1Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 8 But 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.”9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
It happened about ten days before He was crucified. It amazes me that, even to the very end, Jesus was still attending to people’s needs as if nothing was going to happen to him. What a loving savior He is!
Hours earlier, Jesus had healed a blind man called Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus, and the news of this great miracle had broken and spread shock waves around the city. Zacchaeus, one of the most hated tax collectors in town, got the rumours. He probably was in familiar journey to the court house or to the bank. Something beautiful was happening to in Jericho. The most gracious, wonderful and merciful man ever lived was in town, and Zacchaias had once in a life time opportunity to have a glimpse of this famous visitor.
But Zacchaias was faced with huge obstacles. What makes this ordinary story extraordinary is Zaccheaus’ extraordinarily bold and visionary attitude. As a successful entrepreneur, I can visualize him utilizing his skills of spotting and using opportunities swiftly and tactfully. As my friend Doug would put it, “where everyone else sees a wall, he would see a display board for a business advert”. Let us see some of the obstacles Zacchaeaus faced:
1.Interpersonal obstacles: These were self-made and if anything Zaccheaus had only himself to blame for them. As the owner of Jericho Revenue Authority, Zaccheaus was busy. Busy people have no time for breaking news down the road.They can watch these in the evening news at the comfort of their homes or read it in the morning paper. He was also rich. Zaccheaus was famous educated and full of connections, especially among Roman officials.He could very easily have been a proud man because of well documented power and corrupt attitude that tax officials had at the time. I am not sure if this is different today.
And so the religious right as well as the common man quite rightly regarded him as a traitor and a great sinner (Luke 5:30, 15:1, 19:7), making him very infamous among the Jews. According to historical accounts, the tax system was franchised and Zaccheaus’ company would be contracted by the Romans to set up a tax system and collect tax for the Romans. Zaccheaus would firstly collect the head tax, then the ground tax, then income tax and finally everything else that was not taxed. Tax collectors were so infamous such that rabbis grouped them among dogs, prostitutes, rapists, robbers and murderers. In a predominately Jewish city, Zaccheaus would be ridiculed and called names as he walked along the narrow city lanes from day to day going about his daily routine. He probably depended on the protection of paid minders for safety.What a lonely life to live! I am sure even in the crowd Zaccheaus would still be lonely.
Sadly, some of us are choosing a lonely life. Life without God is a sad dead life. Before we can start filling the void with addictions, let us fill it with Jesus.
I recently read a story of Josh Marks, of season 3 "Master Chef," that he was found dead Friday night in Chicago. Update from 14/10/13 states that it was suicide. Even though Mark was rich and famous, he was a lonely man. "I don't think people realize the toll the reality show put on him," Marks' stepfather, Gabriel Mitchell, told the Tribune. People might be rich and famous, but very lonely and tired.
Are you lonely and tired? The Lord says come unto me (Matthew 11:28).
As the songwriter asks:
Are you tired of chasing pretty rainbows?
Are you tired of spinning round and round?
Wrap up all the shattered dreams of your life
And at the feet of Jesus lay them down
And so Jesus says come! There is joy in being in a relationship with the Lord.
2.External obstacles: But Zaccheaus had even harder obstacles, the ones beyond his own making. Tall trees, mean human beings and his own short physical stature.
I remember many years ago when I was at secondary school, a known witch stood suddenly and unexpectedly at the end of PrMashigani’s sermon and shouted in Kisukuma ‘OnenenanzunjagaYesu’ meaning that I accept the Lord Jesus. Very graciously, the preacher invited her forward and a prayer of dedication was offered. Those who chose to gossip that she was publicly surrendering her heart to Jesus for fear of SunguSungumilitia went ahead with their gossip. But this lady lived beyond the gossips. She lived beyond her fear of bad rejection and stinking mouths of gossiping worshipers. Two weeks later this poor woman died on a road accident.She is now waiting for that resurrection morning.
Like Zaccheaus she saw beyond physical obstacles and personal limitations. Beyond the crowd, beyond shame and mockery, beyond the trees and used some of these obstacles as her ladder to see Christ. What obstacle stops you from seeing Jesus? We need to live beyond our circumstances, those of our own making as well as those beyond our control.
Most worryingly, Zacchaeus’ obstacles describe many of my own obstacles. These are stuff that stops me from seeing Jesus day after day after day. What are these obstacles?
1.It is my obstacle of pride. When I think about my high school education my head blows. I have one or two good connection in my hometown, and perhaps a good job. I think I am healthy and both my business and my family are doing well. My conclusion, I don’t need God that much. I can do without prayers, witnessing or personal devotion. Pride and arrogance have blinded me.James 4:6 warns me that: "God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble."What a profound warning? That God walks away from proud people!
I still remember this man in my village when I was still a child. He sold his cotton. He got good money that year. He bought a bicycle; swapped his grass thatched roof with copper; left the church and married a second wife. He started drinking heavily and sang church hymns tunes with profane words. His mother was a deaconess in our church. She would cry for days. What made this former Christian an infidel? Arrogance, I suppose. I may have not gone that far, but where am I going?
And so I am reminded. The sin of Sodom in Ezekiel 16:49 "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”The verdict: God does not stand arrogance.
2.It is my obstacle of materialism. I own one or two cars; I worship the Internet and cannot live without my mobile phone. Unfortunately, the list goes on and on and on and on. I ask myself, is my worship of stuff idolatry?Certainly yes. If things of this world have become my friends, I must be concerned. Rather than being means for the end, I have made material things ends in themselves. James 4:4 warns me: that “anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” See, the key word in the text is choosing. God gives me a choice each day I am alive.
Last summer I saw pictures of about 26 whales that had left their safe habitat and beached themselves to death at the coast of Scotland. Am I making a similar fateful journey? I must ask myself.
3.It is my obstacle of secularism. I live like the world, as if this was my destined home.
A good friend told me a story, which I will never forget. He had been out on a courier assignment at a five star hotel. A wealthy sheikh from Dubai had come to London for a six weeks shopping holiday and had booked over 90 rooms for his entourage. Some of these rooms cost up to £5000 a night. On the day of their departure back to Dubai, these little Middle Eastern girls were giving my friend orders as he picked their suitcases one by one to load into his van, as if he was a small boy. He was so angry and decided to ask God, “What have I done to deserve all this humiliation while others eat and drink and travel the world and give orders?” He remembered to call his friend and shared the experience of the day. What his friend told him is what strikes me: that ‘eating and drinking and shopping, travelling the world and giving orders is all that they have got. You have got Jesus and that is more than anything that this world can give’. And so I remind myself:“What shall a man gain in exchange of his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
4.It is my obstacle of darkness. Like Zaccheaus I have been taught that the Torah commands me to love my neighbour. Like any child of God I know the difference between light and darkness, but I often choose darkness. And I ask myself. Is there anything that I do and would not want my wife to know anything about? Things that I say but would not want my friends or my pastor to know?The answer is yes. And so I know, I have made darkness my obstacle of choice.But it is a fatal choice as Jesus says in John 3:19 “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”
5.It is my obstacle of self-righteousness. Each time I see you, I see a sinner. I think that I am better than you. I remember the messes you caused years ago. Some of these were discussed in the Church board in which I am still a chair. I have heard about your current struggles in your marriage. I do not eat chicken or fish, and I fast every Friday afternoon. I know that you eat meat and you never fast. I also know that you study your SS Lesson on your way to church on Sabbath morning. I just remember that I have banned warming food in my house on Sabbath. Yet I have seen you making breakfast on Sabbath morning. I have passed my verdict on you: I am holier than thou.
But I am reminded that I am a Pharisees and you are a Zaccheaus the chief tax collector. Ironically, Zacchaeaus the chief sinner is having a party in his house and I am not invited in. The chief forgiver has paid him a visit and He has declared: “Salvation has come to this house!”
What did Zaccheaus do?
He took the matter in his own hands and overcame his obstacles. He overcame his pride and started running ahead of the crowd and climbed a tree. What a visionary man! As I picture in my mind a mean short man running I can hear people shouting and calling name. No, he did not stop to answer back. The shouting made him even run faster. And before they knew it, poor old Zach had disappeared. Where was Zach? He was on top of an old tree along the road that he figured out would be used by Jesus that day. What a forward thinking man and a risk taker he was! I can hear his minders telling him, “You can’t do this boss, what if you fall from the tree?” Did Zaccheaus listen? No, he only had one mission in mind: to see the most gracious visitor in town.
What do I need to do?
I need to overcome my pride. I need to be visionary. I need to turn my obstacles to miracles. I need to use the obstruction from the crowd to come even closer; the trouble caused by my height should make me think beyond my stature. I need to use the tall trees as my ladder. My prayers need to always be: “I want to see Jesus.” It was until Zaccheaus made this mission a priority, obstacles became stepping stones and a miracle happened.
I need to ask myself and you these important questions: What is it that separates me from seeing Christ? Is seeing Jesus my number one priority?
Jesus calls Zaccheaus by name. So Zaccheaus is a person? I ask. The most sinful man in town is known! The sinner meets the saviour and the work of salvation is complete. Zaccheaus becomes a changed man because his priorities changed. A thief becomes a giver. His greed is gone; his pride is gone; his arrogance is gone. When we meet Jesus and surrender ourselves wholeheartedly, we never will be the same again (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Perhaps you live like me wondering around wall of obstacles. May be your issue is anger or lust. Perhaps it is forgiveness or selfishness, but the message is the same. We may come to church and go about our daily routines but are still separated from our saviour, and we know that. Like runaway whales we are beaching ourselves to our own death. Why don’t I, why don’t you, surrender your heart today!