I need to admit that I was tempted to play a video this morning instead. You see last Sunday at Advent Carols, my friend or at least he was my friend, Bishop Martin Morrison 'stole' my passage and especially the punchline! No, but seriously do catch his talk on clayton.tv. The Word of God is powerful and bears repetition. So, let me pray that God speaks to us now.
Lord Jesus, speak to our hearts from your word and change us by your Spirit for your name's sake, Amen.
This morning as Christmas fast approaches, we're in Luke's account of Jesus going up to Jerusalem as the very first Easter approaches. Why, some of you ask? Don't you know what time of year it is? Well, today is Advent Sunday. Advent means 'coming'. It's when we remember Jesus' first coming as Saviour and that he's coming again as Judge. It asks each one of us – where will you spend eternity? Will it be heaven, or will it be hell? A found eternity or a lost eternity? You see why did Jesus come the first time? Was it so that we could have trees and too much food? Well, we don't have to speculate. He tells us in verse 10. He says that he, the Son of Man, came, fully God and fully man, in the most miraculous rescue mission ever, to seek and to save or rescue, who? The lost. Who are the lost? The truth is, and it's a fact which shocked the religious establishment of Jesus' day and still shocks many today, all people, including the self-righteous Pharisees then and now. Sinners, like you and me. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). No-one therefore is good enough for God. No-one is righteous. Without a Saviour, without Christ all are lost and heading for judgment and eternal death in hell. But
2. No-one is Too Bad to Be Saved
No-one is too bad to be saved or beyond the power of Christ's grace. This is what we learn here in Luke 19 and elsewhere in the Bible. Here a greedy wealthy tax collector becomes a disciple of Christ. Therefore, as Jesus put it back in Luke 18, we see the impossible happening - a camel passing through the eye of a needle and a rich man entering the kingdom of heaven. All things really are possible with God. A covetous chief tax collector is transformed into a generous Christian. No-one is too bad to be saved by Jesus. We also see it in Luke 5.27-32:
"After this Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, 'Follow me.' And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?' And Jesus answered them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.'"
Those who think they're righteous just won't get the gospel. But there is true hope for all who recognise and admit their sinfulness and turn to Christ. Jesus again hammers this home in Luke 18&19. It's those who cry out or simply admit to God, 'Have mercy on me a sinner' and receive Jesus, who come to know God's forgiveness and transforming power. So, the hated tax collector rather than the self-righteous Pharisee. The blind beggar who sees rather than the rich ruler who doesn't. The cheating, greedy tax collector who responds to Jesus rather than the 'moral' rich ruler who doesn't. The social outcasts who repent and believe rather than the socially acceptable who think they're OK. The vilest sinners may be freely forgiven if they'll turn to and trust in Jesus. This should challenge us, our own hearts, our own tendency to self-righteousness and our evangelism. We should be offering the gospel of Christ boldly in every opportunity, including to those who are considered social outcasts. That's part of the motivation behind the Big Sleep Out. There is hope. If you've not already done so, why not repent and believe and trust in Christ, the Saviour of the World. Though your sins are scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. (Isaiah 1.18)
John 3.16 says: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Notice it's whoever believes and trusts in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life, whoever they are, wherever they're from and whatever they've done. And in John 4 it's the outcast woman from Samaria, who's had five husbands and is living with her current partner, who humbles herself and responds to Jesus' offer of new life and is given living water by Jesus and goes away changed telling everyone about him. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy1.13-15 that
"he was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent [of Christians]. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost."
Even the foremost sinners can be rescued by Jesus. Jesus came to die, he was born at Christmas to die at Easter. For lost people. For sinners. For bad people. For those who are sick and in need of a doctor. For you and me. To rescue us from our sin and its consequences, he'd be (18.32-3) delivered over to the Gentiles, mocked, shamefully treated, spat upon, flogged, killed, and on the third day rise from the dead. Last week we saw Jesus lovingly heal and save a poor social outcast and now we come to
3. The Wealthy Social Outcast Who Sought to See Who Jesus Was
Verses 1 to 4:
"Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way."
Now you know why I was asked to preach this sermon! The 19th c. preacher Charles Spurgeon trained others to preach. Part of the training included Spurgeon simply choosing one of his students to go up into his very tall pulpit to preach without any warning about which Bible text it would be. They would simply pick up a slip of paper with the text on it, climb to the top of the pulpit and preach to a congregation. One day a very short student picked up his text and climbed slowly to the top. He looked at the paper and he looked at the crowd. He said I've been asked to speak on Zacchaeus. I know three things about Zacchaeus. He was a very little man and so am I. Zacchaeus climbed up a tree and so have I. Zacchaeus made haste to come down and so am I!
Well of course there's a bit more to the story of Zacchaeus than that! What strikes you about Zacchaeus, this short wealthy chief tax collector? What strikes me is that he was lost. Not, of course, in a geographical sense but spiritually. Lost meaning you've had it, you're dead in your sins and therefore can't do anything to save yourself. Lost meaning you've turned your back on God and are trying to live without him. Zacchaeus has status and wealth but he was lost. It's a reminder that you can be up and out as well as down and out. He lived in luxury but he was lonely. That's the distinct impression you get in verse 7. Not because he was short, I hasten to add, but because he was the chief tax collector. He was therefore considered a traitor, as he worked for the occupying authorities, and he was a cheat as he took a cut for himself. Look at verse 8. The word "defrauded" literally means extorted or blackmailed. In other words, he'd do anything for money. He was lost. He was a sinner, verse 7. Not that he seems aware that he was lost. When he hears that Jesus is coming, he was simply seeking to see who Jesus was (verse 3). When he couldn't see because of the crowd he then became determined to see Jesus. He ran ahead (verse 4) and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see Jesus, unaware that God had come looking for him. But Luke's account tells us more about Jesus than it does about Zacchaeus, which brings us to
4. Jesus' Compassion and Power
All Zacchaeus does is climb up a tree to see him. But after that, the initiative is all Jesus'. Unlike the blind beggar, Zacchaeus doesn't ask or cry out. Look at verse 5:
"And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.' So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully."
Jesus chooses Zacchaeus. He knew all about his greedy cheating behaviour, but he still wants to know him. And Zacchaeus responds at once. Humanly speaking it's a baffling choice. The moral rich young ruler is out but the cheating conniving rich Zacchaeus is in? How can this be? He's the most hated sinner in Jericho. The chief tax collector was the chief of sinners to the people of Jericho, perhaps equivalent to a child sex offender today or to those accused by the MeToo movement or Denise Coates, the CEO of Bet 365, the online gambling group, who earns a staggering £265 million per year from essentially exploiting people, especially the vulnerable, or Gordon Taylor, the leader of the PFA who earns £2.3 million a year and yet is accused of not helping his most needy members who are suffering from career-ending injuries. Look at verse 7:
"And when they saw it, they all grumbled, 'He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.'"
But (verse 10) Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Christianity is not for good people, it's for bad people, which is all of us. Earlier we saw that Jesus hadn't come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Church people can struggle with this. We can mutter and grumble too. That's not to downplay the seriousness of sin and its consequences. But we're all sinners. We were lost once. But Jesus chose us even though he knew the whole truth about us – our lying and cheating, our breaking of all the Ten Commandments whether in thought or deed. He loved us and accepted us. He came to seek and to save lost people. Most people in this nation are lost. Some of you here today are still lost. Apparently, cheating is the in thing. Whether its footballers scoring goals with their hands or diving to get penalties or opponents sent off, students who use mobile phones to cheat in exams, or parents who obtain places for their offspring at outstanding CofE primary schools by attending the parish church under false pretences or Nissan's CEO syphoning off the company's funds to buy houses etc all over the world!
Well, Jesus came to seek and to save the lost – to call them down from their trees, to humble themselves, to repent, to put their faith in him and to experience transformed lives. Will we mutter, or will we play our part in helping lost people be found? If you're one of the lost will you respond to Jesus in faith? He's seeking you. It's probably why you're here this morning. He loves you and died for you. He doesn't want you to be lost forever. He wants you to come down from your tree, as it were and receive him joyfully; to come to repentance and have new life through faith in him, whoever you are, wherever you're from, whether you're rich or poor or a social outcast, and whatever you've done wrong. He can change you, just as
5. A Covetous Tax Collector is Transformed into a Generous Christian
Zacchaeus' repentance, faith, new life and transformation were real. Jesus is now his Lord. Jesus had begun to change him and as a result, the biggest cheat became the biggest charity donor in town. Jesus accepted Zacchaeus. He accepts us as we are, but he doesn't leave us there – he changes us. And generosity is one evidence of that. Look at verse 8:
"And Zacchaeus stood and said to Jesus, 'Behold, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.'"
His faith is real. Jesus is very definite that Zacchaeus has been saved. Verse 9: "Today salvation has come to this house." The impossible has been done by God – the rich Zacchaeus has entered the kingdom of God. The rich young ruler had gone away very sad because he couldn't put Jesus before his riches, but Zacchaeus was overjoyed. He'd responded in faith to Jesus. He'd welcomed him gladly. He was willing to be changed. He was willing to give half of his possessions to the poor without being asked. He is now a son of Abraham, in other words, a true child of God who inherits all God's promises. And that's who you are if your faith is in the Lord Jesus. He has sought you and saved you. That's why he was going to Jerusalem. Since his encounter with Zacchaeus Jesus has died on the cross and risen from the dead so that we can have new and eternal life through faith in him. Christianity is not about men seeking after God. It's about God coming after us. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." How will you respond to Jesus today?