What Did You Lose?
Luke 19: 1 – 10
It was a very unusual sight that a little man was running toward a tree that was planted beside the road where Jesus was passing by. [What happened to this man happed to me so I want to tell you my story from this man’s experience.] His name is Zaccheus, (Zacchaeus) simply means, “pure” or “righteous” from Hebrew root meaning. He was a Jew. He was a tax collector and was a chief of tax collectors. Luke is the only one uses this term “chief Tax-collector.” Not even extra-biblical writings mention this term. Revenue Canada hires hundreds and hundreds of people to collect taxes. But the Romans are smart. See at that time the Roman government came up with the cheapest way to collect taxes. That is to sell the tax franchises in various areas for 5-year contract to the highest bidders. Zaccheus bought the Jericho tax franchise from the Roman government and hired many tax collectors to collect all kind of taxes. See he can set any amount of commission and the location was ideal. Jericho: It was a major route to Jerusalem and there was no end for the customers. He was a rich man. No wonder everyone hated tax collectors and he was an employer for many tax collectors.
One day he heard some commotions on the street and found out that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. He wanted to see this man whom everyone was talking about. A few days ago this Jesus of Nazareth raised Lazarus from the dead. A kind of thing he never heard of before. Zaccheus came to the street but a lot of people there already and was unable to see Him because he was short. He could have given up because the crowd might turn on him. But his business training, entrepreneurial spirit, made him to do something extraordinary. He ran. He run ahead and found the tree and climbed up. It was not the custom of the land. See in the East, men just don’t run let alone, in his position, climb up to the tree is something never done at that time. It was embarrassing of course. But he did it anyway because he wanted to see Jesus. When Jesus came to the place, do you know what happened? Jesus the Son of God stopped and looked up and called out to him the tax collector. There were hundreds of people there but Jesus somehow singled out Zaccheus among them. Jesus knew his name and not only that He said, “Zaccheus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” When Zaccheus saw Jesus’ gaze something happened to him. He was not really a seeker or anything, some religious people would say, but Zaccheus was curious about who this Jesus of Nazareth was. Of course he had a guilty feeling, his conscience was bothering him, but he did not realize it was this very purpose Jesus came to the world. He thought the offering and giving some gifts to the temple and priests would take care of it. But the guilty feeling came back even after short while when he returned from the temple. It never went away.
So when Jesus said, “come down immediately.” Something clicked. Zaccheus did not need to think it through. He did not need to study out Jesus till he understood everything. It was an immediate decision. More over this famous figure was inviting Himself to Zaccheus’ house. A house of a sinner. So Zaccheus came down hurriedly from the tree and received Jesus rejoicing (vs. 6). Of course people did not like the idea of the Son of God staying with a sinner. That was not their expectations so they grumbled (vs. 7). Though only Luke recorded this account and he does not say about disciples’ reactions but probably the disciples did not understand what was going on either.
It was a life changing experience for Zaccheus. It brought him the conviction of what he was doing. The Transformation was so vivid and immediate. Like Lydia in Acts 16:14 that “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” The Lord opened the heart of Zaccheus. His value system changed. It turned 180 degree. Till then, the money was everything to him. He wanted to be rich and though he accumulated earthly wealth but he wanted more. He cheated both Roman government and the people. He took the bribe from the rich so that they pay less tax. He had no regard for the poor. But it all changed now. He acknowledged all that as sin. Sin that anguished the heart of God. Zaccheus confessed his sin by action through form of making restitutions. The word is cheep in this instance but he, out of his heart, wanted to make things right. In the case of making restitution, the Jewish law requires principle + 1/ 5 must be returned to make it right (Num. 5:6,7 Lev. 6:5). In the case of stolen ox or sheep and if they are dead then the thief must return 5 oxen for one and 4 sheep for one sheep (Exd. 22:1). But Zaccheus wanted to give half of his entire estate for the poor, and to those he cheated, four times. He stood firm in spite of what the grumblers said about him (vs. 8). See his confession of sin was verified by his action.
To this Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” It was am immediate administration of grace like Jesus said it on the Cross, “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is not the family tree, not because he was born a Jew, but just as the Bible says in Gal. 3:7, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith that are sons of Abraham.” He did not have to wait a few years to be a Christian. That day Zaccheus became a new creation, washed and cleansed all of his sins.
Zaccheus’ story is very similar to my story. I was born and raised in Japan. You can say that Japan is a pagan society not much of Christian influence. There is a big social barrier for the Gospel. People think Christianity is the religion of America. At least my father thought so. 127 million people live in the land just half the size of Alberta. Heavily rooted in Buddhism and Shintoism, Japanese culture is not conducive to the idea of only one living God. It is a wall of people that prevent a person to seek out the spiritual things. I was 18 when the Lord granted me Zaccheus’ experience. I was the youngest of three brothers and I had a very wonderful childhood.
My childhood was spent in the nature; fields, rivers, ocean, beaches, hills, mountains, roof tops, rice fields, streams, trees, dogs, cats, chickens, flowers, meadows, snow and rains, stars, sun and moon, and all nature around me. I still believe they were the best schooling I ever had. My childhood was characterized by carefreeness. Since both of my parents were working, I had ample time to enjoy myself. I did not have much homework either, even I did, I did not spend too much time on it. I was satisfied with just passing the grade. I do not tell this to my children now. Every three months, there were distinct seasons every year which brought a variety of activities for a little boy; heavy wet snow was ideal for snow ball fight and building snow house, skiing and trap making were the highlight of winter activities combined with seasonal festivities. The New Year was a big thing in Japan; arts and crafts such as making a potato stamps and write Japanese Calligraphy were the memories I cherish. Soon after the snow melted, the cherry blossom brought a joy to the hearts of people. Over 2500 cherry trees planted around the old ruin of the castle, furnished with thousands of lanterns amused the eyes of beholders in the night sky. The blossom stayed only a few days and then fall to the ground very quickly. It is the symbol of the Japanese spirit, we were told. The summer came with the opening of the ocean and pools for swimming. July first was the day; we were allowed to start swimming in the ocean and pools on that day. There was a summer festival with many fire works and floats. The climax of the summer was the festival of “Obon” which was believed to be the spirits of the ancestors coming back to visit the living. This was not a scary time but a time to cook the red rice and have a great time. It was a citywide celebration filled with many exciting activities that are enjoyed by the children. The influence of Buddhism and Shintoism were so strong, they became the way of life for the Japanese. The fall came with abundance of mountain vegetables and fruits. We used to sneak into the yards of rich people who owned a big chestnut tree and we shared the product of the season without asking for it. Persimmons were also abundant. The school hosted a picnic every year and we went into the mountain and harvested the wild bamboo shoots and cooked right on the spot to enjoy the taste of the season. It was the land of flowing milk and honey. When I was in grade six, I was chosen to be the chairman of the student counsel. I was good at public speaking and was proud of it. Also when I was in grade six, my father purchased a television set which was quite a modern design at that time. I started to watch many programs in the evenings. One of them was an American program “Lassie.” A little boy, Timmy, who kneeled at the bedside and prayed for his dog when it was sick. This left a strong impression in my heart about a god of America. In the same year, my grandmother died. She was seventy-three.
As I grew, one thing affected my happiness. It was my relationship with my father. We had the same temperament and personality and as much I respected him but we did not get along. Especially in my high school days, we collided virtually in everything. In Japan, children must decide the future at the end of the junior high. There are 4 different high schools they can go. One is the regular high school for those who wish to go to university. The second is the Industrial techno/vocational high school to prepare the students to work in the industries. And there was High school for Commerce and Agriculture. I did not want to study so hard and had no intention of going to university. So I enrolled in the electrical engineering department of the technical high school, hoping to get a job upon graduation. But during my high school years my relationship with my father worsened. I had a hard time accepting my own father as my will was being formed and my attitude toward him became so negative. It affected our relationships tremendously. He did not against me personally but it was a combination of many things that I was the one who against him with a bad attitude. One day I called up my friend from junior high who owned a motorcycle. He was not a close friend but he was with a wrong crowd. I planed to go to a resort area with him about fifty kilometers away missing school. I thought to cut the classes would be a very good mean to torment my father. In the morning, this friend came to pick me up. It was a beautiful day, the ideal day for a bike ride. But somehow, some strange voice whispered into my ear; “if you go with the wrong crowd, your father will laugh at you. How can you look down on your father by doing evil. The only way you can look down on him is by doing good.” It was not an audible voice, nothing spectacular but it was the inner voice of my conscience judging the situation correctly to save me from the pain and grief. Right on the spot, I apologized and told him that I changed my mind. At the senior year, my department head recommended me to take the entrance exam for the Sony Corporation and I did but miserably failed. So I got a job at Tokyo Subway Transit System as an electric train maintenance worker. This I got through without a problem. Usually in Japan, employment commence in April after graduation in March. I was looking forward to go to one of the largest cities in the world; Tokyo. Contrary to my anticipation, I received a letter from the company informing that my employment would commence in July. Anticipation of leaving my home was so strong that the disappointment was even greater. I was devastated. A few months of delay seemed eternity and my world was crumbled with such disillusionment. I had to kill 3 more months of hardship with my father. Though I am describing my father as someone so terrible but again it was my stubborn attitude that created terrible resentment. He was a typical Japanese father no different from other fathers. I got some part time job here and there and at that time I bumped into a little American boy in the park. I found out that his father was a missionary teaching English class at the Church. I made a big decision in my life as Zaccheus did. Out of curiosity and desire to learn English I went to a church, an ordinary house converted into a meeting place. I rationalized and persuaded myself of nothing to do with a religion. It was purely for the English sake. Just 3 or 4 high school students were there but not all of them were regular. I went every Sat. afternoon.
There was an old missionary who was a bald. Later on I found out he was not even in his forties. See there were not many bald-head men in Japan. It is now apparently. He used a little booklet called, “The Parables of Jesus, book III.” As he taught us about Jesus who came to seek that which was lost by dying for our sin. I did not want to hear about Bible and religious stuff. Religion is for weak people, I thought. One Saturday afternoon, we came to the parable of a sower (Matt. 13:1-23). At the end of the class, Mr. Roger Walcott, our missionary, personalized this parable and asked us a question to a few of the high school students who were attending, “which one is your heart?” and this question lingered on in my heart an entire week. Slowly poking and squeezing my conscience. It was my conscience saying to me, I was not a good person as I thought I was, convicting me of my attitude toward my father. The next week, I told that to an old missionary, “I did not know which type of heart I have, but I sure want a nice soft heart.” The work of the Holy Spirit was evident at this point and I began to see my sinfulness gradually but surly. One windy day in the room on the second floor at my home, I silently cried out to whomever was there listening, “if you exist please show me who you are.” This “Whoever” truly answered my crying in a few weeks. May 4th, 1968, there was an invitation from this missionary to come to a special meeting. He was living in my hometown but was helping a small church in the next town. They had a special evangelistic meeting on that weekend. The nature of that meeting I had no idea of, yet, like the beast perceives some danger, there was an unwillingness to accept this invitation. The urge of the Spirit or compromise I know not, I thought of another opportunity to practice English conversation, I complied. There was a pastor of the church in my hometown who spoke that night. All the details of that message, I remember not. The next day, again, he invited me. Compromise again? I complied. That evening, the same pastor preached on the love of God and His unwillingness to treat us as a piece of machinary that we are to come to Him by our choice. The true love of God which respects the free will of His creature will even embrace the evils of the world became very clear to me. It was my sin that made my life miserable. It was this sin problem that caused the war in Vietnam that claimed thousands of lives. It was not God’s fault, but mine. When I looked at my sin I understood my relationship with my father. It was my sin created the barrier; unthankful and ungrateful heart toward him. When I looked at my heart, I understood the cross and understood why Jesus died on it. This innocent Son of God died for me. Taking my place. I should have been on that Cross to receive the wrath of God the Father. But Jesus took my place. The wage of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23). May 5, 1968 is the day the Lord granted me the precious gift of His Son into my heart. It was nothing spectacular. There was no tear in my eyes. I quietly accepted the fact of the cross and let God handle my life. He is the Lord and Savior who all along protected me and guided me to Himself. The amazing story of His grace which transcends the time, culture and the barriers. In a tiny church in Japan, the Lord came, sought and saved that which was lost. This is His story in my life.
See Jesus did not plan to stay in Jericho (vs. 1). He was just passing through but He lingered on for the one soul and invited Himself into the house of sinner. He will change the plan for you if you come to Him. It does not matter you are just curious or seeking. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (vs. 10). There are three things Jesus did for you: came, seek and save. And there is one thing you must realize that is you are “lost.”
Many years ago, the Campus Crusade conducted the citywide Evangelistic blitz called “I Found it” campaign. I just graduated from Prairie and was working in the Engineering office. I had a bumper sticker, it said, “I found it.” My boss who was ungodly caught on a plunk and asked me a tease question: “what did you lose?” Come to think about it now. Yes, it is this question you must ask. If you realized you are lost then you will realize the significance of Jesus’ word. The Bible says, “there is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God;” (Rom. 3:10b, 11). There is no such thing as seekers but God is the One who is seeking. Don’t you want to find or rather be found in Him? God loves you and sent His only Son to die on the cross just for you.
If the Lord is speaking to you and you realize that you are lost and want to be found, please raise your hand where you are. Jesus always called people publicly and Zaccheus responded and stood on his decision. Give your life to the Lord now.