Hurrying To Jesus
Rev. Bryn MacPhail
We live in a day and age where people like to hurry. We like to run around and see how much we can get done. When I lived in Toronto, we referred to this type of hurrying as 'the rat race'. I suspect that some of you, following this service, will be in a hurry to get somewhere. Yet, in today's account, the only hurrying we read about has to do with a man named Zaccheus hurrying to Jesus.
Luke begins by telling us that Jesus "was passing through Jericho"(v.1), reminding us that Jerusalem was Jesus' ultimate destination, "And behold, there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; and he was a chief tax-gatherer, and he was rich"(v.2).
Zaccheus is unknown to us apart from this passage, yet in verse 2, we learn three important facts about this man. We learn, first of all, that Zaccheus was a Jewish man--his name is Hebrew meaning 'pure' or 'righteous'. As a Jewish man then, it does not surprise us that Zaccheus would be so interested in Jesus who, by this time, had become a well known Jewish figure in the region.
We also learn that Zaccheus was a "chief tax-gatherer". We have read about many "tax-gatherers" up to this point, but this is the first and only mention of a "chief tax-gatherer" in the New Testament. Tax-gatherers in 1st century Palestine, of course, were no more popular than tax-gathers in 21st century Canada. Tax-gatherers were resented, even despised, by those they collected from. One reason was simply because they worked for the despised Roman authorities, but they were also hated because they taxed people far beyond what was legally required. As a "chief tax-gatherer", Zaccheus would have been a tax-gatherer of tax-gatherers--taking profits from those who worked under him and passing on the required amounts to the Romans.
We are also told that Zaccheus "was rich", and, considering the nature of his occupation, this should not surprise us. Stating that a chief tax-gatherer "was rich" was to state the obvious. One might even wonder why Luke would include such a statement.
What Luke is doing, I suspect, is he is linking Jesus' encounter with Zaccheus with Jesus' encounter with a man known as 'The Rich Young Ruler' from a chapter previous. In chapter 18, verses 24 and 25, Jesus says "How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God".
Luke, you see, is setting the table for us. By telling us that Zaccheus was a "chief tax-gatherer", and by telling us that Zaccheus "was rich", Luke means to tell us that Zaccheus was as unlikely a candidate for salvation as there ever was.
One the one hand we have Jesus telling us in chapter 18, "how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God", and on the other hand we have Luke telling us about Zaccheus--a man who "was rich", but a man who was also determined "to see who Jesus was"(v.3).
How could there be any hope for Zaccheus? When the disciples asked Jesus in 18:26, "Who then can be saved", Jesus reminded them that "the things impossible with men are possible with God"(18:27). Though Zaccheus had many things working against him, though he was, by human standards, not a strong candidate for salvation, we are reminded that when it comes to salvation " (all things) are possible with God".
Zaccheus, unfortunately, had another obstacle to overcome: he was very short. Too short, in fact, to see Jesus over the crowd(v.3). Evidently, seeing Jesus was very important to Zaccheus because we read about how resourceful he was. Luke describes for us how Zaccheus "ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see (Jesus)"(v.4).
This is significant in light of what we learned last week about approaching Jesus with humility. Zaccheus, though he held a prominent position in society, was untroubled by any concern for dignity. A proud man would never be seen running, let alone climbing a tree, and so we see that Zaccheus is clearly a humble man. Luke then tells us that when Jesus came to where Zaccheus was, He said to him, "Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house"(v.5).
Jesus and Zaccheus had never met before. Remember Zaccheus, Luke tells us, was "trying to see who Jesus was"(v.3). Yet, Jesus, being fully God, knew exactly who Zaccheus was. This encounter was not coming about by chance, but rather by the holy ordination of God. Imagine the surprise of Zaccheus to be summoned by name by someone he has never met. And notice that Jesus does not say to Zaccheus, 'I would like to stay at your house', but rather, Jesus says, "today I must stay at your house".
Jesus summons Zaccheus to "hurry" down, and what does Zaccheus do? Luke writes that " (Zaccheus) hurried and came down, and received Him gladly"(v.6).
There are two very important words in this verse. The first word, translated, "hurry", comes from the Greek word, speudo (spy-oo-doe), which means "to speed". We all know that Jesus calls us to do many things, but what we often fail to see is the urgency behind the commands of Jesus. Jesus does not say, 'Hello Zaccheus, you dear, short, little man. Glad to see you made it into that tree. Now when you get a chance, would you mind coming down from that tree and perhaps you might think about getting your house ready for Me to visit'.
No, Jesus is not that cordial. Jesus summons Zaccheus to speed down from the tree. And this is how Jesus summons us. He is not saying to us, 'Excuse me. I know you are very busy, but if you get a break from work or from watching television, would you consider the merits of being in a relationship with Me?'. No, Jesus says to us, 'Speed down from that tree! Drop what you are doing and hurry to Me!'.
In a day and age where everyone is hurrying from one place to another, I am here to tell you that you are being called to hurry to Jesus. This is His summons to Zaccheus, and it is His summons to you.
Notice that Zaccheus didn't simply hurry down, but notice also that Zaccheus "received Him gladly". It often happens that when we are summoned to do something, we do it out of obligation. That is we sense that the task should be done and so we comply, but we do so out of duty.
This is a real problem in many churches. People are summoned to serve on session. People are summoned to teach Sunday school. People are summoned to help with nursery. And how do we respond to this? Unfortunately, many ignore the summons altogether. There was a comic posted recently where a minister is explaining to the fire inspector why there was no fire alarm in the church. The minister's response was that when they want to empty the church, they just ask for volunteers.
There are others who, thankfully, accept the summons, but they do so out of a sense of duty. Only a few, it seems, ever accept to the summons the way Zaccheus received Jesus--only a few seem to accept the summons of Christ "gladly". Serving Christ was never meant to burden us, it is meant to make us glad. The Greek word here is, chairo (khah-ee-ro), which means "to be full of cheer". To serve Christ means to be full of cheer! It follows then, if you are not full of cheer when you are serving Christ, then something is wrong.
Zaccheus received Jesus gladly, but this upset the crowd. The crowd knew what kind of a person Zaccheus was and so they "grumbled" to one another saying, " (Jesus) has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner"(v.7).
This calling of Zaccheus, this calling of a sinner, should not surprise us. We remember from last week how the Pharisee and the tax-gatherer went to the temple to pray, but only the tax-gatherer went home justified. The Pharisee, in his prayer, listed all the things he had done for God. The tax-gatherer, by contrast, simply prayed, "be merciful to me, the sinner"(18:13). Jesus, at the beginning of His ministry, stated clearly His mission, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance"(Lk. 5:32).
Zaccheus may have been rich, he may have been a ruthless sinner, but Zaccheus was not self-righteous. Jesus was indeed going to the house of a sinner. Jesus was indeed going to the house of a spiritually bankrupt man, but this should not surprise us. To paraphrase the first beatitude, "Blessed are the spiritually bankrupt, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"(Mt. 5:3).
Jesus, by calling wretched Zaccheus to Himself, was demonstrating His amazing grace. The reason, of course, grace is so amazing is that it calls wretched sinners. Amazing grace does not call righteous people. Amazing grace does not call those who do 'good deeds'. No, amazing grace calls wretches.
How did Zaccheus respond to the grace of Jesus? "'Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.' And Jesus said to (Zaccheus), 'Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost'"(v.8-10).
We do not know what initially attracted Zaccheus to Jesus. We do not know if it was curiosity or if Zaccheus thought Jesus might be the Messiah. Nonetheless, the presence and conversation of Jesus convinced Zaccheus of his guilt, and he stood and openly confessed his sins, and expressed his purpose to give half his ill-gotten property to the poor.
It is important to note that giving half of his possessions was not the ground of Zaccheus' salvation, but it was the evidence that his repentance was sincere, and it was the evidence that a genuine conversion had taken place.
No one gains salvation by giving money away or by doing good deeds. At the same time, it is easy to discern those who have already been redeemed because they will be marked by generosity and good deeds. Generosity and good deeds are the appropriate responses to gaining salvation.
If we believe that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is truly amazing, then we should not be indifferent about His summons on our life. If grace is amazing, we should be hurrying to Christ and not to do errands that can wait until Monday. If grace is amazing, we should be getting down from our tree and receiving Christ gladly.
The Christian life is a wonderful life, but it is wonderful only as long as we are hurrying to Jesus. Amen