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Following Jesus can be a treacherous path of trying to change the world, as we see it, and running straight into the truth that we are, indeed, the one with the problem.  We need deliverance from:

  • … Our belief that it is up to us to change people.
  • … Our judgmental and legalistic ways.

Think about this:

In the beginning of Luke 19 – the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus.

(Raise your hand if you just started to sing “Zaccheaus was a wee little man, a wee little man, a wee little man was he!”)

Jesus is in Jericho and a crowd has gathered. The crooked tax collector Zaccheaus was there. He can’t see over the crowd so he climbs up a tree to see Jesus. In the middle of that crowd – which likely would have included more than a fair share of holy or influential or important or preferred or religious people – Jesus heads right for that tree and calls out to that guy – the one who is a social and religious outcast, ridiculously perched up in the branches – to come on down because Jesus wants to go to that guy’s house for supper.

Huh?   How do I explain that to my religious friends?

I mean, honestly.

  • Jesus always picks the wrong guy.

Of course, everyone in the crowd gets quite indignant, muttering among themselves about how Jesus is now the guest of a sinner. Not only did the guy betray his religion, Zacchaeus has betrayed his people, his nation, colluding with the powers that be for his own gain and oppressing the very people who were supposed to be his people.

Or how about the story of the town harlot of Samaria?   The infamous, “Woman at the Well”?  (John 4:1-42)  The longest conversation recorded of Jesus and one person was with this woman who had five husbands, and was with a guy she wasn’t married too when Jesus approached her.

There is our Jesus, sitting by a well…in forbidden Samaria.

Does anyone else see the humor in this story?

The town slut, (or Ho, Hussy, Loose, Sinner, etc. (as she would be called today) approaches Him.

Breaking the Christian rules with humility, grace and mercy

Image: Katie Bulmer

What?

Isn’t she hopeless and an embarrassment? And openly living in sin, (deep breath)!

Plus, Jesus, as a Jew, was not even supposed to be in Samaria, let alone talk to a woman, for heaven’s sake!!

That woman!!

We hate that woman!  Don’t we?  We can’t be seen talking to her.

  • Isn’t that breaking the rules?

Imagine if Jesus was in our world right now in the flesh,  and he heads right over to someone who cooperated with and benefitted from oppression of innocent people, someone who had traded integrity for political power, someone we distrust, someone who we feel is dangerous, someone who stole from people in a socially acceptable and governmentally blessed way, someone who took the very religious or national identity that we cherished and basically stomped all over it for his own gain.

I can think of a few already, but I won’t mention names.

Ugh. We hate that guy.

Don’t we?   I mean aren’t we supposed to keep ourselves clean by dissing those who are not living up to our standards as we interpret them?

Would we be murmuring and complaining and wondering about this Teacher who apparently had missed the important parts of the very Law he claims to teach.

Never mind He really came to fulfill the law Himself.

We don’t hang around with people like that, Jesus.  (Insert whine)

Don’t you know? Good people wouldn’t be caught dead with a man like that.

Just like we don’t hang around with women who are caught in the act of adultery, or fornication, and….

  • We don’t hang around with Samaritans,
  • We don’t hang around with powerless children,
  • We don’t hang around with women who have a bad reputation,
  • We don’t hang around with beggars or the poor or the oppressed or the criminal or the possessed or the socially marginalized or the ones who aren’t allowed to come to church with the good religious people, never!

Get it together, Jesus.

And, hey, news flash, we certainly don’t go to the personal home of a corrupt politician for a bite to eat or the apartment of the town prostitute for a cup of tea.

But Jesus does it anyway.

Jesus seems not to care about our who-is-in and who-is-out line in the sand. He doesn’t seem to care about what we think about all the wrong folks hanging around with him.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law but while also revealing the Love behind the Law, and the inadequacy of it, he came to replace the real love of a real God for their people.

Jesus came because God so loved the world.  After all, as Jesus tells Nicodemus in the book of John, it was because God so loved the world that Jesus came to us.

Jesus came, not to condemn the world but to save the world.

…Including the guy we would rather see condemned, to be honest.

How can we miss this?

Now take note of this fact:  because of an encounter with Jesus, Zaccheaus turns around gives half of everything away. He is so moved by Jesus, he vows to pay back anyone he has cheated four times the amount he stole.

The Samaritan woman?

Oh, she just became the first woman evangelist telling the whole town about Jesus.

Extravagant repentance.

Wild, reckless love for a man who was like no one they ever met.

They both were not just fulfilling the letter of the Law, they were repenting into the heart of Love Himself.

Looks like the presence of Jesus transforms everyone…even those of us who think we have it all together.

  • The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

Zaccheaus was lost, Jesus sought him out, and in this moment of repentance – which was so much more than just money or position – he’s reoriented to the Kingdom of God.   The woman at the well discovered that her bucket could only be filled with Jesus, not a multitude of lost men.

Now that is something to get excited about!

  • Think of the word “today” in that passage. Jesus says “Today I must stay at your house” and then later “Today salvation has come to this house.”

The time is now.

We’d rather another day, another house, another time, another kind of sinner.  Don’t bother us with the now.

But today is the day for the wrong guy…or the wrong woman.

It’s perhaps telling, where we see ourselves in that story.

Are we the crowd, resentful and muttering because we think THAT PERSON shouldn’t be included because they aren’t righteous enough or holy enough or good enough or acceptable enough or just enough?

  • Do we have a long list of people we’d probably be pretty mad to see Jesus hanging out with in our world? Do we begrudge seeing Jesus head right to a certain house with a certain person?

We have our sort of people we want to keep out.

Sure, we’re okay with this kind of sinner being included –but not that kind.

But over and over, Jesus picks the wrong person in our eyes.

He even picks you, and me!

Or perhaps we see ourselves more in the one who everyone else wants to keep out.

 “Today, today, today, I’m coming to your house.

And all we can do is receive Jesus with such joy and relief.

And our own sin – everything that damages us and damages our relationship with God and damages our relationships with one another – is over!

We stop putting God into a box of our own self righteous rules and let Him do what He came to do.

…Love on all of us and see lives transformed.

So we turn everything in our lives upside down and inside out to be with Jesus, to be Him extended to everyone…not just those we think won’t contaminate us.

…To cooperate in making all things right, today.

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Jesus in HD Slider

The Apostle John turned out to be quite the lyricist. One could almost sing some of his melodious verses. In fact, many of us have.

As you will hear in this PODCAST, John wasn’t a scholar, not by any stretch of imagination. Quite unlike the Apostle Paul, for example.

John engaged in virtually no complex doctrinal discussions involving the nuances of theology, the kinds of stuff in which Paul reveled.

John’s Greek is so simplistic that 1 John is invariably the first book every 1st-year Greek student translates.

John was a passionate soul, one who wrote far more emotionally than he did academically.

Consequently, John had the uncanny ability to relate to us all on such a visceral level that you get the sense that he understood exactly what it’s like to be us — fragile, fearful, human.

When their paths first crossed, Jesus met a rather unremarkable, uneducated fisherman from the provincial little town of Bethsaida. Yet, by the time Jesus got done with him, John became a prolific author (with one Gospel, three letters, and his magnum opus, the majestic book of Revelation to his literary credit).

John was the only one of the twelve who stayed with Jesus on that fateful day of the crucifixion. So devoted was he to Jesus, that with one of His last, dying breaths, Jesus committed the care of His dearly beloved mom, Mary, to John.

It was John who went from being known as a “Son of Thunder” for his uncontrollable temper, to the “Apostle whom Jesus loved,” as John so referred to himself because he could not get over that fact that Jesus saw in him someone who could be loved.

Among his other glistening credentials, John was for a time the pastor of little family of faith in Ephesus. John was arrested, charged with being a leader of a Christ-following community, sentenced, and subsequently banished to penal colony on island of Patmos.

Separated he now was — by the Aegean Sea — from the people he so loved, his modest little flock in Ephesus. Which explains why, when John was allowed to see the splendors of Heaven, the very first description he wrote was so curiously cryptic to us, but not to him. Just a fragment of a verse that spoke volumes to John: “There was no more sea” (Revelation 21:1).

Anyway, John was eventually released from Patmos. He then apparently became reunited with several people from his former congregation in Ephesus.

Much to John’s delight, many of his former flock had continued in his absence to follow Christ faithfully, and to raise their children to follow Christ. This brought John such enormous joy, as you can imagine, that he wrote this in 2 John: “How happy I was to meet some of your children and to find them living according to the truth, just as the Father commanded.”

“To find them living according to the truth.” Nothing brings more joy to a parent’s heart than that.

Likewise, there is nothing that brings to a parent more grief and heartache than to watch his or her child reject the truth they so love, and the God whom they so cherish.

That same anguish of soul floods the heart of every spouse whose husband or wife rejects truth, the family’s faith, the one true God. Just as it does anyone who watches helplessly as a beloved friend, relative, whomever, reject the truth.

The gallons of tears shed. The many sleepless nights spent worrying, agonizing, questioning, praying.

Image: Vince Talotta

Image: Vince Talotta

Our unnerving lament, written in a minor key, that invariably results from the knowledge that the thing we hold most dear they ridicule with contemptuous disdain.

The ever-present, nagging thought that perhaps if I had only said more, or said less; tried harder, or didn’t try so hard; or hadn’t succumbed to my own weaknesses and hypocrisies. Maybe then I could have successfully passed onto my children a godly heritage one generation to the next.

And then, of course, there are those self-righteous parents whose own children are thriving in the faith. And they never seem to let you forget that you failed where they succeeded, causing us yet all the more guilt, shame, heartache, and heartbreak.

Just ask the mother of Zacchaeus. She was an admirable woman of simply Jewish faith. We know this because names, in Biblical times, were never chosen casually. No one ever chose a name simply because it sounded “cute”. No, names were chosen out of a parent’s highest aspirations for their children.

So, by naming their son Zacchaeus, it is evident that these particular parents had a deep and abiding Jewish faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

You see, Zacchaeus means “purity born of innocence”. Unlike, say… Mary or John, Zacchaeus was a relatively rare name.

Zacchaeus was evidently raised in Sabbath School and knew his Torah. Yet, he chose to reject the Torah – much, I am sure, to the sorrow of his parents, as he grew up, moved to the “resort town” of Jericho, and worked as a loathed tax collector for the hated and vicious Romans.

We read about Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-2

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.

Did you catch that? Zacchaeus was not just a ruthless tax collector… he was Jericho’s CHIEF tax collector!

That’s a long way off from someone who is “purity born of innocence”. You see, when his fellow Jews could not pay their taxes (extortion money, really)… it was common for the chief tax collector to seize their land, their possessions… even their daughters for sex trafficking. He was not just a tax collector, but a pimp.

Which explains the people’s reaction to him in Luke 19:

He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.

When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name.“Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”

Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. (Luke 19:3-6)

I mean, think about the most disgusting, loathsome person you have ever known. Try to imagine any parent’s greatest fear of the one singular sin that their son or daughter could ever possibly commit… the one trespass that they might pray vehemently that God would protect them against…

THAT SINNER IS THIS GUY, ZACCHAEUS!

Yet, upon seeing Jesus… this guy repented! He sincerely and authentically repented.

Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” (Luke 19:8)

Now, as I mentioned earlier, Zacchaeus knew his Torah. Therefore he knew that genuine repentance is so much more than simply saying a “get out of jail” prayer. He knew that it was a complete change of heart that would result in a change of life. He also knew what the Torah says about making things right with those he had cheated.

He shall make restitution for his trespass in full, plus one-fifth of it, and give it to the one he has wronged. (Numbers 5:7)

Under Torah law, restitution is required to the sum of 120%. Yet this man, Zacchaeus was so broken and so aware of the separation that he had caused between himself and God’s will for his life, he volunteered for Jesus – without even being asked – to give away half of his wealth to those in need and to find every person he had robbed and give back to them not 120%, but 400% of the amount he cheated them.

And, undoubtedly, this would result in him losing his job altogether.

This was indeed a changed heart that resulted in a changed life.

Another way to apply this to all of our lives is what we read in James 2:24,

So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. We are not SAVED by our good works. Our good works are merely the RESULTS of us being saved.

And what was the result of Zacchaeus’ repentance?

Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. (Luke 19:9) 

Now, keep this in mind: Zacchaeus’ wrongdoings were perfectly legal under Roman law. But, they completely went against God’s will and His Biblical law. And whenever there might be a conflict between governmental law and Biblical law, Biblical law always trumps governmental law.

But, Luke’s story about the interaction between Zacchaeus and Jesus – in fact the theme of the entire New Testament – didn’t end there.

10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

Jesus sought out Zacchaeus, and quite soon He would die on a cross in order to save Zacchaeus… and all of us as well.

And Jesus is seeking and saving those who are lost still today! He shuns no one. No one is beyond repentance and unredeemable.

I sometimes wonder if Zacchaeus’ parents ever lost hope for their son. But I know that Jesus never did. Just as I know that Jesus never loses hope for anyone who has gone off the rails today in the 21st century. And since Jesus never loses hope, neither should we.

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