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“Today salvation has come to this house.” These are the words that Zacchaeus and the crowd in and around the tax collectors home heard the day that Jesus came to town. The day that Jesus told the chief tax collector that he must go to his house – today. “Today” - there’s an immediacy there isn’t there? An urgency almost. Today, salvation has come to this house. What did these words mean to Zacchaeus? A man who would have been reviled for the job he did. What do they mean for us today, if we too seek to see Jesus?
When we look at our text today, we see Jesus continuing his journey southward from Galilee to Jerusalem. He’s been teaching, he’s been healing, and he’s been speaking in parables, as he moves toward Jerusalem and the events that we will begin to mark next week on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Jesus is heading into Jericho – a tax collection centre about 18 miles north of Jerusalem on the main highway. On his way into town at the end of chapter 18 we read about Jesus responding to the cries of a beggar who is blind – “Jesus Son of David have mercy on me!” This man was an outcast, dependent on others for his livelihood, told to keep quiet by the people around him, but he keeps crying out and Jesus hears his cries and stops and in the midst of this crowd that is following him into Jericho Jesus stops and addresses the man with these words, “What do you want me to do for you?” and the man answers “Lord, let me see again.” And Jesus heals him and the man follows him praising God and all the people when they saw it praised God.
Then we come to the B side of Jesus’ saving work in Jericho. We are given more details about Zacchaeus than we’re given about most people in these stories. He’s a tax collector – and not only that but a chief tax collector. He’s not living on the margins of society dependent on others like the blind man of chapter 18. He’s rich. He’s also short, we’re told. He does have something in common with the blind man, however, he’s disconnected. He’s reviled. Tax collectors were in league with the occupying Romans. Many were dishonest, charging more than they had to and skimming off the top for themselves. It was possible to be a righteous tax collector of course. John the Baptist had given instructions on how to do this when he was baptizing in the Jordan River. Even tax collectors came to be baptized, Luke tells us, and were asking him “Teacher what should we do?” “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you,” he told them. I’m sure though even tax collectors who acted fairly were treated as suspect at best. Colluders. Collaborators.
He’s rich. In chapter 18, Jesus had told his followers it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Why would this be? Wealth is very much a relative term. It could be argued that living in the west as we do makes us rich in comparison to the rest of the world. Does being rich make us less prone to dependence on God? Less likely to realize our need for God? More likely to depend on our money, our education, our competencies? Wherever you land on this, it seems hard to disagree with Jesus’s words. It’s hard, it’s difficult. Who then can be saved comes the next question. And the answer of course, is that with God all things are possible.
With God, all things are possible. We don’t know the circumstances surrounding Zacchaeus as he tries to see Jesus that day. We know that he was seen as marginalized by his fellow Jews due to his job, and we know that he wanted to see Jesus. He was willing to do something foolish in order to see Jesus. Here’s this high tax official climbing up a tree like a kid! Seems a little crazy no? This makes me think of two things (questions):
Are we willing to step outside our normal day to day activities in order to see Jesus? Are we willing to do something that might seem a little crazy, a little demeaning even? Are we willing to get down on our faces before God in prayer, symbolizing our need for Him in a kind of posture of death to self? Are we willing to do something that seems ridiculous, that might be embarrassing, or that just leaves us in territory that is unknown to us? It doesn’t need to be that out of the ordinary. A friend of ours came out to a recent Wednesday drop-in for the first time. A guest also came in for the first time, a lady from the neighbourhood who only spoke Cantonese. They sat and talked for about 20 minutes, the neighbour explaining how she saw the door open and wanted to know what was going on. This friend of ours being the only person there with whom our neighbour could talk. Both of them appearing on the same day, both of them in some way having an experience of Jesus.
And the second thing: On the other side, if you’re following Christ, you know Jesus represents you in this story. We’re called and enabled to be ambassadors for Christ. May God give us eyes to see those around us who have climbed trees in their efforts to see Jesus. Those whose circumstances, despite their wealth, have left them wanting to see Jesus, searching for some meaning beyond what we produce and what we consume.
The Self Invite
In v5 Jesus stops under the tree. We often hear talk of finding God, looking for God. Zacchaeus was looking for Jesus that day, but our quest for Jesus is always caught up in Jesus’ quest for us. Jesus tells him “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” This invitation is one that is Jesus is constantly extending, and I love how he invites himself. Behold I stand at the door and knock. The pop-in. The question for us is “How do we receive him?” Look at how Zacchaeus received this invitation. “So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.” He was excited. He didn’t fully know what it meant to follow Jesus, and who among us does? He was happy to welcome him. How do we receive Jesus when he tells us that he’s going to our house today?
The other question is how we receive Jesus when he’s going into other houses. Houses that we think maybe he shouldn’t be going into. The crowd that surrounds this scene has already acted in a blocking capacity when it prevented Zacchaeus from even seeing Jesus. It’s going to do so again, but in another way. “All who saw it and began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’” It’s fitting that Zacchaeus made an extravagant gesture in order to see God. It was a fitting and proper response to the extravagant way that God loves us, the extravagant way that God searches for us, the extravagant way that God invites himself to our house today. Are we ok with a God who loves and sits down with people we think he shouldn’t? Who are the tax collectors of our day? Who are the people we think are beyond redemption. What are the situations we look at and wonder how God could possibly be in them?
And Zacchaeus responds to God’s extravagant love with some extravagance of his own. There is no such thing as private religion, you know, when it comes to following Christ. There is no such thing as a faith you practice privately at home and maybe in church that has no bearing on how you live, on how you spend your time, on how you spend your money, on how you view creation, on how you view your neighbours as fellow image bearers of God. There is no such thing as a private religion that does not have very public consequences. Zacchaeus responds to God’s extravagance toward him with some extravagance of his own. “Look,” he says in v 8, “Half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” In his Luke commentary Fred Craddock writes of how voluntary restitution in the OT called for the original amount to be returned plus 20%. Compulsory restitution called for doubling it, and in some cases paying back four or fivefold (as in Exodus 22:1). Zacchaeus is pledging to pay back anyone he has defrauded four times – a big job for a chief tax collector I’m sure! Extravagance.
Truth and Consequences
Because you see there is no private faith without public consequences here. You might call it Truth and Consequences! Throughout his ministry in Galilee Jesus stressed the importance of bearing fruit worthy of repentance, just as his cousin John did. The one who hears my words and doesn’t act on them is like a man who built his house on sand. We used to sing about this in Sunday school. Build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ. Let every action, every word, every thought, be coloured by our relationship to him. Let my life reflect that same extravagance that has been shown to me through God’s love, through God’s grace, through God’s mercy. Zacchaeus’ response was one of joy, one of gratitude, one of grateful action is response to the love of God he has become aware of in the person of Jesus. May this be our response whether we’re responding to Jesus for the first time or however long we’ve been following him. A personal commitment of faith and devotion resulting in an outpouring of love, letting God’s love flow from us in tangible and practical ways. This is how Zacchaeus responds to the salvation that has come to his house this day.
And this is of course the pronouncement that Jesus makes in v 9. Isn’t it a joyful one? “Today salvation has come to this house, for he too is a son of Abraham.” Back in chapter 3 John the Baptist warned people not to get complacent about the fact that Abraham was their ancestor and that meant they were alright in God’s eyes. “Bear fruits worthy of repentance,” he tells them. Let the truth have consequences! “God is able from these stones to raise children of Abraham!” is what John told the crowds who were coming to see him. It’s not about what family you were born into, it’s not about your religious pedigree. It’s about how your love of God is lived out. It’s about being open to God working in you – responding with joy and rejoicing as Zacchaeus did – in recognizing that it is in God that fullness of life is to be found – that in losing one’s life in Christ we find it – in this way we are ever more enabled to love God with all our heart soul mind and strength and our neighbour as ourselves and to bear fruit worthy of repentance. May God work this in our hearts.
And it is in this joyful acceptance of Jesus, this joyful acceptance of Jesus’ invitation that salvation comes to our house. “Today salvation has come to this house.” Today. There’s an immediacy there, an urgency. Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. Today. Today you will be with me in paradise. Today. This day. This is our invitation, whether we’ve been following Jesus for a long time or whether it’s the first time we’re accepting his invitation. Today. Following Christ, you see, is not simply about answering the question “Where do we end up?” When we think of the afterlife, the question is not only so much where do we go but where are we now. We have sometimes tended to reduce the point of following Jesus into a kind of free pass from hell. Sometimes quite literally. Not long ago someone asked me if I had a “Get Out of Hell Free” card. At first I had no idea if he was talking literally or metaphorically. I suppose metaphorically I have one. While one of my favourite things to do is answer a question with a question, the only thing I could think of to say here was “I’m not sure what that is!” Well the next time I saw this friend they gave me a Get Out of Hell Free card…
Of course there is a future element to salvation, to being saved. There is also very much a present element. Receiving Christ with joy, being filled with and enabled by the Holy Spirit to not only experience God’s love, God’s peace, God’s mercy, God’s grace, but to live our lives as agents of God’s love, God’s peace, God’s mercy, God’s grace.
God’s Great Salvation/Healing/Restoration Plan
The other thing this story reminds us of is along with the individual aspect of salvation, there is a corporate aspect – a communal aspect, indeed a universal aspect. Today salvation has come to your house. One writer describes it like this: “Here in the case of Zacchaeus, his ‘being saved’ refers to a conversion, to be sure, but not in any private sense. Not only is his household involved but also the poor who will be beneficiaries of his conversion as well as all those people whom he has defrauded. His salvation, therefore, has personal, domestic, social, and economic dimensions…. The whole of life is affected by Jesus’ ministry, a foretaste of the complete reign of God.” When we reduce the concept of salvation to the individual, we do the Gospel a disservice friends. We were at CBOQ’s Blizzard teen retreat weekend almost two months ago. The speaker there was Salvation Army major from out west, Danielle Strickland. She told a story about how her young son was sick once. The doctor gave her some banana flavoured penicillin, which her son refused to take. She tried to tell him how great it was, told him it was so good that monkeys drank this stuff. Was jumping around like a monkey. When this didn’t work she told him that this stuff was so good, tigers eat the monkeys who drank it, it’s so good and banana-ish. She and her older son were going around like fierce tigers trying to get the kid to try it, but they were just getting the arms-crossed head shake. Finally as Danielle said, “I did what any good mother would do, I held him down and poured it down his throat!” It was good for him after all, it was what he needed. She said she heard God speak to her at that point. He said “This is how you see salvation.” As something that needs to be poured down people’s throats, as something that needs to be portrayed only as good for people, while we go around like monkeys and tigers trying to convince them. Of course salvation is good for people. Following Christ, however, is not only good for us. It’s being caught up in God’s great salvation plan, that started when he went looking for Adam and Eve, continued when He called Abraham, called Moses, anointed David, sent his son Jesus to live, to die, to be raised up on the third day, and will find its completion one day when Jesus comes again and creation will no longer groan and mourning and crying and pain will no more and a voice will be heard saying “Look I am making all things new!”
Look I am making all things new. This is the grand salvation plan that we are invited to be a part of, to get caught up in. We get caught up in a lot of things don’t we? What better thing to get caught up in…
The word for saved is translated different ways as we read the New Testament. Healed. Made well. Made whole. Have you experienced this? If so we’re called to share it. Today salvation has come to your house. What has it meant for salvation to come to your house? What has it meant in terms of healing, of being made whole, of being reconciled, of relationships being restored? What might it mean for salvation to come to your house today? This day. What might it mean this week, for salvation to come to your street, in the form of you as an ambassador for Christ? What might it mean for salvation to come to your school? To your office? What would that look like? How would we see people? How would we treat them? How would we feel about them?
What would it mean today that salvation has come to Blythwood? What does it mean for us as a community of faith to be part of, to be caught up in God’s great salvation plan – God’s great life giving, healing, well making, whole making plan? Does the thought make you excited? Does it make you a little afraid? We should be a little afraid when we’re dealing with things that are beyond our control. Not too afraid though. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus told Peter, James and John when he called the fisherman, “from now on I’m going to make you fishers of people.” We’re not in this on our own. I’m going to turn you into something new, says Jesus. Come be a part of this great restoration plan. “I must stay at your house today,” were the words. There will be consequences – the most true and beautiful consequences imaginable. God grant that we would hear and accept them, hear and accept him, this day. Today.