Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Freeing Power of Christ’s Forgiveness

by Pastor Paul Wolff

Jesus shows mercy to Zacchaeus
The story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10 is a remarkable story which gives us great insight into the merciful nature and personality of God. As a result, this story gives great comfort to Christians, but it gives great torment to Pharisees and all who are self righteous or who think that they are gaining some favor with God by their righteous acts.

Zacchaeus was not a popular person. Nearly everyone looked down upon him both literally and figuratively. Zacchaeus was a very short man so most people looked down on him in that way. This would not have been a problem if Zacchaeus had held a respectable position in society, but he did not. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Tax collectors were despised in first century Palestine for two main reasons: First, they were seen as collaborators with the hated Roman government which was then occupying the vast majority of the civilized world. Second, tax collectors often took more money than they were required and kept it for themselves. Some people use wealth (and the luxury wealth affords) to comfort themselves when they are in disfavor with polite society – such as when they have come by their wealth dishonestly, or have used their wealth to circumvent justice.

Zacchaeus likely did this, too, but not on this day. He had heard that Jesus was coming to Jericho and, like many in that town, he dropped everything and went to see Jesus. The problem was that so many people had come out to see Jesus that “wee-little” Zacchaeus couldn’t get a glimpse of this great man of God, and no one was going to step aside so the chief tax collector could get a good view. But Zacchaeus had heard great things about Jesus and dearly wanted to see Him, so he climbed up a tree so he could see Jesus as He went by.

You would think that of all the people in Jericho on that day the last one whom the Almighty, Holy, Righteous God would honor with His presence would be the thieving chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, but you would be wrong. This is where we learn about what God is like. Remember that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15) He is God in the flesh. (John 1:14) Everything that Jesus does is exactly what God would do because Jesus is God. So when Jesus is in Jericho He calls Zacchaeus by name , and asks him to come down from the tree so He could stay at his house that day.

Moneybag for helping the poor
There were surely many more worthy people in Jericho than Zacchaeus to receive this great honor from Jesus, but that is the point of Jesus’ actions. It would have been a humiliating disgrace for any respectable person to be found in the home of such a despised thief, much less to give him honor in front of the great crowd who clogged the Jericho streets that day. Jesus, however, was not ashamed to humble Himself and be seen with sinners. After all, Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of servant.” (Philippians 2:6-7)

You may find some preachers today who might try to tell you that Zacchaeus had somehow made himself worthy of this great honor by climbing the tree or some such thing. That is nonsense, and exactly the opposite of what the Scriptures teach in Luke 19 and everywhere else. Jesus did not look down upon Zacchaeus, and it wasn’t because Zacchaeus was up in a tree. Jesus singled out Zacchaeus for honor because Zacchaeus was just the sort of person Jesus had come to save – a miserable sinner.

It is worth noting that Jesus does not make His honor conditional by saying, “If you clean up your act and make yourself worthy I will come and honor you with my presence today.” In fact, Jesus doesn’t even speak one word of Law to Zacchaeus. Jesus simply says, “I must stay at your house today.” Jesus doesn’t preach the Law to Zacchaeus because He doesn’t have to. The Pharisees and the rest of society had done a sufficient job of preaching the Law to Zacchaeus. He was well aware that he was a sinner, but that didn’t save him or bring him to repentance. What the Pharisees failed to preach to Zacchaeus was that God is merciful and forgiving. They didn’t want to preach this because it would have made them look bad to admit that sinners like Zacchaeus could have salvation as easily as they could.

The Father welcomes back
the lost son
Jesus simply showed mercy to the despised tax collector and Zacchaeus is so honored that he immediately repents of his sin. Zacchaeus doesn’t receive Christ’s grace as license to continue in his sinful ways, instead he has been freed from the burden of the Law and eagerly repents of his wicked ways. Then Jesus tells why He honored Zacchaeus in this way by saying, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10) This is not to say that Zacchaeus was saved because he was a descendant of Abraham, because in the next sentence Jesus clearly says that he had been lost and unsaved earlier, though still a son of Abraham. Zacchaeus was saved the same was as the rest of us (including Abraham) -- through faith in Jesus as our savior from all our sin. So like Zacchaeus, “let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2) For if Jesus has redeemed a despised sinner like Zacchaeus, He has also redeemed me and you.

One last thing to note is that Jesus also doesn’t tell Zacchaeus that he must quit being a tax collector. When the tax collectors came to John to repent of their sins and be baptized (Luke 3:12-13) he only told them to be honest and don’t steal, but be satisfied with the wages they were paid by their Roman overseers. Zacchaeus could serve his neighbors in love in his vocation as a tax collector. Though the position was despised, it was necessary. If the Romans did not receive their tax payment they would have sent in the troops to take their tribute by force and many innocent people would have been murdered. Christians can take comfort that serving our neighbor in love does not always mean that our loving service is appreciated, except by God who wants what is best for us even when we don’t appreciate it.

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