A Search and Rescue Mission
When you get lost, it’s really good to know somebody’s looking for you.
After their ship sunk, two men swam to shore on a desert island. Lying on the beach, almost out of breath, one of them says, “We’re lost at sea! Nobody’s ever going to find us!” The other man replies, “Oh yes, we’ll be found. I give it about 7 days.”
“7 days? How can you be so sure?”
“Well, first of all, I’m a Christian, and I’m going to pray and ask the Lord to rescue us.”
“You think just because you pray, God’s going to send a rescue team?”
“Well, I’m also a rather wealthy man and I am a big believer in tithing.”
“OK, so you think God’s going to rescue you because you put a lot money in the offering plate?”
“Well, maybe not. But I have a feeling if my check isn’t in the offering plate this week, my pastor will come and find me!”
Every now and then you hear about somebody who gets lost climbing a mountain or gets trapped in a cave, or who just turns up missing. Behind the news story, behind the official search and rescue team effort is somebody desperate to locate and rescue a person they love. At some point, that person looks into the camera and say something like, “We will never give up until we find them.”
If you were lost, who’d come looking for you?
Probably somebody who cares a lot about you, somebody who loves you, somebody who couldn’t and wouldn’t rest until you’d been not only found, but brought back home safe and sound.
What would you think if I told you God feels this way about you?
It’s true. In fact, Jesus Christ says one of the main reasons He came to earth was to launch a search and rescue mission for you and for me. In the story we’re going to read this morning about a lost man named Zacchaeus. Turn with me to Luke 19:1-10 and let’s learn a little more about God’s search and rescue mission.
Zacchaeus doesn’t really look lost does he?
V. 2 tells us Zach lives in Jericho—a very prosperous city about 20 miles from Jerusalem. It’s a bustling metropolis, a crossroads of business and trade. If you live in Jericho and you aren’t a beggar, you’ve got a good job that pays pretty well.
Zach is a government employee—a chief tax collector for the Roman government. It takes a lot of money to keep the Roman Empire running, and most of that money comes out of the pockets of the people they conquers---people like the Jews living in Palestine.
The Empire hires locals to collect the taxes on their own people, which of course doesn’t sit well with the locals. Tax collectors are considered the worst kind of traitors, because they not only collected the tax required, but line their pockets by milking the people for a little more.
Which explains why Zach is wealthy. His job does more than paid the bills—it puts him in the lap of luxury. Zach and his family enjoy the best life has to offer living in Jericho. He wears Armani suits to work; his wife shops at Tiffany’s; while most people live on bread and fish, Zach and his family enjoy gourmet dinners in town.
Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, doesn’t it? Power, prestige, money, the good life. Yet something is missing—something Rome or riches cannot give Zacchaeus. He’s longing for something else. How do I know that? Because when Jesus comes to Jericho, Zach drops all he’s doing. He tells his secretary hold all my calls, tell everybody they’ll have to pay their bill tomorrow. He runs out to the road to get a glimpse of Jesus as He passes by.
Zacchaeus runs into a problem: there’s a big crowd of tall people lining the street to see Christ, and Zach is a vertically challenged person. He’s short---too short to see Jesus for all the taller people standing there.
Many some in this crowd know Zach, and maybe they intentionally block his view. Imagine Zach turning this way and that, standing on tiptoe, hopping up and down trying to get just a peep at Jesus as He passes by, people snickering as they stand closer together, doing everything to keep this short, despised man from seeing Jesus.
Allow me to insert two important warnings here.
First of all, don’t ever get in the way of people who need to see Jesus. Be careful that you never stand in anybody’s way with a self-righteous or self-centered attitude. Sometimes a lot more people could see Jesus more clearly if we just got out of their way.
Secondly, don’t let anybody stand between you and Jesus. Don’t ever let any mere human being blind you to the love and the grace and greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes you have to be willing to look past the crowd to see Christ.
Which is just what Zach does. He runs ahead of the crowd, finds a tree, and shimmies up it like some carefree schoolboy. Now let’s see them stop me from seeing Him!
Tell me: what motivates a busy, prosperous, powerful man to scamper up a tree just to get a glimpse of a poor, penniless Rabbi? Zacchaeus, why are you so determined to see Jesus?
I think I know why: Zacchaeus feels lost.
He’s got plenty of money, yet he his money can’t buy him a friend. Despised by his own countrymen, despised by the Romans, maybe even alienated from God. How can I find my way back to Somebody Who loves me?
He’s made his own way in life, but he’s having some doubts about the road he’s traveling. Is this really where I want to be? Is this really the direction I want to go? Is it too late to turn around?
Zacchaeus lives in a wilderness of loneliness. He can’t find his way out. He’s stranded on an island of pride, selfishness, and sin. He needs to be rescued from. He is lost.
Do you know the feeling? Have you experienced the frustration of realizing that you’ve been traveling down the wrong road, and wondering how you can ever get back on the right track? Do you know what it’s like to feel like a castaway, longing and hoping for somebody to go looking for you, somebody to find you before it’s too late?
Then you know what it means to be lost. The tragedy is many people are lost in life, and they don’t even know it.
A teenage girl got caught in her car in a snow storm. She remembered her dad once told her: “If you ever get stuck in a snow storm, wait for a snow plow and follow it.” Pretty soon a snow plow came by, and she started to follow it. She followed the plow for about forty five minutes. Finally the driver of the truck got out and asked her what she was doing. She explained her dad
had told her if she ever got stuck in the snow, to follow a plow. The driver nodded and said, “Well, if you want to keep following me, that’s OK by me. I’m done with the Wal-Mart parking lot, now you can follow me over to K-Mart.”
The first step to being found is realizing you are lost. That’s not easy, but it is essential if you’re going to find your way home. You can have a good job, nice home, big family, expensive cars and hobbies---in one sense, like Zacchaeus, you can be rich and feel important, and yet still be lost.
You’ve got to know you’re lost, before you can find your way home. Only then are you ready to discover the same thing Zacchaeus found ou : Somebody Who loves you has been looking for you.
Why is Jesus traveling through Jericho? He’s on His way to Jerusalem, where He’ll be arrested, tried, and condemned to die. But He has to pass through Jericho, because He’s looking for somebody.
I know He’s looking because He’s not surprised to see this little man sitting in the tree. It’s almost as if He says Oh! There you are! He calls Zack’s name as if they were old friends and invites Himself and his 12 disciples to stay at Zacchaeus’ home that evening!
Zacchaeus is overwhelmed with joy. He knows my name! He wants to come to my house! Jesus’ invitation takes him completely by surprise.
Jesus’ invitation comes as a surprise to the crowd, too.
Maybe they’re a little miffed that Jesus doesn’t invite Himself to one of their nice, decent, respectable homes instead of the den of this tax collector! They don’t realize that the Good Shepherd, is on a search and rescue mission for a lost sheep.
The context of vs. 8-10 indicates the scene changes for the rest of the story. (Jesus speaks of this house in vs. 9).
Apparently Jesus comes home with Zacchaeus, and sometime during that evening, as Zacchaeus watches and listens to the Lord, Zach realizes he has found what he’s been looking for. He stands up and makes an announcement in vs. 8 (read.)
What prompts Zacchaeus’ words? His faith. He believes the Gospel Jesus preaches—believes it so strongly he is willing to do something about what he’s heard. Where once he was greedy and grasping, now he promises to give away half of everything he owns to the poor. Where once he extorted money from his helpless victims, now he promises to give back what he’s stolen, times 4!
Why does he do this? Is he trying to earn Jesus’ approval? You might think so at first glance, but something Jesus says makes me wonder. In vs. 9 Jesus calls Zacchaeus …a son of Abraham…Jesus isn’t just reminding everybody Zach is a Jew—He is saying Zach and Abraham have something in common, something that brought salvation to Zach’s house the same way it brought salvation to Abraham’s house. What was it? Faith.
James 2:23 …“Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.
Zacchaeus was not saved by promising to turn over a new leaf. He was saved because He believed in Christ. It is not Zacchaeus’ promise to do better, but Zacchaeus’ faith in Jesus Christ that prompts the Lord to declare Today, salvation has come to this house...
Zacchaeus the rich man, Zacchaeus the outcast, Zacchaeus the tiny tree climber is finally found by the God Who loves Him. He’s finally discovered the right road, finally been rescued from his guilt and hopelessness.
But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus says one more thing in vs. 10—words that reach across 2000 years to speak to everybody sitting here today …the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost…
Jesus came to earth to launch a search and rescue mission for you.
He knows your name. He knows where you are. He knows all about you, from the day you were conceived in your mother’s womb to this very moment. Most of all, He loves you very much. The Bible says in
Is 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way…
We have all gone astray into sin, doing our own thing instead of God’s thing. No wonder we feel so lost---we’ve wandered far away from Him. But Jesus tells us He’s been looking for you all your life, seeking you like a Shepherd seeks a lost lamb.
Luke 15:4-7 4“ What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?
5And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”
Jesus’ search for us led Him all the way up Calvary’s mountain to die on a cruel cross, to pay for your sins and mine, so that you and I could believe in Him and receive Him as our Lord and Savior. All that’s left for you to do is repent and believe, and you will find your way back home in the loving arms of your Heavenly Father.
When you’re lost, it’s nice to know Somebody is looking for you.
Maria and her daughter, Christina, lived in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of a Brazilian village. Maria’s husband had died when Christina was an infant and she never remarried. Times were tough but at last Christina was old enough to get a job to help out.
Christina spoke often of going to the city. She dreamed of trading her dusty neighborhood for exciting avenues and the city life. Just the thought of that horrified her mother, who knew exactly what Christina would have to do for a living. That’s why her heart broke. That’s why she couldn’t believe it when she awoke one morning to find her daughter’s bed empty. Knowing where her daughter was headed, she quickly threw some clothes in a bag, gathered up all of her money, and ran out of the house.
On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore and got one last thing. Photos. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all the time she could on making photos of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janeiro.
Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human being will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place Maria left her photo—taped to a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner telephone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note. Then her money and the pictures ran out, Maria went home.
A few weeks later young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her dreams had become a nightmare. But as she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face.
She looked again, and there on a lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was a compelling invitation, “Whatever you’ve done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.” And she did.- [i]
Lk 19:10 …for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
I wonder how many here in this congregation this morning would say, “Bro. Mike, I’m that lost sheep. I’ve gone astray and wandered away from Christ. I’ve gone so far I’m not sure I can ever come back home to God.” Let me assure you, that’s not true. You wouldn’t be here this morning if God wasn’t seeking you. You wouldn’t feel His Spirit tugging at your heart right now if He wasn’t calling you back home to Him. There may come a day when it will be too late, but today is not that day. Won’t you make up your mind like Zacchaeus did, change your mind and come to Jesus? He’s been looking for you. He will save you if you will come right now.
[i]Adapted from Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him Savior Swindoll, C. R. (2000, c1998). The tale of the tardy