Over Advent and Christmas, we were expectantly waiting and looking for Jesus. Some remember the Epiphany, which was this time recorded in Matthew 2:1-12, where the wise men (or sages) travelled long distances to see the baby Jesus. They were looking for him and responded to the signs of his presence. The “wise men” were ready, looking and responding. But what about us today? Are we ready to meet Jesus? How does this matter in our lives today?
In Luke 19:1-10, we will read about Zacchaeus. Ask yourself, was he ready to meet Jesus? Consider also, are YOU ready to meet Jesus? And if you have you ‘met’ him already, how would others know? Do you live a life that reflects the life of someone that has spent time with God?
Luke 19:1-10 NIV
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 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.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” https://www.bible.com/bible/111/LUK.19.1-10.NIV
Have you ever been near a celebrity? Some people will go to great lengths to see, get a touch, maybe even snag an item from someone famous. Zacchaeus was no different. He did what he could in order to get a better look- running ahead and climbing a tree to get a better look at Jesus as he came by. To his delight, Jesus saw him AND surprisingly, he knew his name. If a famous person came to town, would they know your name? Jesus invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house, saying he needed to stay with him. I remember I invited myself over someone’s house back when we lived in South Korea. She was a person I was trying to get to know and I just dropped her off at home. But she said her house was too messy for me to come in and said maybe another time (that time never came). Was Zacchaeus like that? Not open to guests?
Have you ever had someone over but didn’t really want to have them over? That wasn’t the case here with Zacchaeus because it says he was happy to have Jesus come to his home. There was no hesitation; Zacchaeus said yes. Zacchaeus opened up his house and his life to Jesus.
What was Jesus doing?
The crowd responded differently, however, to this chief tax collector Zacchaeus being personally called out and invited by Jesus to go and stay at his house. Imagine you are preparing for a special VIP (Very Important Person) guest, getting everything ready and positioning yourself to be noticed by this person but instead of noticing you, the special VIP guest is instead calling out to the one everyone hated- the tax collector. And this guy, Zacchaeus, was the chief tax collector so I bet he was the most disliked one there. Thinking about this in this way reminds me of the prodigal son’s brother that stayed found in Luke 15:11-32 here https://www.bible.com/bible/111/LUK.15.11-32.NIV. (Note that the Father loved them both- the one who left and the one that stayed.) But could the crowd that was grumbling against Zacchaeus have felt jipped like the prodigal brother’s son? After all, from his perspective, he stayed and obediently (Luke 15:29 “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders” doing all the things that the Father wanted him to do and yet Luke 15:30 “when this son of yours who has squandered your property…you kill the fattened calf for him!” The prodigal son’s brother was angry and I think the crowd watching this interaction between Jesus and the chief tax collector Zacchaeus was too. The crowd grumbled, asking why was Jesus spending time with sinners (Luke 19:7)??? It didn’t make sense to them. The crowd didn’t like Zacchaeus because of what he did for a living. Luke 19:2 says he was a chief tax collector who in that time and culture, likely became rich through the excessive (and commonly corrupt) taxation of the people.
It makes sense, in a way, that the people were baffled asking the question why would Jesus hang out with a guy like Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, representing all things corrupt. In Proverbs, it says to not mix up with the wrong crowd. Yet Jesus was often doing this. But what about what it says in the wisdom of the book of Proverbs? For example, in Proverbs 13:20 (NRSV) it says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm.” Similarly in Proverbs 14:7 it says, “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not find words of knowledge.” So if Proverbs repeatedly says to not accompany fools, why was Jesus doing this? He specifically calls out Zacchaeus and says I want to stay with you.
I read in a study Bible that Proverbs were not promises, but ‘generalizations’ meaning they are generally true sayings, but one would need to use wisdom (good judgement/ discernment) to know which proverb to apply and when. For example there in our modern day culture and language that says, “Too many cooks spoil the broth” but there is also a saying that says, “two heads are better than one.” Which one is it- work alone or with others? And other contemporary is: “He who hesitates is lost” but also there is “look before you leap.” So, which one do we do? The Bible has a great example of this as well which my Seminary professor, Dr. J. Alacantara pointed out to us: Proverbs 26:4-5 (NIV) says, “4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.5 Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. Which one is it? Do you answer a fool or not? I love how this example is there, right next to each other in the Scriptures. (I never noticed it until someone else pointed it out to me!!)
We do have to discern which advice to use, and when. Learning wisdom and when to apply it is taught to you by others over time. One good way of assessing could be to ask, does this lead you more to the values of God or does it lead you to the values of the world? If your choices are consistently leading you towards success and riches, I’d wonder about that. Is that how Jesus lived his life? Back in Luke 19:7, all who saw what Jesus was doing by inviting himself over to Zacchaeus’ house was upset and confused. I thought you said not to hang out with the sinners! What are you doing? Zacchaeus was grateful and happy however. He responded like a man who was happy to be named, chosen, and was invited to spend personal time with Jesus. Jesus was staying with him in his house!!! Likewise, WE are also named, chosen, and get to spend intimate time with God and God’s people. So, what do we do with that?
Zacchaeus is acting strange.
Zacchaeus behaved differently than he’s behaved in a while or even at all. I write this because he stands up and declares that he will give away half of his possessions to the poor just like that (Luke 19:8). I imagine this is a new thing with Zacchaeus. He was in the presence of the Lord for the first time and responded in ways that others didn’t understand. Imagine what the other tax collectors thought about what he was saying!! He responded sincerely to Jesus and maybe our reaction looks a bit different with each person. Maybe it’s not a math equation where it’s like ‘be changed with God and do this or that.’ But maybe it’s more like to respond to God’s invitation to be with him means that you are uniquely changed. Maybe God knew Zacchaeus had a thing with money and because Zacchaeus now valued God over money, he willingly gave it up.
Zacchaeus also said he would pay back 4 times as much if I have defrauded anyone. (Luke 19:8) What’s up with that- paying back “4 times as much?” In Exodus, the second book of the Bible, God is trying to teach the people how to be the people of God. So in Exodus 22:1, it basically says, when someone steals an ox or steals a sheep, you are to give back 4 or 5 times the animal as restitution for what you stole. God put in the law that you need to do this if you are a thief. Interesting because Zacchaeus says, “if I have taken stuff from someone else I will pay back 4 times as much.” He is acknowledging his sin. He is not saying it directly, but his actions are showing that if he was wrong, he wanted to make it right. He genuinely wanted forgiveness and wanted to show it in the way that mattered to him- through his money. It will affect me and I will do this because I am changed by the presence of Jesus in my home and in my life. If he remained the same in Jesus’ presence, then he is not a changed man. However, in the next verse, verse 9, Jesus responds that “salvation has come to this house.” Zacchaeus was a changed man. Zacchaeus probably didn’t know that Jesus was going to call him out BY NAME and then request to stay at his place, but he was ready. He was ready to meet Jesus and he was changed. But what about us? Are WE ready to meet Jesus? And to make this question personal, are YOU ready to meet Jesus?
Get your house in order.
In a Zoom call yesterday (mentioned here), I watched a 3 hour call about “Getting your house in order.” It was a free community service event put together by organizations in Florida. People typically don’t want to talk about the idea of their death, but the reality is that no one lives forever on earth. So, are we ready? Are we ready to meet Jesus? First, four judges came on and spent time saying, in various ways, that the public needs to get their paperwork together, do it right, and in the proper way for what they are trying to do to be considered valid. Then four attorney’s came on, of which three were probate attorneys, and said basically the same thing- get your paperwork and life in order before it’s too late. This helps make it easier on your loved ones left behind and it costs them less time, money, and frustration if you do it and do it right. One seasoned attorney exhorted the public that they NEEDED to do this right away and not some day. He said that “SOMEday is not a day of the week.” We realized after starting the Zoom call and listening for a bit that we should check our will. When we pulled it out the safe, we realized that it was really out of date and needed to be redone. Personally, we assumed that things were in order and we were ready but we forgot all about what we did so many years ago. We just thought we were good and we were covered, but I’m glad we took some time to reexamine our state of affairs. It was not in order and we are not as ready as we thought we were.
When will we be ready (paperwork-wise)? ‘SOMEday’ needs to be ‘TOday’ because we don’t know when ‘THE day’ will be. In Florida, where this Zoom call about “Getting your house in order” was originating from, they mentioned the unexpected collapse of the condominium building in Surfside, Florida, tragically ending the lives of 98 people. Their last day on life on Earth ended suddenly, no one could plan for that.
But what about our spiritual life? What about our relationship and standing with God, the maker of heaven and earth? Do we think about this? Is it worth our time? Are we ready?
Why did Jesus really come?
In Luke 19, he was there in Jericho, making his way to Jerusalem to do what he came here to Earth to do. Why does it matter to US (today) why Jesus came? Well, in John 3:16, it says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Yes, but continuing on to verse 17, there is a lot there too, which doesn’t get quoted as often as John 3:16. It says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Jesus came so that we might be saved through him. Jesus came to save.
At the end of this passage in Luke 19 in verse 10, it says that Jesus came to save the Lost and specifically he came to save Zacchaeus . And in our day and time, Jesus also came to save you. If you are thinking you already know that, you already know that Jesus has come to save you, then I ask, are you ready then, to meet Jesus? Do others around you, know this about you? Can others see and sense that you live for Christ? How do others know, how can they tell that you live for God? Where is the fruit? With Zacchaeus, we aren’t specifically told but I imagine after Jesus left Jericho, one might see evidence regarding Zacchaeus’ life based on how he chose to live his life. Did he do the things he said he would do? Did he leave everything and follow Jesus or maybe he stayed and gave his money away like he said he would. Or did he go back to how he was living before he met Jesus and everything was the same as if he didn’t meet Jesus at all? We don’t know. We can’t know about another person’s status simply based on their outward behaviors and actions, but it can give us some clues. More importantly than wondering about Zacchaeus, I ask you this, how about you? How are YOU living your life? Is your house in order? Is your relationship with God and his people in order? Only you and God would really know the answer to this. Does thinking about ‘if you are ready’ even matter to you?
Is our spiritual life worth thinking about?
One of the attorney’s in the Zoom call shared that “The rich plan for 3 generations. The poor plan for Saturday night.” He was thinking about material things but what about our spiritual life? Where are we? What are we planning for? Are we expectantly waiting on Jesus? Waiting on Jesus to show up in our lives? Maybe God will show up in the middle of the night when we can’t sleep. God comes in a variety of ways, even with flesh as a helpless baby (thinking of the first ‘Christmas’). How will we respond? Will we even recognize that God has been here? How is our life any different because we met God who knows and calls us by name, inviting us to respond. Further, even though God knows all the thoughts in our heart and in our mind, including those that we dare not speak out loud, Jesus still came. Jesus still willingly came here to Earth, lived a faithful life, and went to Jerusalem to die for me and for you, paying the price for our shortcomings so that we would be able to be in the presence of our Holy God. The more I think about this, the more I am amazed and thankful because I know I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve God to know my name but he does. And God cares for me. It says, ‘For God so loved the world that he came to save us.’ To save you and to save me. I pray that we have the wisdom enough to notice this and to respond appropriately right now. I pray that we would be ready and that we live as people who are ready. Ready to meet Jesus.
Thank you, God, for how you speak to us in all of the activities in our life. You speak to us through all the events of the day and night as we go about our life, interact with other people, are involved in different situations, thoughts, and circumstances….. You call us and we respond. We respond by coming to you or we draw away from you, shutting you out of our lives. Forgive us Lord when we choose not to invite you into our homes, when we choose not to invite you into our heart and our mind crowding it with so many other things. Holy God, are you calling us into a deeper relationship with you? Are you trying to get our attention in all the busyness of our day? Wherever we are, in whatever it is that we are doing, we acknowledge our need for your presence and for your help. Help us to be ready and responsive to your call when you call our name. We are leaning on you to help us. Help us because we cannot live life fully without you. Thank you for those that help us in their own unique ways to ‘be ready’ and to ‘get our houses in order.’ Thank you for those that journey along with us that we can talk to and receive support in our times of struggle. Thank you Lord for making a way to you through your Son, Jesus. Thank you Lord for all the things you have already done long ago and even now today. Thank you Lord that we have access to you, we know you, and that you care for us. Help us to be ready. Help us to be fully ready, in every way, to meet you Jesus. We want to be ready to meet with you and live lives that lovingly show others that we are ready to meet you, in every way. Amen.
This sermon was recorded 9 January 2022 as pulpit supply for First Presbyterian Church Mexia in Texas. I am a current Masters of Divinity (MDiv) student at George W Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas.
Find other recordings for my pulpit supply here https://sejanashines.com/2021/08/02/pulpit-supply-preaching/.
Find other blogs about my seminary experience here https://sejanashines.com/category/seminary/.
Sejana Yoo aka @SejanaShines
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