Jesus Came to Seek and to Save the Lost...That Means You and Me!
Dear heavenly Father, how wonderful it is to enter into Your presence and to experience Your good will and abiding love! You desire my salvation and have consequently provided me a Savior. You have sent Your Holy Spirit to lead me to repentance and to move me to embrace my Savior Jesus by faith. Please, bless me and my fellow worshippers as we lift our hearts and voices in praise to Your saving name. Amen.
After the golden calf incident at Mount Sinai, the LORD appeared to Moses and proclaimed that He is both gracious and just. Moses bowed his head in worship, as he prayed for the LORD’s continued pardon and preservation of Israel. We, too, need the LORD’s ongoing pardon and preservation!
Paul thanks God for the faith and perseverance of the Thessalonian Christians. He points out that God will punish those who in unbelief oppose His saints, while He will bless those believers who remain faithful. Let us take heart and strive to follow our Savior with faithfulness!
Text: Luke 19:1-10
Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham;for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
In Christ Jesus, whose deepest desire is to dwell within our hearts, dear fellow redeemed:
His name was Zacchaeus. He was Jewish—a man of small stature, but of large reputation. Unfortunately, that reputation was not so good. Ironically his name meant “pure” or “innocent,” but he was hardly judged to be such by his fellow townspeople in Jericho. He was, after all, “a chief tax-collector.” As such he was viewed as a traitor to his people, for he was employed by the hated Romans. He was also viewed as a thief for everyone knew that the tax-collectors were thieves, often extorting vast sums from a helpless subject population. He lived in a large home in that city of palms, surrounded by a vast array of servants, and all of the comforts his wealth could provide. His fellow Jews and neighbors resented him and took satisfaction in limited vengeance. He was scorned by virtually everyone, unwelcome in their homes, and forbidden to enter their synagogue.
Jesus was Jewish as well—a man of unknown stature, but of even greater reputation. He was viewed by some as a prophet, by others as the promised Messiah. He taught the truths of God with authority and confirmed those truths with mighty miracles of healing. He was both loved and hated. He had enemies—not the common people who revered Him, but rather the religious leaders who resented Him. These religious leaders had been plotting to kill Him, and so He had passed over the Jordan into the region of Perea. Now it was rumored that He was about to return—to pass through Jericho on His way to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. It was the Thursday before what would soon be known as Holy Week—just one week and one day before He would die.
The news of Jesus’ approach excited the crowds. They gathered on either side of the narrow road leading up from the Jordan. They wanted to see Him, to hear Him, and perhaps even to touch Him. Wonders happened whenever Jesus was near. Where would He stay; whose home would He visit? Would He meet with the rabbi in the city synagogue, or would He simply pass through and go on? No one knew for sure, but everyone came—everyone including Zacchaeus.
We do not know why Zacchaeus came. The evangelist Luke does not tell us. He simply says that Zacchaeus “sought to see Jesus.” Some might speculate that Zacchaeus was merely curious—desiring to see Jesus much as did King Herod with the thought that perhaps he might be entertained by some show of power (cf. Lk. 23:8). I think not. A rich man does not lack for entertainment, and surely he was stung by the comments and perhaps even the occasional elbow of the unfriendly crowd as he attempted to find a suitable vantage point from which to see. He was short and so could not see over the growing crowd. He was unable in this situation to push his way through the crowd, and so he ran ahead and found a suitable tree—a tree he might climb and so be sufficiently elevated to see the Lord Jesus. But why had he come? He was such an odd spectacle in that tree—the butt of some crude jokes, no doubt. I believe he came, because he knew that Jesus was different. The religious leaders of Jericho shunned Zacchaeus, but Jesus had welcomed Matthew, a fellow tax-collector, into His inner circle. He was known to associate with “tax-collectors and sinners” (cf. Lk. 5:30). Yes, I believe Zacchaeus came that day to see Jesus, because he knew he was a sinner. His great wealth did not satisfy his greatest need—his need for the love, the forgiveness, and the acceptance of God. In this Jesus did not disappoint!
The roar of the crowd grew as Jesus and His disciples approached. Word spread quickly that only a short distance up the road, Jesus had stopped to visit with the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, and had restored his sight (cf. Mk. 10:46-52). What good thing would He now do, as He continued to make His way towards the city? Zacchaeus strained to see and to hear. He parted the branches to get a clearer view as Jesus approached, and then something absolutely stunning occurred. As Jesus drew near to that very sycamore tree in which Zacchaeus was lodged, He looked up and called him by name: “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Could it possibly be? Did he hear Jesus correctly? How did Jesus know his name? Yet, here was Jesus—the great prophet…indeed the Promised Savior seeking to stay at Zacchaeus’ home. Zacchaeus could not believe his good fortune. He was overjoyed. He quickly descended to the ground and with great eagerness approached his Lord.
The raucous crowd had become silent. No one could believe what they had heard or seen! Those who had speculated on what Jesus might do and whom Jesus might see could not believe or accept what was happening. “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner,” they grumbled. This was not right. How could Jesus seemingly sanction the ill-conduct of a man they had so righteously disowned? Whether or not Zacchaeus heard the complaints, we do not know. I would speculate that he could and that he did, but that really made no difference to him. That which he needed, Jesus had just provided—the love, the forgiveness, and the acceptance of God! Jesus had touched Zacchaeus’ heart and it was truly moved. He approached and stood before Jesus and said, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” Was there any question that this sinner had truly repented and now believed? Jesus responded: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
My dear friends—this is the key message of our text: JESUS CAME TO SEEK AND TO SAVE THE LOST! That meant someone like the traitor and thief Zacchaeus, and THAT also MEANS someone like YOU AND ME! What a comfort it is to know that Jesus came to seek and to save you and me, for we too were once lost. Indeed, at times we still may be. Do we bear the name Christian in truth and with sincerity, or is it a title that has come to mean little or nothing to us? Do we spend our time and use our talents as did Zacchaeus in pursuit of our own goals and to satisfy our own personal desires, or do we recognize that we have been placed on this earth by God with a purpose, which is joyously to serve Him? It is, unfortunately, quite easy to get lost in the world—to make little gods…idols out of our possessions or out of other people. We can be led astray by the professor with a Ph.D. after his or her name. We can be led into captivity by our use of drugs or alcohol, or through an addiction to internet pornography. It is so easy to compromise the principles of Scripture, so as not to raise eye-brows or appear to be so very, old-fashioned. It is so easy, on the other hand, to become smug in what we perceive to be our personal righteousness—that we are better than others. You see, Satan plays both ends of the court! He will attempt to lead us away from Christ into gross sin, but if he cannot succeed in doing that, he will attempt to lead us to believe that we deserve God’s favor and attention, even as those who murmured against Zacchaeus. Let us open our eyes to the fact that our greatest needs can only be provided by our Savior Jesus. His love, His forgiveness, and His acceptance alone are what bring true joy, meaning, and purpose to our lives.
Let us be aware and also take great comfort in the fact that while we may be lost in the world, He still knows our names! There is no reason given in Scripture to believe that Jesus had ever met Zacchaeus before, yet He addressed him by name. Our Savior God has a deep and passionate love for each of us. In the world, we are so often merely a number. In the world, we can so easily be forgotten. In the world, we can so often be summarily replaced. But Jesus knows our names. He has written them in the book of heaven (cf. Rev. 21:12). He will come to seek and to save those who are lost—including you and me!
Let us, therefore, be prepared to receive Him with joy, when He comes and must stay at our houses! I would like you to think just a moment about the meaning of the little word “must” in this account. Jesus told Zacchaeus: “Today I must stay at your house.” Do you recognize what that implies? It implies that Jesus came to Jericho specifically for the purpose of meeting Zacchaeus. The apostle Paul wrote Timothy and told him: “God our Savior…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). God’s desire is never just general, but always specific. Jesus had passed through Jericho many times during His three-year ministry, but on this occasion, his choice of roads brought Him specifically past the tree in which He knew Zacchaeus would be standing. It was not merely “good luck.” There is no such thing as “good luck!” There is, however, the good fortune brought about by God’s providential care. Think about how you became a child of God. It may well have been at baptism as a child, but God chose to place you in the care of godly parents who would listen to Jesus’ command and bring you into His presence. It may have been through a friend—perhaps a friend, who became a life-long companion…a husband or wife. Those friendships likewise are a part of God’s providential care. When Paul writes to the Romans and informs them: “All things work together for good to those who love God,” he does not leave those words as a bare promise, but rather goes on to reveal that this is true for all those who are “called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). That purpose, Paul explains, involves our election in eternity before the world began, God’s rescue of our persons through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, and finally the working of faith within our hearts by the Holy Spirit. As we see Jesus working in our lives, even as He did in that of Zacchaeus, I would hope and pray that we too would rejoice and be led to open the doors of our hearts and homes to Jesus when He “must” come to us!
Finally, let us be ready, for the salvation He brings us changes everything! For Zacchaeus that change was evident in all of his doings. He no longer lived to amass wealth, but rather sought to be a blessing to the poor. He no longer extorted more taxes than were his due, but rather he repaid all those from whom he had previously taken too much. His selfish and self-centered approach to life was completely altered that day. From that point on he rejoiced in his salvation and his relationship with the living God. My dear friends, we too must be ready, for when Christ is welcomed into our hearts and homes, there will be a radical difference. Love replaces hate; generosity replaces greed; forgiveness replaces bitter resentment; and joy replaces anger. Will everything always be just fine? No, for we must still contend with our sinful flesh, but knowing the love, receiving the forgiveness, and experiencing the acceptance of God—in other words, receiving the salvation of our God by faith changes everything! God be praised! Amen!
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting
Soli Gloria Deo!