November 14, 2021

Saving the worst

Luke 19:1-10

Peter Lin


I used to work for a major charity and one of the things we did was serve lunch to about 500 homeless people on Christmas day. I remember one year as some of the staff and I were chatting in the reception area before we opened the doors to the lunch rush, these two angry Harley Davidson bikes roared to a stop right outside the front doors in the No Parking zone. And in walked two of the biggest baddest bikies you've ever seen - big bushy beards, buff bald heads, bulking black boots.

And I immediately thought "Oh no. Just great. Here's trouble. This is going to get ugly." I thought I should quickly address the staff and tell them just to keep calm and don't panic. Play it cool. And as I turned around to speak to them, they'd all disappeared as I heard office doors slam shut down the hall.

I stood there all alone. So I summoned all my courage and said to them, "Look gentleman. It's Christmas Day, we don't want any trouble."

They responded by saying in the gentlest of tones that they weren't here to cause trouble but were here to help serve Christmas lunch. It was so weird to hear them speaking so warmly, and as I spoke to them a little more, found out they were Christian bikies from a Christian motorcycle club.

But I had misjudged them completely. Why? Because I had a standard on who might be a Christian and go to heaven and who might not be.

Most people have a view on who goes to heaven and who doesn't and my guess is that most people have a standard of "good" that gets people into heaven and a standard of "bad" that assigns people to hell.

But the question I'd like to put to you today is whether that's how God decides.


Read v2

A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.

Now firstly, being a tax collector and wealthy meant that amongst his countrymen he was hated and despised. He was considered the lowest of the low.     Why?

This man a Jew and the Jews were living under the rule of the evil Roman empire.

Now as tax collector his job was to take money from his own people and  give it to their enemies and oppressors - the Romans.

But they also took their own cut and often more than they should. And often by extortion. Can you imagine how people felt towards them?

When I was at uni, I travelled w 2 Christian friends to Turkey with stopover in Athens. So we decided to explore Athens, and we started being followed and harassed by a man pleading to us to come to his bar. We resisted but gave in so he would leave us alone. His bar ended up being below street level and was seedy and dark and no one else was there. We didn't drink alcohol, so ordered 3 coffees. When we sat in a booth, these 3 nasty looking girls came and sat with us. It not good situation so decided to leave. I went to pay, and the guy pretended to tally up the cost. Then he told me the total, which came to the equivalent of...wait for it....over $100 Australian dollars!! For 3 coffees!!

I knew we were being ripped off so started to complain...and then from the door behind the bar, there appeared the biggest man with the biggest muscles I had ever seen. And he just stood there with his arms crossed looking at me. I knew exactly what that meant, so I paid and we left.

You can guess the outrage, the injustice, the violation, the anger we felt. Now this was extortion of foreign tourists. Tax collectors did this to their own people!!! That's how they got wealthy. That's why they were hated.

And not only was Zacc a tax collector but he the CHIEF tax collector. He was the most despised of the despised. Worst of the worst.

Well, back to what happened.

Zacc - the short

Read V3-4

 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

And as Zacc is sitting in the tree, all of a sudden something unexpected happens.

Read v5-6  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.

So Zacc is happily up the tree when all of a sudden Jesus, whom he'd never met, calls him by name and invites himself over for dinner. I'm not sure I'd do what Zacc did, but in v6, Zacc first response is to welcome Jesus gladly.

But look at his second response. In V8 it says  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.”

Now by this time I'm sure Jesus has had a meal and one amazing conversation with Zacc because Z starts giving away money - half of all his possessions to the poor + returned 4 times the amount back to those he cheated!! This not normal behaviour!!! How many rich people give away more than half their wealth just on the spot like that? How many of you would give away half of all that you own right now, here, on the spot? That's what Zacc did.

Something significant must've happened.  WHAT?

V9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.

What had happened was this man had been saved by Jesus. That's what "salvation" means. And the evidence of this was that, firstly, Jesus said so, but also that he gave away so much money, as well as repaying 4 times those he cheated. The genuiness of his faith is demonstrated in him righting his wrongs. Now, this is not saying all people who are saved must do this, but for a rich cheat, this is an appropriate way to show he had been changed. The COLLECTOR was now the GIVER. What a response to Jesus this was?

Response of people

But I also want to draw your attention to the response of the people seeing this.

V7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

See, Z would've  been the last person they expected Jesus to go and eat with. He was the chief tax collector. Amongst the worst of sinners. But for him to be saved then is even more unbelievable in their eyes. They would never expect that Zacc could be saved. But he clearly is.

And that's the whole point of this story...If Zacc can be saved, then anyone can. Jesus came to save those who are unsavable...which in the end, actually is everyone!!

Read ...10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

It's for lost people like Zacc that Jesus came. To find them and save them.

Now I say Zacc unsavable because he was not able to save himself. In fact, no one is. That's why Jesus came.

Like everyone he was lost. "Lost" here means far from God and unable to get to him.

WHY? Because of sin. All of us have sinned. Sin separates us from God. And the punishment for sin is death. And we cannot get to God because of it.

But Jesus came to save all who are lost and far from God. How? The bible tells us that he came to earth to die on the cross to pay for our sins, and cleanse us from them. Jesus came and took that punishment of death on our behalf, when he died on the cross. And by putting our faith in Jesus, like Zacc did, we can be saved from the penalty of sin.

Z was seen as the worst possible sinner. But Jesus sought him out. Jesus found him. And Jesus saved him...his death on cross would pay for Zacc's  sins, indeed, our sins...anyone's sins. That is the only way people can be saved and be with God. It's not a matter of how good you are.

The fact is, no one is good enough anyway, because sinlessness is the standard God has.  No one has or can meet that standard. Only Jesus can and has. And whoever puts their trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, they, like Zacc, are saved into eternal life. Even the worst.

I wonder: Do you believe in Jesus and put your faith in him that he is the one who saves you?

If you would like to put your faith in Jesus but haven't, please contact the staff on the website or after the service if you are here. It's so important that you do that!!

And may I say to those of you who have put your trust in Jesus, I hope this passage of the Bible makes you bold to share the message of Jesus with those around you, even those you think might be too hardened to Jesus or that you think could never be saved. Who do you know that haven’t put their trust in Jesus? Do you believe God can change them? Do you believe God has the power to turn them to Christ?

If big bad bikies can, if Zacc can, if you and I can, then anyone can. Pray for God to change people, then share with them what Jesus has done for you on the cross.

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