Up A Tree

Jesus was on His final march to Jerusalem when He encountered Zaccheus – up a tree. While Zaccheus needed to come down out of that tree to meet the Savior, Jesus would soon be nailed to a tree to purchase the salvation He so freely-offered. Two trees, two very different symbols.

Jesus was almost always surrounded by a crowd, His disciples, His other followers, and of course, His detractors. As we often see when Jesus encounters a “sinner“, His detractors are quick to point out His “lapses of judgment“. If Jesus is so “holy“, why does He associate with “sinners“?

He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 3 Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)

Jericho was only about 12 or so miles from Jerusalem, as the crow flies, but there was some pretty “rough” country (mountains) between them, so it would have made a convenient “rest-stop” on the way to Jerusalem.

Would Zaccheus have been satisfied with a glimpse of Jesus, or was he really looking for much more? Based on his actions, I suspect that he was probably looking for more, maybe even MUCH more, but maybe he didn’t even know what he really wanted. Whatever he was hoping for, he got far more than he could have ever imagined. He certainly wasn’t concerned about his own “dignity“, because if he had been, he would have never “ran on ahead“, let alone “climbed a tree“. Those things were VERY-UNDIGNIFIED, particularly for a “mature” man. Who else in the Gospels did something equally “undignified“? (Luke 15:11-32)

Whatever Zaccheus was hoping for, he had to climb a tree to even get a glimpse, because not only was Zaccheus short, as a tax collector, the crowd wouldn’t have even thought about making a way for him. He probably had gotten a few elbows to the gut as it was before he finally broke away from the crowd to run on ahead. So, even though it was highly “undignified“, he ran on ahead of the crowd and climbed a tree. He was that desperate to see Jesus.

Imagine his shock and surprise when Jesus stopped right under and called him by name. “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Jesus just invited Himself to Zaccheus’ home. We often wait and hope for an invitation to someone’s home for special holidays, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, but Jesus just took charge of the situation. What would our response be if Jesus invited Himself into our home? Zaccheus was thrilled. And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly.

 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Why should we NOT be surprised that there were some in the crowd who complained that Jesus went to the home of a “sinner“? There were Scribes and Pharisees lurking in the crowds during most of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and they were definitely unhappy that Jesus would associate with “sinners“. Even His own disciples had a certain amount of disdain for some of the people He hung-out with.

What kind of “sinner” was Zaccheus? He was a much-hated “tax-collector“, and not just any “tax-collector“, he was a “Chief tax-collector“. He had gotten rich, not only from his own thievery, but also from the thievery of those he employed. Quite often those taxes hit the poorest people the hardest because they didn’t have any money to “spare“. Tax-collectors were the lowest of the low-lifes in that culture because they were employed by the Roman government to do their dirty-work, and they were considered “traitors“, particularly because they were Jews.

Jericho was a particularly-lucrative place to be a tax collector because it was at the crossroads of a couple of important trade-routes, so they caught travelers both coming and going. Zaccheus had gotten very rich on ill-gotten gains.

Things still haven’t changed, have they? The “church” still refuses to seek the “lost“, to minister to the “low-lifes” in our communities. Like the Scribes and Pharisees, the “church” still expects people to come to it, rather than to go to them. If Jesus was here today, He would minister to “unacceptable” people, and the Church has been called to do likewise. Jesus would minister to bikers, tip a cold-one in a biker-bar, minister to street-walkers and go into brothels, things that would raise the ire of most “good-Christians” today. Yes, He would even minister in Cypress Cove, as I have been called to do.

Zaccheus’ response to Jesus’ ministry showed that he was a changed man. 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” The Old Testament law required restitution, but Zaccheus went above and beyond what was required in the law. Because the poor had been hit the hardest by Zaccheus’ greed, he promised to give half of his possessions to them. Salvation should bring with it a changed-heart, and wherever our old life has tainted our thoughts and actions the most should come the most change in us. Sadly, that is not always the case…

9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. While Zaccheus was a Jew, thus a biological “son of Abraham“, without faith in the Savior, his kinship with Abraham availed him nothing. He could only become a true “son of Abraham” by faith, which he did.

10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” While much has been said and written about Jesus’ purposes on Earth, we don’t get any clearer picture of His overarching purpose than this brief statement from His own lips. Throughout His earthly ministry, He told many parables about His relentless search for what is lost.

I spent many years in Search and Rescue, so “seeking and saving the lost” has a special-significance to me. Those missions were particularly-critical when the “lost” was a child. We pulled out ALL of the stops, even enlisting the aid of helicopters and the National Guard if necessary. There was as much relief and rejoicing in finding and saving a lost child as there is in Heaven when one who was “lost” is “rescued” by Christ. We should rejoice too when someone comes to saving faith in Christ.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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Caught In The Act…

Have you ever been caught doing something that you weren’t supposed to be doing? Have you ever been caught with your hand in the cookie-jar? Have you ever been caught with your pants down? People are caught all the time doing something wrong, and two-thousand years ago, a woman was caught with way more than her pants down. She was caught in bed with a man she wasn’t married to.

2 Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. 3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.

7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:2-11)

The backdrop…
Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, which was also known as the Feast of Booths. The Feast of Tabernacles was a week long, and commemorated God’s gracious provisions for the children of Israel during their forty-year wilderness wanderings. It was also the longest of the major annual Festivals.

Jesus, as was His habit, went to the Temple early in the morning to teach the gathered worshipers, and by this time in His ministry, the Scribes and Pharisees were itching to catch Him saying something “wrong” so they could do away with Him.

The raid…
The Jerusalem “Morality-Police” had made an early-morning raid, perhaps to the woman’s house, and they caught her in bed with a man she wasn’t married to. Was she a known “SINNER“? She may have been, and the Scribes and Pharisees thought that this was a good opportunity to finally “get” Jesus. I doubt that they even gave her the opportunity to cover up before they dragged her out of the house. Besides, she wouldn’t be needing her clothes when they stoned her…

The trap…
The Law of Moses required that someone who committed adultery must be stoned to death. Under Roman law, only the Roman government could execute someone, so if Jesus gave them the “thumbs-up” to stone her, He would be going against Roman law, and if He refused to allow them to stone her, He would be going against the Law of Moses… It seemed like the perfect trap.

The trial…
Could this fraud of a “trial” have started any worse for this poor woman? She had been dragged, likely naked, through the streets of Jerusalem, and was thrust into the middle of the Master’s morning Bible-class. The “Morality-Police” had caught her in a very compromising-position, and now this…

They made their case, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” As far as they were concerned, she was guilty-as-charged, and all they needed was permission to carry out the sentence. If this scene was re-enacted today, they would even have video-proof.

The problems…
I see a couple of serious problems with this case:
1) What were the “Morality-Police” doing snooping in her bedroom?
2) Where was her “partner-in-crime“? The Law of Moses required that BOTH adulterers be stoned.

Handwriting on the ground…
Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground. We aren’t even given any hints as to what He wrote. Perhaps, as His fingers touched that earthly dust, He was reminded of the first time His hands touched earthly soil, when He created Adam out of the dust of the ground. Whatever He wrote, the “MoralityPolice” were annoyed that He didn’t give them the answer they wanted IMMEDIATELY.

He who is without sin…
The Sinless Son of God gave them the go-ahead, IF, they were also sinless. Jesus wasn’t picking up any stones, not that day, not ANY day, and He gave them a lesson in humility, a lesson that should make us wonder whether we have any right to be judging others. If stones didn’t fit His hands, I have no business picking them up either.

The verdict…
Jesus knew their hearts and their malicious-intent. The woman was merely a pawn in their game, and whether they would have actually stoned her is immaterial. They wanted Jesus gone, and they were willing to go to any lengths to accomplish their goal. Rather than judging the woman, Jesus had put her accusers in their place.

When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Our accuser…
We also have an accuser hissing in our ear. Satan would love to keep us enslaved to our past and fearful of moving on. He loves to drag us and our name through the mud, and if possible, cause us to even question whether God could ever love us. There is but one not-so-small problem, and that is that Satan isn’t our judge, he is merely our accuser.

Do you feel like you have written way too many checks on God’s grace-account? Satan would like to make us think so, but God’s grace is so far beyond our comprehension that there is no such thing as a “bad-check“. If we allow Him to, Jesus will stand between us and our accuser as He stood between that woman and her accusers almost two -thousand years ago.

The verdict…
As Jesus said to her, He says also to us, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Steve

Lost Sheep

Have you ever been lost, and I mean REALLY lost? Have you ever known where you were but didn’t know where you were going? That would seem to be almost impossible with all the technology we have at our fingertips, but it can still happen, because in spite of having the best technology, if that technology is lost, you are lost.

Sheep don’t carry GPS units, and they DON’T know their way home, that is, unless their shepherd is there to lead and guide them. We can be much the same way if we lose our bearings.

A few years ago, I went to see my brother and his wife. I had been there before and I thought I knew my way around, but I didn’t. I even entered their address in my GPS, but it was stumped too, because whoever laid out the roads in their mountainside community must have been drunk. The roads ran every which way, and streets started and stopped, and then restarted somewhere else. After driving around for a bit, I stopped, and called my brother, my shepherd, the person who was most familiar with the area. It took him all of five minutes to find me, and I was less than half a mile from their home. He led me home. I had been a lost “sheep” in need of a shepherd.

A few months ago, I got a late-night call from another lost “sheep“. My friend and neighbor had gone out partying with some of her friends. Yes, there was alcohol involved, but she also took a pain-pill. Alcohol and pain-pills can have strange effects on some people. BTW, she was less than four miles from home the whole time. The combination of the alcohol and the medication both fogged her mind and blurred her vision. As she was leaving the party, she took a wrong turn, and suddenly everything was unfamiliar. Thankfully she had my number in her speed-dial. As she drove, she started naming off landmarks that were familiar to me, so I had her pull off of the road in a safe place. It only took me a few minutes to find her, and then I led her home. She was a lost “sheep” and she knew to call a shepherd, someone who could lead her home.

The lost sheep…
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7)

Jesus had attracted a crowd, again, and it was a crowd of the “wrong-sort” of people, sinners. The Pharisees liked nothing better than to strut around like Banty-roosters with their noses in the air, all the better to look down their noses at those sorry “sinners“, and to complain to and about Jesus. Jesus, as he often did, told a parable.

Imagine with me, if you will, that not only was this poor sheep very lost, but he was also the only BLACK sheep among a herd of all-white sheep. That lends even more weight to “Who’s your daddy?“. He didn’t fit in. He was a misfit. When you looked at the herd, he stood out like a sore-thumb. No, this is NOT a story or commentary about race. Sheep are sheep, and people are people.

I am very much the “black sheep” in my church. I am a misfit. I have had a rough life, and I am more than a bit rough around the edges. I also hang out with the “wrong” crowd, people who Jesus would have welcomed with open arms. They are the people whom God has called me to minister to. Ministry in the ditches isn’t always pretty, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. If I don’t love them, who will?

Digressing for a moment… One of my blogger-friends recently had a gall-bladder attack and ultimately had to have her gall-bladder removed. She is a male-to-female trans-sexual. Some of my conservative Christian friends might say “It served HIM right” and ask “Did HE register in the hospital under HIS real name?“. It is not for me or them to judge her, but I do have a responsibility to love her. She is doing well. Thank you Lord! She is a “lost sheep” and it is my responsibility to point her to the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd…
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

My brother was the right shepherd when I needed him, and I was the right shepherd when my friend needed me, but neither of us is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are merely deputy-shepherds. It is our job to point lost sheep to the Good Shepherd, to Jesus, because HE is the only one who can really take them Home.

How about you?
Do you have a Shepherd? Do you need a Shepherd? If Jesus isn’t your Shepherd, He would love to become your Shepherd. He is still in the business of finding and rescuing lost sheep, so if you are lost and in need of a Shepherd, call upon Him. He is never too busy for you.

In Christ,
Steve

Parables: The Pharisee and the Tax-Collector

As I read and contemplated this parable a few nights ago, I was struck by how Jesus addressed attitudes that were not only prevalent in His day, but are also common among religious people today. Whose attitude do you see in yourself?

9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Target audience…
Did you notice who He spoke this parable to? “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:” He spoke it to the self-righteous, probably the Scribes, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. Jesus butted heads with that group often, and they took the brunt of some of His worst barbs. Let’s break this down and look at their attitudes individually.

Self-righteous…
They were sure that they “had it made“. Observe: “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’” WOW! They were “shining-examples” of exemplary behavior to all of those around them. They had a list of “do’s” and “don’t’s” way longer than my arms, and they kept them to the letter. If anyone was going to please God and get into heaven, it was going to be them. After all, since God had given quite a few rules already, wouldn’t more rules be even better? God should REALLY be impressed. There was only one “little” problem…they were doing it THEIR way.

Despised others…
They were SO sure that they had it “right“, that they believed that they had the RIGHT to look down their long, Jewish noses at anyone who didn’t meet their high standards. Observe: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.” Tax-collectors were particularly-despised, because they were often Jews who had sold out to the Romans, and they collected Roman taxes for a piece of the “action“. Matthew was a tax-collector before Jesus called him to be a disciple.

Two men…
Jesus introduced two men, a Pharisee, and a tax-collector. They both went to the temple, ostensibly for the same reason – to pray, and yet their demeanor, and the outcome of their prayers were very different. Notice the Pharisee’s demeanor: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself,…“, contrasted with the Tax-collector’s demeanor: “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast,…“.

The Pharisee stood there in arrogance and pride, while the Tax-collector approached God in genuine humility. The content of their prayers was also entirely-different.

Their prayers…
The Pharisee said: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’“, as if to remind God of how “good” he was.

The Tax-collector said: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” The Tax-collector knew that he was a sinner, and that he couldn’t do it on his own, so he threw himself on the mercy of God.

Their outcomes…
Both men prayed, but very different prayers, and two entirely-different outcomes. Jesus said: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

God heard the Tax-collector’s prayer, but the Pharisee’s prayer didn’t even get much more than out of his mouth before it fell flat.

Jesus’s commentary on their results is particularly-telling: “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Do we exalt ourselves, or do we humble ourselves?

Thoughts…
Jesus pointed out a much-needed “attitude-adjustment” that His audience needed to make, but as was typical of His other encounters with them, I doubt that it had much of an effect. We still need that “attitude-adjustment” just as badly as they did almost two-thousand years ago, because we can always find “worse-sinners” to look down on, or can we? Is their sin any “worse” than our own? If you think so, remember that God hates PRIDE…

The ROOT of those attitudes was PRIDE, pride in their ability to make God “happy” by their own efforts, and pride in the fact that they were “better” than that poor Tax-collector. PRIDE and me go WAY back, and at times, we have been best-friends, because I have always been accomplishment-oriented. My accomplishments have always been the basis for my self-esteem and the foundation of my self-worth, and the only way to give myself a “boost” was to pat myself on the back. This is nothing new to those of you who have been following this blog for a while, but for the newcomers, go back and read “Pride“.

Do you think that you are going to make it to heaven “your way“? Do you think that you are “better” than other people? If so, I pray that you will meditate on this parable and ask God to help you with that “attitude-adjustment“.

God bless!
Steve