Zacchaeus, Come Down Immediately!

1Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ ” 8But Zacchaeus stood up 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.” 9Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:1-10).

Zacchaeus had a problem in trying to see Jesus–he was small of stature. The crowd along the road would not let him push through. I am sure that when people saw who was pushing to get through the crowd, that there was an elbow or a kick designed to hurt him, but his curiosity could not be satisfied until he had seen Jesus. He ran ahead along the road to the place where there was a large Sycamore Fig tree and hastily climbed up the short trunk and hid in the wide branches. Which one was Jesus? Zacchaeus did not know Jesus but Jesus knew him. Perhaps Christ had come this very way because he knew exactly where Zacchaeus would be waiting.

Do you think he knew which one was Jesus as he looked down from the tree? I’m sure his heart skipped a beat when the crowd stopped as the Lord looked up into the tree, saying: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

I am amazed at the condescension of Christ. Not only did He look down from heaven but He also came down and entered into our painful world. Furthermore, here He is looking up to Zacchaeus and asking him to come down. God always humbles a soul before he brings him to heaven. We must let go of every branch that we hold on to and come down. There is a need for all of us to come down in our own estimation of ourselves. Zacchaeus would have felt very humbled that the Lord knew him by name. He had lived his life climbing to the top of the ladder and realized that the ladder was against the wrong wall. He had chased money all his life but had become hated by the people around him. He had lost all self-respect due to the way he had treated people, yet Jesus valued him so much that Christ would come to his house!

Do you realize that the God of the universe knows you by name and values you highly? He wants to come and live inside your house. He values us so highly that He calls each one of us individually in the midst of our own circumstances. Zacchaeus was singled out by Jesus and directly called by name. He is told by Christ “I must stay at your house today.” There doesn’t seem to be any act of faith that brought Christ to his door, except, perhaps, his curiosity in wanting to see Christ. Jesus deliberately came to the place where Zacchaeus was and initiated the conversation that brought a saving response. The phrase “must stay” (NIV) or “must abide” (KJV) is used. It denotes a compulsion of any kind, such as unavoidable, urgent, compulsory necessity.”[1] It seems that it was all written into God’s plan, the calling of Zacchaeus.

He directly calls each one of us: “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). The Bible tells us that God has ordained (To prearrange unalterably; predestine: by fate ordained)[2] beforehand those who would be saved. We may think that we are the ones searching for God, but He is the Shepherd, searching for His lost sheep. God orders our circumstances to cause us to call out to Him. We cannot say that the depths of sin that we got into were ordered by God, our own choices were involved, but the Bible declares that God uses all things to work together for our good to bring us to Christ (Romans 8:28). What do we mean by the word election? Wayne Grudem in his book, Systematic Theology, defines election as “an act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any unforeseen merit in them, but only because of His sovereign good pleasure.”[3]  Zacchaeus and all those of us who have been born again, were called and chosen before the foundation of the world to be His elected ones.

4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (Ephesians 1:4-6).

What wonderful grace God has lavished on us! It boggles the mind to think that He has planned calling us out before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless, adopted as His sons and daughters. Zacchaeus and you and I were called before the beginning of the world ever took place. He had us on His mind and heart. Zacchaeus was one of the last people would think would be saved. This encounter came about in the city of Jericho, a cursed city (Joshua 6:26), yet Christ came there and called Zacchaeus. He called the worst of sinners from the worst of cities with the worst of trades. Maybe He’s doing the same for you today!

Keith Thomas

[1] Key Word Study Bible, AMG Publishers, Notes on Page 1604.

[2] Dictionary.com

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Published by Zondervan, page 670.

Pride vs Humility

We are continuing from yesterday to meditate on the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector–especially on the sin of pride.

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10″Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’13″But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14″I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14)

Pride is an ugly sin to God. “The devil is content that people should excel in good works, provided he can make them proud of them” (William Law). “Pride is the idolatrous worship of ourselves, and that is the national religion of hell” (Alan Redpath). To be full of self is to be empty of God. Grace and humility bows the knee to a Holy God who alone can sustain and keep us free from the corrupting influence of self. The highway of holiness is a valley trail in the direction of humility. The trail will lead you on a path of death to self. If we can daily see tests that we are going through, that give us opportunity to humble ourselves, we are on the right highway. “The higher a man is in grace, the lower he will be in his own esteem” (C.H. Spurgeon). Learn to welcome the opportunity to die daily to self. What is humility? “Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble. The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all” (Andrew Murray). William Barclay tells a great story about how we should all live as a Christian:

There is a story of a monk in the old days, a very holy man who was sent to take up office as abbot in a monastery. He looked so humble a person that, when he arrived, he was sent to work in the kitchen as a scullion, because no one recognized him. Without a word of protest and with no attempt to take his position, he went and washed the dishes and did the most menial tasks. It was only when the bishop arrived a considerable time later that the mistake was discovered and the humble monk took up his true position. The man who enters upon office for the respect that will be given him has begun in the wrong way, and cannot, unless he changes, ever be in any sense the servant of Christ and of his fellow men.[1]

If we really want to maximize our effectiveness, prayer is vital. God has gone to great lengths to make it possible for us to be a kingdom of priests to our God. The Temple curtain has been torn in two for us to enter into the very presence of God offering spiritual sacrifices of prayer. The graces of humility, persistence and perseverance will bring the power of God through us to a needy world.

Keith Thomas

[1] William Barclay, Daily Study Bible, the Gospel of Mark, Published by Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh. Page 301.

 

 

The Man Justified Before God

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10″Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’13″But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14″I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14)

This parable is on the subject of prayer and concerns itself more with the inner attitude or heart of prayer. In this parable, the contrast is between a self-righteous Pharisee and a penitent tax collector; no two people could be further apart than these two. Jesus shocks his audience by saying that the penitent tax collector went away justified rather than the Pharisee.

Both men were praying in the temple precincts. From the way the passage reads, I can picture the Pharisee standing up close to the front of the Temple Courts. His posture was that of standing up straight and looking up to heaven, congratulating himself out loud. I’m sure that others nearby could hear how he so righteously lived his life. It is mentioned that the penitent tax-collector stood at a distance, perhaps at the back of the Temple courts near the entrance, because he felt so unworthy. He could not even look up to heaven, which was the normal posture of prayer. (Our tradition today when called to prayer is to look downward, mainly due to the words of this parable.) It is interesting to note that often when Jesus is mentioned praying, it records that He “looked up to heaven.” In the Pharisee’s case, his posture of looking up to heaven is seen as his own self-righteousness and self-importance, which the parable later points out.  In the Pharisee’s prayer, the Greek words record him saying 5 times “I—I—I—I—I.” We find him praying “about himself” (verse 11), the literal rendering of the Greek is that he’s praying to himself. This man certainly was not maximizing his time of prayer, his prayer never got off the ground! His self-righteous attitude never brought him into a true relationship with God, he has no appreciation for grace, and in fact he disdains it. He’s far too righteous to need the grace of God! His life is all about keeping various laws to earn his right standing before God. He fully expects that his eternity is secured with a great mansion, but fails to look deep within himself to see his own character flaws. His boast was that he fasted twice a week. William Barclay tells us:

“The Jewish law prescribed only one absolutely obligatory fast- that on the day of Atonement. But those who wished to gain special merit fasted also on Mondays and Thursdays. It is noteworthy that these were the market days when Jerusalem was full of country people. Those who fasted whitened their faces and appeared in disheveled clothes, and those days gave their piety the biggest possible audience.”[1]

Like a good Pharisee, he tithed even on his spices, the mint, dill and cumin (Matthew 23:23), but yet he had no regard for the tax collector, in fact he despised him as he looked back at the man who could not even hold up his head. The man who has standing before God is one who has genuine humility and sees his need for mercy and grace from God:

“These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).

Keith Thomas

[1] The Daily Study Bible, Gospel of Luke, William Barclay, Page 223.