[July 21]--Wee Little Man

Luke 19:1-10

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that being a tax collector is one of God’s favorite professions. Yesterday we saw a story in which one of them was a hero and left the congregation with the Lord’s smile upon him. John the Baptist certainly minced no words when it came to denouncing people for their sinful lifestyles, but he had pretty mild things to say concerning this profession. One of Jesus’ twelve apostles was chosen from this crowd, and went on to write one of the Gospels.

Does this mean that the Lord had no problem with the moral level of most tax collectors? Does he condone theft? Of course not. And our Savior had no problem with acknowledging that they were common thieves. In his Sermon on the Mount, he put them on the same level as pagans: “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” He was under no illusions as to their moral character.

By the way, before I forget, I’m wondering how many of you actually get the reference in the title. When I was in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, we sang about Zacchaeus: “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. . .” Catchy little ditty, and it was useful in teaching us this story.

Notice that he wasn’t just a tax collector, but a “chief tax collector.” This man wasn’t just a thief and a collaborator; he likely had an entire district and several collectors under his authority. As the passage states, he was very wealthy, but he suffered from abject poverty in the spiritual realm. Apart from having no friends in the community, he knew that something was missing. He heard about this Teacher coming to Jericho, and the Spirit stirred within him and compelled him to see the Rabbi. Climbing a tree was considered pretty undignified, but he didn’t care. He had to see Jesus.

You’ve read the story: Jesus saw him up in the tree and singled him out of the entire crowd to spend some time one-on-one. I love how Jesus just invites himself to Zacchaeus’s house, but the guy was more than glad to jump down and take him to his home.

Once again we see the unbridgeable gulf between how the religious see people in sinful lifestyles and how Jesus sees them. They saw nothing but the sin, and he saw not only that but a soul in desperate need.

It would seem to me that between vss. 7 and 8 we have a time gap. I’ve always visualized it as Zacchaeus having supper with the Savior, and after some dinner conversation standing up and making his proclamation. The main point is the incredible work that Christ (and the Holy Spirit) did on his heart in a short amount of time. The Law of Moses only called for an extra one-fifth returned in the case of money stolen. It only required a double fine when an animal was stolen (a very valuable commodity), and it only obligated a four-fold restitution if the animal was stolen and killed. But as it often happens, the work of the Spirit induced him to go beyond what was strictly required by the Law. Add on top of this the fact that he was going to give half of all his possessions to the poor, and you can see how big a change was made here.

A quick note needs to be inserted here. Again, we’re saved by grace through faith in Christ plus nothing. We’re not saved by giving up our possessions or by making restitution on the things we’ve stolen. Jesus said he was now a “son of Abraham.” He was a physical descendant of Abraham at birth, but now he was saved by becoming a spiritual child of Abraham. The way you do that is by imitating Abraham in being declared righteous because of your faith. The inward change worked itself out and displayed itself in a radical change in lifestyle.

Verse 10, for me, really summarizes this entire Gospel, in fact it crystallizes the Good News in its entirety. This is why he picked Zacchaeus out of the crowd. Not because he was more righteous or more deserving of personal attention, quite the opposite. And that’s why he came for you and me. That’s why he picked you and me out of the mess we put ourselves into, why he cleansed us with his blood, and why he’s adopted us as his siblings and co-heirs. We were lost, and he came to seek us out and save us. Aren’t you glad?

Yes Lord, I’m verrrrrry glad of this. Whom can I tell about this? Who are the lost around me to whom you’re sending me?

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