Evangelism: Share God’s Love (Jesus and Zacchaeus)

Hi everyone, I’m here today to tell you that God loves you. Now, if you’re a Christian, you’re probably saying, “Well Dan, I know that God loves me.” I’m glad that you know that God loves you, but you know there are a lot of people out there, including maybe your neighbors and certainly the rest of humanity, that may not yet know that God loves them.

It’s the will of the Father that humanity know how much he loves them. The Father sent the Son, the Son sent the Spirit, and the Spirit has sent the church to proclaim the message of how much God loves humanity and how much he wants humanity to realize that they’re included in his life, in his wonderful existence.

When Jesus came to this earth, he set forth on a ministry and in that ministry he revealed the Father. He said, “For this is eternal life, to know the Father and to know how much the Father has loved you, and to know that the Son and the Spirit love humanity as well.”

God loves everyone. In fact, he loves people that by our estimations and our standards do not seem to be very lovable. What about us? Do we love humanity as God does? For those of us who are Christians, we participate in the very life of God. We proclaim that Jesus lives in us and we live in Jesus.

Since we live in Jesus and he lives in us, the Holy Spirit manifests the love of God in our life and should manifest it towards other people—even towards people who are seemingly unlovable. In fact, those are the people who need to hear how much God loves them the very most.

What does it look like for us to participate in the ministry of Christ and to share God’s love with other people? I’d like to take an example from the life of Jesus today and share it with you. We’re going to look at the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus and the relationship that Jesus developed with him and how he let this short little unloved man know that God loved him.

Let’s turn in the Scriptures to Luke chapter 19. In Luke 19, we begin the story this way, we find that “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it.” Jericho was a town about 17 miles from Jerusalem. It was kind of a suburb, if you will, of that great city and it was a home to many religious people. Particularly to the temple priests and to the Levites who served in the temple at Jerusalem. We’re dealing here with a very religious-oriented city.

“He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.” The tax collectors in Judea were Jewish people who worked for the Roman government and took the taxes of the people and then delivered those taxes to the Roman officials.

The Roman officials did not like these tax collectors very much. They knew they were dishonest. They saw them as traitors to their own people and they were very much despised by the Romans. These Jewish tax collectors were also very much despised by their own people, because the people realized that not only did they take the taxes owed to the Romans, they took more. Yes, they extorted, they embezzled, they cheated and they robbed both the Jewish people and the Roman authorities and made themselves very rich.

What we read here about Zacchaeus is that he was a chief tax collector. He was the supervisor, the superintendent of tax collectors in that region. As a result of that, not only was he hated by the Romans, by his fellow Jews, but he was hated by his fellow Jewish tax collectors because he probably extorted and embezzled even from them. Chances are, this man Zacchaeus was a very lonely, a very unloved and even hated individual in the city of Jericho.

We pick up with our story here in verse three. He, Zacchaeus, “was trying to see who Jesus was.” That’s an interesting expression. He was trying to see who Jesus was. Perhaps he’d heard about him. Perhaps he knew of his fame. Perhaps there was something that he had heard about Jesus that intrigued him and he wanted to know more. He was very anxious to see Jesus as he passed through the city.

On account of the crowd, he could not, because he was very short in stature. Here we have this much-despised short tax collector trying to get through the crowds to get a look at this rabbi Jesus as he comes through town. I find it interesting that he was short and tried to get up front where he could have a view, but the crowd seemed to block him.

These perhaps very religious people in the city of Jericho wanted to see Jesus for themselves, but did not want to let this short little man Zacchaeus come forward. They despised him. They disliked him. He was very unpopular and so the crowd seemed to just kind of push and shove together to keep Zacchaeus out.

What is Zacchaeus to do if he wants to see Jesus? Well, he’s got an idea here and so we find that in verse four “he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore fig tree to see him, because Jesus was going to pass that way.” Here we have this man who’s sort of forced out by the crowd and if he wants to see Jesus the only alternative that’s left to him is to go over and climb a sycamore fig tree.

Now, the sycamore fig trees in the area of Jericho can grow to as much as 65 feet in height and they have thick leaves, sort of heart shaped. Zacchaeus could have climbed up in this tree quite easily and he probably would’ve been pretty much obscured from the sight of the crowd and even from Jesus and Jesus’ disciples. Here we have this poor little outcast man and a much hated by the populace of the city of Jericho as it were hiding himself in a tree and peeking out in order to see more about who this Jesus is.

I don’t know about you, but I think that if a movie is ever made of this story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, the part of Zacchaeus can be played by no other person in my estimation than Danny DeVito. I can’t help but read this story without seeing Danny DeVito playing the character of Zacchaeus being forced out by the crowds, hated and despised, having to climb a sycamore fig tree, sitting there on a limb in order to get a look at Jesus as he goes by.

We continue in the story: “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.’ He hurried down and was happy to welcome him.” This may seem a little strange to us, for Jesus just to say “hey come on down, I’m going to come over to your house and have dinner.”

That’s not our custom in North America today. At this time and this period in history among the Jewish people in Judea, for a rabbi to offer to come to your house and share a meal with you was the highest compliment you could possibly be paid. This was to show you great honor.

When Jesus said, “I will come to your house and eat with you,” it was seen in the eyes of the crowd that day as showing great honor and respect to this little short hated man Zacchaeus. The crowd reacted predictably. Again, we read in our story, “All who saw it began to grumble and say ‘he’s going to be the guest of one who is a sinner,’” which is kind of an interesting expression, which tells you the crowd certainly did not see itself as being sinners. They saw themselves as the children of Abraham. They saw themselves as the chosen people who had not defiled themselves with the Romans or with any foreign thing and they looked down upon Zacchaeus and despised him. Yet in their own eyes they saw themselves as righteous, while seeing Zacchaeus to be chief among sinners.

Verse 8: “Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor. If I’ve defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’” Then Jesus to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

What seems to have happened here in the life of Zacchaeus? Here is a man who was marginalized, despised and outcast, hated by his own people, his own peers, loved seemingly by no one, disrespected by this crowd, brought to the level of having to climb a tree as a grown man in order to see Jesus going by.

Yet Jesus, mindful of his own business but not too mindful to notice what was going on around him, took time to look up in the tree and observe Zacchaeus and see him there and feel compassion upon him and to invite Zacchaeus to come through the crowd and appear before him. Then Jesus offered to go to Zacchaeus’s home and give him the honor of dining with him.

Zacchaeus was touched by this. I think in fact his heart was broken. A man who was so hated by so many, loved perhaps by no one, not even perhaps experiencing love at all. His only love was for his money. His money had become his god, had become his family, had become the source of fulfillment in life.

Yet we noticed how much he has been changed here by his interaction with Jesus when he offers to give up half of everything he has and repay anyone that he has ever cheated. Something truly remarkable has happened in Zacchaeus’s heart. What caused this to happen? Well, obviously, the work of the Holy Spirit, but how? Zacchaeus felt loved. Perhaps for the first time in many, many years of his life, someone showed him some honor. Someone showed him respect. Someone showed him kindness. Someone showed him that he was loved and respected and worthy of honor.

This unexpected love from so great a rabbi touched Zacchaeus deeply and profoundly. So much so that it changed his whole way of life. Not only from that day, but from that day forward. Jesus said he came to seek and to save the lost, and indeed he did. Jesus sought out people like Zacchaeus to let them know that God loved them. How do we participate in this ministry of Jesus? Let’s think about it for a moment. Has Jesus sought out and saved the lost? Yes, indeed he has.

Does he continue to? Yes, Jesus has, Jesus is, Jesus will save the lost. We need to participate in the ministry of Jesus Christ by letting people like Zacchaeus and indeed all of humanity, everyone within our sphere of influence, know how much God loves them. Even to seek them out if they’re hiding in a sycamore fig tree and to share God’s love with them.

How do we do that? I notice three things from this story of Jesus and his interaction with Zacchaeus. The first thing that Jesus did was lift up his eyes to see, and so should we. We have to look around us as we go through life. We can’t be so concerned with our own affairs, our own stresses, our own pressures in life that we fail to notice people around us who are seeking, people who have questions, people who have needs, both physical and spiritual. We need to be sensitive to that and ever mindful that there is a large segment of humanity all around us in our daily lives who just don’t know yet how much God loves them and how transforming that knowledge can be.

After you’ve opened your eyes to see those who are around you in your sphere of influence, the next thing to do as Jesus did would be to open your heart to feel for them, to be sensitive to their needs, to be sensitive to their questions, to be sensitive for what they’re looking for in life. Is there some way you can respond and meet their needs both physically and spiritually?

Notice that Jesus met Zacchaeus’s physical need for love and respect and honor in the eyes of the people. He made Zacchaeus feel better about himself. He improved Zacchaeus’s relationship between himself and the people by showing him honor and respect. Jesus was preparing to share God’s love with Zacchaeus and to let him know just how much this physical action represented the love of the Father for him.

Then finally Jesus opened his hands to help. He reached out to Zacchaeus. He met his needs that he had seen, that he’d felt in his heart and seen with his eyes, and now he was going to his home to teach him and to interact with him to have hospitality with him and to fully share God’s love. Indeed, Jesus could predict that day, “salvation has indeed come to your house.”

How does this story apply to us in our participation in the ministry of Jesus Christ? How are we to walk as Jesus walked? How are we to share the love of the Father in the Son and in the Spirit with humanity? We need to remember what Jesus did, and do likewise. We need to keep our eyes open, to see those around us who are seeking. We need to open our heart to be sensitive for needs that they may have, both physical and spiritual. We need to reach out with our hands to serve and to minister to those people so that not only do our words tell them about God’s love, our deeds and our actions toward them show God’s love for them.

As we go through life, as we participate in the ministry of Christ, we too can really by the Holy Spirit have a profound effect in the lives of people. A transformation can occur by the work of the Holy Spirit as he works in us, through us, and as we work with him in his ongoing ministry of sharing God’s love with humanity.

I encourage every one of us to think about this daily. To walk as Jesus walked with our eyes, with our heart, with our hands, because you never know, you just might look up into a tree someday and see a Zacchaeus who needs your help and who needs God’s love. When we share that love with them, transformation can and will occur in people’s lives. Keep your eyes open and look out for that Zacchaeus in the fig tree near you.

Author: Dan Rogers

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