2021–06–13. Luke 19v1–10 (Zacchaeus).
There are some striking parallels between this story and one of the Mr Men stories, which I am going to read out now …
Whatever Mr Wrong did was absolutely, totally, completely, utterly wrong.
However hard he tried, he just couldn’t do anything right.
Just look at his house!
One fine morning Mr Wrong woke up.
He hadn’t slept very well because of the way he’d made his bed the day before.
He jumped out of bed, fell over (twice), put on his shoes (on the wrong feet), went to the bathroom (tripping over the bathmat), squeezed out some toothpaste (on the wrong side of his toothbrush), cleaned his teeth (ouch) and went downstairs.
Bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump!
Not a very good start to the day.
In fact, his usual wrong start to the day.
In his kitchen, Mr Wrong poured some milk on to his cornflakes.
As he sat in his kitchen that fine morning, eating his cornflakes, he sighed.
“oh dear” he thought, “I do wish that everything I do wasn’t quite so absolutely, totally, completely utterly wrong.”
So after breakfast, he went for a walk in order to think how he could solve his problem.
It took him ten minutes to get out of the house, because he kept trying to open his front door outwards instead of inwards!
As he walked along he passed a worm.
“good morning , Dog” he said.
The worm grinned
He was used to Mr Wrong.
He met a postman.
“good morning Mr Wrong” called the postman cheerfully.
“good morning, Doctor” relied Mr Wrong.
He met old Mrs Twinkle who lived down the lane.
“Good morning, Mr Wrong” she smiled.
“Good morning Mr Twinkle”, replied Mr Wrong.
And then he met somebody he’d never met before.
Somebody who sort of looked like him, but didn’t.
“Good morning, Sir” said that somebody.
“Good morning, Madam” replied Mr Wrong. “I’m Mr Wrong”.
“I guessed that,” replied the person. “Well, I’m Mr Right.”
“Now tell me,” he went on, “why are you walking along so miserable?”
“Because,” replied Mr Wrong, “I can’t do anything right!”
“in which case,” said Mr Right, “we’d better do something about it. Follow me.”
And off he set.
And off set Mr Wrong.
In the opposite direction!
Mr Right hurried back, and turned him around.
“This way,” he said, and they walked together to where Mr Right lived.
It was a house which somehow looked something like Mr Wrong’s house.
Mr Right took Mr Wrong into his living room.
“I think” he said, “that the only way you are ever going to change is for you to come and live with me for a while, and you may end up being not quite so absolutely, totally, completely, utterly wrong about everything.”
“Sit down,” he said, “and we’ll talk about it.”
Mr Wrong sat down.
Mr Wrong stayed with Mr Right for a month.
And, during that time, he changed.
After one week he was slightly less wrong than he had been before.
After two weeks he was even more slightly less wrong than he had been before
And after a whole four weeks, he was a changed Mr Man.
You could hardly tell the difference between him and Mr Right.
Don’t you agree?
Mr Right was delighted.
“Told you,” he cried. “Told you that everything about you might end up being not quite so absolutely, totally, completely, utterly wrong!”
“in fact,” he continued, “you’ve really turned out all right!”
Mr Wrong Blushed.
It was quite the nicest thing anyone had ever said to him in the whole of his life.
And he went home.
And lived happily, and right, ever after.
The Mr Wrong children’s story and the account of Jesus and Zacchaeus have some real parallels, in fact in the 1980s Wendy and Were part of a joint churches schools Assembly team and we used these parallels in assemblies. I want to draw some of them out this morning before moving on to some other things which we might consider.
Mr Wrong knew there was something wrong – he said “I wish…” Zacchaeus may not have been able to articulate it, but his actions showed that he too, saw something was wrong…
Many people live with a nagging feeling that all is not quite OK. The rise of awareness of mental health is an indication of this. Many people are looking to all sorts of solutions to this deep, deep unease with themselves when the solution is to be found in Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that every mental health problem or anxiety disorder is like this, but I believe there is a good chance that many of the anxieties people have are a consequence of our society rejecting Jesus wholesale.
Mr Right invites Mr Wrong to live with him – Jesus invites us to relationship with Him. He doesn’t wait for us to become right before we can have a relationship with him, he invites us right in the midst of our rubbish and wrongness.
Again, people will often articulate antagonism towards Christians by expressing the view that “you think you’re so much better than everyone else”. The flip side of this is that many people will say “I’m not good enough to be a Christian”. This reveals a core belief that you have to be good to be accepted by God. That only good people are Christians, nothing could be further from the truth and the Zacchaeus account shows us this.
While our transition from death to life, our being “born again” is a decision we make, we go through a process as we overcome our sinfulness little by little. We change from being wrong to being right by living with Jesus and by becoming more like him. Every Christian I am sure would agree that we are a work in progress. I remember when I was younger, I had a t-shirt with the words “Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet” on it. It’s important we understand that becoming a Christian means we have started on a journey, not arrived at a destination! We don’t make it all in one leap!
Here are some other things about Zacchaeus which I believe we might learn from.
v2 Zacchaeus is identified as a Tax Collector
Luke 19:2 ”And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.”
Zacchaeus was not just a sinner — he was a tax collector! Tax Collectors were their own category of people to be despised. Often in the Gospels we read the term “the tax collectors and sinners”. These are not people who are welcome in society. They were usually Jews, but they were regarded as collaborators and traitors, they were despised. They took taxes for the Romans, they worked for the occupying force, and what’s more they usually swindled their own people to line their own pockets. Whilst it is not explicitly stated that Zacchaeus was a crook, since he was a tax collector and since he is described as being wealthy, coupled with his statement later about paying back people he has swindled makes it a very safe conclusion to draw.
v3 Zacchaeus was small
Luke 19:3 “And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature.”
It is not surprising that Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus – yes he was small, but since others could see Jesus – it is likely that he was cold shouldered by the crowds around him. This is all supposition, but knowing human nature, I suspect that he would have found it difficult if not impossible to get though the crowds to see Jesus.
Very often it is people around us who obscure us from seeing Jesus. Most commonly it is illustrated in the regular rejection of the Gospel because of the bad example of churchgoers. People can’t see past that to see the real Jesus. The only real way to do that is to want to see Jesus.
v4 Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus
Luke 19:4 (ESV) ”So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.”
Interesting though that in this story, Zacchaeus WANTED to see Jesus. In fact so much that he ran ahead and climbed a tree. Neither running nor climbing were things that Jewish men did!
We tend to think of people who are not Christians as being completely disinterested in the gospel. Some are, but others, well, not so much. We read in Acts when Paul proclaims the gospel in Athens that some ridiculed him, but others said “we want to know more”. (Acts 17:32). Not everyone is disinterested.
J Wanrer Wallace, an Apologist in the United Staes uses the example about Jury Selection and says that some people are so set in their unbelief they just won’t listen to reason, and there are others who may not be Christians, but are reasonable and open to your witness. One key to seeing people respond to the gospel is recognising which is which and not spending necessary amounts of time and energy on those who wouldn’t become Christians even if the risen Christ would stand in front of them and poke them in the eye!
v5 Jesus saw Zacchaeus
Luke 19:5 (ESV) “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.”
the one who would have been ignored by the people was seen by Jesus.
Even the most invisible of us is seen by Jesus – whatever we have done. You may feel ignored by the world – possibly because of some past action or event. Jesus sees you, He values you, and he asks you –
“will you have fellowship with me?”
“Those around you may not love you, They may tease you or hurt you or gossip about you. I notice you and I ask you – will you fellowship with me?”
Jesus’ words seem to be an echo of Revelation 3:20ff
“Behold I stand at the door and knock, if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me”
Eating has particular significance. Sharing a meal with someone is a very visible way of showing someone value and love.
v6 – Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus was clearly “yes”
Luke 19:6 (ESV) “So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.”
In fact he came down at once we are told – no hesitation, no “go home and think about it”. Plain and simple “yes”
I am by nature a procrastinator – “why do today what you can put of until tomorrow” would by nature be my motto, but Zacchaeus needed no such time – his response was immediate, and later on we read that his decision to act was not mulled over and thought about for years and years – he made a decision and acted on it.
v7 The people muttered about who Jesus was spending time with
Luke 19:7 (ESV) “And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
This is something else we read fairly regularly in the Gospels.
Jesus didn’t really take notice of societal norms. He regularly ministered to “that kind of person” – whether it was a tax collector, a prostitute, and unclean woman, a leper, a Samaritan – even in his death, he ministered to a criminal being crucified next to him.
Yet the crowds regularly criticised him for it.
When people thought “he should know what kind of person this is”, with our hindsight of who He is, we KNOW he knew, yet he chooses
In fact he is called a glutton and a drunkard for eating and drinking
You may feel left out of it, ignored of unvalued by people around you. But Jesus’ offer applies to you just as surely as it does for me or every one of the “good people” you can think of.
v8 – “here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor … etc”
Luke 19:8 (ESV) “And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
People are basically selfish, from time to time we come across people who are generous, but even under those circumstances, such people make judgements about WHO they give their money to.
And they will make value judgements about what other people give their money to. I have personally experienced people saying “why did you give THEM money? They don’t need it!”
You can often see what drives people by looking in two places – their diary and their wallet.
People will spend both time and money on the things that are important to them.
Remember the rich man?
Mark 10:17–22 “And as he (Jesus) was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
Jesus says a lot about money. In fact I’ve heard it said that Jesus talks more about money than about anything else. I don’t know if that’s true, but he says some very sobering things, like
“where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. Luke 12:34 (ESV)
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:25 (ESV)
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” Matthew 6:19 (ESV)
“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings”. Luke 16:9 (NIV)
”you cannot serve both God and money” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” 1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV)
In other words, Zacchaeus declaration of recompense towards those he had swindled is absolute and convincing evidence of the genuineness of his conversion. Is there evidence of your faith? Of mine?
There was a saying which made the rounds a few years back which went like this.
“if you were to be arrested for being a Christian tomorrow … would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
v9 Jesus responds to hearts that respond to him.
Luke 19:9 (ESV) “And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.”
Jesus’ response in v9 reflects that – TODAY salvation has come to this house.
I see here an echo of how on the cross in the midst of all the pain he was enduring, Jesus could still say to the thief who responded to him “today you will be with me in paradise”
When we respond to Jesus, when we respond to the gospel, there is no hesitation on God’s part!
You do not need to be held back by the “I’m not good enough” codswallop. Respond to God and he will respond to you. Draw near to God says James and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8)
2 Chronicles 15:2 says if you seek God he will be found by you
Zechariah 1:3 “Thus declares the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.”
Jeremiah 29:11 which people love to quote about God’s plans for a hope and a future is, unsurprisingly followed by verse 12, 13 and 14 which say this …
“then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD” Jeremiah 29:12–14 (ESV)
The father in the parable of the prodigal son is an image and example of father God who runs to greet his returning wayward son, throws a banquet and feasts his return.
Don’t you know that’s what god does for every sinner who repents? – now that’s good news!
Not the end of the Mr Men Story…
Those of you who know the Mr men story will be aware that I stopped the story short
There is a page at the end I missed out …
You probably think that’s the end of the story don’t you?
Well, it isn’t
And the reason it isn’t is because of what happened to Mr Right
The trouble was, you see, that the longer Mr Wrong had stayed with Mr Right, and the more right Mr Wrong became, the more wrong Mr Right had become
Isn’t that extraordinary?
“Oh dear” Mr Right sighed, “my plan didn’t quite work out the way I’d planned it after all”
And he went to bed
This is possibly the most significant page in the story.
Mr Right becomes wrong – he takes all the wrongness of Mr Wrong on himself so Mr Wrong can be right!
That is the gospel in a nutshell isn’t it?
2 Corinthians 5:21 – God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
to the Christian
are we acting like the crowd and obscuring people’s view of Jesus?
just a thought, I believe that one of our roles in the world today is to show people what Jesus is like – by my actions and by my words, I am supposed to be a reflection of Jesus so people can actually see Him.
I need to be sure that I don’t act as a barrier by my actions or my attitudes to people seeing the true Jesus
have you heard people say of Christians “well if that’s what Christians are like, then I don’t want to be one”.
DC Talk, a modern Christian rock band have at the start of one of their tracks this quote
“the biggest cause of atheism in the world today are Christians – that people can praise God with his lips and then deny him with his actions, that is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable”
to the unbeliever
it’s not good enough to blame a Christian for your sin.
Jesus makes an offer to you, Zacchaeus climbed a tree – he didn’t let other’s actions deter him from seeing Jesus. I would challenge you not to allow other’s actions to deter you from seeking out the truth about Jesus. Don’t just rely on hearsay – either the hearsay you might have heard at school or on the telly about Christianty (which is usually biased and negative to say the least), and don’t judge what Christ is really like by looking only at Christians around you either. Most of us if we are honest would describe ourselves as a work in progress and at best we are just a flawed reflection of the perfect Lord we serve — and not often even that.
I challenge you to go to the real thing – investigate the Bible, go on an Alpha course or similar and seek himont for yourself.
Stay in the tree
It is possible to be interested in Jesus – to even come along to church – slip in at the back, and watch, yet when his invitation is given to you, you refuse to allow him in. in effect you stay in the tree
Enjoy the party
Some people go one stage further. They invite Jesus in – they start coming to church, and they do all the right things. But that’s as far as it goes. The life doesn’t change you
This is what happened to Zacchaeus. Jesus didn’t say salvation has come into this house just because Zacchaeus opened his house – Jesus declared salvation when Zacchaeus changed (v8, 9). When we spend time with Jesus, we should change – for Zacchaeus, his point of change was with money. For you it might be something different – it could by your tongue (gossip), it could be your temper
Challenge as to the point of response people are at – challenge to allow Jesus in, to give him room to change us.
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