Forgiveness for Cheaters, Hustlers and Crooks
[Luke chapter 19, verses 1-10]
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Today as we start chapter 19 of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus and the Twelve – along with an entourage consisting of many believers plus a few accusers – has left the place where Jesus had healed the blind beggar and had just arrived in Jericho. Presumably the beggar Jesus had healed was among that number, if for no other reason than he was actually able to see Jericho for the first time. But there was more to it than just that, as I pointed out last week. That formerly blind beggar was transformed in his mind, not just his eyesight. He put those newly healed eyes to good use, as the scripture says (“Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God”). He became a follower of Jesus in Spirit and in Truth, which is exactly what should happen when we give our lives to Christ! The blind beggar who had been healed became a minister of the Good News of Jesus, and we have a responsibility as authentic believers to emulate Jesus just like that healed beggar did. One thing you can be sure of – that formerly blind ex-beggar was well taken care of for the entire remainder of his life, so long as he kept on telling everyone what Jesus had done for him. We are all charged with the task of aspiring to be the same. Bearing that in mind, let’s go ahead and get started with this week’s lesson right from the top of chapter 19.
“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. When Jesus reached the spot, Jesus 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. All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’ But Zacchaeus looked up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost.’” (Luke 19, verses 1-10)
Make no mistake about this, the tax collectors worked for the Roman Empire. They were the enforcement arm of Rome’s equivalent to the modern IRS here in America. As such, they routinely misused and often abused their authority to squeeze ever-increasing sums of money from their subjects, in a manner eerily similar to what the US government does today with the federal income tax. Like the IRS in modern times, the Roman tax collectors like Zacchaeus in Jesus’ time were universally hated and despised, and were considered by the people to be a symbol of corruption. So now you know why everybody started muttering to each other when Jesus became “the guest of a sinner.”
So Jesus and the Twelve were passing through Jericho on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, as was their custom. When Jesus spotted Zacchaeus perched in the tree along the roadside and asked to stay at his house that day, he undoubtedly upset the Pharisees who followed along with Jesus and the Twelve. They did this mainly to gather some ‘intelligence’ about Jesus for the Sanhedrin, or ruling religious body at the Temple in Jerusalem, and to look for evidence to use against him. But Zacchaeus, the ‘corrupt official’ of no account among the people, recognized immediately who Jesus was, while the Pharisees and teachers of the Law still did not understand that he was the Messiah, or the Promised One. How ironic! The person there with the worst reputation among the people is the first to see Jesus for who he is, while those with the best reputations were ‘stuck on stupid’!
“But Zacchaeus looked up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Here is proof in black and white that Zacchaeus knew exactly who Jesus was. He must have reasoned to himself, “I am the most hated man in town. If I profess any belief in this man, I will have many accusers accusing me of giving false testimony about myself. So I had better seek forgiveness from this man called ‘Jesus’.” We have a word for what Zacchaeus did, and that word is ‘repentance’. Zacchaeus repented of his old ways and discontinued his old habits the instant he recognized Jesus as the Savior and Redeemer of all humankind. Moreover, he did it publicly in the presence of many eyewitnesses so there could be no room for doubt in the minds of Christ and the people that Zacchaeus’ repentance was authentic.
Because this occurred, Jesus responded, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost.” What did Jesus mean by ‘son of Abraham’? He was referring to Genesis chapter 15, verses 1-6, when God made his covenant with Abram. The Lord Jesus then stated to Zacchaeus that he was one of the “sons of Abram”, the founding father of the Israeli people who God later renamed “Abraham” (see Genesis 17, verses 4-9). Then Jesus said, “….the Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost.” Jesus doesn’t care about the self-righteous. You know, like the Pharisees that had Jesus under surveillance? Or like the vendors in the Temple whose tables and chairs Jesus tossed around like match sticks? (except that didn’t happen yet in the apostle Luke’s narrative)
Jesus came to rescue sinners like us, people who struggle daily with their own selfish and sometimes evil natures and with all their imperfections, character flaws, inconsistencies and even occasional insanity. But these kinds of things are the very reason why Jesus went to the cross of Calvary and sacrificed himself so selflessly. The ugly truth is we’re not strong or good enough to live up to the standards of our Creator. Consequently, we would be unfit to live forever in eternity with Christ, and we would be irretrievably lost. Try to see this from God’s point of view. Because, in the end, His viewpoint is the only one that’s going to matter.
Think all these things over very carefully this week as we close out our Biblical study. Our eternities after our physical lives are over are nothing to be playing around with! The truth of this matter is that those who live their lives only for themselves, for fame and fortune, for riches and wealth and the power that goes with them all, will have nothing when their lifetimes run out. They can’t take their materialistic junk with them when they pass away, and neither can we. But, placing our complete trust in Jesus who saved us all from eternal death and shame, and being willing to hand over control of our lives to him, guarantees life for all eternity with the One who made us. As for myself, anything less than this simply won’t do. I can only hope and pray that you all agree. And next week we’ll move on to part 2 of Luke chapter 19.