Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Zacchaeus Remembers the Day He Was Saved - by Mike T.

Do you remember the day you were saved?
If you are a Christian, do you remember the day when you were saved? Does it rate up there among the most memorable days of your life? Perhaps the most important day ever? What happened to your heart that day? Were you changed forever? Does it still hold significance for you? Was your life changed on that blessed day? Do you still feel the same? Do you rejoice with the Psalmist saying, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Ps 42:1-2)? Do you share the Psalmist’s refrain shouting “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (PS 73:25-26)? Did your decision to follow Jesus cost you anything? Did it change your heart?

A Man’s Memorable Encounter with the Savior
Luke tells us the story of a man who surely remembers the day that He accepted Christ as Savior. This is a simple story about an encounter with the living God… the God who saves. A man came to see a prophet along the roadside. His heart was fertile. The Savior came along and called to him and his life was changed forever. He became a new man inside and out. Is this your own story as well?

We are told that Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. He was a very rich man and in charge of the tax collectors for the region. Tax collectors had an extremely bad reputation with the Jewish population. They were notorious for ruthlessness and using extreme measures to obtain the taxes. They were given a quota that they were required to collect and anything in excess of that amount that they collected they were able to boast to their profit. Because they obtained their wealth by extracting the profit from their fellow Jews, they were seen as traitors to their own people. A verse from Mathew shows that tax collectors were held with the lowest regard. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” .MT 18:17 Luke also shows that tax collector’s ranked at the bottom of society’s barrel.

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and `sinners'?" LK 5:27-30

Tax Collector’s and Pharisee’s
Because of that notorious reputation, the tax collector is represented in the Bible as an example of those that the Jews, particularly the Pharisees and teacher’s of the law regarded as outside the Kingdom of God. The Jewish leaders saw themselves as righteous because of their religious lifestyles and they labeled as “sinners” those who were not Jewish and those who were guilty of gross transgressions of the law like the tax collectors. Careful review of the texts where a tax collector is labeled a “sinner” it is interesting that it is the tax collector who comes out as righteous. The Bible turns everything around on its head.

The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. [12] I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' Lk 18:11-13

The Bible on numerous occasions uses the illustration of the Pharisee’s self-righteousness and the tax collector’s humility and repentance before God to drive home the point of the sinner’s need for a Savior. Just such an illustration becomes evident in our scriptural text from Luke 19. The Lord Jesus calls upon Zacchaeus the tax collector and draws criticism from the mostly Jewish crowd. Those who rely upon their own efforts and religious activity for access to God are given a lesson that true righteousness does not depend upon effort, but upon a Savior that changes hearts.

A Fertile Heart
Jesus had developed quite a following at the point that Luke relates the story of Zacchaeus. No doubt word of the miracles He performed and His teaching had spread. He had healed the lepers and recently a blind man’s sight was restored. A large crowd followed Him wherever He went. We are told that Zacchaeus was a short man and that he wanted desperately to see Jesus. So much so that he ran ahead of the crowd on the road that Jesus was on and climbed a sycamore-fig tree. This wealthy man with the notorious reputation had a desire to see this prophet that was passing by. Why Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, the story does not tell us. We can’t speculate too much about why he was there, but we could probably imagine a few reasons why we might have been there along that road to catch a glimpse of Jesus ourselves. Perhaps there might be simple curiosity to see what all the commotion about Jesus was about? Maybe even it could have been possible we heard Jesus speak on a previous occasion and want another opportunity to hear him again? Perhaps others had been talking about Jesus and the words they shared with us were intriguing? Perhaps even a very real misery exists in our own hearts. We might know that there is something wrong with the way we are living. Maybe we met another who was forever changed by this Jesus of Nazareth who couldn’t stop talking about how He forgave their sins? It is even possible that we have been very religious all of our lives and faultless in observing and following all of the traditions and rules. Perhaps we never miss church and we tithe 10% and we are sure to try and live a good life? We might know that we harbor wicked thoughts in our minds and despite of all our religious activities we are still empty inside and really don’t know God? This Jesus was known to cut through to people’s hearts and remind them that they need a personal relationship with God to save them and not a religion. Perhaps as Zacchaeus clung to the branch of that tree and waited on Jesus to come down the road he also hoped that something about this prophet who attracted such a following really could liberate him from this miserable guilt and sin?

No Time For Excuses
Whatever it was that drove Zacchaeus to the tree along that road, he was ready when Jesus called him. Zacchaeus’s heart was fertile for the gospel. Jesus passed by, stopped and looked up and called Zacchaeus by name. God uses a variety of circumstances and people to get us to the place and time where he calls us by name. He sometimes uses trials and difficulties to drive us to our knees. He may bring the witness and testimony of others to soften our hearts. The most powerful tool is the preaching of His Word and the Gospel message to tell us the truth about our sin and the salvation offered by the cross of Jesus Christ. The witness of the Holy Spirit is working constantly to call people unto the Savior. Jesus told Nicodemus this truth in the book of John.

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." John 3:8

To put it simply, the Holy Spirit is mysteriously, perhaps invisibly, active in the world calling hearts to God. The Spirit’s activity is clearly visible as God’s saving grace is manifest and people are saved by the call of the Gospel. We know that the Spirit is present and active not because we know who or where or how God saves, but that in fact sinners are indeed being saved. Zacchaeus answers just such a personal call. When Jesus calls, He calls each of us personally. Though Zacchaeus was there in that tree, it was Jesus who initiated the encounter. Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down immediately while stating that He must stay at Zacchaeus’s house that evening. There was no hesitancy on Zacchaeus’s part regarding the forthright request that Jesus made. Luke says that Zacchaeus came down and at once and welcomed Jesus to his house gladly. He could have offered excuses. “The house is really quite a mess. Maybe another time after we get a chance to clean up a little?” “No, I don’t think you really want to be seen with me. Don’t you know what others will think?” “Love to have you, but really my wife doesn’t like it when I bring home strangers without calling ahead.” Zacchaeus offers no such attempts to put off the Lord’s demands. He offers immediate hospitality and does so graciously and with joy.

Has the Lord called your name? Did you receive Him immediately with joy? Or did you begin looking for excuses why now wasn’t a good time? Did you put off His call to come to you? Did you have more pressing matters? Did you want more time to prepare? Did you want to wait for a better time? Did you ask Him to come back later? Were you afraid that He would find what you were trying to hide from Him? Were you afraid of what might be exposed if you let Him into your life? Could it be that you were afraid that He might not like the company you keep? If you chose the excuses over His call, when will you heed His voice and come to Him? Is your heart fertile? Has His Word penetrated its stony depths? Are you ready to come quickly? Do you know that Jesus is your Lord and Master? Are you ready to serve Him? Do you desire to honor Him? Do you seek to please Him? Zacchaeus was such a person. He heard the Master’s call and came quickly and served Him joyfully. This was day to remember in Zacchaeus’s life.

The Real Article
But there is more to the story of Zacchaeus the wee little man who climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus. The lesson continues and we learn the meaning of true and genuine salvation. A group criticizes Jesus for going to Zacchaeus’s house because he is a “sinner”. There are those who are quick to judge, to point fingers at others and find fault with them. They themselves are self-confident about their own righteousness. They compare themselves to others and on the basis that they are more religious and don’t do certain things that they can somehow be justified before God. They rely upon their abstaining from certain behaviors and doing certain good works as the basis for their acceptance into God’s kingdom. Such were those who criticized Jesus for going to the house of tax collector. Luke in our passage again shows the error of such thinking. But first consider briefly what Paul told the Ephesians.

EPH 2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, [2] in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. [3] All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. [4] But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, [5] made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. [6] And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, [7] in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. [8] For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- [9] not by works, so that no one can boast. [10] For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Justifying oneself before God by comparing our performance to that of others is seen to be futile. Paul tells us in verse 3 that every one of us without exception were dead in our transgressions and sins and that as a consequence were objects of God’s wrath. That means that without Christ we are destined to hell and there is no one no matter how religious or good they perceive themselves to be that can change that on their own merit. Paul also explains that God, in Christ has made us alive and saved us by grace alone. We offered nothing, and could offer nothing in a dead state as verse 6 tells us. It can’t be said any better than verses 8-10 “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” All human effort and self-righteous religious effort have no merit in salvation.

The High Cost Of Following Jesus
To return to the story from Luke 19 now, Zacchaeus stands and makes a remarkable profession.

LK 19:8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! 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."

A very wealthy man was willing to outright give half of his possessions to the poor and to make restitution of four times the amount if he cheated anybody out of anything. This represented an extremely high personal cost. It was not a trivial amount that Zacchaeus offered to give up. Are you willing to truly give half of your net worth to the poor? If you have a home worth 100,000 dollars and 50,000 dollars in an IRA and savings are you willing to sell the house and give half of the money from the sale to the needy and half of your retirement nest egg too? Think about it. Zacchaeus was exceedingly wealthy. He knew his statement would be costly. And it was much more than a statement. This was a sincere proclamation of faith. The Savior transformed Zacchaeus’s life. He was willing to commit to great personal sacrifice. He was willing to go to extreme, to surrender the wealth, and undoubtedly his job and means of making a living would be greatly affected by such a transformation. He gave up more than money. He gave up the corruption that accompanied the money he had acquired and in effect would no longer be effective in his position as chief tax collector. This was a great personal sacrifice. The change in his heart was the real deal… the genuine article. What cost are you willing to pay to follow Jesus? Is He real to you? Does He mean more to you than just someone you sing about on Sunday morning? Jesus own words tell us that there is a price to pay for following Him.

MT 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [25] For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. [26] What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? [27] For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.
MT 8:21 Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."[22] But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."

LK 9:59 He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." :60 Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 61 Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."62 Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

Have you left the things of the world behind to go after Jesus? What is holding you back? Have you given Him your all? He wants your entire devotion, not some half-hearted effort. He doesn’t want only an hour on Sunday morning and maybe Sunday night and Wednesday as well. He wants your complete devotion each and every moment of your life. Have you been willing to give that to Him?

Sin/Repentance/Works and Grace
Zacchaeus reminds us that there is a high cost for following Jesus Christ. However, his statement was not meant to impress those who were listening. It was not intended to draw attention to himself and look good in front of others. On the contrary, Zacchaeus spoke and in doing so he demonstrated genuine repentance and good works out of the overflow of a heart transformed by the grace of God. His encounter with Jesus Christ caused a dramatic change. Old lifestyles have to be left behind. We can not hold onto our past sins and our old ways. Genuine faith in Christ will drive us to repent of our sins. We will desire to please God and to obey Him. There is a genuine change in our hearts. True faith in Christ unto salvation will result in repentance and good works. We no longer have the same affection for sin that we had before we were in Christ. We will be driven to repentance when we sin. If you find yourself compromising with sin you may want to question your salvation. The Bible makes it clear that sin is not to be tolerated in the believer’s life.

Lots of Bells and Whistles and Flashy Lights Don’t Make A Good Show
We can’t miss a vital point that we touched on earlier. Remember the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector from Luke 18 that we discussed earlier? The Pharisee relied upon his Jewish religious performance for Salvation while the tax collector simply beat his breast and recognized that he was a sinner before God. Fact is we can either have faith in ourselves and the things we do or we can have faith in God. If we have in faith in our own efforts we delude even ourselves and think that everything is ok, when in fact it is not. We can never please God, nor earn our own salvation. Works and religious activity without a genuine faith in Christ are nothing more than an external show. Salvation takes place in the heart and is genuine when it begins and ends with Jesus. It is this faith that Jesus recognized when he declared that Zacchaeus was a true son of Abraham.

To God Be The Glory
The cost is high and our hearts are transformed. But it is God who gets the glory. Jesus responds to Zacchaeus’s faithful proclamation by declaring that salvation has come to this house.

LK 19:9 Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. [10] For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

Zacchaeus faith was expressed in true repentance and genuine desire to good works. It was not the good works or the repentance that saved him. Zacchaeus did not earn his salvation by repentance or good works. God in His marvelous grace called Zacchaeus out of a life of sin. He was God’s workmanship through and throughout , created in Christ, to do good works which God prepared in advance. Zacchaeus is not able to boast about his transformed heart. He only responded by the faith that God put in his heart.

The Shepherd and the Flock
We conclude with verse 10 which I believe sums up the whole of the book of Luke in a single sentence.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. LK 19:10

Christ called this miserable wealthy man from a life of sin and transformed his life. Each of us before Christ is in the same desperate condition, without hope and without God in this world. Sin has wrecked our lives and separated from God. Why do you think that Jesus makes the statement that he does here? What does He mean to seek and save the lost? This is what God does. Because we are dead in our sins, we no longer desire to come to Him. The Gospel of Luke like no other book of the Bible shows us that God comes to man to restore a broken relationship. A relationship between a Holy God and mankind was severed by sin. The penalty for sin is death and eternal separation from God. Yet God Himself provides restoration through Jesus Christ. God seeks to call us back into a relationship with Him. That is the reason Jesus came, taught, healed and bore our sin on the cross. He paid the penalty of death to satisfy God’s just requirement so that we would not have to. Jesus seeks sinners. When you get a chance read Luke Chapter 15 and the three parables that Jesus told. A couple of key verses will help clarify what it means that Jesus has come to seek and save the lost.

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, `Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ Luke 15:4-6

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, `Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ LK 15:8-9

For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. LK 15:24

There is hope for a fallen people and God has provided the means of restoration for a broken relation in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. God goes to extremes to restore us to fellowship with Him. These stories tell us that our Father, our Shepherd is not far off. He seeks us out. He pursues us. He brings us home. He nutures and preserves us. His mercy and forgiveness is inexhaustible. He holds us in esteem. We are valuable to Him. We have worth to Him through Christ Jesus who redeems us by His blood. Have you considered the depths to which he will go for you? To save and restore you to fellowship with Him? Do you follow your shepherd? Do you hear his voice? Are you obedient? Or do you stray off, turning your eyes and ears away from his guidance? Come near to the Great Shepherd. He cares for you and will protect you.

The Almighty Will Be Your Gold
Genuine salvation delights in Jesus above all else. Zacchaeus’s heart was transformed and he gave up his wealth and sinful ways instead seeking to treasure Jesus Christ as Lord and his Savior above all else.

If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored: If you remove wickedness far from your tent
and assign your nuggets to the dust, your gold of Ophir to the rocks in the ravines,
then the Almighty will be your gold, the choicest silver for you.
Surely then you will find delight in the Almighty and will lift up your face to God.
You will pray to him, and he will hear you, and you will fulfill your vows.
What you decide on will be done, and light will shine on your ways.
When men are brought low and you say, `Lift them up!' then he will save the downcast.
He will deliver even one who is not innocent, who will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands." JOB 22:23-30

The sign that Jesus is indeed your gold and choicest silver, the treasure of the highest esteem in your heart is to be found in a changed life. Do you exhibit the fruit of a heart that is changed and lives to serve Jesus joyfully and with your whole being all of your day? Have you repented of your sin? Do the sins that used to afford you pleasure no longer make you happy? You see your heart and your outlook on life is never the same after you have truly met the Savior. Have you had a day as memorable as the one Zacchaeus had the day Jesus called him out of the sycamore tree? If not, the Son Of Man has come to seek and save what is lost. Anyone who does not believe in the name of God’s one and only Son stands condemned already. But God has provided a way unto salvation. He came to earth to seek the lost and to save. Heed His precious voice and go unto Him and live.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." John 3:17-21 Emphasis added

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