Luke 19:1-10 “Today Salvation Comes”
Last week I was up at the Waineke Cabins in Kokee. I was just there to see which parts on an oven needed to be replaced; however, after driving all the way up there, I decided to spend a little time hiking and climbing. No, I was not rock climbing. I was thinking about this scripture and wondered what it would be like to be in a tree again. As a boy I climbed trees, but that has been a long time ago now.
Before my wife went on her vacation to visit the kids on the mainland, she admonished me not to do anything too stupid--you know, to be extra careful. One of the hazards of being alone and on your own is that if you get injured, there may be no one around to help you. So, there I was climbing a tree in the middle of a large forest with no one around and no cell phone reception either.
That was my confession. I have been bad. So you all understand, my quest was to understand how Zacchaeus looked at things from where he was above his normal height. Remember, he was not just a tax collector—he was the chief tax collector. He must have had a few years on him to have others working under him. The older you get, the harder it is to get up into a tree. And, it might even be harder getting back down. So, why did he do it? I think he just wanted to give himself a raise! (hahahah) Maybe he wanted to open a branch office? Maybe we should “leave" this subject, because I may be barking up the wrong tree. . .
He is getting a different perspective on Jesus than the rest of the crowd. That can be good. When we go through the Bible we find time and again instances in which the people of God, the ones who make a difference, are going to a higher place to get a more Godly perspective. Can you think of some people in the Bible who have done this? Moses up on Sinai? Elijah in the cave? Jesus on the mountain to pray? St. John on the island of Patmos?
In the movie and the book The Dead Poets Society (I guess I should mention that it was also a stage play), the professor played by Robin Williams in the movie invites the students to stand upon their desks in order to gain a new perspective on their lives. At the end of the movie the boys all stand on their desks to show that they do see things differently in the world now. That is an amazingly Christian message: as Christians we need to see the world differently. We need that other perspective–even if that means we look a little foolish like Zaccheaus must have looked.
What is the Christian perspective on things then? Some believe that to be a Christian means all doom and gloom about everything. I have indeed publicly challenged some of my colleagues in the ministry on their talking points. Hear me out: preaching for Jesus about salvation does not mean that you must preach against the government or political parties, or even taxation! Jesus did not preach against those things. He said in fact “Pay unto Caesar,” “Blessed and happy are the poor,” and “My Kingdom is not of this world.” This is a completely different perspective! Try to see the world as God in heaven may see it! Then, live your life accordingly.
Now, a wonderful note of affirmation we get from this text about Zacchaeus is that as he climbs that tree (a fig tree by the way) he not only sees Jesus, but Jesus sees him. Rise above the crowd, and God in heaven might just take notice! Jesus might even call you out as he did with Zacchaeus. “Hey you up there in the tree! I am coming over to stay in your house today.” Zaccheus had never met Jesus. This is the first time he has even gotten a glimpse. So, here is a total stranger saying inviting himself over.
What a moment that is for all of us when we hear Jesus’ voice coming to us. It has come to my attention this last week how wonderful it is just to hear anybody’s voice. Last month it was report that there are now 8 billion people on this planet. How can that be? When I try to call my credit card company, I cannot get one single person with a live voice?! There are more people in the world than there have ever been, but nobody is talking to anybody else. We are more socially isolated than we have ever been than in any time in history.
So, when we hear Jesus’ voice talking to us, shootz! And, that voice actually knows us! Amazing grace! How sweet the sound! But listen to what Jesus says to Zaccheaus: “I am just going to be with you!” You see, Jesus could have laid it on really thick with him. Jesus could have told Zaccheaus that he was a sinner and named all of the sins. All he says is “I am going to be with you now.”
In that one statement though is the impetus for Zaccheaus to change his sinful ways and to even make amends for them.
Zacchaeus says he is going to do some serious paying back for the fraud that he has done. I have to point out that there is a supermarket chain on the East Coast of the mainland called “Giant.” They will give you double your money back on a purchase if you are not satisfied. Four times back is what Zacchaeus offers his clients! Can you imagine? It is tax season still: what if the US government were to offer you four times back for any mistake they make!? It would be more like the lottery in a way! Everybody would want to play.
In bible club at the middle school Jared and I did this with the kids there. When we played Bible tag, we offered the chance for the kids to trade in one treat that we would give them for getting to a book of the bible for four more treats if they were not satisfied with the one treat. At first the kids all said they were satisfied with the one treat. We would give them one packet of fruit jellies–they were good with that. I don’t think they thought the offer was real. They did not believe they could get four time as much simply by saying they were not satisfied.
This was a great social experiment. Finally one boy’s curiosity got the better of him and said that he was not satisfied. Then one girl did the same. They each got four times as many treats. Yet, initially, they did not believe that they would get four times as much.
Why does Jesus believe that Zaccheaus is really going to pay back four times? This story is not just about our faith in Jesus. This is also a story about Jesus’ faith in us that we can keep our word to make amends and to turn our life of sin around. It is a faith we do not deserve but is granted by the grace of God.
The word comes to Zaccheaus, “Today Salvation comes to you.” Wow, salvation is coming to you, to your home today! Just a reminder for all of us that salvation does not come at the time of death. It comes when we accept the invitation from Jesus to come into our lives.
So, Zacchaeus is now saved. Let us see how his life is changed for the better. He was a rich man who had people working under him. Now since he is no longer going to be that man, he is poor. He has given away at least half of his wealth to the poor. I can imagine that the poor people were lining up at his front door ready to receive his wealth. After he has given away half of all his possessions, there are those others who were defrauded by Zacchaeus coming by to get recompensed four times over. They must have come with real complaint in their voice. They have been hurt by this man. He has got to make their lives right again.
For many of us, we would think that accepting Christ into one’s life would make things easier and even more mellow. Most often though that is not the case at all. Jesus said that we will have to pick up a cross and follow. Becoming a Christian is accepting a life of sacrifice. Being saved to the Kingdom of God means that you are now a foreigner to this world.
In 1 Peter 1:1-9 we can hear how Peter addressed those early Christians as exiles in their own countries. Listen what he says in verse 7, “the genuineness of your faith that is more precious than gold is tested by fire. . . “ The life of a saved soul is more worth than gold, but is not easy. Christians are tested everyday. Being a Christian in this world is the hardest thing you could ever choose to be.
When you climb that tree and first see Jesus, know that your life will have to change. Your salvation means you will have to sacrifice as Jesus did for the sake of the Kingdom of God. AS difficult as it can be to climb that tree to see Jesus, it may be even more difficult climbing back down to face your life once more.