The 8th Sunday After Pentecost July 30, 2006
27, 778 (TLH 374), 342, 400
Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
In Christ Jesus, whose love for unworthy sinners is unconditional, dear fellow Christians:
Have you ever run away from home? Maybe when you were four or five years old you were feeling lonely and neglected by the rest of the family, and you decided to pack a few things in a paper sack and take off down the sidewalk. It was probably more of a game than anything else. You made sure Mom saw what you were doing, because you wanted her to come after you, give you a hug, and take you back home.
Sometimes, though, it is not a game at all. A teenager feels that parents, teachers, and even friends don’t understand what she has to deal with, and so in the middle of the night she runs away. Sometimes no one goes looking for her. Someone may feel that “this time he has messed up so badly that no one could ever love him,” and says, “I’m worthless.” Have you ever felt that way: unloved, unlovable, ready to run away? I think Zacchaeus did too. The good news is that Someone came looking for him to love and help him. That same Jesus is looking for you!
It might appear at first that Zacchaeus was doing all the seeking. He was the one standing on tiptoe trying to peer between the heads in the crowd to catch a glimpse of Jesus. He was the one who ran ahead and climbed a tree to get a bird’s eye view. But Jesus knew all about Zacchaeus long before this. He was this man’s Maker. He knew every detail of his biography before it was ever written. Jesus knew about his occupation as a tax collector, and that he had become very wealthy, at least in part, by cheating others and imposing exorbitant tax rates. Jesus knew where Zacchaeus would be that day, right down to the tree branch where he was perched. The Lord also knew what was in Zacchaeus’ heart, and that he was not a happy man. Zacchaeus felt the cold shoulder of disapproval from others because of his cooperation with the hated Romans. His conscience set off loud alarms warning him that God certainly was not happy with him either.
But then why would he come to Jesus? Why wouldn’t he want to run as far away as possible, since Jesus is true God and will one day judge all people? Zacchaeus came because he had heard wonderful things about Jesus. Perhaps in his dealings with traveling merchants, he heard about Jesus’ kind words and miracles of mercy done even for those whom no one else cared about. A former tax collector named Matthew was even one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. With this news Jesus was drawing Zacchaeus to Himself, even before He entered Jericho.
Jesus is looking for you and me too. That is remarkable evidence of His love, because we are no better than Zacchaeus. We may not be openly dishonest and greedy, but our hearts are far from pure. How often aren’t we caught up in the desire for more money and things? How often do we put our hopes of happiness and security in them? We can’t hide our sins or pretend they are not there. We see them in the eyes of loved ones when we wound them with a cruel comment or break a promise or fail to lend a helping hand. Moses confessed to the Lord: “We are a stiff-necked people.” We are born with the same nature, so that when God tries to steer us in a certain direction, we stiffen our necks like a stubborn ox and plow ahead on our own. After pointing out the sins of others, St. Paul asks, “Are we any better?…Not at all!…There is no one righteous, not even one…there is no one who does good, not even one.” No matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, and no matter how good we may try to appear before others, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. We deserve to have the Lord turn His back on us in utter disgust.
Yet He comes looking for us. He comes seeking all people. He is as near as His Word. It has been said that true love is when a person knows you as you are, warts and all, and still wants to be with you. That is how Jesus loves us. He knows everything about us, and still comes looking for us.
Realistically, Zacchaeus could hope for little more than to see Jesus from a distance. So he must have nearly fallen out of his tree when the Lord stopped, looked right at him, called him by his name, and said, “Come down, for I must stay at your house today.” There were so many others with whom Jesus could have stayed. There were so many others who led exemplary lives and had spotless reputations. Scraped shins and skinned knees were no concern to Zacchaeus as he slid down the tree to escort Jesus to his home.
Many, however, saw this as a terrible scandal. How could Jesus call Himself a religious teacher, and go to the home of such an un-religious man? They did not understand or appreciate that it was the purpose of Jesus’ coming to seek and save lost sinners. They did not see their own desperate condition and need for Christ’s work in their behalf. Zacchaeus understood and was totally thrilled that Jesus wanted to come to his home in spite of all his faults. No matter how insignificant you may feel, the Lord looks for you and calls you by name. No matter how much guilt you have, Jesus wants to come into your heart and stay in your home.
The Lord showed that personal love when He took the little children in His arms and blessed them, when He forgave a woman caught in the act of adultery, when He shone down with His glory on Saul and brought him to faith, and when He took the lifeless hand of a little girl and raised her from the dead. Jesus shows that love through the hands of teachers and helpers at a Vacation Bible School. Their patience and care for each child is an extension of Jesus’ hands. Now Jesus is looking for you. Don’t hesitate. Jump down from your tree and welcome Him. Read His Word. It is addressed to you personally. Take His promises to heart. They are guaranteed by His blood.
Zacchaeus must have lived in one of the finest neighborhoods of the city, and I’m sure he served Jesus a gourmet meal, and showed Him every other possible courtesy. Zacchaeus had everything money could buy, while Jesus had nowhere to lay His head. Yet Jesus was the one who was truly rich, and He wanted to share that wealth with His host. He gave him the priceless gift of salvation.
That does not mean that Jesus ignored Zacchaeus’ sin. Many believe that God simply sweeps sin under the rug and forgets about it. But God as the holy Judge cannot do that. Jesus surely spoke to Zacchaeus of the seriousness of sin, and how it damns the sinner to hell. He called Zacchaeus to repentance, to turn from his sin in sorrow, and to trust in Him for forgiveness. He must have reminded Zacchaeus of the need for a sacrifice to atone for sin. And it was just a few days after this that the Lord traveled on to Jerusalem and there suffered for the sin of all. By faith Zacchaeus was rescued from sin and death, from anxiety over where he stood with God, and from all other worries. After all, what is there to fret about when the Lord loves you and provides for your every need?
Today millions play the lottery in the hope of hitting the jackpot. In their minds that would be the ultimate good. Many make it their primary goal in life to make as much money as possible, build a stock portfolio, buy homes, and accumulate as much wealth as they can with the thought that these things will make them happy and fulfilled. But we know from experience what happens. A new computer, more cash, or a new car may provide some enjoyment for a time, but then it wears off and we need more. Greed is never satisfied.
Only Jesus can give what we really need. Only He can go to the source of all our dissatisfaction, fears, and troubles-sin-and remove it. He replaces it with His perfect righteousness and contentment. We share the relief of Zacchaeus and of another tax collector who prayed, “Lord, have mercy on me, the sinner,” and then went home justified by God. Jesus gave Zacchaeus a whole new perspective on life. Instead of being the goal, money for him now became a tool with which he could live for the Lord. He gave away half his estate, and paid back four dollars for every dollar he cheated anyone out of.
In Jesus’ love we, too, find a reason to get up every morning. We don’t need to be overly concerned about how much money we have or what bills have yet to be paid. That is not what our lives are all about. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added as well. We have a higher purpose. We want to live for the Lord. As Jesus saved us by seeking us out, so we want to seek out others who need His love. Instead of always going along with the crowd and those who are popular, seek out those who are left out and forgotten by others. Be Jesus’ voice to them. Encourage the lonely by telling them that the Lord is always there for them. Comfort the grieving with the message of the resurrection to eternal life. Be the Lord’s helping hands to those in need. And when you sin against others, confess it to the Lord and to the person you hurt, and go forward in gratitude for the gift of forgiveness.
No matter how small and insignificant you may feel or be, Someone is looking for you. He knows everything about you, sins and all. Yet He loves you unconditionally. He calls you by name, and blesses you with salvation. That means a life of peace and purpose here, followed by a perfect life of joy hereafter. He is looking for us. He has found us. Let us gladly live for Him! Amen.
Forth in Your name, O Lord, I go,
My daily labor to pursue,
You, only You, resolved to know
In all I think or speak or do.
(Lutheran Worship 380:1)
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