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June 10, 2017

Sermon Luke 19:1-10 . . . “People to meet in heaven:  Zacchaeus”

“People to meet in heaven:  Zacchaeus”

Luke 19:1-10

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Ever heard of Peter Dinklage?  Of course, you have!  He’s the most famous short person in the world!  Standing at 4 feet, 5 inches tall, he’s played Tyrion Lannister in The Game of Thrones or, a few years back, Miles Finch in the movie, Elf.  Remember his line?  “Call me ‘Elf’ one more time.”

And speaking of short people, think of 3 foot, 8 inch tall, Kenny Baker.  He played R2D2 in Star Wars.  Or there’s 2 foot, 8 inch tall, Verne Troyer.  He played “Mini-Me” in Austin Powers.  J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, was 5 foot, 5 inches tall, Beethoven was 5 foot, 3, world-famous singer and entertainer Dolly Parton is five feet tall, and Charlotte Bronte, author of Jane Eyre was 4 foot, 10.

Which just goes to show—you don’t have to be tall to do big things in this world.

But it’s not easy being short.  Author Emily Ng once wrote:  “I have always been one of short stature.  Petite, fun-sized, vertically challenged.  As a child, I was always the shortest, if not the second shortest person in my class.  I remember the thrill of finally hitting 4 feet, 11 ½ inches in junior high.  Now I’m 5 foot, 2.”  And she said, “In some ways, I feel like I’m missing out on a whole world above me that those of average or tall height experience, but in other ways I feel like I have the upper hand.”

And while she offers many “pro’s,” to being short, here’s the “con’s”:  “People use me as an armrest….I can’t jump very high or reach the top shelf…I can’t see around people in class or at concerts…I own step stools…I am forever looking up…T-shirts become dresses…and I easily get lost in the crowd.”

The book of Luke chapter 19 introduces us to a short person, the most well-known short person in all of the Bible.  Please turn with me to page 1116, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start at chapter 19, verse 1:  “He, (that’s Jesus), entered Jericho and was passing through.  And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus.  He was a chief tax collector and was rich.  And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature.  So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was about to pass that way.”

I’ll stop there for just a moment.

“He entered Jericho and was passing through,” it says in verse 1.

In the previous chapter, chapter 18, Jesus had already foretold His death a third time.  He said in verse 31:  “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.  And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.”

And in chapter 18, verse 35, He healed a blind man sitting beside the road.  In verse 42, He said, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.”  And, as it says in verse 43, “Immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him, glorifying God.  And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.”

Now in chapter 19, the Bible says He entered Jericho and was passing through.  His next stop would be on Palm Sunday, in Jerusalem.

“And behold,” it says in verse 2, “there was a man named Zacchaeus.  He was a chief tax collector and was rich.”

Notice it didn’t simply say, Zacchaeus was a “tax collector,” though that would have been enough to notice this text.  Instead, it said he was a chief tax collector—top dog, head honcho, the big kahuna, the man in charge.  He was like a mafia boss, loan shark and extortionist all rolled into one.

As one author put it:  “That Zacchaeus was a ‘chief tax collector’ implicates him even more deeply in the corrupt tax system of the Roman government.  In a corrupt system, the loftier one’s position, the greater one’s complicity in that system.”

To put it another way, if you think Jews hated tax collectors, (they did, after all, speak of robbers, murderers and tax collectors in the same breath!), imagine what they must have thought of a chief tax collector!  He was the man everyone loved to hate.

Now verse 3:  “And he was seeking to see who Jesus was…”

That’s interesting.  Why did he seek to see who Jesus was?  After all, he was rich, the Bible said.  He had a lot of money, and was probably the richest man in town!  And he had all that the world had to offer—a beautiful home, obedient servants, the most luxurious clothes.

But maybe that’s why he wanted to see Jesus.  Sure, he had all that the world had to offer, but he knew it wasn’t enough.  He knew he needed Jesus.

Even more, he wasn’t the only one who wanted to see Jesus.  As it said in verse 3:  “…but on account of the crowd he could not…”

Why did so many want to see Him?  Was it the miracles, the parables, the divine teachings?  Was it because He could make the lame walk and the blind see?

And why do people still seek Him today?  And why do they give of their time, their talents, their wealth, and even their lives all for Him? 

Because there’s no one like our Savior Jesus.

Maybe that’s why Zacchaeus ran down the street, pushed past the crowd, and scurried up that tree, just to see Jesus.

Can you picture it in your minds?  It must have been quite a sight!  There he was—little Zacchaeus gathering up his robes, (and probably pretty nice robes too), and racing madly down the street, running as fast as his little legs could carry him.  But no matter how fast he ran, he still couldn’t see over the crowd.

Until finally, off to the side, there it was—a sycamore tree!  Its low trunk and spreading branches made it the perfect place to go.  So he lifted up his robes and shinnied up the tree.

Can you imagine?  You try climbing a tree while wearing a bathrobe, or better yet, an evening gown.  It’s silly.  It’s undignified.  It’s not something any self-respecting man or woman would do!

But it’s exactly what Zacchaeus did, for even though he was so rich, a chief tax collector no less, he would do anything to see his Savior Jesus.

And wonder of wonders, what happened when he climbed that tree?  Verse 5:  “And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’  So he hurried and came down and received Him joyfully.”

Just like Zacchaeus, every one of us has something that keeps us from seeing Jesus.  Maybe you grew up in a home that didn’t care for religion.  Maybe the name “Jesus” was a curse, and nothing more.  Or maybe you never took the opportunity or the time. 

And just like Zacchaeus, you too are up a tree today, trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus.  It may not be a sycamore tree, but it is a tree of guilt or pain.

And do you know what He says?  Do you know what He does?  He says, “Hurry!  Come down!  For I must stay at your house today.”

And when you come down, by the grace of God, you’ll hear Him say, “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.”

Just a few years ago, back in 2014, Russell Crowe starred in a movie called, The Water Diviner.  

It’s a story about a man named Joshua Connor, played by Crowe, who left Australia for Turkey, to find his sons, three of them, lost in the Battle of Gallipoli.  They were all presumed dead, but he promised his wife he would find them and bring them home.

At first, the British War Graves Unit wouldn’t let him search for them, until finally, a ranking officer, allowed him to come.  It’s then that he learned that two of his sons had been killed in battle, but one was still alive.

And after searching for him and finding him, the two went home together.

And among the many lines for which the movie is known, one of the most important is this.  One officer said to another:  “Why change everything for one father who can’t stay put?”  The other replied, “Because he is the only father who came looking.”

Today, there’s a Savior who’s come looking for you.  And do you know what He says?  He says, “Hurry!  Come down!  For I must stay at your house today.”

Just one more thing--is it any surprise that Jesus would call a tax collector to follow Him?  It shouldn’t be.  

When Pharisees asked, “Why do You eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He replied, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  And He said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Even more, when Jesus called men to follow Him, He didn’t choose the spiritually gifted, the politically connected, or the intellectually elite.  He chose fishermen like Peter, James, Andrew and John, a zealot named Simon, and Matthew, a tax collector.

And when He came down to live among us, He wasn’t born in a king’s palace and wrapped in royal robes.  He was born in a stable and laid in a manger.  As a Man, He slept in cold, desolate places and in the stern of a crude fishing boat.  He said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”  And on Good Friday, He died on an old, rugged cross and was buried in another man’s tomb.

And that’s the good news for every one of us.  For no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how rich or poor, no matter how tall or short, He comes, by His Word and Spirit, and calls even us to follow Him.


We thank You, dear Father, for calling Zacchaeus, a tax collector.  Help us, in our time and place, to faithfully follow You.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen


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