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Aug 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 3, 2014 – Luke 19:1-10

The Soul In Search of Jesus

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. Luke 19:1-4

Intro: When young, I had a simplistic concept of the Bible

I thought it was this monolithic religious document
– a sacred text that explained Judaism and Christianity
• I assumed it was written in a uniform style, like an encyclopedia
• so a person could look up information regarding beliefs, rituals, and rules
– it was only later in reading through it that I discovered the truth
• the Bible is a compilation in which we hear the voices of many authors
○ it consists of several different types of literature
• even in the New Testament we can distinguish narrative, letter, essay, and prophetic genre

Nevertheless, every New Testament author shared the same goal
– to communicate their experience of Jesus Christ
• it was their conviction, we could experience him too

. . . and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory … (1 Pe. 1:8)
. . . but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Pe. 3:18)

– whether or not this happens for us is another matter
• it depends a lot on how we come to the New Testament
○ whether we’re looking for information or for Jesus
– this vignette of Zaccheus suggests a way of coming to scripture to see Jesus

This is a unique incident in the life of Jesus

Even for Luke, who stresses Jesus’ interaction with tax-collectors and their crowd
– this is the only time Jesus invited himself into someone’s home
• and the only time someone was so eager to see Jesus for who he is
– for all we know Zaccheus may have been a rascal
• but there’s something charming about his story
○ his wealth, his position, his height disadvantage, and his ingenuity
○ and not least of all, the fact that he transforms before our eyes

Jericho is and was a desert oasis and important intersection of major highways
– there would be many opportunities for tax-collectors
• “chief” was like district supervisor – Zaccheus had employees
– there was a variety of taxes:
• both on entering and exiting a district, the transport of goods, merchandise taxes, etc.
• Zaccheus had done well for himself – “and he was rich”

The Greek text reads, “And he sought to see Jesus, who he was”
– it was not that he wanted go get a look at Jesus, as if he knew who he was
• he wanted to see the person and discover him for himself
– I can’t think of a better illustration of contemplative prayer
• to focus both our intention and attention on seeing Jesus
○ to see and experience him for ourselves
• but like Zaccheus, I find it’s not that easy
○ lots of people and things get in my way
○ and no matter how hard I try, I come up short

I want to come back to the tree Zaccheus climbed
– but for now we simply note that climbing it was childlike (cf. Lk. 18:17)

Vv. 5-7, Zaccheus got what he wanted–and more

I think, if you were well-known in your city, wanted respected yet hated by many, and you were sitting up in a tree, you wouldn’t want to be noticed
– but right at that critical moment, Jesus looked up
• and he not only looked right  at Zaccheus, but called him by name
– Zaccheus wanted to know who Jesus was
• well, Jesus is the One who knows him by name
• the One who comes with an assumption
○ that he can invite himself into Zaccheus’ home
○ that he knows Zaccheus well enough to do this
○ that he can treat Zaccheus as a friend
• immediately Zaccheus proves him right–joyfully!

But not everyone is rejoicing – nor as charming as the tax-collector
– Luke does not specify who he means by “they” in verse 7
• but we can guess, because “they” were always around (e.g., Lk. 15:1-2)
• always grumbling, criticizing, and objecting
– it’s a sad truth that often those who crowd around Jesus are the very ones who make it difficult  for others to see him for who he is
• their dogma and piety get in their own way
• their labels and judgment get in the way of others (Mt. 23:13)
○ they knew Zaccheus well enough–they no doubt knew his name
○ but they didn’t refer to him by name – to them he was a non-person, “a sinner”

Vv. 8-10, So who knew the real Zaccheus?

The locals in the crowd or Jesus
– the ones for whom he was nothing more than sinner
• or the One who called him by name?
– the answer is in Zaccheus’ confession and restitution
• Jesus uncovered and restored Zaccheus’ true self
• in discovering who Jesus is, Zaccheus discovered himself
– he did what the rich man last week was unable to do
• he opened his safe and redistributed his wealth
• he did this because Jesus had opened something inside of him

We don’t have time to savor each word Jesus spoke, but they were filled with significance
– “Today” – where do we meet Jesus? — when does salvation come to us?
• today–in this present moment

. . . we urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain . . . . Behold, now is the “acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:1-2)

• regarding the salvation Zaccheus experienced and Jesus came to accomplish:

  1. it is not static, but ongoing
  2. its meaning is not restricted to “rescue”
  3. its fuller meaning is to “make whole” or well–to bring a person into God’s shalom 
    – we may belong to God through Jesus but we are still broken people
    – one day we will be “perfect” (complete), but that day has not yet arrived (1 Cor. 13:9-12)

“son of Abraham” – Jesus chose a label other than “sinner” to describe Zaccheus
• a more meaningful designation and closer to his true self
○ “son of Abraham” is not about DNA so much as a potential
○ it is a seed, if watered, can connect him to Abraham’s God
– then, over against “son of Abraham,” Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man”
• one of the titles attributed to the Messiah (Lk. 22:67-71)
• he came specifically for this purpose, to awaken what slumbers within
○ to actualize a potential that belongs to all of the children of Adam and Eve
○ made in God’s image, everyone carries the potential to be restored to intimacy with God

Conc: Let’s revisit the tree Zaccheus climbed

Hungarian anthropologist, Mircea Eliade observed the tree as a near-universal symbol
– he cited a number of traditions in which climbing a tree was initiation into the supernatural
• a symbolic ascent into heaven and, thereby, into enlightenment
– in scripture the destiny of humankind hangs on two trees
• the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden
• the tree of salvation on Mount Calvary
– for Zaccheus, the tree represents a vantage point to see Jesus
• some vantage points give us a better view of Jesus than others
• looking over the crowd can give us a truer idea of who Jesus is than looking through the crowd

Zaccheus’ story suggests one way we can approach contemplative prayer:

  1. Bring curiosity with us into the silence
    – What am I seeing? What am I experiencing?
    Thomas Merton, “He who thinks he knows what it is beforehand prevents himself from finding out the true nature of contemplation.”
  2. Explore your experience of silence
    – What you feel in your body, what you hear
    – discover the mystery of Jesus for yourself (cf. Ex. 3:3; Lk. 2:15)
  3. Find a vantage point that gives you the best view of Jesus
    – climb up and out on the branches of scripture
    – spend time in wonder sitting at the foot of Jesus’ cross
    – whatever you do, look past the others who misrepresent the Lord
  4. Become a host to Jesus
    – greet Jesus and welcome him into your inner life
    – “minister” to him — give him all your attention
  5. Be responsive
    – the miracle is Jesus, the transformation is ours

The point is
that we make time
in which our hearts and minds
are shut off to everything else
but our Lord Jesus Christ

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