“The View from a Tree”
When you were a child, did you ever climb a tree? Most of us probably did; and up in the tree, we were able to see things from a different perspective. We were above people on the ground and in some cases even hidden from their view. We could see them, but they could not see us. Those times of tree climbing and seeing things from a different perspective, we're fun. Well, in our lesson today, on “Key to the Kingdom,” we will look at a familiar story about a man who climbed a tree. He did not do that to build a tree house or even to have some fun. He did it so he could see Jesus. The man's name was Zacchaeus. And as he sat in the tree, he thought he was hidden from everyone's view; and what a surprise it was when Jesus walked by and called his name. Well, perhaps we know the rest of the story. It turns out quite well for Zacchaeus, and for many others. As we study from Luke chapter 19, I want us to see ourselves in that story. I hope we will consider the importance of wanting to see Jesus, and I also hope we will think about the blessing of being seen by Him. Stay tuned to this station for the next few minutes, as we study the lesson entitled “The View from a Tree.” I believe it will provide a spiritual blessing and encouragement.
Have you been around those people who are always willing and ready to do what is good and right? Oh, they are eager to help out around the house or to do things without even being asked. Perhaps you see that in one of your children or grandchildren, or you might even be like that yourself. And it's nice to have that kind of heart or that kind of attitude. It is a willingness to be accepted by others. It is easy to be around such a people and it oftentimes leads to that person or others being accepted and appreciated and blessed in some way. Yes, those types of people are anxious to do what is right. Well, in Luke chapter 19 we meet such a person. This man is anxious to do what is right, and his name is Zacchaeus. Now that is an unusual name. It means pure, righteous, clean, or even innocent. And yet the odd thing about it is, that does not describe Zacchaeus, at all. He was the chief tax collector in the area, and his role was to collect tax from his fellow citizens, his fellow Jews, and then to give it to the Roman authorities. That was his job. However, the Roman authorities allowed him to collect more tax than what was actually due, and that is what he did. He extorted money from his own fellow people. He took advantage of them. He unfairly charged them a higher rate of tax, and he put that extra money into his pockets. And as a result of that kind of thing, Zacchaeus became a very wealthy person. He was deeply involved in the corrupt tax system of the Roman government. But his wealth brought him nothing but disrespect, not only in the eyes of God, but also in the eyes of his fellow citizens. He profited from a program that took advantage of other people. And, no doubt, the rulers of the synagogue disapproved of his actions. They did not want to have anything to do with this man called Zacchaeus. He was despised by the people whom he had unjustly taken money from, and they did not like him. Well, no matter what his name suggested or how righteous he might have been privately, he would never be viewed as a God-fearing person. His wealth was getting him nowhere in his relationship with God, nor in his relationship with other people. Zacchaeus began to realize that. He began to realize that he needed a new direction for his life. He needed a change. He needed to move away from that and to go in a new and a better direction. It seemed that Zacchaeus realized that he was lost and he needed some help. And so the question is, how can such a man find his way into God's Kingdom? Well, he could not do it on his own. He was too unrighteous. His money could not purchase his salvation. He had no influence among the people who were in high position there in the synagogue. And so, how could that happen? The only way would be for the Lord to find Zacchaeus and to bring him in. And that is what we find here in Luke chapter 19. Jesus was nearing the time when He would go to Jerusalem and be falsely accused and arrested; and, be put to death on the cross of Calvary and then buried in a tomb and then rise from the dead. He was going from Galilee in the north up to Jerusalem in the south. And as He made His final journey to Jerusalem, He came into the town called Jericho, which was about 30 miles from Jerusalem. And this is what happened, according to chapter 19 beginning in verse 1: <Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see Him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed Him gladly. And all the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But 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.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”> This chief tax collector heard that Jesus was in town and was passing through, and Zacchaeus wanted to see Him. Zacchaeus may have heard the statement from John the Baptist when he stated, back in chapter 7 verse 34, that Jesus is a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Well, Zacchaeus was a tax collector and he was a sinner; and, perhaps more than anything else, Zacchaeus needed a friend. He didn't have many friends because those were the very people who could have been his friend, but he was taking money away from them. Yes, this described Zacchaeus’ life. And so, he climbed up into one of these short little sycamore-fig trees in hopes that Jesus would not see him as he walked that way. The branches and the leaves would hide him from Jesus’ view. But as Jesus came by, He looked up into that tree and He saw Zacchaeus and He told Zacchaeus to come down from that tree because on this very day He would go and share fellowship with him in his home. Jesus, not only saw Zacchaeus, however, he saw Zacchaeus’ heart. He saw that in Zacchaeus, here was a man who was willing to do what was right. He was willing to make some changes and adjustments in his life and to move away from what he had done in the past and to go in a new and a better direction. And Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus’ visit. He was anxious to welcome Jesus into his home where they could share together. And the text tells us that as Jesus went into his home, the people began to mutter. That means they began to talk among themselves about what they saw happening. Doesn't Jesus know this is a tax collector? Doesn't Jesus know this is a man who has unjustly and unfairly taken money away from us? Well, as a result of spending time with Jesus, Zacchaeus began to realize his need for the Lord. He recognized, some how some way, through Jesus, the love that God had for him, and how that Jesus was the One who could turn around his life and bring a change and help him move into a new and better direction. Oh, we don't know much about Zacchaeus’ life outside of the fact that he was a tax collector. That's what he did on a daily or a regular basis. However, during the course of events, he began to realize it was time to make this change. He was ready to put that lifestyle behind him and he was ready to even become a follower of this friend of tax collectors and sinners. And so Zacchaeus confessed his sin. He promised to make things right. According to Leviticus chapter 6 and verse 5, in the Old Testament, in such situations, a 20% refund in addition to what had improperly been taken was to be given back to those who had been defrauded of their money. But we know from the text that Zacchaeus went beyond the requirements of the law. What did he do? He promised to give up to four times the original amount of what was unjustly taken. Yes, he would repay that money, plus much more, to those whom he had offended. His repentance was genuine. It went beyond the requirements of the Law. But notice something else. In addition to that, he said that he would also give up to half of his possessions to the poor. Now I don't want us to miss something here in those statements. Number One; Zacchaeus was indeed a wealthy man and partly because he had taken that from people whom he had defrauded. He took advantage of those who perhaps did not know the tax system. He took advantage of his own fellow Jews, his fellow citizens there in the Jericho area. But then, secondly; he recognized his duty to take care of the poor. That was something that God wanted His people to do all throughout the Old Testament. He wanted His people to be aware of those who are poor and neglected and who were less fortunate. And we find that even in the New Testament time, as well, as Jesus spent time with those who were overlooked and neglected and He had compassion and love for such individuals. And even the apostle Paul, in his writings, would write back to churches and say, “Above all else, remember those who are poor.” And that was the attitude that Zacchaeus had, as he made this confession of sin to Jesus Christ. Now, even though Scripture does not tell us, we believe that his words were supported by his actions. And that seems to be indicated because Jesus accepted his repentance; didn't He? He acknowledged the fact that indeed Zacchaeus confessed his sin. He repented. He was anxious to move in a new and a better direction. And then, He grants to him salvation and he identifies Zacchaeus as a son of Abraham, as a child of God: “You are now a member of God's family.” And then, of course, the story ends with those familiar words, in verse 10, that Jesus, the Son of Man, came to seek and to save what was lost. You know, here in Jericho, Jesus found someone who needed and who willingly accepted what He had to offer. His salvation came to a rich man, who was a cheating tax collector. It came to a man who was hated among his own people. It was offered to a man who knew that he needed God's love and God's grace and God's forgiveness and God's salvation, perhaps more than anyone else, and Jesus granted it to him. When we think about Jesus’ mission here up on this earth, we know that He came to seek and to save what was lost. That's one of the primary reasons for which He was sent. We think about the words that are found in John chapter 3 and verse 17: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” Zacchaeus already had enough condemnation, didn't he? Nobody liked him. Everybody condemned him. But, Jesus came to save him. Jesus, himself, stated in John 12 verse 47, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.” That's Good News, my friend; isn't it? Jesus has come into this world to save those who are lost. And then Peter wrote, in 2nd Peter 3 verse 9, “God does not want anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.” It is a tragic thing to be lost. And time and time again, we see in Scripture that Jesus has come to bring salvation to those who are. Oh, none of us can do enough good to be saved. We need someone to come to our rescue. We need someone to offer us that salvation, and that someone is Jesus. And that is what Zacchaeus realized, wasn’t it? He knew that he was headed in the wrong direction and that he was lost. Jesus recognized Zacchaeus’ good heart. He recognized his willingness to do what was right. And He announced that salvation had come; not only to him, but also to his entire house. It came to his family members and to his servants, as well. And that is something which is commonly stated throughout Luke's writings. In fact, it is mentioned at least five times in the book called Acts. Well, that gift of salvation affected every aspect of Zacchaeus’ life. It was totally changed by his encounter with Jesus. Here was a man who was anxious to do what was right. His confession and his repentance led him in that new direction. And from this time forward, that salvation would bless the poor, to whom he was giving up to half of his possessions. It would bless those whom he had cheated, as he would willingly give up to four times above what had been taken unfairly from them. Yes, Jesus’ salvation came to Zacchaeus in a variety of ways, here in Luke chapter 19. And that was true with many other aspects of Jesus' ministry, as well. Jesus brought salvation by healing those who were sick. He made whole those who could not hear and could not speak. He cleansed people who were afflicted with demon possession. Yes, Jesus changed people’s lives as He ministered to and He served both the physical and the spiritual needs of many people throughout His public ministry. There are many statements found in the New Testament which describe or summarize the ministry of Jesus, here up on this earth. There is one that I especially like, and I want to share that with us today, in the gospel of Matthew chapter 9 beginning with verse 35. <Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.”> Yes, once again we notice, Jesus came to Earth to change people's lives, in both spiritual and physical ways. He came to offer a new way to live. He came to offer a new purpose to pursue, and that was the very thing which Zacchaeus realized and accepted. Today, when Jesus finds us in our state of being lost, He offers salvation. He invites us to repent of our past life and to live a changed life. He wants us to quit living a life of sin and to pursue a righteousness that is real. Yes, Jesus challenges us to live on a higher level of discipleship. He wants us to experience that same kind of a change of heart, and to be anxious to do what is right, just like Zacchaeus. Oh, as Jesus finds us in our state of being lost, our encounter with Him will lead to that changed life. It will lead to a softened heart and a desire to live a life that is pleasing and acceptable unto Him. And that is what salvation is all about; it is about making things right and making things whole, once again. Now I want to be very clear in what I'm about to share with you, right now. Living a good life, helping the poor and deciding to do what is right does not earn Jesus’ salvation, today. Rather, it is a result of having already received it. Yes, we receive our salvation when we come to faith and belief in Jesus Christ as God's one and only Son. We come to salvation when we believe that Jesus died upon the cross to take away the curse of sin; and then, He was buried in a tomb and then He rose victoriously from the grave. We receive that salvation when we, like Zacchaeus, turn our back on our previous way of life and move in a new direction. We receive that salvation when we acknowledge Jesus as the Son of the living God, and we submit to Him as the Lord of our life. We also receive that salvation when we are immersed in water, as we are baptized into Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of that sin. We are united with Him and we become a part of God's family. We become one of God's sons and daughters. That is how we receive salvation, today. And as a result of receiving that salvation, it is then that we become like Zacchaeus, in that we are anxious to do what is right. We are anxious to move in a new and a better direction that brings glory and honor to God because of the salvation we have now received from Him. When we think about the story, we see that Jesus’ ministry changed every aspect of Zacchaeus’ life. The same is still true with us, today; the Son of Man is still seeking and saving those who are lost, just like He did with this man Zacchaeus. He is still pursuing those who need to hear and to respond to God's amazing love and the free gift of salvation that comes through His one and only Son. And when we do that, it will change every aspect of our life, as well. My prayer and my encouragement for you today is that you will take a serious look at your life, determine whether or not some adjustments or changes need to be made, so that you can move in that new direction, and then gladly receive that free gift of salvation as you are united with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in baptism. I encourage you, today, to be anxious to do what is right.
In archeology, a ‘tell’ is a mound of dirt and refuge that has accumulated over thousands of years, from people living on that particular site. Well, the tell at Jericho is about 50 feet high, and archeologists have uncovered many levels of civilization. When excavated in the 1930’s, mud brick walls were found, and they are believed to be some of those very walls that fell down when Joshua’s army marched around the city. The most important discovery at Jericho is a stone tower about 15 feet tall with a stone stairway inside. The tower lies deep inside the tell, having been built perhaps thousands of years ago. There is nothing else like it, and that is why archeologist believe Jericho to be the oldest city in the world. A natural spring, which still flows at a rate of 1000 gallons per minute, waters the biggest oasis anywhere in the Middle East. It is in this city that Jesus encountered a man named Zacchaeus, sitting in a tree. He longed to see what Jesus would do and he wondered if he could see Him with his own eyes. But when Jesus saw him, He told Zacchaeus to come down. He then invited Himself to dinner in Zacchaeus’ home. And on that occasion, Jesus changed this man's life with the words, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Oh, Jesus is still seeking and saving the lost today. The question is, though, are we longing to see Jesus, hear what He has to say and allow Him to change our life? What happened so long ago at Jericho can happen where you live today.
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