Transformations - Luke 19:1-10
I wonder if you've seen any of the BBC Television programmes seeking to agree the top 100 Great Britons?
Some of the people chosen for this list are not surprising the great war time Leader Winston Churchill, notable scientific pioneers whose discoveries have affected human life so significantly like Michael Faraday. Social reformers like Hull's own anti slavery campaigner William Wilberforce. But there were the other figures who rather trivialised the exercise eg the 80s pop star Boy George, the ageing radio DJ John Peel!
This bit of TV fun does raise serious questions. What is true human greatness? What kind of influence can one individual exert on the rest of us?
Let me read a piece of prose written about an individual not a Briton as it happens - but one who has influenced a great many Britons; It's Called "One solitary Life"
He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter's shop until he was 30, and then for three years he was a travelling preacher. He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college... He never travelled more than 200 miles from the place he was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself.
Then the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to his enemies. He went through a mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he died, his executors gambled for the only property he had on earth - his clothes. When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave, through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today he is the centrepiece of the human raceI am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built, all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of people on this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life. (Quoted in Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell)
Of course, those words are about Jesus Christ.
Whatever you think of him, it is hard to deny he has been a very significant influence on the world, including our own Western culture & also on countless millions of human lives.
The influence of Jesus Christ for change & for good are very hard to explain if you think Jesus was just a good teacher. It's hard to see almost 2000 years after his death 100s of millions of people all over the world, believe he's still alive. But read the New Testament (NT) and you find that three days after he was nailed to that "cross between 2 thieves" and laid in that "borrowed grave", he came back to life.
That's the main claim of Christianity. Jesus rose from the dead, to prove that he was God become human & to re connect the human race with God.
With Jesus we're not talking about a person in the past and the difference his ideas can make. We're talking about a person in the present. A person who enters into peoples lives today, by his Spirit. A person who can bring about human transformation.
This eve we're going to consider a case study of transformation brought about by Jesus. We're going to see what he did for the man Zacchaeus, we read about in Luke's Gospel.
And this is highly relevant, for such transformations are his business today, as he works by his Spirit in human lives in 2002AD.
See 1st on sermon outline that there is a
1) [The] need for Human transformation.
We're looking tonight at Luke's gospel. [Do turn to Ch 19 p
This is the biography of Jesus written by Luke, who seems to have been a medical Dr & painstaking historian.
As we reach this section, we find Jesus approaching Jerusalem where he was to meet his death. Jesus has been increasingly made known as God's man come to rescue people indeed all types & kinds of people.
Now I suspect some of us may already have an image of the man Jesus meets; little Zacchaeus, perhaps from distant primary school assemblies or even Sunday School. But let's see what important information about Zacchaeus Luke actually tells us;
Firstly, he is short v3, & so can't see this travelling celebrity as the crowds gather for a fleeting sight as he passes through their town. But most significantly this man was a despised "tax collector" & a "chief tax collector" at that.
Now "tax collectors" in 1st century Palestine were civil servants who collected tariffs at customs points. That in itself is unobjectionable enough you might think, but tax collectors were despised by the Jewish society of the day. They were traitors working for the hated Roman occupiers, they were cheats taking extra for themselves.
Tax collectors were regularly regarded, as in our passage (v7), as "sinners"; offenders, lawbreakers, those unclean before their contemporaries & most of all before God. As those in the employ of pagan Romans they were ceremonially unclean, disconnected from God & therefore unable to go to the Temple to pray.
Who would be today's equivalent of a tax collector? Perhaps a British born Al Qi'eda terrorist in one sense one of us but now signed up with our enemy! Or perhaps a local resident who's on the sex offenders register someone living in our community but with a thoroughly despicable record, dangerous to civil society & considered the lowest of the low.
Zacchaeus was a thoroughly undesirable person disconnected from people & disconnected from God - the last person you would want to have anything to do with. Indeed he is a classic eg of a person who would be considered "lost". Lost is the word Jesus uses in v10 where he makes clear his purpose or mission; " the Son of Man" says Jesus of himself "came to seek and to save what was lost."
Lost is the kind of word the media use in headlines: 'Potholer lost in dales", 'Trawler crew lost at sea', 'Cameraman lost in Chechnya". Jesus means people are "lost" as in, "you've had it", even "you're dead".
Zacchaeus is in some ways a particularly colourful eg of a lost person given what we've said about Tax collectors. But the serious truth the Bible makes clear is that whilst you & I might not all be social outcasts, cheats, extortioners or traitors, actually all people left to their own devices are "lost" in Jesus'' terms. Lost because we've pushed God out of our lives and are trying to live without him. Lost because we are disconnected from people & disconnected from God.
You see the truth is, the true God has made us all he has given us so much to enjoy & yet we have all turned from him & made other things & people god instead. Yet because God has made us, we owe him. If we continue to push God out of our lives we shall have to face the consequences of our lostness in this life & in the next. Being lost is very dangerous. We are in a serious situation before our maker.
There's an old story told of a photographer's studio where a rather crusty old lady went along to have a portrait taken. She fussed endlessly about her hair and the lighting and the angle and the focus and the background and the powdering and the make-up.
The photographer's patience was at breaking point throughout.
Finally he was just about to take the photo & she leaned forward and said 'Young man, I hope you'll do me justice.' Something inside him snapped. 'Madam,' he said, 'It's not justice you need. But mercy.'
Joking apart that analysis is the accurate one for those who're "lost". When it comes to relating to God we are all lost we all need, not justice, for mere justice, what is right, would see us permanently disconnected from God. No, we need rather mercy escaping what we deserve & instead finding generous love from God that allows us to be found, to be reconnected with God.
That leads us to our second point;
2) The divine side of Human transformation
Normally a "lost" person would not be seeking out a religious teacher, but surprisingly Zacchaeus v3 "wanted to see who Jesus was [but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.] 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way" Now we don't know why Zacchaeus was so keen to see Jesus, it may simply have been curiosity provoked by the buzz of the crowds.
But then Jesus arrives on the scene; v5 "When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today."
Why did Jesus pick out Zacchaeus when there were so many people to speak to? Why did Jesus pick out Zacchaeus When there were many we might have expected him to look out for the religious, the upstanding, the decent
What we have here is a wonderful eg of the extravagant, lavish, free grace of God. Zacchaeus doesn't ask Jesus but Jesus stops & talks with him. Zacchaeus doesn't invite Jesus to his house, Jesus offers to be a guest at his house.
Zacchaeus had nothing to offer Jesus in terms of virtue or merit. But the amazing thing is Jesus doesn't come to lost people like Zacchaeus or you or me and say, 'Clean the house of your life up enough and then I'll come in.' He comes to us and says, 'I must stay at your house today.' In other words "I'll, come into your life just as you are, and start cleaning it up myself."
Do you see the point? God makes the 1st move towards us there is no deserving on our part. That's why the Christian message is good news. Other religions say, "Clean up your life enough and God will come in. Make yourself acceptable, and God will accept you." That is asking the impossible. That's why other religions are often such a miserable burden.
But the real thing - Jesus - is totally different. v5: "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." (p)
Here we have an illustration of the heart of Jesus' very purpose, v10 to "seek (& save) the lost." Jesus is about seeking out those who are disconnected from God they might be outcasts, undesirables or those credited with little worth, but also he is concerned for those who don't consider themselves "religious" or those who might think they are too far gone.
Zacchaeus shows that God didn't send Jesus just for those who are interested or feel the need, or think they're the religious type (whatever that means). It doesn't matter whether you're a success or falling apart; whether you feel any need or none at all. The fact is we all need God in our life, and that's why Jesus came.
Perhaps you're here tonight & the penny is dropping. You've heard the Bible's analysis of human life that we've been trying to build up over these weeks on Sunday eve's. You've heard something of the way God has provided rescue through Jesus as he died on that cross 2000 years ago taking in himself the debt we owe to God for our turning from him, making it possible to be reconnected with God. You are beginning to realise that actually you are lost & need to be found well Jesus came for you he came to seek & save the lost. (p)
Let's look finally at;
3) The human side of transformation
When Jesus calls Zacchaeus up his tree, amazingly Zacchaeus responds given all that he is & has been doing we probably wouldn't expect a response but v 6 "he came down at once and welcomed him (J) gladly."
Jesus' initiative of love to this lost person is met by his welcoming of Jesus. The grace of God in Jesus is met by a response of trust in Jesus.
And Zacchaeus the lost sinner, after being found by Jesus responds with "repentance" as well as faith. What a wonderful effect is the result; V 8 "But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor
In response to gracious love, Zacchaeus generously responds giving his wealth away Jesus hadn't demanded that of him, there was no rule he was following, it was a thank offering showing his dramatic transformation & change of heart.
Zacchaeus repented; instead of going in a direction that ignores God, he seeks to follow God's way & given the extortion he had been involved in, he seeks to make good what he's done wrong in relationships with others v8 "whenever I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." (p)
This is a great illustration of how someone comes to be a follower of Jesus 1st God calls them as they hear the message of Jesus. It's not about anyone's deserving or merit, they are not accepted because of what they have to offer - as someone has put it the "only thing we contribute to our forgiveness is our sin"!
God makes the 1st move towards Zacchaeus and in response he welcomes Jesus in to his life & there is a result - welcoming Jesus & his message leads to a change in life, a transformation.
These things are very important. It seems to me there is a lot of muddled thinking in some church circles at the moment about this. There are some who when they hear about the good news of Jesus being offered to "lost" people of whatever background feel themselves put out & offended; Just like the comments people made against Jesus as he showed concern for lost Zacchaeus - v7 "All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a `sinner.' ". But no, Jesus came for people such as Zacchaeus lost people, & we should share that attitude.
There's a profound message for those of us who know we are naturally lost but through the undeserved grace of God in Jesus have been found by him.
Within the church family God has placed us, we are to serve & love each other & build each other up but, we are not just to be concerned for those already on the inside already in the family. We are also to share Jesus' concern for "lost" people. We must share Jesus' openness to those on the "outside", including the undesirable, the unlikely that will affect our attitudes & our concern for people in the office, in our seminar group, in our street, in our families. Jesus came to seek & save the lost & his mission is carried forward by his people today. (p)
There is a also different kind of muddled thinking around. There are some in Church circles who seem content that those whose behaviour shows that are "lost" should be encouraged after hearing about Jesus, to continue to behave as if they were still lost.
The good news of salvation of rescue through Jesus is that God accepts us on the basis of Jesus & his death not in any way because of what we contribute. Yet once we are accepted & found it will make a difference. When we are reconnected to God through Jesus, the result will be transformation in different ways cheats will want to stop being cheats, swindlers will want to give back what they swindled.
Christians won't always manage to be faithful & live as they should, but there will be a change in attitude & desire to follow God's word. Zacchaeus is a wonderful reminder that God can give the ability to repent & believe, to turn from sin & trust in Jesus to the most unlikely of people. [1cor6?]
Well, Jesus' verdict on Zacchaeus is tremendous v9 Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham."
One on the outside has been welcomed into the family of God. One excluded from friendship with God by his attitude to God is now given rescue, salvation. One disconnected from God is now considered a "Son of Abraham" v9; in other words Abraham justified by faith & then showed his faith by his actions (Gen 15;6, 22). a person of true faith & an inheritor of God's promises. Not racial or ceremonial but by trust in Jesus Rom 2:28. Lost now found (cf Prodigal) One who was lost has been found & the process of human transformation has begun.
If anyone were to draw up a list of 100 great people not limited to great Britons surely Jesus Christ would have to be at least in anyone's top 10 given his influence on our world.
It is quite reasonable to say that wherever the story of that "One solitary life" of Jesus has been known, the positive nature of his transforming influence can be traced. (The incomparable Christ p164)
Jesus influence is there behind so much we take for granted in our world science with it's basis in the rationality of the universe stamped on it by its creator, revealed by Jesus.
Universal education founded on Jesus' respect for children & their God given potential.
The quest for justice & human rights, the search for harmonious race relations, promotion of reasonable working conditions & improvements in human health & welfare to name but a few, can all be traced back to Jesus' concern for people made equal in the image of God & the dignifying of humanity as God himself has shared it, in the person of Jesus.
And like Zacchaeus, human transformation is seen in the millions throughout 20 centuries (including Faraday & Wilberforce I mentioned at the start) who have discovered personal change for good, brought about by encountering the living Lord Jesus.
Are you one in whom the transforming work of Jesus is slowly continuing as you seek to follow him? It's not always easy or struggle free, is it? Remember his mission is to be continued, we are to work with Him to "seek & save the lost" even the most unlikely & undesirable.
Are you still in need of finding this transformation begun in you? It's begun by turning to Jesus & trusting in what he has done. Remember in his grace he is seeking you out more than you are seeking him & he has done all that's necessary, to reconnect the disconnected with God, to "seek & save the lost".
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