Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sermon: Luke 19: 1-10 The Search and Rescue Mission

A few years ago a tour bus was visiting a volcanic region in Iceland. After the bus stopped for a toilet break, a female member of the group was declared missing. Straight away, a search party began, involving other passengers and the police. The search continued until 3am, when a lady in the search party realised they had been looking for her all along. It turned out that she had changed her clothes during the toilet break, hadn’t been recognised when she got back on the bus; hadn’t recognised the description of herself, didn’t know that she was lost, and was searching for herself!1

She was searching, but she didn’t know that she was lost. She was seeking, but she needed to be found. That’s like the one we hear about in today’s Bible reading. He thought he was in control, that he was doing the seeking, but he actually needed to be found. And his name was Zacchaeus. Look at what Luke tells us about him. v2: He was a chief tax collector and was rich. Now while we may not be terribly keen on tax collectors these days, in the time of the New Testament, tax collectors were hated. These were Jewish men who were working for the enemy. The Romans had come in, taken over the country, and taken on tax collectors to work for them. Tax collectors were seen as traitors, the lowest of the low. (No wonder that Luke 15 lumps tax collectors and sinner together).

But as if that weren’t bad enough, working for the enemy, the tax collectors would line their own pockets. Zac would come to you and say, your tax bill is £130. Reluctantly you pay up - and that’s £100 for the Romans and £30 for himself. Tax collectors could charge what they liked, and kept any profit they made over and above what was actually due to Rome. So you can see why they weren’t well liked.

And did you notice that Zacchaeus is more than a tax collector - he is a chief tax collector. He is top of the tree and is rich. And in verse 3, we’re told that Zacchaeus is searching. ‘And he was seeking to see who Jesus was.’ Jesus was coming through his town, so he wanted to see. But it’s like being in a big crowd, and someone tall stands in front of you. Or like being at the cinema, and the lady in front has a big hat on. Zacchaeus had a problem. He was seeking to see who Jesus was, but ‘on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature.’ He was ‘micro’, short. Think Danny De Vito. Or (before you say it!) me.

He’s seeking Jesus, but he can’t see him. So he runs up the road, and climbs up a tree. A grandstand view. He can see Jesus, get a good look at him as Jesus passes by, and then get back to counting his money. And even better, no one will know that he’s up there. The hunter is hidden. The seeker is camouflaged. What a great plan!

He didn’t expect what happened next. The hunter became the hunted. The seeker became the found. Verse 5: ‘And 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.’ Jesus not only knew where he was, he also knew his name! And more than that, he was coming to his house for tea!

Zacchaeus couldn’t believe it. He came down ‘and received him joyfully.’ He had been seeking Jesus, but Jesus was seeking him. The kettle went on, the buns were put on a plate, and Zacchaeus received Jesus in. But not everyone was full of joy. Verse 7: ‘And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’’ Of all the people in Jericho, he has gone to the biggest rogue. Why didn’t he come to my house? Why didn’t he stop at my door? Jesus comes to town and he stays with a sinner? What’s going on?

Their grumbling is stopped as Zacchaeus stands up and says to Jesus: ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ (8) I wonder if you get those phone calls with a recorded message promising you a refund on your mis-sold PPI? Well Zacchaeus here is the real deal. He donates half his fortune to the poor straight away. And he gives four times compensation to anyone he has defrauded. So remember the £130 you paid to him and he kept £30 for himself? You’ll get £120 back, just like that!

What has brought about the change? Why is rich Zacchaeus now like a walking bank machine, giving away his money? Jesus gives us the explanation in verse 9. ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.’ Zacchaeus has been saved, changed, transformed, by an encounter with Jesus. Before he was rich. Now he has given away his money. Is that what got him saved? Is it that Zacchaeus has just done what the rich ruler wouldn’t do in chapter 18? Has a rich man got a camel through the eye of the needle by giving up his wealth to achieve salvation?

Of course not. Jesus said it was impossible for a rich person to be saved. Remember what he said? ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God.’ (18:27). Salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house because the Saviour has come to Zacchaeus’ house. Look at verse 10. ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’

Jesus is on a Search and Rescue mission. Jesus is the one seeking and saving, not the other way round. Imagine if someone was in danger on Lough Erne. They’re clinging to a piece of wood, the last bit of their boat that hasn’t sunk. The 999 call comes in, the lifeboat is launched, and quickly comes to the sailor. Now imagine that the person in the water shouts out - At last! I’ve found you! I’ve been seeking you, and now I’ve found you!

The lifeboat crew would be mightily confused! It’s the lifeboat has come to seek and save the person in danger, not the other way round. Zacchaeus was seeking Jesus, but all the time, Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus. He knew where to go to find him. He knew his name. He called him down from the sycamore tree.

Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus. But he was also saving Zacchaeus. When he gets to know Jesus, Zacchaeus is saved - and then comes his newfound generosity. What Zacchaeus did with his money was the evidence, the proof, that salvation had come to his house today.

Jesus is the seeking and saving Son of Man. It’s what God has done from the very start. Remember when Adam and Eve had disobeyed, had eaten the fruit, and they hid. God comes and says, ‘Where are you?’ Seeking and saving the lost. Seeking and saving the sinner.

Jesus came on a search and rescue mission, to seek and to save. He still seeks and saves, no matter what other people might think of you; no matter if everyone else thinks you’re a scoundrel. You might think you’re looking for him, but he is looking for you. Joyfully receive him. Receive his salvation into your home today as you welcome him in. ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 13th March 2016.

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