the most astonishing things.  This isn't something that only happened 'back then”.  Even today, if we go out-on-a-limb to seek Him, He is likely to respond in a way that surprises us and astonishes those around us.

What have you done that says, “I don't even care if it makes me look foolish, I just want to see Jesus”?  It is too easy to recognize that “people are watching” and suddenly what these people think is more important to us than seeking the Lord.  Think about the priorities that this is exhibiting, when you back down like this, you are saying, “what people think of me is more important than Jesus.”  

So, has the Lord astonished you recently with His love, grace or power?  Do you find yourself living in a state of childlike awe over what he is doing in your life?

Perhaps it is time to ignore the crowd and step up our seeking after the Lord, even if that requires climbing a tree.  We can't let our fears hold us back.  Jesus is the most important thing.  How does He want our lives to demonstrate that truth?

A personal note:  When I write these articles, I rarely know how they will turn out.  I truly seek to allow the Holy Spirit to reign in what is written.  The concluding idea of this article has haunted me terribly.  I am confident that there is something that He wants me to do, something that I am afraid of.  Curiously, my wife in her own studies has been brought to a very similar point, of facing up to that which we fear.  Knowing that there is something unknown that we fear, which must be faced and acted upon, is fearful in itself.  I find myself approaching my prayers on the subject with very mixed feelings.  While I want to be faithful to the Lord, my fear makes me half hope I can remain ignorant of what this thing is.  I would appreciate your prayers and I will be praying for you in this regard.  --Richard

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