There are times when this scenario sounds exciting because we all have some questions we would like to ask Jesus, but there are also times when this encounter might seem intimidating. What would Jesus say about how I am living? If he showed up at work, or at school, what would he say about my activities? If he was behind me at the store, what would he say about my purchases? While there are times we think the meeting with Jesus would be wonderful, we might also have some fear and anxiety.
The thing is, Jesus is always there. Jesus is always with us, always by our side, and he is not there to bring condemnation or judgement. God did not send Jesus into our lives to condemn us, but to save us, and to offer us life. When we are in Christ, there is no condemnation, so we don’t need to fear these encounters, we need to embrace them. This month, I want to explore what a meeting would be like between Jesus & Me.
We know how Jesus wants to engage us in life by looking at how Jesus engaged those he met during his life. Jesus showed up in people’s lives at very ordinary moments, unexpected moments, and desperate moments, and what we see from Jesus in all of these encounters tells us a lot about Jesus, and it tells us a lot about ourselves, because the people he met are just like you and me. They were ordinary, broken, lost, and hurting people, and like us, they were trying the best they could to make the most of their lives. They were searching for God, and for good, and for love – they were just like we are, so each encounter Jesus has with someone tells us something about Jesus and something about us ourselves.
Today we are going to look at an encounter Jesus had with someone who could have stepped right out of our world, and right out of our community, because he was rich, and each one of us is also rich. You may not feel it, but simply being born, or living in this nation, we are rich by any standard in our world. But our wealth doesn’t fill us up, it doesn’t make our lives complete, so there are times we all feel empty, lost, and searching for something more.
Zacchaeus was looking for something more when he went searching for Jesus, and every one of us is also searching for something. I know this because we are here today. We are searching for deeper meaning in life than in what we find at work, or in the community. We are looking for a deeper love than what can be found in our family, and friends. And we are looking for something larger than ourselves, and maybe even larger than our world, to have faith in, to trust in. We are not here out of habit, or because we were dragged here by our spouse, or parents, we are here because at some level we are searching, so Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus has something to say to us today.
Luke tells us the story of Zacchaeus. Luke 19:1-10
What most of us know about Zacchaeus was that he was short, but what is really important to know about Zacchaeus is that he was a tax collector. Collecting taxes in Jesus’ day operated a little differently than it does today. Rome would do a census of a region and count up all the people, crops, trees, and livestock, then they would assess a tax for the entire region. A person would then bid on the job of collecting those taxes, but if they got the job, they would have to pay the entire tax bill up front.
The tax collector would then set the amount that each person owed him to cover those taxes. Obviously the tax collectors would charge people more than the amount set by Rome so they could make money. If they were an honest tax collector, they would set the taxes just a little higher, but if they were a greedy tax collector they would set the amount much higher, and keep the rest, and the people had no choice but to pay the taxes. Since the tax collector paid the entire tax bill up front, if the people didn’t pay, then the tax collector would be out that money, which means that tax collectors went to great lengths to get paid. Roman historians tell us that tax collectors were ruthless in getting their money. If a person fled a community in order to escape paying their taxes, a tax collector would often kidnap a family member and then beat them to either get the money, or to get information on where their family member went. This was serious business, and most tax collectors were feared, and hated, by their neighbors. Jewish tax collectors were especially hated because they were seen as working with the Roman Empire, which was considered an enemy of the Jewish people.
So when Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was a rich tax collector, we know that he charged people significantly more than what was needed, and he kept the remainder for himself. This means he was not well liked. We also know he wasn’t popular in Jericho because as the crowds gathered to see Jesus, Zacchaeus was frozen out. As he tried to get close, the people elbowed him away, so that Zacchaeus was forced to not only run ahead of the crowd, but he had to climb a tree in order to see Jesus. So it wasn’t that he was short that made Zacchaeus climb a tree, it was because he was despised by others. He was isolated, hated, and alone, but he was also searching.
But why did Zacchaeus want to see Jesus in the first place? He had everything he could ever need. He was wealthy. He had a steady source of future income, and while some people may not have liked him, he had his circle of friends. He had a decent life, and lots of money, so why did he want to see Jesus? Was it just curiosity, or was there something more. This is where we begin to learn something about Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus didn’t have it all. He had money, but he felt isolate, alone, and despised. Deep down he wanted to know that God still cared for him, and that is why he went to see Jesus. Word had spread through the entire region that Jesus was a rabbi who was a friend of sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. It was unheard of for rabbis to be friends with tax collectors, but Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was, so maybe there was hope. If this rabbi really loved tax collectors, then maybe there was hope that Zacchaeus could be loved, and accepted by God and others.
Once again, we are just like Zacchaeus. We have those moments where we just want to know that we are loved and accepted by God. We know our life is a mess, we know we aren’t living the way we should be living, we know we don’t always move in God’s divine direction, or measure up to God’s standard, and we struggle with our sin. At times we are just like Zacchaeus, feeling lost, isolated, and alone. We are homesick for God. We just want a glimpse of Jesus because if he is a friend of sinners, then maybe he will be my friend as well. We are Zacchaeus sitting in the tree. We are rich, lost, and yet searching to be connected to, and loved by God. We want to come home – we want to belong to God, and know that we are safe, and secure, and loved.
So we are Zacchaeus, and here is what we learn about Jesus, he doesn’t disappoint! Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, where in just a few weeks he will die. Jesus knows this is coming, he is overwhelmed by the crowds who are pressing in to be helped and healed, and yet in the midst of that chaos, Jesus sees Zacchaeus sitting in the tree searching for him, and Jesus’ heart is moved. Jesus reaches out to Zacchaeus. How easy it would have been for Jesus to just keep going, after all, this was a tax collector. He had cheated people, dishonored people, maybe even abused people to get his money, but Jesus didn’t pass him by – he reached out to him. In kindness Jesus reached out to Zacchaeus, and that is what we learn about Jesus – Jesus is kind.
Zacchaeus was drawn to Jesus because he had heard that Jesus was kind, and Jesus did not disappoint. In kindness Jesus reached back. Jesus not only accepted him, he honored Zacchaeus by going to his house, and it was Jesus who offered Zacchaeus salvation, and life. It is always the kindness of Jesus that accepts us, and offers us salvation, and life.
When we are lost, and searching; Jesus is kind. When we are looking for acceptance, and love; Jesus welcomes us home with love and compassion. When we want our lives to matter, and when we want to feel connected to God and one another; Jesus brings meaning, purpose, and relationship. That is exactly what Jesus did for Zacchaeus. While others tried to keep Zacchaeus away, Jesus drew him in. Jesus accepted him. Jesus offered him salvation and life – which Zacchaeus grabbed hold of, and it was the kindness of Jesus that changed his life. The new life of Zacchaeus was one where he said he would repay those he cheated, and live honorably in the future. The kindness of Jesus not only brings Zacchaeus life, but it helps make Zacchaeus kind.
So let me close with this thought, and challenge. How does the kindness of Jesus help us become more kind? We have been accepted by Jesus, welcomed into his heart, and given the gift of life; are we working to offer this kindness to others? Are we like the crowds who tried to keep Zacchaeus away from the love and grace of God, or are we like Jesus, reaching out to offer the love and grace of God to everyone. Does the way we talk about our faith inspire, and encourage others to search for Jesus, or do our words condemn and judge those who are not following Jesus?
Unfortunately, dozens of studies and polls show that the world often sees churches, and Christians, as unloving and judgmental. Too often, followers of Jesus are just not seen as being gracious, generous, and kind – so how can we change that? How can we start being kind, not to seek recognition, to have our actions go viral on social media, so that all the attention is on ourselves, but to simply honor and glorify God?
On an average Sunday, there are 400 people in worship here at Faith Church, what would our community look like if every week each one of us did one act of kindness? We offer friendship to someone at school who seems to always be alone. We reach out to the coworker that just started, or the one drives us all crazy. We do a good deed for a neighbor, pay for the coffee of the person behind us in line at Cool Beans, or offer kind words to our neighbors.
What would it look like if we did this twice a week? 800 acts of kindness in our community. What if we could do it once a day for one week? 2,800 acts of kindness. 2,800 moments when the love of God reaches out to people just like us – rich, lost, and yet searching. Kindness turned Zacchaeus around. Maybe being kind would turn around the lives of people in our community. Maybe simply being kind, living like Jesus, would turn our world around.
So here is the challenge. As you leave here today we have a Kindness Card we want to give you. While it says to do an act of kindness and then leave the card someplace where someone else might pick it up and keep the acts of kindness going, I don’t want you to do that just yet. I want to invite you to use the card during the week to remind you to do an act of kindness every day so that 2,800 acts of kindness can penetrate our community. I want you to hold on to the card until being kind becomes a habit, and part of your life, and then I invite you to pray about passing it on to someone else, or leaving it someplace where someone might pick it up and keep it going.
The kindness of Jesus changed a man, and then changed his circle of friends, and then his community. Our acts of kindness in Jesus’ name can change hearts, and lives, and our community, and our culture, and our world.
Jesus and Me – Zacchaeus
1. Read the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10
2. When have you felt isolated and alone?
• From God
• From Family
• From Friends
3. In what ways are you feeling isolated and alone today? In what ways are you “homesick” for God?
4. Zacchaeus was willing to run ahead AND climb a tree to get just a glimpse of Jesus. What are you willing to do in order to get a glimpse of Jesus? What are you willing to do in order for Jesus to become more a part of your life?
5. Jesus was kind and reached out to Zacchaeus. Christians today are often not considered kind. What acts of kindness can you do this week to help draw others to Jesus?
6. Jesus’ kindness changed Zacchaeus’ life. Where have you seen the life changing kindness of Jesus at work, either in your own life, in the lives of those you know, or in stories you have read about others? Use these stories to inspire you to be kind.
Prayer for the week:
Lord Jesus, you come to me during the ordinary and busy moments of my life. May I, like Zacchaeus, always be ready to respond to your eternal love and kindness. Thank you for including me among the people you are eager to dine with. Thank you for bringing salvation to my life this day. Keep me focused on you as the source of all kindness, as I seek to be kind to others. Amen.