What if I told you there was a new life waiting for you? Would you be afraid to get your hopes up? Sometimes people find that life has brought them a series of let-downs, with one set back after another, and they come away fearful. No one likes to be disappointed, let alone risk the possibility of that pain being amplified through a repeat performance. Perhaps even worse is when that original pain has been self-inflicted through our own mistakes, wrong choices, and guilt. We settle for mere existence instead of true fulfillment, perhaps believing that is all we deserve, no longer holding out hope for a better day. We just look for ways to survive and forgot about what it means to truly live. God isn’t interested in leaving us in that state. He wants to heal us and set us free to experience the fullness of life.
1. Jesus wants to show up in your world.
Consider the following account from Luke’s Gospel.
“Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town.” Luke 19:1
Jericho is an ancient city, possibly the oldest continuing city on record. Famously conquered by the Israelites as they entered the promised land when God supernaturally demolished its walls, it had been long rebuilt at a neighboring elevation by the time of Christ. The nearby Jordan river was the base of ministry for John the Baptist and the place where Jesus was baptized and launched into ministry. It was a place familiar to Jesus, as He traveled through there on many occasions. Blind Bartimaeus was healed by Jesus there, as were others who had been blind.
In Luke 19, Jesus was again traveling through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, and the people of that city had become well acquainted with Him. Through the miracles, the teachings, and the encounters, the Kingdom of God had been revealed and Jesus had become renown. For some, it was perhaps another routine visit from the revered teacher. There are always some who take the presence of Jesus for granted, while others see any visit as an opportunity to encounter something more.
There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way. Luke 19:2-4
Tax collectors back then had a reputation only slightly worse than tax collectors today. Nobody ever wants to get a call, let alone a visit, from a bill collector! These workers back then not only collected funds on behalf of the oppressive Roman government, but did so in self-serving ways. They would typically cheat people and use inflated fines to take advantage of the populace. It is very likely that Zacchaeus was a man of few friends, who profited from continually abusing his power and privilege. Yet he was captivated by Jesus and determined to see Him. He climbed a sycamore-fig tree, a species with numerous strong, lateral branches that would not only allow him to see above the crowd, but also potentially keep him obscured from the despising view of those around. He could see Jesus on his terms. Perhaps he could get close…without getting too close.
2. Regardless of whether we are looking for Jesus, He is certainly looking for us.
When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Luke 19:5
Jesus was on a mission and would soon give His life for the sins of the world. The purpose for which He came was about to be fulfilled. So, one might be tempted to think that it would be easy for Jesus to be preoccupied with His impending death and therefore not have any energy or time left for the people of Jericho, but that was not the case. He is never so focused on what is to come that He cannot also see the needs and pain of the people around Him. Despite the intensity of the sacrifice that would soon unfold with His coming arrest and sacrifice, Jesus lived in the moment.
God meets us in the “now.” He’s present in our past and He’s already in our future, but we experience Him in the here and now. A possible tactic of the enemy is to keep us either so focused on the past (previous heartaches, disappointments, or even a longing for the “good ol’ days”), or so preoccupied with the future (worries, responsibilities, or maybe even the hopes of what may come), that we completely miss God and the amazing opportunities He gives us in the moment. But Jesus notices. Always. No matter who we are or what we’ve done. He wants to heal us from the hurts of the past and the fears of the future. Despite Zacchaeus’ best effort to see without being seen, or to stay hidden from the crowd while somehow keeping Jesus in his sights, Christ calls him out. The “all-seeing-eye” has found him! His gazing view, though, doesn’t’ come with accusation and judgment…but rather with healing, forgiveness and restoration. He doesn’t scold Zacchaeus for being up in the tree, but rather extends his hand to help him down and bestows upon Him the highest honor. Of all the places He could go, of all the homes He could visit in Jericho that day, Jesus chooses the house of Zacchaeus.
It is likely that Zacchaeus was the guy that most of us would have avoided. It is also likely that he would have long stopped expecting anyone to ever want to come near, let alone be seen eating with him. Yet Jesus sees in Zacchaeus a reality that is far more true than his sins and short-comings: he is a prime candidate to be a recipient of grace. If anyone has need of forgiveness and mercy, it’s him.
3. Jesus isn’t looking to give us what we deserve, but what we need.
Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. Luke 19:6-7
We are prone to a human sense of justice. We want good to win and evil to be demolished, but we typically want it on our terms. Crowd-pleasing movies often resolve in closing moments when the bad guy finally gets what is coming to him amidst great applause and cheers from the viewing audience. In fact, we are often reviled if we think someone is going to get away with their crimes. Notice, however, this interaction between Jesus and Zacchaeus. The tax collector has not done anything so far to demonstrate a lifestyle change. He hasn’t done anything to earn the favor of Jesus or to merit why the Lord should choose to honor him. It seems unfair. The crowd recognizes that Zacchaeus is unworthy too. Their response to the actions of Christ is to grumble and be critical. They are not wrong in their assessment of him as a terribly sinful man. In the highly charged political climate of that day, where they have hope that Jesus might be the potential new political messiah who will overthrow the Roman oppression and punish those who have abused Israel, the crowd instead bears witness to Jesus honoring Zacchaeus and pressing to draw him near. It seems hardly fair or right or just.
God’s sense of justice is not the same as ours. He is not looking to give people what they deserve. He is looking instead to see that people are rescued, redeemed, and brought out of the condemnation of their former lives. The Apostle Paul later wrote: “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners”( Rom 5:8). Jesus himself also said, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). His view of ultimate fairness is not found in seeing that the sinful suffer for their crimes, but rather that they experience true life and become set free from them! That means His focus isn’t punishment, but rather redemption. Not man’s idea of justice, but rather a lasting forgiveness. Of course, justice must also be satisfied, but His justice never runs in opposition to His love. Those tracks will always run in the same direction; God is never divided. Sin does come with a price, but it is one man could never pay. God picks up that tab Himself by dying on the cross; He bears the price so that we can experience grace. That was the mission of Jesus all along!
4. As we open our home to Jesus, we are forever changed.
Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:8-10
As Zacchaeus opens his home (and his heart) to Jesus, he is changed from the encounter. Having become the recipient of the Lord’s favor and kindness, his heart has undergone transformation. A changed heart leads to changed living; it’s never the other way around. Zacchaeus has gone from being someone who only looks out for self, to someone determined to honor others above himself. It’s a change that could only be effected through an encounter with the love, mercy, grace and forgiveness of Jesus. Jesus affirms this by declaring Zacchaeus as a true son of Abraham. He was already such a son by blood, an outward Jew. But now he was a true son, from the inside first. It is said that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6 , Gal 3:6), and now Zacchaeus has opened his heart, encountered God through the person of Jesus, and likewise come into the experience of being made righteous.
Zacchaeus may not have thought he was worthy to draw near to Jesus. The crowd certainly didn’t think he was. In their eyes, it was probably better that he would one day simply get what he deserved. Jesus is interested in something else entirely. He came to seek and save those who are lost. If you think you are too lost to be found, think again. You are a prime candidate for grace.
Let me take it one step further. If you are reading this, I can promise you that Jesus has come to your town today. He sees right where you are and right past all the justifiable reasons of why you deserve all the pain, heartache, and disappointment that you or others think should be there. He reaches out His hand to invite you out of hiding and is eager to come to your house today. Let Him in! He doesn’t come to condemn, but to offer hope, life, and redemption. Your sins are forgiven. It’s a new day. You don’t have to get your act together enough to somehow deserve His grace. He’s already paid whatever price you think is necessary and wants to surround you with His love and favor. The experience of heart change will unfold as you say yes to Him.
Don’t be afraid to get your hopes up. You are good enough for God! He’s already decided. So take Him at His invitation, come out of your hiding, and experience His grace. There is a new life waiting for you.