Sunday, March 22, 2015

Zach in a Tree

The crowd surged toward the road, pushing and shoving to get a better look at the man called Jesus.  The city was Jericho and it was wall to wall people, each one of them eager to get a look at the young carpenter from Nazareth that everyone was talking about.   It was his first time to this historic city but obviously his reputation had preceded him.  The people had come out in mass to see this man who had made the lame to walk and the blind to see, to see the one who could speak and make the winds die down, who could command and see the demons flee.

Not that Jericho was a stranger to the holy and the awesome.  It was at Jericho that Rahab the harlot hid the spies of Israel, it was at Jericho that Joshua was commanded to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground, it was Jericho that the people of Israel marched around seven times and when they shouted to God and blew their trumpets it was Jericho that came crashing down.   It was going into Jericho that Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus, and it was on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho that the Good Samaritan came upon the unfortunate traveller who had been robbed and left for dead. 

It was a rich city, referred to some as the city of palms, while the Jewish historian Josephus called it “a divine region”.  And so it was through Jericho that Christ came on his last visit to Jerusalem. Jericho which had the largest tax base of any city in Palestine.  It was the perfect place for a corrupt little tax collector to live, a corrupt little chief tax collector named Zacchaeus to be exact.

The bible tells us a little bit about Zach in Luke 19:2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich.
1) Zach Was A Tax-Collector

Now that doesn't say a lot but we need to recognise the fact that Zach wasn't everybody's favourite person, as a matter of fact Zach wasn't anybody's favourite person not even his mother's.

That may seem more than a little unfair but Zacchaeus was a tax collector and Jericho was a city of great wealth and one of the greatest tax bases in the area, and it was from the wealth and the poverty of the people of Jericho that Zacchaeus amassed his own personal fortune.  You have to remember that Palestine was an occupied country under roman rule and so even if the tax collectors weren't notoriously dishonest they had taken service under the Romans and because of that they were considered both renegades and traders by their countrymen.

Let's take a moment now and have everybody visualise Joe Oliver our illustrious Minister of Finance, if you thought it was Jim Flaherty you need to catch up on your news.  Ok, If you don’t know what Joe Oliver looks like here you go, you got that picture in your mind?  Now add to that the amount of tax you had to pay this year on everything except the air that you breathe, right?  Now multiple the distaste you feel for the right honourable Mr. Oliver by 7.6543 and you may be close to how the people of Jericho felt about our hero.

The tax concessions were like franchises.  The Roman's assessed the area and what they felt the tax should be, and then they sold the right to collect those taxes to the highest bidder above that amount.  The trick being that anything the tax collector collected over the set fee was his cut that was how he paid the bills.

If you think that our tax load is high there were four distinct and separate taxes levied in Palestine at the time.  First was the stated tax and that was paid for everyman between 14 and 65 and every woman from the age of 12 to 65 and that was a flat rate that you paid simply for the privilege of being alive.  The second was the ground tax, you got it; that was the tax you paid on the ground you lived on regardless of whether you owned, rented or borrowed it.  The third tax was income tax and I’m sure I don't have to explain that to you and the last tax was something which they called duties and it basically taxed everything that hadn't been taxed up to that point.  It paid for the use of roads, harbours, the market etc.  For example there was a tax levied on a cart and it was based on a set fee for each wheel as well as for the number and types of animals which pulled it. 

In duties there were purchase taxes and import taxes and export taxes.  A tax collector could stop you on the road make you unpack your load and then charge you tax on what you were carrying in your bundles.  The rabbis spoke of robbers, murderers and tax collectors in the same breath.  Do you recall that whenever the Pharisees became critical of the company Jesus was keeping they always spoke of “tax collectors and sinners” at the same time.  That was part of the reason that tax collectors were barred from the temple.  And Zacchaeus wasn't just any tax collector he was the chief tax collector.   In every sense of the word he was the man everybody loved to hate.

Luke 19:3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd.
2) Zach Had a Problem    Now somewhere somehow this tax collector had stumbled unto news of Jesus of Nazareth, a Godly teacher who associated with sinners and tax collectors.  What type of man was this?  Why was he willing to be seen in the company of those whom polite society shunned?

And now he hears that this Jesus fellow is right here in Jericho!  And so as the crowd surges forward toward the road way to catch a glimpse of the one whispered to be the messiah, Zacchaeus joins in the attempt to view the carpenter from Nazareth.  And I’m sure that as Zach tries to get through the crowd that people begin to recognise who he was and they begin to push him this way and shove him that way..  And even as they struggle to see the prince of peace they took the opportunity to vent their frustration on poor old Zach.

You see Zacchaeus had a major handicap, he was short.  Not that being short is necessarily a handicap, unless of course you are standing on the sidewalk trying to watch a parade.  Now to be truthful we don't know how short he was, but it must have been short enough for Luke to feel like he should mention it.

Every one of us has a handicap of some sort that can keep us from seeing Jesus.  Maybe it's a cultural handicap.  If you were brought up Jewish or Muslim then you would have a predefined concept of who Jesus was and that could prevent you from seeing him for who he really is.  The same would apply if you were brought up in a home that was hostile toward the gospel and the church.  If you are only hearing the name of Christ as a curse, and always hearing that the church is this or that, it would colour your opinion and become a handicap to you accepting the gospel.

Sometimes it's just the opposite.  It's unfortunate but true that while many Christian parents are very adamant about making their kids religious they are very lax about making sure that their kids have the opportunity to become Christians.

Years ago I read a statement that warned Parents about the dangers of inoculating our children with small amounts of Christianity so they never catch a dose of the real thing.  And so what happens is that if we have been told about Jesus Christ all our lives but our parents have never taken the opportunity to introduce us to him we may not be able to see him because we think we know all about him.

Here is a little aside for the parents of children at home, the person with the primary responsibility to lead your child to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is not Deborah and her team in the Nursery, or Marilyn and her team in junior church or Ben and his team in youth or Denn Guptill in church.  The person with the primary responsibility for leading your child to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is you.  You see at some point in your child's life you will experience a relationship where they will exhibit the utmost trust in what you say, now that may only last for twenty minutes, but it's at that time that you as a Christian parent have an obligation to lead your child into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Now if your response is “I’ll wait until they get older and let them decide for themselves” realize that every year they go without accepting the lord increases the chance of them not accepting him and going to hell.  Like when was the last time you let your kid's wait until they were sixteen to decide if they should go to school, or go to the dentist.  “I’ll let them decide for themselves whether or not they want a job and teeth when they are adults”.

Zacchaeus had a handicap that kept him from seeing the Lord and in that he was somewhat like each of us.  And so he decided that if he was going to overcome his handicap he would have to take matters into his own hands and so we are told in Luke 19:4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.

3) Zach Was a Risk Taker
I love this picture, here's short little Zacchaeus gathering all his robes, and probably very nice robes, remember how rich he was,  gathering all his robes up and racing madly down the street.

Now I might be making some unfair assumptions but I would suspect that Zacchaeus was probably very dignified and superior acting in keeping with his position.

Now I like being tall and when I want to make an impression I use every one of my 187 cm to make that impression.  But I would suspect that Zacchaeus used his air of dignity to accomplish the very same thing.  Somehow though the picture that comes to mind of Zacchaeus racing as fast as he can, picking up and putting down those short little legs, his robes gathered up in his arms.  Is not real dignified is it?

So he gets down the street and he still can't see Jesus but he sees the crowd surging toward him and he suddenly realises that it don't matter how fast he runs that when the crowd gets there he's still gonna be too short to see over them.  Off to one side he spots a sycamore tree and he rushes over, lifts his robes and starts to shinny up this skinny little tree. Ladies and gentlemen pause if you will and try to imagine yourself climbing a tree in an evening gown, quite an image isn't it.  That was what Zacchaeus had to do in his robes.

You see in order to overcome his handicap, Zacchaeus had to first overcome his pride.  I don't know what keeps you from seeing Christ as saviour, but if’n I was a gambling man I’d bet dollars to donuts that a lot of it was pride.  Don't let pride stand in your way because there won't be a lot to be proud of in hell.  The story is told of Harry Ironside, one of the great bible teachers of the last century, as a child.  One evening after the family came back from church Ironside confessed to his mother that during the invitation to come forward to accept Christ that he had felt to go but was afraid that his friends would laugh at him.  His mother told him, “Harry, your friends may laugh you into hell but they will never be able to laugh you out of hell.”  Your pride may get you to hell but it won't do you much good when you get there.

So there he is in all his dignity the chief tax collector of Jericho up in a tree watching the parade and Luke tells us in Luke 19:5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”
4) Jesus Found Zach

I love it, it was because Zacchaeus was willing to break with tradition and go against the flow that something wonderful happened.  Jesus came to his house for lunch.

I'm sure if Zacchaeus had any friends that they would have said “you can't do that Zach”  “what will people think” “it's never been done like that before”  “what will people say if you fall out of the tree?”, “this Jesus fellow is going to think that you are some kind of nut case” as luck would have it though Zacchaeus either didn't have any friends or there weren't any around.  I once saw a bumper sticker that sums up my approach to life, it said and I quote “no guts, no glory.”  Now I know that doesn't sound real spiritual but if we're going to get anything done for God then we are going to have to take a risk. And I get sick of little churches and little pastors who bemoan the fact that they never see any growth or any action in their church but they wouldn't know a risk if they fell over one let alone took one.

When Jesus calls people he calls them out of mediocrity and into risk taking.  If the twelve hadn't been willing to take a risk then the gospel wouldn't have spread throughout the holy land, and if Paul hadn't been ready to take a risk then the gentiles would never have heard the gospel.  And if Luther hadn't taken a risk we would still have a pope and if john Wesley hadn't taken a risk then we would still have the archbishop of Canterbury.

And if folks hadn't taken a risk then there wouldn't be a Cornerstone Wesleyan Church.  And if Zacchaeus hadn't been willing to take a risk he would never have met Jesus.
Listen to Luke 19:9-10 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

5) Zach Found Jesus

Salvation has come to your house, praise God Zacchaeus got saved.  The chief tax collector, one of the most hated men in Jericho had opened his heart to Jesus and Christ had washed that sin stained heart whiter then snow.  But why Zach?  Because Jesus said that he had come to seek and to save what was lost.  You don't need to save those who are already saved, you don't have to give sight to those who can already see or heal those who are already well and those who are already found don't need finding.

Zacchaeus was a sinner but then again according to Paul in Romans 3:10 As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one.
One of the hardest steps in finding the saviour is admitting that you need a saviour, but the fact of the matter is that everybody has as much of a need of Jesus as did Zacchaeus.

Luke 19:8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”
Ain’t it great?  They say a leopard can't change his spots, well if he gets saved he'd better.  Not only was Zach a saved man he was a changed man as well.  Wealth was everything to Zach and he gave half of it away to the poor, and then he used the other half to right any wrongs,  he told people, if I cheated you out of $100.00 then I will repay you $400.00

You never realize how much things mean to you until you have to get rid of them, when we were on our way to Australia I couldn't understand why Angela was getting so upset over selling some old furniture, well I discovered a few flaws in my character when I sold my car and my motorcycle within seven days of each other.  My neighbour summed it up when he said “Denn you're living in an empty house and driving a borrowed car.”  I realised then just how I’d been building bigger barns and I knew that if I learnt nothing else from my decision to move to Australia that it shed a whole new light on what things I owned and what things owned me.

The truth of the matter is that Zacchaeus was a changed man because his priorities had changed.  How about it, does 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  Apply to you?

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