Grace: Freely Received
Remember the great need you have of the grace and assistance of God. You should never lose sight of him--not for a moment. ~Andrew Murray~
Luke 19:1-10 - NIV
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'”
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.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
Outside Looking In
This dramatic story narrated by Luke captures what the mission of Jesus was all about. He came into the world for a singular purpose: To seek and save what was lost.
By way of background, nothing in first-century Judea was hated or more despised as was the Roman tax. Not only did it remind Jews that they were a subjugated people, it also represented a theological affront.
To the Jew there was only one King, and that was God—not Caesar. So paying tribute to an earthly, non-Jewish monarch was something the Hebrews had opposed throughout their long history.
The dirty work of collecting taxes was done not by the Romans, but by collaborating Jews. And much of the money collected off the backs of their fellow countrymen stuck to their own sticky fingers.
We are told that Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, which meant that he was in charge of the system of taxation for an entire district. He may have been short in stature, but he possessed wealth, and just like nowadays, in the first-century wealth meant power.
Zacchaeus was the little man with the big reputation. He had a fine home in Jericho and although he likely had more enemies than friends, he had the outward appearance of success.
Of course one might take issue with Luke in that descriptive term wealthy. In many ways Zacchaeus was as poor as anyone in Jericho—as poor as any of us. For all his money he was a lonely and empty man.
In the world of the flesh he had everything—in the world of the spirit he had nothing. People looked upon him with complete contempt. He was a dog, cut off from communion with the community of God.
Zacchaeus was prevented from seeing Jesus that day not only because of his short stature and the press of the crowd, but also due to social and religious ostracism. He was quintessentially on the outside looking in.
Yet here in this episode, we learn that Jesus deliberately reaches out to the outcast—there is intentionality in his actions. His example is to be our model for living out what we say we believe.
There are many who are bored, burned out, broken, tossed aside, and forced to be on the outside looking in. No matter their station or status, for them something is missing in life.
They feel lost, cut-loose, alone, abandoned, betrayed—that term lost can be misused and abused. Some wield it like a club that confuses those who are sincerely seeking to comprehend their spiritual dimension. Being lost isn’t always as obvious as some think.
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. ~Jesus of Nazareth~
Once upon a time a little boy got separated from his parents in a large shopping center. He wandered with a curiosity that kept him fascinated by all that he saw. There was no fear or worry in him as he went down one aisle and then meandered along another.
Meanwhile, his parents were frantic. Their anxiety ratcheted up to near panic levels. After reporting to Security, they began a haphazard search that only served to stir up their emotions.
Using their grid of cameras and putting into practice their training, the Security Team quickly located the child. They took him to the office, paged the parents over the intercom, and while waiting for them to arrive, the guards bought a large ice cream cone for the boy.
When the distressed mother and father arrived, they were surprised to see their son happily eating his ice cream. He smiled at them between licks, completely unaware of their angst.
Suddenly, as they gathered him up in their arms and embraced him, the boy burst into tears. Evidently he didn’t realize he was lost until he was found. And there it is, the reality of the human condition—the human dilemma of being lost sinners.
C. S. Lewis used this illustration that helps us grasp what it means to be lost and found. He said that in the incarnation, Jesus was like a diver in search of valuable pearls. Jesus is God the Son in heaven looking down into this dark, slimy, murky water—that’s our sinful, polluted world.
Jesus dives in—he gets himself wet and grimy. And then when God the Son emerges from the water, dripping wet and covered in stench, he’s holding the precious thing he went down to recover.
The precious thing is Zacchaeus—the precious thing is you and me, and all those who have trusted in Christ. Faith in Christ is how we get out of the grunge of tax collecting, cheating, lusting, lying, hating or whatever other self-destructive sin we are buried in.
God in Christ descended into the mucky ooze to rescue us. Resolutions and vows to be better won’t help by themselves—we don’t have the power to keep them. We are stuck on the sea bottom—we have no strength of our own to get up or be free. All we can do is cry out in desperation for God’s grace to rescue us.
Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults--unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. ~Jesus of Nazareth~ ~The Message~
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The most difficult aspect of our faith is to understand that there is no difference between us and the chief tax collector. We do not deserve God’s grace any more than the vilest offender deserves God’s grace—no one deserves grace.
A truth about human nature is that we are judgmental. We make holier than thou judgments based on bias or flimsy evidence—we silently condemn or dismiss those who do not fit our ideas, our style or our accepted patterns of behavior.
We forget that we are sinners—yes, sinners saved by grace—but we are still sinners, and our capacity for sin remains intact.
It is only by the grace of God that we are not defeated by sin. Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus, settled the point once and for all: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
No one can boast. Yet boast we do—it is inevitable because of the sin nature woven into our psyche. We demonstrate the sin of pride when we make silent judgments or condemn those mired in sin—or when our attitude belittles those on the outside looking in.
Pretending that we are better than anyone is sin—it is elevating ourselves to a position that is unsustainable. Reality will sooner or later cause us to crash off the pedestal we've perched upon.
Given our neverending aptitude to have feet of clay, it’s amazing that we never appreciate our common humanity. We so easily develop an ability to forget that God’s grace is for everyone—and grace has no limitations or boundaries.
The fact that the grace of God tracked us down means we have inherited a serious responsibility. We are to be conduits of that grace to others—we must live with the sure knowledge that the grace-soaked way God deals with us in our sin is exactly how we are to treat everyone.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and we are to actively participate in that ongoing search and rescue mission. May God help us to reach out with the grace we have freely received.
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
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