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!

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

She Is A SINNER!

36 Now one of the Pharisees requested Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.

39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”

Parable of Two Debtors
40 And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.”

49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?”

50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)

The setting…
We come to a very interesting “teachingmoment” in the life of Christ. Simon, a Pharisee, invited Jesus to have dinner with him, but as exacting as Simon was in keeping the Law, he hadn’t even extended the customary-courtesies which were normal in that culture. Because everyone wore sandals, or walked barefoot, and the roads weren’t paved, the customary-courtesy that hosts were expect to extend their guest was to, at minimum, wash their feet. The greeting-kiss and anointing the heads of their guests with oil may have been “optional“, but Simon hadn’t even done the basics.

The host…
Simon was a Pharisee, and was probably quite well-known in the community, so word of a special guest at his house spread like wildfire throughout the area. There really was very little privacy, even in a person’s home, because “windows” were simply openings in the walls, and may only have been covered by some sort of “drapes” at night. Otherwise, they were open for all to see in.

The woman…
The woman is not named, but she was probably pretty well-known in the community as well, but NOT for the same reason. She was a “sinner“, which many commentators describe as an “immoral woman“. Was she a prostitute? Did she run the local brothel? She wasn’t someone who was “acceptable” in “politecompany“. She certainly wasn’t someone Jesus should be seen associating with, but…

Her actions…
37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.

She not only washed His feet, she kissed and anointed them, not just with cheap olive-oil, but with very-expensive perfume. She was performing a service to Him, and if I really read her attitude right, she was also claiming Him as her Master. For those could afford servants, these basic-courtesies were relegated to a servant, and she humbled herself to become His servant. It was an act of devotion to Him.

Objection, your Honor…
That didn’t sit well with Simon, particularly since her actions betrayed how sloppy of a host he was. He also didn’t think much of Jesus for allowing her to serve Him as she did. “Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”” If Jesus truly was a Prophet, He should have known better…

Objection over-ruled…
Jesus was not going to allow His character to be questioned, and neither was He going to allow Simon to put down the woman. He addressed Simon directly. “And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.””

Yes, your Honor…
And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.”

Parable of two debtors…
41 “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?”

A denarius was a Roman coin worth a day’s wages, so if a person made the equivalent of $100 per day, one debtor owed $50,000 and the other owed $5,000. How many bankers are willing to “writeoff” $5,000? How many bankers are willing to “writeoff” $50,000, and yet that banker graciously “wroteoff” both debts. He forgave their WHOLE debt, interest and all.

Simon thought that he was a “pretty-good” guy. After all, he WAS a Pharisee, and he would have compared himself favorably to the Pharisee in the “Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector“. He certainly was “better” than that poor woman, that SINNER, but, he wasn’t perfect. He still owed a debt to God that he could never pay.

The lesson for us is that whether we are “big” sinners, or whether we are “little” sinners, we still owe God a debt of sin that we can never repay.

A debt of love…
So which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

The appropriate response to a forgiven-debt SHOULD be love for the One who forgave the debt

And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

After pointing out to Simon where he had failed as a host, Jesus showed Simon how she had not only done the “basics“, but that she had gone way above and beyond the “basics“. Did she come seeking forgiveness? Even if that wasn’t her intent, she got way more than she bargained for.

Your debt is paid in full…
48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.”

Jesus didn’t simply say “Thank you” to her, and then dismiss her, He did what only He could do, forgive her sins.

WHAT???
49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?”

EVERYONE knew that only God can forgive sins, so who did He think HE was? In a way, they were right, but they didn’t realize that Jesus Christ was the very Incarnate God. He was everything God was in a human body, so it was His right to forgive sins. He also knew about their self-righteous sinfulness.

Your faith has saved you…
50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

She had encountered the living God, and I can imagine that there was a lightness in her step that she hadn’t felt in many years. She also didn’t have to hang her head in shame. She was FORGIVEN. She was SAVED. That was the best day of her life, and the beginning of her new life. She had gone to Jesus with only herself and a bottle of perfume. She had given all that she had, and she had received way more than she could have ever imagine, a new life.

Parting thoughts…
She had gone to Jesus, confident that He wouldn’t brush her off, and He didn’t. She gave Him all she had, herself, and He gave her far more in return, a new life. She shows us that we can come to Jesus in our need, and that He won’t brush us off or turn us away either. He has given us an invitation, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

Where are YOU in this scene? Do you “have it all together” like Simon, thinking that God should be pretty pleased with you, or can you identify with the woman, knowing that you DON’T “have it all together“? Either way, if you haven’t gone to Jesus with your debt, acknowledging that you can’t ever pay it yourself, you need to, because your debt is growing by the minute. Only God, through Jesus Christ, can forgive your sins and release you from your debt. Please join me in acknowledging our debts to God…

“Lord Jesus, I owe a debt to you that I could never pay. I AM a sinner, and only You can save me, so, Lord Jesus, please forgive my sin and release me from my debt. Thank you for inviting me to come.”

In Christ,
Steve

Regrets…

As we grow older, our life starts coming more clearly into focus, and we start realizing, perhaps for the first time, how our life and decisions have impacted others, both for good and for ill. If we had gone through life making perfect decisions and always doing the right thing… Only one person ever perfectly-fullfilled that ideal – Jesus Christ. The rest of us are fallen sinners, and yes, we do make mistakes, and we do have regrets.

I just celebrated birthday number fifty-nine, which means that three-quarters of my life is behind me. Celebrating another birthday gave me the reason and opportunity to pause and look back on my life. The picture hasn’t always been pretty, but I am not here to paint pretty pictures. This is life in the ditches.

The famous American Revolutionary War hero, Nathan Hale, is reported to have said “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” as he was about to be hanged by the British. Many of us who have spent a lifetime in public service echo those words as our own. A few years ago, a dear friend (BROTHER) and I were discussing our lives as public-servants, and we concluded that our only regret was that we weren’t able to do more. Our bodies have betrayed us, and we are no longer able to do what we love, help others in the capacities we used to. If you haven’t been in the “family“, you won’t understand what drives us. Our “drummer” skips a beat, as does our heart, every time the pager goes off.

I have another, far more important regret that will go with me to the grave, that I wasn’t a better husband to my wife and father to my children. Every time I hear “Cats In The Cradle” I get a lump in my throat, because that is my story also. No, I didn’t seek fame and fortune, but I did “do what it takes” in my job, and my family suffered as result.

Cats In The Cradle
My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking before I knew it and as he grew
He said, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad,
You know I’m gonna be like you”

And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin home, dad, I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then, Son,
You know we’ll have a good time then.

My son turned ten just the other day
He said “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on lets play
can you teach me to throw?” I said, “Not today,
I got a lot to do” He said “Thats okay”
And then he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m going to be like him”

And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin home, dad, I dont know when,
But we’ll get together then, Son,
You know we’ll have a good time then.

Well he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say,
“Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head, and he said with a smile

“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?”

And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin home, Son, I dont know when,
But we’ll get together then, Dad,
You know we’ll have a good time then.

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day……..
I said “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said “I’d love to Dad, if I could find the time.
You see my new jobs a hassle, and the kids have the flu.
But It’s sure nice talking to you, Dad,
It’s been sure nice talking to you……..”
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me,
My boy was just like me…………..

And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin home, Son, I dont know when,
But we’ll get together then, Dad
We’re gonna have a good time then.

Regrets…
Yes, I have them. I can’t make it up to my dear wife, because she committed suicide in 1997. I can’t make it up to my children, because they don’t have anything to do with me. They are probably also “too busy” with their own lives and families to make time for their dad. Hopefully they are better parents than I was. I just pray that they aren’t “too busy” for their own children. That is one regret that I DON’T want them to have.

I am still self-centered, self-willed and selfish. I am not the man of God that I should be or could be. I am still a work-in-progress, and it shows. This is about struggles, not triumphs, and I still struggle.

God bless!

Steve