I love church small groups.
I love them because they allow me to get to know people on a more personal level, as well as introduce me to some pretty awesome authors and Christian leaders.
The book we’re using in this group is called Jesus Is _________________. by Judah Smith. I haven’t been able to sit it down- it’s great! One of the most thought provoking chapters is the one about Zacchaeus and being a sinner.
Here’s the story of Zacchaeus from the Bible:
Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.
When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”
Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.
Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”
Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek those who are lost.”
– Luke 19:1-10
I learned while I was reading that back in the day, tax collectors were thrown into the same category as pimps and other “bad” people. Zacchaeus was Jewish, but he took money from his own people and gave it to the Roman government. He charged them whatever necessary in order to make a profit. He was a low-life in the eyes of society. Sure, he had a lot of money, but he was a hated outcast.
The book goes on to say that Zacchaeus most likely wasn’t crossing his fingers for salvation as he escorted Jesus back to his mansion. How could someone who had everything need anything more? Zacchaeus wanted status. He wanted to meet the new kid on the block who was becoming really popular.
I wonder what the crowd thought when Jesus called Zacchaeus, a well-known sinner, by name and told him he was coming over to hangout. Why him? What is Jesus thinking?
The Bible doesn’t go into detail about what Zacchaeus and Jesus spoke about that day, but one can only assume it was powerful because Zacchaeus fully committed to changing his life. He committed to not only stop stealing from people, but to pay back four times what he cheated them.
Can you imagine sharing time with God in the flesh? I’d venture to guess that it would change my life, too.
I am Zacchaeus.
If people really knew all the things I’ve done, I would most likely be thrown into the “bad person” category with Zacchaeus. I’ve said a lot of hurtful words to people who’ve done nothing but good for me, I’ve abused alcohol more times than I can remember (pun intended), and I’ve picked anger over compassion more than I’d like to mention.
And like the story of Zacchaeus, I continuously exhaust myself climbing tree after tree trying to work for God’s attention.
I believe God appreciates our efforts to please him, but let’s get real for a minute: going to church, praying a perfect prayer, and tithing at least 10 percent of my income isn’t the point.
The point is Jesus and we don’t have to do anything. He’s calling us by name, too.
“Jesus told Zacchaeus to hurry, and he tells us the same thing. ‘Hurry down from religion. Hurry down from traditions. Quit trying to pick yourself up. Only my grace can save you. Come down, come now. Don’t spend another moment or another day trusting yourself. I need you today.”
Can you imagine what Zacchaeus must have felt when Jesus looked him in the eyes and said salvation has come to you? Better yet, can imagine what everyone else thought? I bet they were livid. “How could this outcast be saved,” they probably said.
The story of Zacchaeus is a beautiful example of the reason Jesus came to Earth. He came to find and save lost people. He came to meet us exactly where we are. He didn’t come to dine with religious leaders who cast down those who didn’t meet their rigorous standards for being a “good person.”
If this isn’t a message of hope, I don’t know what is. Jesus came to be with those who weren’t accepted in soceity. Those who were hopeless, poor, confused, lost. Those who were always “messing up.”
He came to save sinners like me.
This chapter of the book ends like this:
“Jesus is not your accuser. He’s not your prosecutor. He’s not your judge. He’s your friend and your rescuer. Like Zacchaeus, just spend time with Jesus. Don’t hide from him in shame or reject him in self-righteousness. Don’t allow the opinions of other people to shape your concept of him. Get to know him for yourself, and let the goodness of God change you from the inside out.”