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North St Chapel 19.03.06 Luke 19

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Luke 19:1-10 (North St, Cheddar  19/3/06 pm)

“Religious misunderstandings”

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.

Jericho was the place to live. It was an important commercial centre therefore wealthy. It was a fertile area. - It had a warm climate so became the winter home of the wealthy and aristocrats. Herod built a winter palace there. So all in all pretty prestigious. And Zacchaeus lived there too – and he’d climbed the ladder of success and become chief tax collector. To any Jew this was dubious – not only an extortioner of money  but in collusion with the evil enemy of Rome, so a betrayer of the nation and faith. Yet we find in v3f

 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

So what’s the religious misconception? “Non Christians believe that wealth will satisfy” I heard Chris Evans, the radio and TV presenter say on TV something to the effect “I’ve climbed to the mountain top of wealth and success, and when I got to the top there was nothing there”

Actually, the non Christians who do think money will satisfy tend to be those who don’t have it, and therefore are deluded. Here in Zacchaeus we see a wonderful truth. When people come to the realisation that wealth, status, the good life isn’t so good, something instinctive in their being cries out for something that will satisfy. It is put so clearly in Zacchaeus – “he wanted to see who Jesus was…” Have you got to that point?

The second misunderstanding follows hot on the heels of the first and it is this: “non Christians are not interested in Jesus”. Zacchaeus was probably Jewish. By the way his name means “righteous one” which he wasn’t living up to at the moment. He obviously wasn’t that bothered about religion, but he was interested in Jesus. Billy Connoly, the crude Scottish comedian once said, “I can’t believe in Christianity but I think Jesus was a wonderful man”. Sadly there are a lot of people who seem to be put off Christianity because they see it as outdated, hypocritical, irrelevant or whatever. But it is a misunderstanding to think that everyone outside of Christianity is disinterested in Jesus. (e.g. of Alpha leaflets at Milton Ernest – Amanda was “ripe”).

When Jesus sees Zacchaeus up the tree he says “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house” (19:5).

The myth here is that “You can only find God in church”. It is amazing, given Jewish culture, the synagogues and temple, all the form of religion of the day, that Jesus spent so much time away from the religious buildings doing his teaching. On the hillside, in a boat, walking the road, at a Pharisees table…And Zacchaeus’s first experience of Jesus was “I must stay at your house”. Now there are a couple of misconceptions here, and we’’ come to the greater one in a minute but we must note that the business of God’s Kingdom is precisely that – Kingdom business not just church business. Zacchaeus looked for Jesus because Jesus was coming that way. (Running Alpha in café, inviting people to your homes, breaking down the invisible walls…)

We reach people by spending significant time with them —in settings where they feel comfortable. Don’t be surprised when people don’t accept an invitation to come to church. If you really want to reach them, go where they spend time.[1]

Now I think that, at least in part, this misconception arises because of a deeper and more worrying one: All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner’.” The misunderstanding here is that “mixing with sinners is dangerous”. Part of the misconception is that it is partly true. We all know that it is far easier to be dragged down than to pull up. There is a “spiritual gravity” principal in life. But the danger seems to be more than what is at risk here. The real underlying principal in religious life of the day had become “we don’t want to be seen with sinners”. The term sinners here had become almost a technical term. It didn’t mean sinners as in Romans 3:23 but social categories “sinners and outcasts” were those seens as abandoned by God: lepers, because God had cursed them; prostitutes, because they were perceivably immoral, and tax collectors because they had collaborated with the enemy of Rome. So the sense was “don’t mix with them because that would be seen to be cavorting with sin and render yourself impure. Jesus debunked the myth by saying to Zacchaeus, “I must stay at your house”. This was his equivalent of touching the leper. Jesus is saying “I’m coming to your house, but actually you are invited to my table” (The only time Jesus invites himself to someone’s house).

Verse 8 may reflect the later scene, where Zacchaeus responds to Jesus.  But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

He is obeying OT rules of reimbursement and goes beyond it, offering half his wealth for the poor. I wonder how many people around, given their cynicism towards Jesus going in the first place, would think or say “it’s just a flash in the pan, I want public approval, spur of the moment publicity stunt.” The misunderstanding here is that “people need a long time to change”.  Of course, sometimes they do, but it doesn’t follow that they always will. God can do in a moment what we think might take years when he touches a life. Let’s not assume that everything has to be the long haul. Take our perspective on Baptism. We like to be cautious, we like to prove someone is genuine, and yet in the NT it seems to be instantaneous. And here Jesus says, Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Jesus’ words, Today salvation has come to this house, did not imply that the act of giving to the poor had saved Zacchaeus, but that his change in lifestyle evidenced his right relationship before God. Zacchaeus, a son of Abraham by birth, had a right to enter the kingdom because of his connection with Jesus.[2]

 

son of Abraham—He was that by birth, but here it means a partaker of his faith, being mentioned as the sufficient explanation of salvation having come to him[3]

In summary let me ask you, is there a particular misunderstanding God wants to debunk for you tonight:

·        “wealth will satisfy” Someone you are praying for may not be as far from the kingdom as you think.

·        “not interested in church” – they may be interested in Jesus.

·        “I’m praying they will come to church”. Maybe pray for grace to go to them where they are.

·        It doesn’t inherently make you sinful to be a friend to a sinner.

·        Remember God can do things in an instant.


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[1]Richards, L. (1991). The Bible reader's companion. Includes index. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[2]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3]Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Lk 19:9). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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