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Weekly Word

Entries in Outcast (1)

Tuesday
Jul212015

An Impossible Salvation

July 19, 2015—Luke 19:1-10, Pastor Marty Bonner

 

Today we are going to look at a “wee, little” man named Zacchaeus.  In Luke 18 we saw a rich ruler of Israel who left Jesus saddened at what was required to follow him.  It was then Jesus told his disciples that it was impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  This caught the disciples by surprise.  They thought that riches were proof of God’s blessing.  Yet money, wealth, and riches are very powerful motivators.  Once we obtain them it is impossible not to become ruled by them.  However, Jesus did also say that what is impossible with man is possible with God.  Thus rich men can get saved, but it will only be by the grace of God.  Thus Zacchaeus becomes the proof of this.  In him we witness such an impossible salvation.

Another Rich Man Checks Out Jesus

Now that we have in mind the parallels between Zacchaeus and the previous, unnamed ruler, we can look at some other similarities between them.  Both of these stories start with an interest in Jesus.  Something in them both drew them to Jesus in order to find out more about him, and this is where any salvation starts.

Both of these men had a ruling position.  The first rich man is a member of the Sanhedrin, which was a group of 71 priests, scribes, and “ancients” who served as an official “Supreme Court” of Israel.  Zacchaeus is a ruling or chief tax collector- not nearly as prestigious as the other man, but it was a powerful position.  Both of the men have become rich.  In fact Zacchaeus is rich precisely because of his position.  Many people desire positions in the Church and in the world because they know it will make them rich.  This always leads to a destruction of the individual’s soul.  However, both of these men were still aware of their need for “something more.”  They knew they were lacking spiritually.

It is here that the stories diverge.  There are no difficulties or negatives listed about the rich ruler.  He knows the law and has “done it all his life.”  He is the type of guy who has the golden touch.  He is the golden child who seems to always end up on top and has everything going his way, and yet, he knows he is missing something spiritually.  Zacchaeus, on the other hand, has several negatives that stick out about him; things that made his life much more difficult than the rich ruler.  No one likes negative things in their life, but it is generally the negative things in life that teach us that we can live without many of the things we desire.  Negative things tend to teach us what really matters. But, when we have everything we want and have the “Midas touch,” we generally lose sight of God and His salvation.

Let’s look at several negatives that Zacchaeus had.  First, he was a short man.  He lacked in the area of physique.  It is very difficult to grow up with a physical deficiency of any kind.  Other kids look down on you and ridicule you.  Even in the best of environments you are continually made to know that you do not measure up.  Thus we   speak of a “little man” syndrome that can drive such a person with anger and even rage.  Perhaps this is the reason why a person would chose to take up a profession that would make you an outcast (tax collector).  He already felt like an outcast who never really fit in to his own country.  This leads us to the second negative.  He was a collector of taxes for the Romans.  The Romans were an occupying force in Israel, which was much resented.  A fellow Israelite who was collecting taxes for the enemy would be bad enough.  But it was also common for tax collectors to abuse their position to get more money then was right from people.  Thus Zacchaeus bore the mark of a traitor who betrayed his people for the ability to steal from them and enrich himself.  However, in his mind, he may just see this as embracing the outcast status that had already been forced upon him.  I realize there is some speculation in this, but I doubt it is far from the bulls-eye.  Zacchaeus would never fit in, but he could rise above most in Israel through the riches amassed.  Yet, Zacchaeus was still empty.  Thus he is drawn to Jesus.

This is an important point: An outcast can more easily identify with Jesus.  You see, Jesus was an outcast too.  He was rejected by his own nation, but also the Romans.  He told his disciples in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  People who have suffered as outcasts know what it is like to be rejected.  A part of them longs for acceptance and yet has had any hope of such crushed.  Now being an outcast cannot save a person in and of itself.  But it can help you to appreciate and embrace the love and wisdom of Jesus.  Historically it was the poor and downtrodden that were drawn to Jesus, but not many great and mighty.  Typically the great and mighty only give lip service to God in the midst of nations where there is a strong belief in God.  But once this is stripped away, the great and mighty will show their true colors.  They have always served themselves out of selfish ambition and have never feared God.

This brings me to a point I must make about our own nation.  Up to now Christians have enjoyed a status of acceptance.  Now let me compare this to a group, such as those who embrace homosexuality.  They have been social outcasts in this society for a long time.  How have these things affected both groups?  The acceptance that Christians have enjoyed for so long has caused them to lose sight of God and His salvation.  In fact many have joined the ranks of Christians out of reasons other than true repentance and belief in God.  Many who call themselves Christians are empty and don’t know what they are missing.  But what they miss is a true saving faith in Jesus.  What about homosexuals?  On one hand the outcast status has bonded them together and made them committed to the cause of being accepted.  Yet, we might miss that it also enables them “to get” the message of Jesus.  Though it is a negative, it can have a positive effect.  Jesus does not tell us to make others accept us, he tells us to pick up our cross and follow him on in to further rejection.  As homosexuals win the fight of social acceptance, we see Christians becoming less and less acceptable (at least a certain kind of Christian).  It is here that we should be broken hearted for the homosexuals.  They are in danger of losing the one thing that keeps the door open for their salvation.  It is hard to follow Jesus when you have all you ever wanted.  Yet even then, we serve a God who can save the impossible!

Jesus Invites Himself Into His House

Because Zacchaeus is short, he climbs up into a Sycamore tree in order to see and hear Jesus when he passes by.  Yet, when Jesus comes to the tree he initiates a discussion by inviting himself to the house of Zacchaeus.  On one hand this might seem arrogant and rude.  But when you look at it from the mind of an outcast, Jesus is telling Zacchaeus that he accepts him and wants to have relationship with him.  This must have sent his heart flying.  Everyone there would despise him and tell him to leave, but Jesus honors him by wanting to come to his house.

This brings up the issue of guilt by association.  The crowd is surprised with this.  A righteous man should not associate with sinners and let us not fool ourselves, Zacchaeus is a sinner.  How should we interact with sinners and those who do not believe in Jesus?  In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 Paul teaches the believers that we should not associate with Christians who are living in sexual immorality.  Why?  When sin is condoned and treated as acceptable, we are not displaying the heart of God, but rather the heart of the devil.  Of course, Matthew 18 describes a process whereby Christians are not on a witch hunt.  But rather we confront each other in love and forgive each other.  But if a person refuses to quit sinning and refuses to repent, we cannot pretend that they are following Jesus.  This is not being judgmental, but rather being honest.  On the other hand Paul tells the believers that he does not mean they should separate themselves from the sexually immoral people of the world who are not believers in Jesus.  Christians are not called to wall themselves off from sinners.  No, we are called to interact with them and share the gospel of Jesus.  We are called to be a channel of the love of God reaching out to them.  Yet, we are not called to participate in sin.  This is where the phrase comes from, “love the sinner but hate the sin.”  Sure, those who are sinners are not going to like this phrase.  But it is the truth.  You can love people and yet not agree with what they call “good.”  Any parent who has tried to raise a child can attest to this.  Even Paul’s principle of not associating with a Christian who persists in sexual immorality (or any open sin for that matter) is not meant to be treated legalistically.  The sin of a sinner cannot contaminate the believer, unless he opens himself up to sin.  Thus we are free to plead with and correct another Christian in the hope of drawing them back to Jesus.  However, we can never pretend that calling yourself a Christian and refusing to repent can coexist for long.

Zacchaeus is a sinner, but he is also repentant.  It is not clear if this happens on the street in front of the crowd or if it happens back at the house.  Regardless, the simple kindness of Jesus softens Zacchaeus to the point that he lets go of the justifications he had created for his lifestyle.  His mind had changed about things and that lead to a change of actions in his life.  He would no longer cheat people in the taxes.  Also, he would repay those whom he did cheat four times more than he stole.  On top of this he was going to give half of his legitimate holding to the poor.  That is not how the old Zacchaeus thought.  Something drastic has changed in him.  He has believed in Jesus.  John the Baptist called this “fruit worthy of repentance” in Luke 3.  If our mind has really changed then “fruit” will grow out of that real change.  The fruit of his repentance grew out the real actions of compassion and restitution towards his fellow Israelites.

Thus Jesus confirms the impossible salvation of this sinner.  He publically declares him as a righteous man.  The gospel’s depiction of instantaneous righteousness because of faith can rub some people the wrong way.  How can such a horrible sinner be considered acceptable in just a moment?  This truth is not meant to undermine a life of faithfulness.  If Zacchaeus only repents for a day and then goes back to those old sins then that is a new sin, a worse sin.  Rather, this instantaneous change of acceptance is meant to open the door of hope to those who have so much guilt and shame hanging over their head that they will never approach for forgiveness.  We see here a picture of salvation.  Jesus comes into our lives and in the relationship of love and truth that follows we are changed.  Faith comes alive, repentance is born, and righteousness is embraced.  Jesus even calls him a son of Abraham.  When we remember the discussion in John 8, we can see that Jesus is saying that he is a true son of Abraham.  Abraham was a man who heard God calling to him and he trusted God enough to follow Him.  Jesus is calling to you today.  Will you trust him and follow Him or will you continue to follow the sinful path of the self-life?

Jesus ends this section by telling us that his mission is to seek and save that which is lost.  We must never forget this.  Jesus is not physically on this earth right now.  But his mission has not changed.  He tells his believers to go into all the world and tell people the good news of how they can have the salvation of God and be set free from their sins.  May God help us to overlook the “impossibility” of a person and see the true, inner longing for the love and acceptance of God. God does not accept our sin, but He does accept us as sinners who are sorry for their sins and look to Him for salvation.  In this way many we think deserve salvation miss it and many we think can never be saved find it.

Impossible audio