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TO SEEK AND SAVE

Luke 19:1-19:10
Key Verse: 19:10

As you may already know, our theme for this year’s summer conference is “Repent and Believe”. What do you think about that? When you hear the words said to you, “You must repent”, how do you honestly feel? Do you feel secretly angry because you’re ashamed and exposed? Do you feel yourself confronted with an impossible task too difficult and too hopeless to reach? Our instinctual response upon hearing the word ‘repent’ is often accompanied by a notion of unpleasantness, resignation and perhaps to some degree, even despair. Repentance is neither an easy, nor light matter. And yet, it is God who tells us to repent. My prayer for this message is that we may have eyes to see the event of one’s repentance from God’s point of view according to His word, to hear His word and be encouraged to come to Him in repentance and belief.

I. A Man Named Zacchaeus and His Desire to See Jesus

The passage of Luke 19:1-10 describes about a man named Zacchaeus, but let us first turn our attention to look at Jesus since it was really Jesus whom Luke mentioned first. Let’s look at v1. Shall we read it together? Luke begins the story by firstly telling us how Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. (v.1) This immediately informs us that Jericho was not Jesus’s destination at all. What was Jesus’ destination? If you’re sharp, you can quickly leaf through the passages ahead and see how Jesus was actually headed up to Jerusalem, where He will soon be crucified. Jericho was His last stop. So why pass through Jericho? Is it to see the famous architectural ruins of a great city? Is it perhaps to sample a taste of its delicious local cuisine? Let’s look at v.2 and 3. Jesus was passing through Jericho because a man was there by the name of Zaccheaeus; who was a chief tax collector and was wealthy and he wanted to see who Jesus was. Notice ensconced even within these brief introductory verses, is a wonderful glimpse of God’s beautiful initiative in responding to those who have a sincere desire to know Him. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be crucified, but passed through Jericho, because a man was there by the name of Zacchaeus who wanted to see Him.

So who is this man Zacchaeus? We know that he is a man who wanted to see Jesus, but what is most known about him was that he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. In fact these were the descriptors attributed to him first. The usage of the word ‘tax collector’ in scripture encompasses more than just the professional designation. Often, the word ‘tax collector’ is lumped together along with the word ‘sinner’ to describe a sort of people despised by society. It was because ‘tax collectors’ were fellow Jewish men who worked for the Roman government that occupied and oppressed their nation. In this profession, the temptation to collect more than the required amount was so strong that most abused their power to collect more than they should to pocket for their own wealth. They committed this crime against their own people. Thus a tax collector is in a sense, both a national traitor and a thief. In their own personal life and character, they are ruled by their own greed and are selfish at the cost and expense of another person’s welfare. They were horrible people who are horrible to be with-- and Zacchaeus was a ‘chief’ among them. On a worldlier note however, Zacchaeus was very successful. He had a professional career, a secure job and wealth. In many ways these are the very things that we ourselves strive and work hard for to secure and get in our own lives even at this time. He had great ambitions for good things. In this regard, he’s not that different from you and me: Get into that great school so that you could have a great future career. Study hard, so you could have a secure, well-paying job. Put in those extra hours of work so that you could increase your salary, and impress your boss in hopes that he won’t sabotage your job and career. Meet and network with those people so that you could get further up in your career, secure future job prospects and get an even higher income. Sounds familiar, right? Zacchaeus had achieved and possessed all these. Still, isn’t it interesting how he wanted to see who Jesus was? Yet here he is, wanting to see Jesus because for all his worldly achievements and material possessions, they couldn’t satisfy him, nor could he simply be satisfied by them. He was still made in the image of God, though he was very far from Him.

Zacchaeus had a desire to know who Jesus was—and this desire is really great! But we see how there are obstacles. This is a reality that even scripture tells us about. The process of repentance can be marked with hindrances, thus the presence of obstacles in one’s desire to see Jesus is a spiritual reality that shouldn’t surprise us. In Zacchaeus’ case, verse 3 tells us it was that he was a short man, and there was a crowd. There are many who want to know who Jesus was, many who want to study the bible, but are hindered and are unable to because of obstacles. What are your obstacles? Some of you here have had to overcome personal obstacles just to be present in this place today. What obstacles do you still have to overcome to see Jesus? Obstacles are present when we want to see Jesus. How can we overcome them?

Let’s look at v. 4 together: Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see Jesus. Firstly, he did not give up in his hope and chance to see Jesus! but did what he could; found a way to do what he could. The previous verse described what he could not, but the next verse described what he could do, and did do. Zacchaeus really wanted to see Jesus, but being a short man, could not because of the crowd. He was disadvantaged by his height--but he could run! So ran ahead he did, and positioned himself climbing a sycamore-fig tree since Jesus was coming this way. What a beautiful description illustrating Zacchaeus’ sense of overcoming in his wanting to see Jesus! Zacchaeus’ climbing the sycamore fig-tree was no small matter either. Being a short man, not only is climbing physically challenging, it also could have made him a target of ridicule in front of a large crowd. Zacchaeus, who in his life had achieved a serious title of a government official as ‘chief tax collector’, and here he is in his most undignified portrait--dressed in fine designer threads climbing a tree in complete revelation to all eyes how he is too short. But Zacchaeus no longer cared about this. Repentance is about turning one’s heart away from what once mattered most, so that it may turn toward God. Concerns such as how people see us and what others think of us do matter largely in our lives. We cannot ignore them, this much is true. But are they obstacles to your being able to meet Jesus? Being ridiculed and having to deal with criticism is certainly not easy. Even Christians shrink from believing in Jesus once other people start pegging them for being weird. People value common sense, social status and the comfort of popular opinions. But because of these things, people cannot put their faith in Jesus. Why would Zacchaeus put himself through such an awkward position? It was because Jesus was passing that way; it was his chance to see Him. This passage beautifully shows us how obstacles can be overcome in our desire to see Jesus. Jesus claimed to be the way, so we can and must trust that when we fix our eyes in Jesus, there is always a way.

II. Jesus and Zacchaeus Meet

How might have others regarded Zacchaeus at the moment he was perched so awkwardly up on the sycamore-fig tree? People might have pointed and looked at him. Perhaps some might have snickered. Or they might not have even noticed. They might have hated him so much they chose to ignore him. But Jesus saw his repentance. When Jesus reached the spot where Zacchaeus was, He looked up, as if almost expecting him. Jesus knew Zacchaeus was there. More amazingly, Jesus knew why Zacchaeus was up there. And He said to him, addressing him personally by his name, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Let’s pause and consider for a moment the details that unfolded as Zacchaeus and Jesus met. Zacchaeus had been waiting for this moment. He really wanted to see who this Jesus was. Upon hearing how Jesus was coming to his town, he overcame any fatalistic thought that told him he could not and forsook all the things he once considered important in his life: his social position, his dignity, and climbed up a tree just so that he may have a chance to perhaps see Him personally, with his own eyes. How to meet Jesus was probably even beyond his consideration at this point. He is after all, up in a tree; but for the moment, he just wanted to see Him. And now, Jesus has stopped and looked right up at him. What must Zacchaeus be feeling now? Awestruck, dumbstruck, shy, embarrassed, all of the above? What a most awkward way to meet an important person you’ve been so desperate to meet! What can one to say at such a moment? But Zacchaeus didn’t even need to speak. This Jesus who he wanted to see so much spoke first to Him---called him by his name. In calling Zacchaeus by his name, Jesus reveals how it was in fact He who had been seeking him. At the beginning, Zacchaeus felt overwhelmed by the crowd: how they would swallow him up, how they would nick his one chance to see Jesus. And then only to discover how Jesus actually knew his name, even calling it out above the din of the crowd. Jesus already knew him. Had in fact been seeking him, and found him! This is what it is like to meet Jesus. Having the desire to meet Him personally is definitely important, but we discover upon meeting Him that He actually already knows where we are, knows how and why we came to be there, knows what we’ve had to overcome and knows what overcomes us. The Psalmist David was described to be a man after God’s heart, but even he came to know and confessed in Psalm 139:1-3, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise, you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” Jesus Himself said: “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep”. (John 10:14) He came to our town purposefully to meet us, calling each of us even by our name, because He already knows us personally. Zacchaeus sought for Jesus, but Jesus had in fact been seeking him.

“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today,” are Jesus’ first words to Zacchaeus. What could Jesus have meant by saying this to him? Is Jesus being a little demanding? Moreover, isn’t Jesus being a little too forward inviting Himself to someone else’s home just like that? Can you imagine someone saying such words to you upon meeting them for the first time? Jesus’ words are an indeed an invitation to be sure! But more importantly is noting how the direction of the invite was meaningfully initiated by Him. The words “Zacchaeus, come down immediately,” firmly reach out to Zacchaeus for him to not remain up in the tree, but to come down and enjoy fellowship with Him immediately! Jesus’ words are like the loving father who welcomes back his lost son by running to him while he was still on his way to reaching him. By His words, Jesus reveals His heart for Zacchaeus upon finding him—a heart that could not wait any later, but wastes no moment to have fellowship and life together with him at this instant-- immediately. To these words, Jesus adds, “I must stay at your house today”. The words ‘immediately’ and ‘today’ are connected. Jesus was not at all trying to circumvent social manners in saying this to Zacchaeus because we cannot ignore the response of the crowd, whom you may notice, did not at all criticize Jesus for being socially rude, but rather, criticized Him right away for being the guest of a ‘sinner’. Zacchaeus had longed for in his heart to invite Jesus in to his home, but is severely prevented from doing so, simply because he is a ‘sinner’. And indeed, how can he? Jesus was without sin, how can He come into the house of a despised sinner? In meeting Jesus, it becomes glaringly apparent how our own sinfulness is a huge obstacle we could not overcome. We must know that Jesus is the only one who can overcome this, because it is only by His death and resurrection that a sinner is justified forgiven before God. But we must also know how much Jesus is willing to do this. In fact this passage shows how it is He who invites us to Himself and willingly stays with us. In Jesus, there really are no barriers. How wonderful indeed are Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus! Jesus understood Zacchaeus completely and very humbly, lowered Himself to give Zacchaeus exactly what he needed. We see Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus’ invitation. Truly he showed just how much he really wanted to welcome Jesus into his life and house: he came down at once and welcomed Jesus gladly. And we see how Jesus was humble and more than willing to do so--even if it meant drawing people’s criticism toward Himself. Jesus did not declare a mere ‘visit’ to Zacchaeus’ house either, rather He was willing to stay with him today and forever.

III. To Seek And Save The Lost

In this happy reunion between sinner and Saviour, all the people who saw began to mutter (v.7) They didn’t have eyes to see what was truly going on. In happily welcoming Jesus into his life, Zacchaeus had opened his house. But people all around were criticizing Jesus. The environment was not very encouraging and is hostile to one’s faith. It was a moment when he could have easily been intimidated. Perhaps it would have been easier to carry on this new life with Jesus in secret and whispered conversations. But what did Zacchaeus do? Verse 8 tells us: “But Zacchaeus stood up,” and in declaration, called Jesus “Lord”. It was a beautiful outward expression resulting from his inner repentance and belief. An outstanding change had taken place inside him! Money used to be his ‘lord’, but now Jesus is the ‘Lord’ of his life. We recognize the sign of repentance because of the change of lordship in Zacchaeus’ heart! One’s heart can be money-centered, status-centered, pleasure-centered, school-centered, family-centered, self-centered, secret-centered, friend-centered, charity-centered, anything but Jesus-centered. Jesus is more than a Saviour, He is also Lord. True belief brings forth a change to one’s set of values. Who is really the ‘lord’ of your heart? When Jesus is Lord in one’s heart, the kingdom of God comes into the person’s life. In true belief, Jesus who is Lord becomes the centre. It is interesting to note how Jesus never even instructed Zacchaeus to give money to the poor. But Zacchaeus came to know what was right before God, once Jesus became Lord in His heart. And so he declared 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”.

When Jesus became the true Lord of Zacchaeus’ life, even Zacchaeus’ house was changed! Zacchaeus’ house used to be a den for all his stolen wares, but today it will cease to be a storeroom for his life of sin. Zacchaeus’ life used to be a curse to others, but in meeting Jesus his life will be transformed to be a blessing! At this, Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” Salvation is a particularly meaningful word in scripture. Luke wrote about salvation meaningfully and how it ‘is found in no one else’. (Acts 4:12) Because of Jesus’ gift of salvation, sinful man can be made clean before a holy God and have a right relationship with Him. It is truly the most important thing in a man’s life and in all history. Since the fall of Adam, man has looked and longed for God’s promised salvation in Christ—and it has now come personally to this man’s house! God’s salvation personally came to Zacchaeus when he finally met Jesus. We see how Zacchaeus’ salvation was genuine by his response. Because of God’s salvation, Zaccaheus would now become a blessing. Salvation truly is only possible by God’s grace, through Jesus.

Jesus described how Zacchaeus too, is a son of Abraham. To Abraham, God had given an identity and inheritance that could only come from Himself. This was God’s promise. This is Jesus’ hope for Zacchaeus, even while he was still a hopeless man. He reveals this clearly in v.10,“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." Who are the lost? Consider Zacchaeus and the life he had once lived. Though he was surrounded by the wealth of worldly accumulations, he suffered in hopelessness that no one understood. And he would have remained like that had God not sent Jesus to seek him. The lost are the ones who were created in God’s image but who lived very far from God. This is the reality of all man because of the presence of sin in him. Though we were created in God’s image, because of sin, we do not have the life of God in us. In essence, the lost are the dying. This is our reality when our sin problem remains unsolved: we are cut off from God; cut off from our source of life. And without Jesus who brings us God’s salvation, we remain lost. We may grasp blindly, desperately for anything to solve our sin problem, but discover our efforts futile. But in our defeat, may we hear the words God spoke to Adam when he first sinned and lost God’s image in his heart, God who called out to sinful Adam, “Where are you?” that sinful man may be encouraged to come out and return to Him. The lost are those who desperately need to be restored to God. Jesus came purposefully, to seek them. Not to destroy them, but to save them and give them God’s blessing. Those who are in Jesus receive God’s blessing and are the sons of Abraham. And as sons, we receive from God, a new life, His Spirit, a restored God-given identity and even an inheritance in His kingdom. Truly in sending His son Jesus to us, God gave us everything.

Without Jesus, one is lost. But what do the lost look like? I realize as I grow in participation in God’s family that it’s not always easy to tell. The signs are not always obvious. A person may look fine externally but in reality they may really be suffering and dying inside. I certainly fitted that category. I looked ‘fine’ on the outside: I wasn’t involved in any drugs or party scene, was a decent student, went to church, was born in a Christian family, am a responsible citizen…I might even be called a ‘good’ kid. But inside I was not ‘fine’. I may appear ‘fine’, but my thoughts, my plans and my direction as I determined for my life were really far away from God. I lived my life by calculation in determined ignorance of God’s hope, to the point where I couldn’t even pray for my future, simply because I saw no need for it. For this, I am incredibly thankful for the persistent presence of God’s word in my life. I had been so stubborn, and so confident in my own ways. But God’s word exposed my spiritual reality and how for all my calculating and determined ways, I actually lived my life full of fear. But even in this painful revelation, He did not seek me to destroy me either, but gave me His own hope for me, beginning with His words found in Luke 5:4, “Put out into deep water”. He gave me this word in 2008, which I came to accept in 2009. Sometimes, it really does take that long. Since then, He has been faithful in planting His hope for me until even I myself had grown weary of my calculating ways and had forsaken them, that I may have Jesus’ Lordship in my life. Now I find myself praying for my future, and no longer live my life in fear, but in joy and in anticipation of God’s hope for me. Funny how I began with a desire to read God’s word, but in reading God’s word I discovered how it ‘read’ me. Accepting God’s truth became a starting point of realizing how much God knew me. In accepting His truth, we also accept His grace. I truly thank God who sent Jesus to seek and save the lost! It is for this reason He purposefully came!

Jesus’ work is described as seeking and saving the lost. But notice how Jesus personally described His own work as seeking and saving what was lost. In describing what He came to do, Jesus reveals the depth of God’s heart for sinners. The lost are the most pitiful in their state. But the One who has lost them suffers even more inexplicable grief. Thus, when we participate in Jesus’ work of seeking and saving the lost, our work does not consist in merely ‘collecting’ sinners to bring to Jesus, but in participating fully in God’s grieving heart for them. It is also the reason why we receive so much joy when we see one of God’s ‘lost’ returned to Him. God’s heart truly rejoices in seeing someone repent and return to Him! And He shares His joy with us who participate in His heart for them.

Repentance is truly a joyful event in every way! May we never fear or be discouraged in coming to Jesus, trusting in the revelation that He has already been seeking us, willing to do anything to save us. What a fitting conclusion it is that Jesus should describe His purpose for coming. May we take hold of the truth God wants us to know in Luke 19:10, and welcome the very purpose of Jesus’ coming to us: truly only to seek and save the lost, including both you and I, that we may be restored as sons and daughters of God and be made a house of blessing.

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