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The Appointment of a Lifetime

Do you remember Daytimers? I used to use one until just a few years ago. I kept all my appointments written in it. Now most of us use smartphones to keep a record of our appointments. However and wherever you use one, calendars are important for helping us remember to be in the right place at the right time. But have you ever noticed that some of the most significant things that happen in our lives aren’t on our calendars? Sometimes it is the things we haven’t planned for, serendipitous encounters, that turn out to be life-changing.

Such was the case for a man we read about today in our Gospel passage from Luke 19:1-10. Listen for God’s word to you…

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 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 down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said 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.”

Why was Jesus passing through Jericho and where was he going? Jesus had just told his disciples…

See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again. (Luke 18:31-33)

Luke tells us that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was talking about. But I think it is important for us, as readers of Luke’s Gospel, to keep in mind where Jesus was going as he passed through Jericho.

William Barclay tells us that…

Jericho was a very wealthy and a very important town. It lay in the Jordan valley and commanded both the approach to Jerusalem and the crossings of the river which gave access to the lands east of the Jordan. It had a great palm forest and world-famous balsam groves which perfumed the air for miles around. Its gardens of roses were known far and wide. Men called it “The City of Palms.” Josephus called it “a divine region,” “the fattest in Palestine.” The Romans carried its dates and balsam to world-wide trade and fame.

All this combined to make Jericho one of the greatest taxation centres in Palestine.

The next thing Luke tells us is that there was a man in Jericho whose name was Zacchaeus. The name comes from a Hebrew root word that means to be bright, clean, or pure. But most Jews in first century Palestine would not have thought of a tax collector as bright, clean, or pure. The reason for this is because tax collectors not only represented the hated oppressor, Rome, but in order to make a living, they would add their own fee on top of the taxes they collected. And some of these fees might be exorbitant. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and he was rich. So, this means that he had reached the pinnacle of his profession, but he had done so at the expense of others.

Now, Luke tells us that Zacchaeus “was trying to see who Jesus was.” Here was this famous healer and teacher passing through his town. It was understandable that Z might want to get a good look at him, just as any of us might like to see any famous person passing through our town. But Z wasn’t the only one trying to see Jesus. There was a great crowd lining the street as Jesus came along. Zacchaeus could not see over the heads of the people in the crowd because he was short. So, he climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.

However, Z was not just trying to see Jesus; he was trying to see who Jesus was. I believe we too need to seek to see who Jesus is. Finding out who Jesus is may be the most important thing we can do in this life. That is, if Jesus really was who he claimed to be, the Son of God. If Jesus was not the Son of God, then I don’t think finding out about him is any more important than finding out about any other ancient teacher.

But you know, there is another side to seeking… Not only was Zacchaeus seeking Jesus on that day in Jericho, but even more importantly—Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus.

Passing through Jericho, Jesus sees old Z up in that sycamore tree and he calls him by name: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 

That line leads me to believe Jesus had an appointment, of sorts, with Z that day. Jesus knew Z by name. If you want to look at it from a cosmic perspective, the reason Jesus knew his name was because he was Z’s creator. Speaking of Jesus, John 1:1-3 says,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. 

Jesus knows everything about us because he is our creator… and he has an appointment with us today…

But now thus says the Lord,
    he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

I believe that Jesus is calling out to each one of us today. He wants to stay at our house. Even more, he wants to live inside of us from this day forward and forever.

What is our response to this?

When Jesus told Z that he was to stay at his house that day, Z came down immediately and received Jesus gladly into his home.

Many years ago, I had the blessing of sitting on the back porch of Billy Graham’s mountaintop home. Later that day I was supposed to deliver a talk to a group of children. I mentioned that to Billy and so he asked me, “What are you going to talk about?”

I said, “I’m going to talk about Zacchaeus.”

And then Billy asked me, “Do you know what D. L. Moody said about Zacchaeus?”

I said, “No.”

And then Billy explained, “Moody said that Zacchaeus was converted between the limb and the ground.”

I love that!

I hope that you too, if you have not yet been converted, would be converted between the limb and the ground. If you do not yet have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I hope that you find exactly that before you leave here today. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”

Norman Vincent Peale used to tell the story of a mid-winter revival meeting in his father’s little, Midwest, Methodist church. The revival meetings in their church always drew lots of people because in those days there was no competition from television, or even radio, or movie theaters.

It was a cold February night, the snow lay in drifts all around the white-steepled church, but inside the place was filled to the last seat, with many people standing. Norman sat toward the front with his brother Bob. That particular night his father preached on the greatness of Jesus Christ and how he can change even the worst of lives. At the end of the sermon his father gave an invitation for those who wanted God to change them to come forward and commit their lives to follow Jesus.

There was a moment of silence. Then Norman could almost feel the church shake as a heavy-set man started down the aisle. Seated at the end of the pew, Norman looked back to see who it was.

It was Dave Henderson, a tough character, easily provoked into a fight. He often used profane language. Rumor had it that he was a wife-beater, and he was an alcoholic.

This Dave, who no one except the preacher ever held out any hope for, this Dave was marching down the aisle, quite unconscious of the reaction from people around him, tears streaming down his cheeks. Dave received Jesus into his life immediately and gladly.

After praying with the preacher at the altar, Dave got up from his knees and as he turned back to face the congregation. All he could say was, “Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!” The look on his face said it all. It was a look of beauty, joy and wonder. And his life was changed from that moment.

When Jesus spoke to Z, and Z tumbled down from that tree limb, the people began to mutter, Jesus “has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”

Zacchaeus was an outcast. And it makes me wonder… who are the outcasts of today? Who are the people we would rather not have anything to do with? Who are the people we would find it difficult to welcome into our church with open arms and a warm embrace?

Zacchaeus knew what people were thinking and saying about him. He knew he was an outcast. But his encounter with Jesus so transformed his mind and heart that he wanted to set everything right both with God and other people. So, in response to the grumbling crowd, and even more, in response to the grace of Jesus Christ, Z said, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”

The restitution that Z made was more than what was demanded by Jewish law. His life was so overcome by the power and love of Jesus that he wanted to give back more than what he had stolen from others.

I believe that if Jesus has entered into our house, we too will want to set things right with God and others…

Jesus entered my family’s house in 1949 when my father quit organized crime and committed his life to follow Jesus at a Billy Graham meeting.

When Jesus entered my father’s life, my dad wanted to set things right with other people. He set about repaying everyone he had ever cheated, swindled or stolen from. He and my mom liquidated all their assets; they sold their car and their home. When they were finished, they had next to nothing left. But from that time forward God took care of all their financial and physical needs.

When Zacchaeus gave half his possessions to the poor and paid back those whom he had cheated, Jesus said, “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.”

I have shared the story before, but I think it bears repeating…

There was a boy who fashioned a model boat out of wood. And when he was finished, he took it down to the stream behind his house to test it out. The current was swift that day and carried the boat away before the boy could retrieve it. His prize possession was lost.

A few days later, the boy saw another little boy down by the stream playing with his boat. The first boy approached the second and said, “That’s my boat. I made it and I want it back.”

The second boy said, “Well, if you want it, you’re going to have to pay me for it.”

Assembling all the money he had saved from his allowance, the first boy paid to get his boat back from the second boy. And as he walked away from that transaction, boat in hand, he was heard to say, “Little boat, you are twice mine, because I made you and I bought you.”

I believe Jesus says something similar to you and me today. He made us and he bought us by his blood shed on the cross.

But the difference between us and that little boat is that we have a choice about whether we will truly belong to him. The choice is ours, but when we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ amazing things can happen between the limb and the ground…


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