This Sunday morning and next we’re looking at Luke’s account of Jesus going up to and entering Jerusalem as the very first Easter approaches. In fact Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem began back in Luke 9:51, where we read this:
As the time approached for Jesus to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
I don’t know if you’ve ever resolutely set out to go somewhere – perhaps on a long hike with the aim of reaching the summit to achieve a personal goal, or with the aim of getting to that breathtaking viewpoint to capture it for posterity on camera, or to get to the top of your profession to win the plaudits of your colleagues. You knew where you were going and why.
Jesus knew why he was going to Jerusalem and it wasn’t for the sake of personal achievement or for the view from the Mount of Olives and certainly not for the cheers of the crowds. No, he was going there resolutely, not to be served but to give his life as a ransom for many, he was going to take the punishment you and I deserve for our rebellion against God, he was going to suffer and die for you and me, for our forgiveness. He was going to be rejected by his own, mocked, insulted, spat on, flogged and killed by the Gentiles and then rise from the dead. Yet he was going to Jerusalem knowingly and willingly, to fulfil Scripture and the will of his Father, for our sake, for the sake of the lost. That’s why Jesus came. That’s why he was going up to Jerusalem. Look at how our section of Luke for this morning begins and ends. V31:
Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them: ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man [in other words him] will be fulfilled. He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.’
And everything will be fulfilled as we read later in Luke 22-24. And all this was “by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge”, as Luke records the Apostle Peter as saying in Acts 2:23. The Jews “with the help of wicked men [the Gentiles], put Jesus to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
And then at the end of our section of Luke for this morning, v10 of chapter 19, Jesus says to Zacchaeus:
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
Now some of you here this morning might be thinking, hang on Jonathan, what is Jesus saying? I don’t understand. Jesus says that he is going to Jerusalem even though he knows all these terrible things are going to happen to him and then be raised back to life? Why? What was the point? And all this was because I’m lost?
Well, look at v34 of Luke 18, “the disciples didn’t understand any of this either. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.” They couldn’t comprehend that the Messiah would suffer and die. They only understood after the cross and resurrection. In Luke 24 we’re told that their eyes and minds were opened as Jesus appeared to them and explained the Scriptures to them. Well he can open your eyes and minds today as you hear the Bible explained and as you begin to meet Jesus as he walks off the pages of the Gospels as you read them.
David Suchet, the actor who plays Poirot on TV tonight, discovered that as he read the Gospels from a Gideon’s Bible in his hotel room. His eyes and mind were opened and he put his faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. His life began to be changed as he began to follow Jesus. My eyes and mind were opened as I was reading a verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans, almost 28 years ago to this day. The verse says this (Rom 5:8):
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
As I read that verse it was as if a light had been turned on in my head. Christ died for me! Suddenly everything clicked. I knew that I had to accept Jesus as my personal Saviour and Lord. He loved me and died for me. He paid the price for my sin so that I could have a relationship with God for ever. I was lost but now am found. I was blind but now I see. That’s the amazing grace of the Lord Jesus.
Here at JPC some people’s eyes and minds have been opened as they’ve read Mark’s Gospel and discussed what it means as part of the Christianity Explored course. So if you’ve got questions make sure you’re on the next course using the blue Christianity Explored leaflet or by e mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The disciples’ eyes and minds had still not been fully opened. They were still spiritually blind to what was about to happen and why, which brings us to Jesus’ encounter with the blind beggar who sees and with Zacchaeus who wanted to see who Jesus was. So:
First, THE BLIND BEGGAR WHO SEES 18:35-43
This blind man actually sees spiritual reality very clearly. He sees who Jesus is and that the Son of David can heal him. In v37 the crowd tell him that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. His response is to immediately call out to Jesus, believing that Jesus can help him. V38: “He called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” The crowd rebuke him and tell him to be quiet (v39). They perhaps see him as annoying or unworthy. But he persists, which is a mark of his faith in Jesus. V39: “…but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’”
His humble appeal echoes the humility of the tax collector and the child of faith earlier in this chapter. And he contrasts strongly with the rich ruler in v18-30 of this chapter, who had everything but saw nothing. ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ (v24) The blind beggar has nothing but sees so well. ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,’ he cries out. Who here this morning sees their need to humble themselves before God and cry out to Jesus in faith, have mercy on me? If you do, don’t let others put you off and don’t think God’s not interested in you. No, ‘he who humbles himself’, says Jesus in v14 of this chapter, ‘will be exalted’. He who cries out to God, have mercy on me a sinner, will be justified before God. You see “we are not justified by observing the law”, as Paul puts it in Galatians 2:16, “but by faith in Jesus Christ.” He hears those who cry out to him in faith.
Jesus heard the blind man cry out in faith. Look at v40:
Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Lord, I want to see,’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.’
In the original v42 says: ‘your faith has saved you’. There is a double meaning here. He receives physical healing and salvation through faith in Jesus. V43:
Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God.
Do you see? What do you want Jesus to do for you?
This man can now see in every sense and he follows Jesus, giving thanks to God. As he received his sight new light and life have dawned and he is full of thankfulness as he follows Christ. Does thankfulness to God mark our walk with Christ? He has changed us and is changing us. Praise God. The man, a poor outcast, is changed. Even the crowd’s attitude is changed. V43:
When all the people saw it, they also praised God.
Seeing Jesus means being transformed, which brings us to Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, a wealthy outcast. So:
Secondly, THE WEALTHY CHIEF TAX COLLECTOR WHO WANTED TO SEE WHO JESUS WAS 19:1-10
Now you begin to learn why I was asked to preach this sermon! V1:
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
There’s a well known story about the preacher Charles Spurgeon who also trained others to preach. Part of the training included Spurgeon simply choosing one of his students to go up into his very tall pulpit to preach without any warning about which Bible text it would be. They would simply pick up a slip of paper with the text on it, climb to the top of the pulpit and preach to a congregation. One day a very short student picked up his text and climbed slowly to the top. He looked at the paper and he looked at the crowd. He said I’ve been asked to speak on Zacchaeus. I know three things about Zacchaeus. He was a very little man and so am I. Zacchaeus climbed up a tree and so have I. Zacchaeus made haste to come down and so am I!
Well of course there’s a bit more to the story of Zacchaeus than that! Have a look at v1-10 of chapter 19. What strikes you about Zacchaeus, this short wealthy chief tax collector? What strikes me is that he was lost. Not, of course, in a geographical sense but spiritually. Lost meaning you’ve had it, you’re dead, you’re dead in your sins, as we heard from Ephesians 2. Lost meaning you’ve turned your back on God and are trying to live without him. Zacchaeus has status and wealth but he was lost. It’s a reminder that you can be up and out as well as down and out. He lived in luxury but he was lonely. That’s the distinct impression you get in v7. Not because he was short, I hasten to add, but because he was the chief tax collector. He was therefore considered a traitor, as he worked for the occupying authorities, and he was a cheat as he took a cut for himself. Look at v8. The word ‘cheated’ literally means extorted or blackmailed. In other words he’d do anything for money. He was lost. He was a sinner, v7. Not that he seems aware that he was lost. When he hears that Jesus is coming he simply wanted to see who Jesus was (v3). When he couldn’t see because of the crowd he then became determined to see Jesus. He ran ahead (v4) and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see Jesus, unaware that God had come looking for him.
But Luke’s account tells us more about Jesus than it does about Zacchaeus. All Zacchaeus does is climb up a tree to see him. But after that the initiative is all Jesus’. Unlike the blind beggar Zacchaeus doesn’t ask or cry out. Look at v5:
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.
Jesus chooses Zacchaeus. He knew all about his greedy cheating behaviour but he still wants to know him. And Zacchaeus responds at once. Humanly speaking it’s a baffling choice. The moral rich young ruler is out but the cheating conniving rich Zacchaeus is in? How can this be? He’s the most hated sinner in Jericho. The chief tax collector was the chief of sinners to the people of Jericho, perhaps equivalent to a child sex offender today. Look at v7:
All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner’.
But (v10) Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost. Christianity is not for good people, it’s for bad people, which is all of us. Earlier in Luke 4:32 Jesus had stated that he had not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Church people can struggle with this. We can mutter too. That’s not to downplay the seriousness of sin and its consequences. But we are all sinners. We were lost once. But Jesus chose us even though he knew the whole truth about us – our lying and cheating, our breaking of all the Ten Commandments whether in thought or deed. He loved us and accepted us. He came to seek and to save lost people.
The vast majority of people in this nation are lost. Apparently cheating is the in thing at present. Whether its footballers such as Didier Drogba scoring goals with their hands or diving to get penalties or opponents sent off, GCSE students who use mobile phones to cheat in exams, or parents who obtain coveted Blue Peter badges under false pretences and use them to gain free entrance to a host of child friendly attractions! Well, Jesus came to seek and to save the lost – to call them down from their trees, to humble themselves, to repent, to put their faith in him and to experience transformed lives. Will we mutter or will we play our part in helping lost people be found? If you’re one of the lost will you respond to Jesus in faith? He’s seeking you. It’s probably why you’re here this morning. He loves you and died for you. He doesn’t want you to be lost for ever. He wants you to come down from your tree, as it were, to come to repentance and have new life through faith in him, whoever you are, whether you’re rich or poor or a social outcast, and whatever you’ve done wrong.
Zacchaeus’ repentance, faith, new life and transformation were real. Jesus is now his Lord. Jesus had begun to change him and as a result the biggest cheat became the biggest charity donor in town. Jesus accepted Zacchaeus. He accepts us as we are but he doesn’t leave us there – he changes us. Look at v8: “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 him back four times the amount.” His faith is real. Jesus is very definite in v9 that Zacchaeus has been saved. “Today salvation has come to this house.”
The impossible has been done by God – the rich Zacchaeus has entered the kingdom of God. The rich young ruler had gone away very sad because he couldn’t put Jesus before his riches, but Zacchaeus was overjoyed. He had responded in faith to Jesus. He had welcomed him gladly. He was willing to be changed. He was willing to give half of his possessions to the poor without being asked. He is now a son of Abraham, in other words a true child of God who inherits all God’s promises. And that is who you are if your faith is in the Lord Jesus. He has sought you and saved you. That’s why he was going to Jerusalem. Since his encounter with Zacchaeus Jesus has died on the cross and risen from the dead so that we can have new and eternal life through faith in him. Christianity is not about man seeking after God. It’s about God coming after us. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”