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!

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