Let me begin with what would seem to be the obvious question: Have you ever looked at your life and felt like you were up a tree? Let’s get really honest: Have you ever looked at the lives of those around you and concluded they are seriously up a tree?
For those who know they are up a tree I have great news. And for those who see others up a tree I have a great message to give you to take to them. Instead of judging them tell them this: Jesus came to give you life beyond the narrowness of life in a tree. And He does this around two actions: First- He seeks you out. Secondly – He saves you.
For those raised in the church the story of Zaccheus is not unfamiliar. It reaches back to our days in Sunday school. Back then, and still on the surface it seems to be a rather simple story. However, for those who are sixty you have likely come to understand that nothing about the human experience is ever really simple. And to understand the human experience in this story is to realise this is not exactly without its complexities.
First there was the setting – Jericho – this strange place of confusing contradictions. The meaning of the word is: ‘a fragrant place’. This reflected the fact that its economy centred in products of fragrance including roses. Jericho was also a place of judgement. The consequence of that judgement was the first victory of the Joshua generation when they came into the promise land. Don’t forget this: judgement and victory go together in God’s order. We all want the victory, while insisting that nothing need be judged in the process.
For all of the rich history of Jericho with its victories and wonderful fragrances, there was a problem. Jericho sat on a major fault and was constantly dealing with earthquakes. In other words, for all of the history of victory and the pleasant fragrances of this place there remained this vulnerability of instability.
My point is simply this: Just when you seem to have it all together – you’ve settled in, you are absorbing the fragrances of past victories; you have a feeling that you’ve arrived and everything that needs to be judged has been judged, that there is no more walls to come down, that all is well and everything is stable – suddenly it all begins to shake again. And we find ourselves saying: “It’s enough to drive you up a tree.”
The story gives us four important details concerning the man. First there was his name –Zaccheus. The meaning of his name is ‘pure’. Within that culture it was quite easy to know what the parental expectations were regarding children; it was in the meaning of the names they were given. The parental expectation regarding Zaccheus was that he would be pure.
The second fact the story gives us is that he was a chief tax collector. Notice that he was achief tax collector, which would suggest promotion and position within the structure. I want to join this second fact with the meaning of his name.
It is just my view, but I do feel the Biblical record implies that perhaps Zaccheus did not always live up to his name. One of the first confessions that came from his mouth when Christ called him out was this: “… and if I have defrauded anyone…” Why would your mind go there if you were innocent? Apart from the Biblical record, the history of tax collection within that culture would certainly suggest that the meaning of his name was greatly compromised by his life.
The third fact revealed is that Zaccheus was rich. The fourth thing the story tells us about him is that he was small of stature. Let me pull these facts together around this question: How does the crowd tend to view a short little man, who collects taxes for an occupying, oppressive regime, is wealthy and who’s name means ‘pure’? I think we all know the answer. This guy would have been rejected from the cradle to the grave.
But the story also begs the question: Howdo you think Zaccheus viewed himself? It is just my suggestion, but given the facts I do feel there is reason to conclude that he likely had a struggle with the image in the mirror. How he viewed himself and how he was viewed explains his action of running up the tree. I understand that he wanted to see Jesus. But I also believe there was another issue here: Look again at the slide of the sycamore tree. Look at the breadth, height and depth of the tree. Look at how thick and full the foliage is. Would that not be a great place to hide?
He wanted to see Jesus but remain hidden in the process. In that sense he wanted to know Christ but without personal exposure.
The reason for this was the shame of failed expectations – he was not able to live up to his name, plus the points of shame around his physical stature, his employment and financial status as seen by others. It’s as old as Genesis 3; we hide when we are shamed.
But I have great news for every “Zaacheus” on the planet this morning. You have been driven up a tree and into hiding among the leaves because of shame and rejection. In that sense you are lost among the leaves. There is one and only one solution to your “lostness”, and the rest of this message will deal with that.
First, the Lord Jesus comes to where you are – right to the very foot of the tree in which you are hiding. Christ knows where you are and you have never been lost to His conscious awareness of you. Secondly, He knows who you are and calls you by name. And what does the name Zaacheus mean? Pure. When Christ called his name He was calling him to the meaning of his name. At that very moment, with the calling of his name the opportunity was created for the life of the man to come into conformity with the meaning of his name. Thirdly, Christ went home with him, which speaks to the whole issue of discipleship based upon long-term relationship. The mission of Christ was and is more than making converts – it is making disciples.
That is the story of Zaacheus; but at verse 10 we have what I like to describe as thesummation of the essential realities of the story: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Three key words: seek, save and lost.
Let’s work backwards through these words. ‘Lost’ – based upon the meaning of this word in the original language I can tell you this is the last thing you would ever want to be. It means the following: to destroy, or to come into destruction; to put out of the way entirely; to abolish; to put an end to, or to ruin; to render useless; to be given over to eternal misery.That was the state of Zaacheus up that tree. In this state I need one thing, and that brings us to the word ‘save’.
Save: this word in the original language has a large definition and is used in a wide variety of settings. But it can be reduced to three fundamental movements. 1) to be rescued, delivered or brought back from destruction; 2) to restore to wholeness; 3) to be kept. Christ does not merely take us out of one position, but He fully restores us to the opposing or opposite position. From the old position of death and destruction we are placed in the new position of life and abundance. But He doesn’t just place us in a new position and walk away from us. He actively keeps us in that new position by His own power.
Seek: this word is incredibly strong and intense. In its narrowest discipline it means: to search out in order to find. That part of the meaning addresses only the action involved in the search. The real intensity of the word relates to the heart- reality of the one doing the searching. Here is that part of the meaning: to burn with passion; a baptism of intense desire; a single focused intention; disciplined, deliberate determination.
To see a wonderful picture of this heart-reality read the fifteenth chapter of Luke. How long did the shepherd search for the lost sheep? Until he found him. How long did the woman sweep the house in search of the lost coin? Until she found it. How long did the father wait and look for his lost son? Until he saw him coming back home.
It was this state of heart that drove Christ to that tree. It was this state of heart that called Zaacheus out of hiding. And this is the passion of Christ toward every life in this room this morning. The argument may be: ‘You know what – I’ve been restored to relationship with God so what does this message have to do with me?’ I can tell you exactly what it has to do with you. It has to do with why you have been restored to relationship with God. Christ did not bring you out of a tree to introduce you to a rocking chair, with the instruction to just hold on until the rapture.
He restored you to God-purpose, to kingdom-function right here, right now in this time/space world. Suddenly we are face to face with such issues as gifts and talents, callings and ministries, functions and roles; we are face to face with dreams. Relationally you are restored, but where is your dream? Is it buried, denied, covered over, pushed to the outer fringe of consciousness; is it lost and up a tree?
Well guess who’s standing at the foot of that tree right now?