Friday, June 4, 2010

Jesus Loved The Unlovable - by Mike T.

Some time ago I wrote an article on Jesus's encounter with Zacchaeus. The compassion of Jesus and His love for the lowly, unrespected, imperfect amazes me everytime I read about it. I love this story. How thankful I am that the Gospel is for sinners. Remember what you were when you were saved and the mercy and grace of Christ freely given while you were still a sinner. Then be sure to bring that same grace and mercy to others in need.

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.

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