3rd sermon Pentecost 24C Zacchaeus
Liturgical Date: Pentecost 24 Year C
An Evangelism Message - August 7, 2005
Goal: That the hearer believe Jesus comes today to save them.
A boy I’ll call Sammy was doing well in school and was on his way to a college scholarship. Then disaster struck. His parents announced they were going to get a divorce. His home turned into a battleground. He wondered if his parents cared about what they were doing to him and his brother. He had been an honor student, but now he was angry and started getting into all kinds of trouble. Summer camp came and he was passed over when the calls were issued on call night. He was lost and didn’t know it.
I, myself, had many times when I was growing up that I wondered if I was lost. I went to church every Sunday. Still, I wondered where God was and who he was. Did he really care what happens to me? Zacchaeus was another man who was lost and didn’t know it.
Zacchaeus means “innocent”. However, Zacchaeus was anything but innocent. He was someone everybody would call “a bad guy”. He was the head of a gang of sorts. His gang of tax collectors collected taxes from the Israelites for the hated Romans. The problem was they didn’t only collect the required taxes; they included a healthy cut for themselves. Most of the tax collectors were Romans. However, the Israelites especially hated Zacchaeus because he was an Israelite himself. He stole money from his neighbors. Zacchaeus was rich because he was chief tax collector. He got the biggest cut of all from the other tax collectors that worked for him. Obviously, he didn’t have many friends. He kept from feeling lonely by keeping busy. He had his whole life ahead of him to grow richer and richer. For Zacchaeus life seemed good. He was on the road to success. Still, he was lost.
One day, Zacchaeus heard there was a celebrity in town passing by the street where he was hanging out. Zacchaeus decided he wanted to see the young rabbi everyone was talking about, Jesus of Nazareth. So, when a crowd gathered along the street, Zacchaeus went to look. Nobody liked Zacchaeus, so they crowded him out to the back of crowd. He couldn’t see a thing because he was so short. “Let me in, I want to see!” he shouted. Now, the people in the crowd knew what a crook this little man was, so they just pushed him away. There was no way they were going to let him see Jesus.
Zacchaeus must have felt as if he didn’t have a friend in the world. I imagine the only friends Zacchaeus did have were the tax collectors who worked for him, but how could he have even trusted them? It’s a miserable life when you feel like no one wants to know you.
He had an idea. He could run a half mile down the road, climb one of the sycamore trees, and see Jesus from the tree. He didn’t really care to meet Jesus, he was just curious. He would grab a quick look and get back to work. He could make more money in the crowd back there. What Zacchaeus didn’t know was someone was looking for him that day. That someone was Jesus. In what ways are we like Zacchaeus?
Most of us are busy in our lives. We think life seems good most of the time. We go back and forth to work and school during the week, and, on the weekends, we are busy with hobbies, sports or just hanging out with our friends. We probably aren’t as bad as Zacchaeus, but then we know we’re no angels either. Like Zacchaeus, most of us have heard of a guy named Jesus. We know a little about him, and if he were going through town in a parade, a lot of us would turn out to see if we could get a look at him. Maybe we would even wave at him as he goes by and he would smile and kind of wave back. (gesture) Then the parade would be over and we’d get back to our lives. It is almost like going to see a movie star in a parade. We wonder if someone important like Jesus would be interested in meeting us. Even if he were, would we be too embarrassed to meet him? Besides, things are going well in our lives. Why would we need to complicate them with someone like Jesus? We have problems, but we figure we can deal with them without him. We might not know it yet, but we have wandered off the trail and gotten lost. However, that doesn’t mean we won’t find out we are lost soon.
Sometime we will all feel a little lost. Things seem to be going along fine. Then we hit a snag and don’t know where to go. Maybe we can’t seem to get along with our friends anymore and find ourselves in quite a few fights. Maybe we’ve been treating the people we work with unfairly. Maybe we can’t get along with our parents or brothers and sisters. We can have all these types of problems because something in life doesn’t feel right. Like Zacchaeus, we just can’t seem to see through the crowd. We are lost and we don’t know it.
On the other hand, maybe we do have a problem and don’t know it yet. We might be experimenting with drinking and drugs. Maybe we find it’s easier to spend the evening at the office instead of with our families, and the kids are acting out. Perhaps we are just hanging with the wrong crowd and we’re starting to get in to all kinds of trouble. We are lost and we don’t know it.
Sometimes we don’t think we’re having any trouble but we instinctively know there is something missing from life. We try to fill that need by joining the football team, finding a new job, a new girlfriend, maybe a new car or video game. We fill our lives with new people and new things. We wonder why these new things don’t work. We’re lost and we don’t know it. So what is missing? How will we ever find our way? Zacchaeus found out that very day.
By now, Zacchaeus was safely perched in the sycamore tree and Jesus was just starting to walk by. Then the amazing happened. Jesus stopped the crowd and they grew hushed. Would Jesus show them a miracle? Jesus parted the crowd and walked right over to Zacchaeus’ tree. I imagine Zacchaeus’ heart must have been pounding and he wanted to run. What could he do, he was stuck in the tree? Jesus looked up and smiled at Zacchaeus. “Zacchaeus!” Jesus shouted. “Oh my,” Zacchaeus must have thought, “he even knows my name.” Zacchaeus swallowed hard. “Zacchaeus hurry and come down! I must stay at your house today!” “What?” Zacchaeus must have thought. This must be a dream. It was like going to a parade to see a movie star, and having him walk up, call you by name and say, “Hey, how’s it going? Can I come over to your house and hang out with you and your friends?” Well, as you can imagine, Zacchaeus was really excited.
Now the crowd knew what a bad guy Zacchaeus was. They couldn’t believe Jesus would want to stay with someone like Zacchaeus. The Israelites believed the only sin worse than staying with a tax collector was being one. What they didn’t know was Jesus had a life and an eternal life to save.
Something wonderful happened during the time he was with Jesus. Jesus told Zacchaeus some amazing things. As a result, he promised to give half of his belongings to the poor. Even more, he promised to repay people four times the amount he had cheated from them. The best thing of all was Jesus told Zacchaeus he would forgive him for all the bad things he had done. Jesus promised him a home in heaven, not because he was a nice guy and gave back his stolen money, but because Zacchaeus trusted in what Jesus told him. Jesus even said, “The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.” Jesus always knew where Zacchaeus was even though Zacchaeus himself was lost.
As I said, we often only want to see Jesus from a distance. If he gets too close, we may want to run. What we may not realize, is Jesus is looking for us. We may not know we have strayed off the trail of life. That’s OK, because Jesus knows where we are and is coming to find us. He even knows you by name. He knew everything about you, even before you were born. The scriptures say he knitted you together inside your mother. You were important to him even then.
Jesus told a story once about a shepherd that had 100 sheep. One day one wandered off, so the shepherd left the 99 sheep behind to go look for that one sheep. The shepherd looked high and low, for a long time. Eventually, he found the sheep lost and afraid. Do you think he took a rolled up newspaper to swat it on the nose and say “Bad sheep!”? No, he carried the little sheep home on his shoulders and threw a party to celebrate with the other shepherds.
At the end of the story, Jesus told the crowd “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Do you hear what that means? There is a party in heaven every time someone new repents and trusts in Jesus. Jesus is calling for you, today, because he loves you already. He’s not calling somebody you aren’t, he loves you today, the way you are. Remember? He made you. Why would he make something he didn’t like? However, don’t be surprised when, like Zacchaeus, your life changes because you begin love him too. Someone wrote once, heaven is ready to throw a party today, and you are the guest of honor!
In fact, Jesus loves you so much, he died in your place. He took the punishment for the bad things we have done. This is cause for great joy because the story didn’t end with Jesus dead on the cross. We have joy because the Father raised Jesus from the dead so that those who trust in him alone could live with him forever in heaven.
Would you like to find your way like Zacchaeus did? Would you like to meet Jesus? Can you hear him calling your name because he wants to stay with you? Just wanting to hear that call means he is calling you. He always knew where you were, but you may not have known he was calling you. Now all you need to do is get to know and trust in him for the friend he is. You can do this by reading the bible, talking to your friends who love Jesus, and maybe even going to church with them on a regular basis.
As I said earlier, I grew up with struggles in life and often leaned on my friends for help. I attended church regularly but I felt lost. One day in the midst of troubles, I found a little book about God on the ground. Someone had written in it, “I know times are hard for you now, but I am praying for you.” For the next 3 weeks, I was finding little books about God everywhere. In a phone booth, in the mail, everywhere. The fingerprints of God were all over. I began to recognize Jesus’ voice calling me, softly, at first, but then stronger and stronger. I became more active in the church and Bible study and I learned to trust in him. It changed my life. I learned to carry my problems to Jesus instead of everyone else. Jesus was the truest friend I had ever had. Twenty years later, I left my job and went to seminary to tell others the Good News. That is why I am here today. I heard Jesus calling me. Jesus is calling you too. You may not have the experience I had of finding little books about God, but, if you keep your ears open, you will hear him call. (Pause) He is calling you right now.
Today, as you are walking the trails in the hills of Osceola, stop and think, are you lost? Not in the sense that you don’t know what trail you are on today, but where you are in your life. Jesus is calling you, right now, today, to rescue you from being lost in sin. Jesus wants you to get to know him, today. He wants you to live with him in heaven forever. Talk to your friends about him, and, then, most especially, talk to him. He’s your friend. He loves hearing from you. Just listen for his voice and God will handle the rest. Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost. You don’t have to wonder off the trail of life anymore. Jesus is here to save you, right now, today. Listen, and you will hear him calling.
Prepared by Wendell Stavig