Out on a Limb
Sporting events, events of historic proportions, like this years Super Bowl have a way of bringing people together who otherwise would not have had this unique opportunity to do so before. That’s exactly what we want to talk about today. An event that brings throngs of people out offering them a unique opportunity of historic proportions. We’re gonna use the life of Zacchaeus who shows us how to experience a unique opportunity with the greatest figure the world has ever known; Jesus Christ.
Here’s a little background on where we’ll be in the Gospel of Luke today chapter 19.
Jesus is passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. Jericho was the place where centuries earlier Joshua’s men marched around bringing its walls down. Jerusalem is where Jesus is headed to complete his ministry on a rugged cross.
Previously Jesus had been doing the things that the son of God had been sent to do. Jesus raised the dead in Lazarus, healed ten men of leprosy and was teaching people that the kingdom of God is near. Jesus had been performing signs and wonders all in an effort to share the good news that those who believe in the Son of Man will have eternal life. That’s our backdrop. We’ll be in Luke 19 today reading the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus. But before we read I want you to keep this thought in mind;
In order to experience Jesus/Him we need to go out on a Limb
Jesus has come to Jericho. The crowd is swelling and the anticipation is gathering strength. The squeeze of the multitude of people grows almost claustrophobic. The one they call Jesus will be passing this way as more and more people gather, using elbow position, to catch a glimpse of the rumored Messiah.
For one man, Zacchaeus, elbows aren’t enough he is so short that he can’t see over the crowd. So short that in order to get a glimpse of Jesus he has to climb a tree.
Now, for Zacchaeus, climbing a tree is something that just isn’t done by someone of his standing. Zacchaeus is a tax collector a chief tax collector which makes him not only wealthy but a dignitary in Roman society. Just one problem, Zacchaeus is a Jew.
Romans had military control over Israel and used Jews to collect the taxes. But to be a tax collector one had to bid for the position the way you would bid at an auction, with the position going to the highest bidder. In order for Zacchaeus to get back his investment he had to inflate the tax, by extortion, getting money under the table, inflated accounts or a little skimming off the top. Through these means he could recoup his investment and keep the profits for himself.
This gained tax collectors the reputation for being notoriously unscrupulous because they got wealthy off of their own people. These Jewish tax collectors also dealt with the Gentiles, so not only were they looked at as traitors they were considered unclean, no religious Jew would associate with them. Zacchaeus was considered a traitor to his community. So it’s highly unlikely he had any friends to speak of. So not only was he small in stature but he was short on friends.
That’s the picture of Zacchaeus. It is also the picture of many people who will go to any means to climb the ladder of success.
What makes a man willing to step on anyone as he makes his way up the ladder? And when he gets there steps on anyone who threatens to spoil his party? Is it so that one day he can look back saying, “I showed them all?” Is it so he can boast that he’s large and in charge? Maybe its greed or even over zealous ambition with little regard for others. Or maybe a man like Zack, who invested everything he had to acquire this occupation, was just fed up with being “stepped on” and would take it no longer.
Might it have been that this short man has survived growing up the object of stares? Growing up even worse, never being considered at all because of his lack of height. Growing up the brunt of jokes. Growing up the kid who got pushed around. Maybe in the process of him growing up a part of his childhood had been stepped on. Whatever tender part of Zack there was it was dead. But somewhere along the way he learned to compensate for his shortcomings.
Being a tax-collector seemed like the perfect fit. He got to be the “big man on campus” and also got to stick it to the childhood friends who destroyed his youth. So he stepped on anyone who stood in his way as he climbed the professional ladder. He was showing them that he couldn’t be pushed around any longer.
That may very well be the part of himself he used to step up his ladder of success. But it could also be that same part of him, that brought him out of his house of pain and hurt leaving a hole in his heart, that carried him up a tree. You see, occupation is nothing to stand on. So in v. 4 it tells us that, “he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree...” So the first thing I want you to see is that;
Zacchaeus went out on a Limb to Seek Jesus
I believe he was fed up with himself, even though his childhood had given him every reason to continue using his business to fulfill his shortcomings. At least until Zaccheus heard the talk of this Jesus who had met with another tax-collector, Levi dropping everything to follow Jesus. It’s this Jesus that Zacchaeus had to get a glimpse of. If he was a friend of tax collectors maybe he’ll befriend me too. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus for himself.
It didn’t matter that Zacchaeus was thought of as a ruthless, despised bill collector for a corrupt government. Jesus it was said ate and drank with tax-collectors and sinners. This Jesus he heard must be some kind of man to get a tax collector to leave his job not for higher wages but for no wages at all. Why was Zacchaeus running past the crowd to see Jesus? Why did Zaccheus run around all the holy men, house wives, shop keepers, teachers, traders, businessmen and bakers?
Because it’s easy to go out on a limb when what you’ve been standing on is shaky ground. When you have grown tired of expecting your work to increase your stature, then you are ready to go out on a limb to find Jesus for yourself.
Zacchaeus, the wealthy publican, crawls out on a limb for a better look because when wealthy men are faced with what Jesus offers they are shown their spiritual bankruptcy. All that would change as Zacchaeus aligned himself in the path where Jesus would cross. He no longer cared what the throng of folks might say as they watched this wee little man scurry embarrassingly up a tree.
What’s your spiritual stature? Have you reached a measure of success only to be left unfulfilled? Are you willing to be shown your spiritual bankruptcy when face to face with Jesus? Are you so concerned with how you’ll look before men that you refuse to go out on a limb to seek Jesus? Are you in a place where Zaccheus was, living off of a life of disappointments or ridicule? Are you living through the hate of someone who trampled your heart? Maybe there are people living vicariously through your success, compensating for their own shortcomings.
It won’t matter what ladder you scale in the eyes of man, what Jesus wants to show you is a unique opportunity of heavenly proportions.
In order to see Jesus for who he is and what he offers, you may have to go out on a limb in front of people that may ridicule you. The alternative is being a part of the crowd that is at a safe distance away from the Lord. Zaccheus makes an undignified climb. What have you been standing on that you have to climb off of to see Jesus for yourself?
Maybe you need to climb out of;
· a habitual sin, that keeps you from seeing the power of Christ’s redemption at work in your life
· a lack of forgiveness in a marriage that’s squeezing the love out of the relationship
· your occupation/someone else’s so that you can see clearly what God has in store for you
Walk, run, and crawl out on the limb for a better look so that you can experience Jesus personally.
Zaccheus was not afraid to separate himself from the masses for a glimpse at the king. Take the necessary steps to ensure that in your life you will be in the path that He crosses, out on a limb waiting.
If you want to experience Jesus we need to seek him and secondly if we want to experience Jesus we need to respond to Him.
Zacchaeus goes out on a Limb to Respond to Jesus
Scripture continues in v. 5, “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up...”
Can you imagine the astonishment on Zacchaeus’ face as Jesus approached closer and began to cast his eyes on that little man in a tree? How ‘bout the moments before Jesus got to the spot what was going on in the mind of Zack as he sat there alone on a limb? Did he recall the years of collecting for Caesar? Did he feel the empty darkness of his soul as he collected from his friends and acquaintances taxes for a corrupt gov’t? Was he thinking about his account with Jesus that his ledger wasn’t good enough because it was filled with money extorted, money skimmed off the top and money under the table? The bottom line with Zacchaeus is his life really only amounted to bankruptcy; right up until Jesus makes his statement.
Jesus calls him by name and invites himself to Zack’s house. Jesus wasn’t looking for an audit. He wasn’t concerned with his line of work. He searched that mans eyes to find the stepped on part of his heart, and what he saw was every foot print and heel mark people had left on him since childhood. Have you ever had your heart trampled by another living being? Can you imagine living a life that’s been dragged through the mud? Jesus is moved with passion for the boy crying out in the heart of the little man on a limb.
It’s the same Jesus that when you look into his Word He looks back at you and sees the damage done by sin. That’s what Jesus sees. Can you see Zacchaeus’ eyes lock onto Jesus’, hearing the voice not just of a King but of a friend, who wants to come home with me, a bankrupt rich man.
As Zaccheus’ feet hit the ground a flood of repentance must have filled his heart because here was the Messiah whom everyone had heard of extending a hand to the despised of Jericho. Feelings that had been damned up for years were now gushing out of the heart of Zacchaeus. v. 7 tells us that, “the people saw this and began to mutter...” When Jesus looked up everyone saw who he was looking at and heard where Jesus was going for the night and it wasn’t to the house of a loyal law abiding citizen. Jesus was going to dine with a traitor, a sell-out a sinner called Zacchaeus. You see, Jesus is more interested in doing the right thing than doing the thing right. Jesus was going to the one who was open and whose heart was ready to receive him.
Not even the complaints and hate from the crowd could dampen this intimate moment with Zaccheus and Jesus as they made their way to Zack’s house. What took a lifetime to accumulate with one sentence of devotion begins to liquidate.
When you go out on a limb to respond to Jesus you step down off of whatever you were standing on, immediately into surrender. (My 3rd...little did I know I would never do things like I had done them before...went into the tunnel bankrupt and came out the other end, rich in Christ)
Zaccheus shows us a genuine conversion will always affect a man’s pockets. Genuine repentance will have elements of restitution. Zaccheus decides to make it right he decides to give half to the poor and four times the amount if he has cheated anybody. And later, with each gracious gift to the poor and each payment of restitution to the defrauded, this little man’s stature begins to increase. First in the eyes of Jesus then in the eyes of all Jericho.
He publicly wanted the people to know that his unique opportunity with Jesus changed his life. His change of lifestyle, giving and making restitution, was evidence of his right relationship before God. The wealthy Zacchaeus a son of Abraham by birth, because of his unique encounter with Jesus would enter the kingdom of God.
“Salvation has come to this house...” Jesus says. When Jesus came to that town He was looking for whoever was ready to go out on a limb to respond to his offer.
Don’t allow your riches to keep you from a unique opportunity with Jesus.
1 Timothy 6:17 says, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”
So enjoy this game tonight knowing that he has given it unto you for your enjoyment. You can rejoice in Him when your hope is in Him.
The game will offer the winner a trophy. He offers victory to everyone who’ll receive Him in their house tonight, that’s a gift of heavenly proportions. My prayer is that if you haven’t gone out on a limb to see Jesus for yourself that you consider his claims for your life. That you would come from behind life’s difficulties, diseases, torn relationships and broken hearts and put yourself in the path of Jesus He’s offering a unique opportunity of salvation to you.
Here’s what I want you to know;
No matter how successful you become, no matter how they’ll flock to you or how “big” they’ll make you out to be, remember;
To Whom You Stand Before
If you only stand, as you stand, your life will leave you short in spiritual stature. When you stand before God you see yourself as He sees you and he gives you a unique opportunity to dine with him.
Here’s what I want you to do;
Don’t wait for life to show you its opportunities. All life will show you is its inadequacies. Separate yourself and go out on a limb and experience Jesus for yourself. Don’t rely on a pastor, or a teacher, or TV seek him for yourself. Don’t settle for second hand experience through CD’s or tapes, feel Him with your own heart, go out on a limb and wait He’ll be passing by to call you out of the sycamore tree no matter what you’ve done He wants to dine with you tonight! So come down repent of those sins because He came for you and me He came to seek and save what was lost. Amen.