TO SEEK AND TO SAVE THE LOST
Luke 19:1-10 (K. V.: 19:10)
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Thank God for the gospel message newly delivered by Msn. Gideon! We never get tired of hearing such a message, even though it was a little hard to receive. Surely, suffering, death, and resurrection is a difficult topic and yet that is the only way for us to come to the Father and to His Kingdom. We also learned that when the blind beggar humbly asked Jesus of his mercy, Jesus listened to him and asked him what he wanted. Likewise, when we cry out to him for his mercy, Jesus will hear us and ask us the same question: what do you want me to do? Then, our answer should be like that of the blind beggar: Lord, we want to see. Spiritual eyesight is the right thing to ask. Today’s passage is one of the most illustrative passages regarding how we can see Jesus and Jesus’ purpose on earth. As we earnestly seek Jesus, he will meet us and tell us that we are the children of God. Jesus came to this world to seek and to save the lost such as I. May God help us to have a desire to seek Jesus and enable us to understand His heart toward us so that we may be found, have the joy of living, and share it with others.
He Ran Ahead and Climbed a Sycamore-fig Tree (1-4)
Look at verse 1. Jesus was once again on the move. This time, he stopped by Jericho to pass-by. Why Jericho? Jericho is one of the most historic places in Israel’s history. It was the first city that Joshua overcame to enter the Promised Land from the East side of the Jordan river. It was also the last place that Elijah stopped by before he was taken up to heaven. Perhaps, Jesus wanted to savor the feelings that Joshua and Elijah had as he was heading to Jerusalem, the first and the last place for him to enter the kingdom of God and to depart the earthly world. As such, there should happen a historic event that commemorates his time at Jericho.
Look at verse 2. “A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.” Here, the name Zacchaeus means “pure” in Hebrew. His father probably named him in the hope that he would filter out all the impure things of the community and make a difference. However, against his father’s wish, Zacchaeus became a tax collector, an embodiment of impurity and the scum of the world. And he was not just a tax collector, but a chief tax collector, possibly a regional manager of the greater Jericho metropolitan tax offices which regulated the major trade route along the Jordan river where myrrh and balsam were transported. Accordingly, as Zacchaeus taxed them, he became quite wealthy.
So, it seemed he was the last person to want to see Jesus. He was in the dark business with illegal gain, was considered as a traitor among his people and had lots of illicit money. Why bother to see Jesus? He could just live a comfortable life with what money could buy. Nevertheless, his desire to be pure was rekindled when he heard about Jesus. Jesus was different. He was known as a great prophet from God who performed marvelous things among people, particularly among the poor, the needy and the helpless. Above all, he was very much intrigued by the news that Jesus accepted Matthew, a notorious ex-tax-collector in the greater Galilee-land whom he possibly met at the regional chief tax collectors’ conference. If that was true, this Jesus must be a real deal whom God approved and gave irresistible authority. And if an unacceptable person like Matthew could be accepted and changed, Zacchaeus might have a second chance in Jesus, too. He would be filtered out to be pure. Suddenly, Zacchaeus had this urge to see who Jesus was. What would he look like? What would be his attire? He wanted to see him and know more about him. However, when he tried to see Jesus, he could not do so because he was literally short and that there was too big a crowd that blocked his view. After all, Jesus had already become like a celebrity in Israel. To see him, he probably had to shove people aside to come forward to the front but in doing so, he might be squashed by the angered crowd. There seemed no possible way for him to see Jesus. At that moment, he did not give up. Instead, he used his brain. He might have been short, but he was smart. So, he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree there to see him. It is said that the limbs of a sycamore tree are low and hanging enough that even a child could climb into the tree to get a better view. Hence, Zacchaeus could finally see Jesus on the limb of a tree.
What does this story tell us about Zacchaeus? It tells us that when we seek God wholeheartedly, we will be able to find him. Dt 4:29 also assures us of that. It reads. “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.” In fact, when we seek him, God is more than willing to meet us, possibly even willing to give us something more important than an autograph, if we ever compare him to a celebrity. May God help us to seek him in our uttermost earnest so as to seehim .
For the Son of Man Came … (5-10)
Look at verse 5. “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’” It is amazing that Jesus noticed Zacchaeus first out of hundreds of people, if not thousands. Note Jesus called him by his name, instead of calling him in a general term such as “hi there.” What is significant about calling Zacchaeus by name? The significance is that Jesus knew him already. It is as John 10:14 says, which reads, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Jesus knew what had gone through in Zacchaeus’ life. Jesus knew what Zacchaeus wanted now. As if he were his best buddy for a long time, he called Zacchaeus by name. What do the words “must stay at your house” indicate? Unless you are really close to someone, you cannot invite yourself to his house. So, “staying at his house” indicates that Jesus let him know that he is really close to him. At the same time, Jesus let him know that he wanted a deep personal relationship with him. In this world, we may have many superficial relationships with the people around us. Sometimes, such superficial relationships hurt us, making us feel disappointed and disillusioned. Yet, in Jesus, we do not such shallow relationships. Rather, we enjoy unassuming, genuine, and deeper relationships.
One thing very unique about our UBF ministry is that we aim for the personal and deeper relationships within us. At times, we did something unconventional, which people might not understand such as leading a common life where brothers stayed together in one house and sisters at another for the purpose of discipleship and a deeper relationship. From early morning till late night, sharing the word of God, praying together and preparing the worship service and seasonal activities tightly bonded us together as if we were all real brothers and sisters. Of course, there were some issues and problems and yet, by overcoming them, we became even more genuine and matured in the Lord. Although we may not be able to do the same because of the current situation, we pray to maintain such a genuine, personal, and deep relationship in our meeting. At least we can practice that once a week.
Look at verse 6. What was Zacchaeus’ response? His response was immediate and full of joy. He felt his life was renewed in Jesus’ self-invitation to his house. He seldom had anyone to come to his house and yet now he would have lots of guests because of Jesus. It would be better than the Super-Bowl party. However, not all the people were happy about Zacchaeus. In verse 7, we see all the townspeople muttering that Jesus went to be the guest of a sinner. To their eyes, Jesus was committing to something not acceptable by associating himself with a bad sinner.
Look at verse 8. Regardless of what others said about him or Jesus, Zacchaeus was determined to turn his life around. So, he made an announcement regarding his future plan in front of Jesus and his company. He said he would give half of his possessions to the poor and make proper restitution to whomever he cheated up to four times, which is 400%. Why half and why four times? Perhaps, Zacchaeus made the other half as a reserve for making restitution. Another thing is that the OT law required only the full amount plus one fifth, which is 120% for restitution (Lev. 6:5; Num. 5:7). Perhaps, Zacchaeus had in mind David who demanded four times the lamb in the story of Nathan the prophet (2Sa 12:6). This shows Zacchaeus’ true repentance. He not only wanted to have this unforgettable memory intact but also wanted to protect Jesus’ reputation. In that way, Jesus did not go to a sinner’s house but to a changed man’s house or a good friend’s house.
Look at verse 9. What was Jesus’ reaction to this changed Zacchaeus? “Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.’”
In this short verse, we note the key element of the work of salvation. First, “today.” The gospel works immediately even today so that its impact may be felt. Second, “this house.” The work of salvation is very much inclusive so that one’s entire household would be saved. That is what happened to Cornelius’ household and the warden’s household. Third, “a son of Abraham.” The work of God is in essence the restoration of identity. For a long time, Zacchaeus lived as a traitor and self-centered man who had no joy and no hope excluded from the promises given Abraham. Even though his body was in a Jewish society and yet his soul was not there. Jesus fixed that problem. By announcing that he too was a son of Abraham, he fully restored the promises given to him through Abraham. In the same fashion, when we repent, we become children of God, having restored His image.
Look at verse 10. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This teaches us about Jesus’ purpose in coming. This is also a precise expression of God’s own heart toward the lost (Lk 5:31-32; 15:20)? His heart is like that of a doctor and a father. As we understand God’s heart toward us and try to be found, we can gladly join God’s search and rescue team that seeks and saves the lost. May God bless us to seek Him all the more and join the rescue efforts.