The Lord's Day Morning
May 1, 2011
“Today Salvation Has Come to This House”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you’d turn with me in your Bibles to Luke chapter 19, we are coming to a passage that is very familiar to you. Perhaps you first heard or sung about this passage in Vacation Bible School as a child if you grew up in the church. How many of you could still sing “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he”? I can. I see some hands out there. I can. I certainly can. But this is a very grown up story. It's a very simple but profound story. It's a powerful story of conversion.
And I want you to look at its context, even as you have your figure on Luke 19 verses 1 to 10. I want you to notice something. Look at the passage that immediately succeeds it, that immediately follows it. It's a parable that Jesus tells about money. Now that will make sense when you see what Zacchaeus does at the end of this story, but it also makes sense in light of what we have already been seeing in Luke 18. Because you remember, we encountered a rich young synagogue elder who loved money and when Jesus told him to give his money away to the poor and come follow Him, he couldn't do it because he loved stuff. He loved his money; he loved his possessions. He couldn't follow Jesus. You’ll see a very different reaction from the man in the story today.
So Luke, in this section, is interested to talk about the view that Christian disciples have of money and wealth and how they use, how they deploy that money and wealth for the sake of the kingdom. But even beyond that, what we have here in this passage is Luke's final picture; this is the picture that Luke wants to leave you, of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Because if you look a little bit further into the passage, beginning in verse 28 of Luke 19, you will see Luke begin to describe the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. So Jesus is now in Jerusalem. That means that if you got Him to Jerusalem, He's got a week to go. So this is the final picture that Luke wants to leave you of Jesus’ ministry and it is a ministry not just to the body and the temporal well-being of someone, though Jesus ministered to the bodily needs and the temporal well-being of many during His earthly ministry, but the last picture that Luke wants to leave you of Jesus’ ministry is of a soul that has changed, a heart that has changed, a man who is converted.
Well let's pray before we read God's Word.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and it's Your Word for us. You wrote it for our benefit upon whom the ends of the ages have come. We ask that You would open our eyes that we might understand Your Word, believe it, respond to it, embrace it by faith, and walk in it. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received Him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Elsewhere in the gospels you will remember Jesus defining His ministry and mission in this way — I have been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Now that is an amazing statement when you understand the theology that would have been accepted by pious Jews in Jesus’ day. The assumption would have been, in Jesus’ day, that if you are a child of Abraham, if you are a religious Jew, you don't need to be found because you are already numbered among the righteous. And on the last day, when all are raised from the dead unto judgment, you will be numbered among the righteous because you are a descendent of Abraham, you are an heir of the promises, you are a child of the covenant, you are a member of the synagogue, you believe the Word of God. Surely the most of those who are numbered within the membership of the living family of Abraham in that time will be raised to righteousness. Unless you've done some sort of particularly heinous crime, you are expected to be one who will be found righteous in the last day. And yet Jesus, over and over in His ministry, does not assume that just by virtue of the fact of being a descendent of Abraham that you stand in some particular favor with God. And so He will describe His ministry as coming to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And interestingly, throughout His ministry He is rejected by many who view themselves as more religious and He is embraced by those who are in many ways outcasts within their own community. And that's what's going on in this story here.
You know if you compared this story to Luke 18:18-30 in the story of the rich young ruler and you took a poll of the pious, the religious Jews who would have been hearing these words spoken by Jesus first and you asked them this simple question, “Who is more likely to be declared among the righteous on the last day — this rich young ruler or this unsavory chief tax collector?” I can guarantee what they would have said and I can guarantee who they would have chosen. And that's of course precisely why Luke records this and it's precisely why he wants to leave you with this picture, this snapshot, of Jesus’ ministry. But he does this of course not so that we can look down our noses at pious Jews in the first century who struggled with Jesus’ message and ministry, but to search our own hearts because this is about Jesus speaking to a people with a rich religious tradition, a wonderful theological inheritance, enormous favor and promises given to God, who yet are lost and need to be found. And Luke is showing you what Jesus did to find them.
And I'd like to look at four things with you in this great story today and the first one is simply this — Luke makes it clear in the telling of this true story, and Jesus makes it clear in His dealings in this story, that we are lost and need to be found, we are sinners and need to be forgiven. Now that's made clear in this story in the case of Zacchaeus in at least a couple of ways. First of all, you will notice how the people respond to Jesus going into eat with Zacchaeus. Look at verse 7. When Jesus goes in to have a meal with Zacchaeus we are told “they all grumbled” and specifically they said “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Now Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, which means that he was not only one who collected taxes himself but he had people under him who collected taxes. Jericho was a great place to collect taxes because it was a crossroads and he would have been wealthy in his own right simply by getting a percentage off of other people who collected taxes for and under him. But apparently, in addition to that, he also skived a little bit off of the top because he tells Jesus at the end of this story — what does he say? Verse 8 — “If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” So he's telling you out of his own mouth that he was not only involved in an unsavory profession and an unpopular profession — I mean after all, when has tax collection been a popular profession? — but he's been unscrupulous.
You know I thought of mentioning to you today, think about some profession that is associated with unsavory and unscrupulous and immoral behavior and I started to name a couple of examples and I thought, “Um, I'm not going there!” But you think about it — somebody who has done well, they’re wealthy, but it's a profession that is tinged with immoral behavior and that immoral behavior, very often, is strategic in the “being enriched by it” aspect of that profession. And Jews looked at tax collectors and they saw people who were working for an invading pagan occupying power and they had contempt for their own people who cooperated with that, and furthermore, they despised people who took more than they should have in order to enrich themselves off the backs of others. And you have all of that going on. And so the people here tell you, “This man is a sinner.” So their perception of him is not being an upstanding righteous man. If you had asked them what they thought about the rich young ruler, they would have said, “Oh, now that man is a righteous man,” but their perception of Zacchaeus is that he is a sinner. And you've got to understand, that's not just their perception. Zacchaeus himself tells you in verse 8 they’re right. He was a sinner. He had defrauded people. He had taken things that should not have been taken. He had acted as a thief in his profession and had thus been enriched by his immorality in his business deals.
So they’re right, he is a sinner, but that's not the only thing going on here. If you’ll remember, turn back with me to Luke 18. I want you to see a couple of things. You remember, when the rich young ruler approaches Jesus and says, “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?” eventually in the conversation Jesus says, “Sell everything that you have, give it to the poor, and follow Me.” And in Luke 18 verse 23, what does Luke say the rich young ruler did. “When he heard these things he became sad, very sad, because he was extremely rich.” Now Luke is cluing you in to the fact that the rich young ruler really loved his wealth and he just couldn't let go of it. And this leads Jesus into a comment because again, good religious Jews in those days would have thought, “Okay, this guy is an upstanding weekly synagogue attendee, a leader in his synagogue, he gives tithes, he keeps the commandments, and he's wealthy, which is clearly a sign that God has blessed him.” They would have said, “Boy, if anybody's getting in, this guy's getting in!” And Jesus says, in verse 24, how difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. And then He goes on to say that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. And the disciples understand immediately what Jesus is saying. And they say, “You've got to be kidding! If he can't get into the kingdom, then who can?” And Jesus’ response is, “It is humanly impossible. Not really, really hard, but impossible. But what is impossible with man is possible with God.”
Now, enter Luke 19:1-10, and Jesus is displaying for you a poster child for the impossibility of a rich man entering the kingdom of God — Zacchaeus. This is a man who is a sinner and who, humanly speaking, has no hope of salvation. You see, he was lost and needed to be found. He was a sinner and he needed to be forgiven. And Luke is making that very clear. Nobody is expecting what happens to Zacchaeus in this story to happen. He is the least likely candidate for it in the world. But here's the deal. We may not have Zacchaeus’ sins, but we are all like him. Apart from Christ, apart from grace, apart from the Gospel, we are all sinners and need to be forgiven. We are all lost and need to be found. Do you understand that in this room today there are sinners who have been forgiven, who were lost and have been found, and there are sinners who need to be forgiven and who are lost and need to be found, but there are no non-sinners here. We are all here today sinners, either lost or found once, and there's nobody outside of those categories. And though our sin may not be an inordinate love of money or illegal or immoral or unscrupulous our unsavory business dealings or any of a million other sins that we can name, but we've all got our sins and we are all lost and we're all in need of forgiveness. And Jesus is just laying that out before us in this story. Luke is showing us a picture of somebody who is lost and who needs to be found. And then my friends, what he does is, he says, “Now, watch this. Watch this. Watch what Jesus does in this setting.”
And that leads us to the second point that I want you to see and it's this — you don't go looking for Jesus, He comes looking for you. You don't go looking for Jesus, Jesus comes looking for you. Now I'm not saying that there aren't people who don't go through a process of coming to faith in Christ where they wrestle long and hard. I know them personally and perhaps you do too — people who have wrestled a long time as they grasp like a blind man through the dark, on the way towards understanding Christ and embracing Him in the Gospel. I understand that, but here's what I want to say. Even when that is happening, underneath that seeking is a deeper seeking, and the very reason that that seeking is there is because something else more deep, more profound, and prior to that is going on. And you see a beautiful example of that here.
Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus. For what reasons all, we don't know. He clearly respected Him. Perhaps he was not satisfied by all the wealth that he had and perhaps he thought that in this encounter with this Palestinian Rabbi he might find a deeper significance in life. We’re not told. We just know that he really, really wants to see Him and he goes out of his way “to see who Jesus was,” we are told in verse 3. But when Jesus gets to him in that sycamore tree, Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, hurry up and come on down. I must stay with you today.” Now understand that Jewish people expected that kind of thing from a prophet. You see events like this happen in the Bible. You remember when Jesus is talking to Nathaniel in the early part of the gospel and He says, “You know, Nathaniel, I saw you when you were under that tree,” and Nathaniel, as white as a sheet, says, “How do You know this?” Well, Jewish people expected prophets to know things like that. Do you remember Jesus speaking to the woman by the well in Samaria and they’re in the midst of a fascinating theological discussion and Jesus says, “Look, I’ll answer that question, I’ll deal with that issue, but first go get your husband and bring him back and then we’ll continue the conversation.” And she says, “Well Jesus, I don't have a husband.” And He says, “You know, that's a really, really well-put answer because you’re correct. You don't have a husband. You’re living with a guy right now and you've had five previous husbands!” And what is her response? “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.” And that's exactly what's going on here. This little man is wanting to see who Jesus was but Jesus was looking for him. And when He finds him He calls him by name. He knows his name. And that's how it always is. We’re not looking for Jesus, He's looking for us.
You know there was a hymn written towards the end of the 19th century which is in the old Presbyterian PCUS hymnal, favorite of ours in our hymnal today, called, I Sought the Lord and Afterward I Knew. And the first stanza of that hymn could be a perfect depiction of the encounter between Zacchaeus and Jesus. Do you remember how that first stanza goes? “I sought the Lord and afterward I knew, He moved my soul to seek Him seeking me. It was not I who found O Savior true; no, I was found of Thee.” I didn't find you, Jesus; You found me. I didn't seek You, Jesus; You sought me. That's exactly what happens in this story. What does Jesus say at the end of this story? “I have come to seek and save the lost.” The seeker in this story is not Zacchaeus; it's Jesus. He's the one who is seeking Zacchaeus and He's the one who is underneath Zacchaues’ seeking of Him. Jesus comes looking for you. Your looking for Him is not something that you just do on your own because He's already coming looking for you.
Third, in this story it is very clear that when Jesus finds you He changes your heart. And this is one of those things about the gospels that just screams their truthfulness to me, their historicity, their reality to me. Not only the fascinating incidental details — this man is really, really short, which probably means for his day and time he was less than five feet tall. He climbs up a sycamore tree – not our kind of a sycamore tree, but a Middle Eastern sycamore tree, which is a pretty easy bush kind of a tree to climb – all sorts of interesting details that frankly you just wouldn't make up. But what testifies to me the truthfulness of this story is when Jesus encounters Zacchaeus there is no description of how Jesus went about changing his heart. There is only a description that Jesus was there and this man's life was changed. Now this is the last time that Luke is going to tell you about the ministry of Jesus and he's not even going to give you a verse, a phrase, a word, or a syllable, to tell you who Jesus changed this man's heart. Jesus just shows up and the man has a new life. What a glorious testimony. You see, if I were writing this and I'd changed a man's heart, I would have not only given you a chapter, I would have given you a book on how I did it! “How I Changed Zacchaeus’ Heart” by Ligon Duncan, the humble minister. And you would have heard it on and on and on. And Jesus just shows up and this guy's life has changed.
Notice how that's emphasized in the passage. It's emphasized in a couple of really interesting ways. When Jesus gets to the tree, He says, not only “Zacchaeus (okay I know your name) hurry on down,” but He says, “I must come home with you for lunch today.” Now ladies, you may be wondering, “Is that proper etiquette in the ancient near east?” No it's not! It's not today; it wasn't then! Even kings didn't tell you, “Oh, get the soup ready. I'm coming home with you today.” You waited for someone to invite you home. But Jesus said, “I am going to be eating with you today in your house.” And what is Zacchaeus’ response? Look at the passage. Luke 19 verse 6, the end of the verse, we're told the response — “He received Him joyfully.” You know he got this awkward, socially incorrect, self-invitation and his response was, “This is tremendous!” He received Him into his home with joy. He received Him joyfully.
And then, we're told something of what happened at the meal. At some point, Zacchaeus is up and he's got to tell Jesus something. “Okay, Jesus, I've just got to tell You something. Um, I've given away half of my money to the poor and everybody that I've ripped off in my life, I'm paying them back four times what I stole from them!” What's Zacchaeus doing? He's telling you that, “What I care about in life has just changed.”
Thomas Chalmers was a great, great Scottish writer, preacher, professor, and leader in the 19th century. He was the leader of what became the Free Church of Scotland formed in 1843. And he preached a famous sermon called “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” And the idea behind that wonderful sermon was simply this — you can't fight a sin that you love, you can't fight an idol of the heart, you can't fight a desire that is set on the wrong place by some sort of simple act of willing not to do that thing. You have to have a new affection of greater power that motivates you to love that thing, to focus your desires on that affection, rather than on the idol, the sin, the old desire. And Chalmers, in that message, talks about when a person is a converted you have a new affection. Your heart is set on God. Your heart is set on Christ. It's changed by the Gospel so that who you worship is different. You don't worship you; you worship God. You don't love this world and use God; you use the world and you love God. And what we see in this story is the evidence of a new affection in Zacchaeus’ heart, whereas he had been a rich man and he had been made wealthy by unsavory and unscrupulous means, suddenly now he is on fire for Christ and he's giving away the stuff that was the object of his old affection.
Now you remember how Jesus said to the disciples, “It's impossible for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”? In this story, without so much drawing one word of attention to that, Jesus has walked into the life of Zacchaeus and He's said, “Watch this. I can change everything in your life. The satisfaction that you have been seeking in all of the wrong places, I can give you satisfaction like you've never conceived existed, so much so that you will lose the grip that was killing you on your old idols, or rather your old idols will lose their grip on you as you have laid hold of Me.” And we see in this passage the changed heart of Zacchaeus.
And Luke in particular gives us one specific illustration of this and I want to conclude with this. This is my last point. When we are found and forgiven, when our hearts are changed, it shows. And in this passage it shows specifically in one illustration. Let me show you two parts of the illustration. One is, notice how, in verse 8, Zacchaeus says, “If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” Now do you think that Zacchaeus was just pulling a number out of thin air and just saying, “Okay, I took some stuff that I shouldn't have taken so I’ll just give four times back”? Where does that number come from? It comes right out of the Bible. It comes right out of Exodus 22. Just take a look at Exodus 22, 1 and following and it's all of the laws about restitution. Suddenly, what do you see? You see Zacchaeus wanting to do what God has commanded him to do. It's not like, “Oh, Jesus, do I have to?” He can't wait to tell Jesus that he's restoring something that he's taken wrongly fourfold because he wants to do what God has told him to do in the Word. My friends, there is no more powerful evidence of a changed heart than that — wanting to do things that in and of themselves are pretty hard because you want to do them because you have a new heart.
Specifically before that, again in verse 8, he says, “Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor.” Now you will remember that Jesus had said to the rich young ruler, “Give all of your goods to the poor. Sell it all and give it all to the poor and come follow Me.” This passage, by the way, is proof that Jesus’ theology of possessions was not that Christians have no right to own any of them because as much as this is, and this is a lot — this is probably a lot more than most of us, maybe even all of us in this room, have ever given ourselves. It's a lot but it's not everything. The point is not the percentage. The point is that the possessions are no longer Zacchaeus’ god. And that point is a transferrable point not to some Christians or most Christians, but to all Christians. All Christians are called upon to worship and love God, not worship and love stuff, or as Jesus calls it, mammon — money and possessions and things. God is the one who is our God, not money and possessions and things. In this case, Zacchaeus’ liberation from that god is evidenced not in giving all of his possessions away but giving half of them away.
But that is something very important for us to remember today. We are a people who have a rich religious heritage, we have a wonderful theological tradition bequeathed to us, and we are awash in the stuff that this world has to offer. And there have got to be at least some of us that are struggling with worshiping that, with finding our satisfaction and our security in that stuff. Jesus is saying to us today that if that's where you are, you are lost and you need to be found. You’re a sinner and you need to be forgiven. But there's good news — I've come here looking for you and I know you by name.
Lord God, we thank You for this Gospel word to Presbyterian sinners like us. We pray that we would hear it, that we would not be so hanging on to that which is perishing that we cannot embrace that which will never perish. Open our eyes, open our hearts, give us grace to believe, to trust, and then change us by Your grace, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Well, let's sing about the Lord's seeking of us using number 469.
The Savior who has come looking for you says, and now, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God your Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all now and forevermore.