Series on "Following Jesus"
Peter... Adventurous Faith
For the last three weeks we have been looking at three biblical characters who
encountered Jesus, and chose to follow him. Peter was literally minding his own business,
when Jesus got into his boat and taught him how to fish, then invited him to become a
fisher of men. Peter left everything to follow Jesus. His life was never the same again.
When Jesus invites us to follow him, he never tells us where we are going. If Peter had
known that he was going to walk on water, raise the dead, heal the sick, cast out
demons, preach to thousands of people on the day of Pentecost, preach to the
Sanhedrin, be put in prison, eat prohibited Jewish foods, encounter some angels, write
letters to churches, and die a violent death, I’m sure he would have said “Ah, thanks
Jesus, but no thanks.” Following Jesus means a life of adventurous faith that can be very
Matthew was invited to follow Jesus. For Matthew, following Jesus meant giving up a
comfortable lifestyle and a lucrative income to follow a man who had no place to lay his
head. It also meant having to learn to get along with people that he would never choose
to associate with. People who would normally want to have nothing to do with him.
People like Simon the Zealot, who before he met Jesus, would have gladly stuck a knife
into Matthews ribs. Following Jesus means a whole new attitude to relationships, for
Jesus chooses who he puts us with, and he not only expects us to get along together, but
he expects us to love one another.
Paul ... A New Way Of Thinking
For Paul, following Jesus meant a whole new way of thinking. Almost everything he had
believed in got turned on its head. His whole worldview underwent a radical change.
Everything he once believed had to be re-examined in the light of Jesus. For the teaching
of Jesus challenges the very foundations of the way we see the world. What was true for
Peter, and Matthew, and Paul is also true of us. Following Jesus means a life of
adventurous faith. It means a whole new attitude to relationships. It means a whole new
way of thinking. Today we are going to look at one more biblical character who followed
Jesus. His name is Zacchaeus. Depending where you first heard this story, it’s either
ZACChaeus or ZaccHAEus.
Luke is the only Gospel writer who gives us the account of Jesus and Zacchaeus.
“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, 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. All the people saw this and began
to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ ” 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.” 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 to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:1-10 NIV)
When I was speaking about Matthew a couple of weeks ago, I talked about how tax
collectors were doubly hated. They were hated because they were collaborators with the
Romans. They were hated because they made huge amounts of money by ripping off the
poor. We marvel today at all the wonders of Rome. The Coliseum. The Arenas. The
Aqueducts. The triumphal arches. The houses with central heating. All these amazing
buildings all over the empire, including the remains of what we see in Nyon. Where do
you think the money came from to build all that? It came from hard working people who
were taxed until they bled. And who collected the taxes? Collaborators like Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus wasn’t just an ordinary tax collector. He was the chief tax collector. He was at
the top of the pyramid. He got a cut from all the tax collectors beneath him. He was
scamming the scammers. When I heard this story in Sunday School, I was taught that
the reason Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree was because he was so short, and he
couldn’t see over the crowd. But that’s not it. Short people find a way to get to the front.
So why didn’t Zacchaeus wriggle his way to the front? If he had tried that, he would have
been dead. Someone would have stuck a knife into him. Zacchaeus was up that tree
because it was the safest place to be. He wanted to see Jesus, but he couldn’t at ground
level. But he did two things no wealthy Middle Eastern man would do. He ran through a
crowd, and he climbed a tree. Running was undignified. Climbing trees was what little
boys might do in crowds, but not well-known men. And here’s the thing. People like
Zacchaeus that are social outcasts, need someone to come looking for them. Jesus said
he came to seek the lost. If we follow Jesus, he’s going to teach us to do what he did – to
seek the lost. Following Jesus means that we are going to be led to places we wouldn’t
normally go. We are going to meet people we wouldn’t normally meet. We are going to
be standing up for people that are despised and rejected by society. That’s what Jesus
did. If we follow him, we are in for an uncomfortable ride.
For Peter, following Jesus meant a life of adventurous faith. For Matthew it meant a
whole new world of relationships. For Paul, it meant a whole new way of thinking. What
did it mean for Zacchaeus to follow Jesus?
Zacchaeus ... A Generous Heart
How do we know that? There are two things that shine out from this story that make it
very clear that his heart had changed. One is restitution. The other is generosity.
Restitution...The Evidence Of True Repentance
The word repentance isn’t mentioned once in this account of Zacchaeus and Jesus, yet
the story has repentance written all over it. Zacchaeus declared to Jesus in front of all his
friends that he would pay back four times the amount that he had cheated people. Do
you think he said that on the spur of the moment? I don’t think so. This guy is an
accountant. He’s been dealing with money all his life. This isn’t some emotional response
to Jesus, or an effort to impress his friends. Zacchaeus had been convicted by the Holy
Spirit. His heart had changed. This was repentance in action. He was genuinely wanting
to make restitution for all the damage he’d caused to so many people. Jewish law said
that he should pay back the original amount, plus one fifth. But his repentance was such
that he wanted to go far beyond the law. He paid back four times as much. Something
happened in this man’s heart. No one forced him to do this. He did it because the power
of God had changed him. Following Jesus is not an easy option. Following Jesus means
acknowledging our sins and wherever possible, repairing the damage we have caused to
other people. It means making things right. Jesus said “Produce fruit in keeping with
repentance.” (Matthew 3:8 NIV)
It’s the fruit that convinces people that our hearts have really changed. Can you picture
the reaction when Zacchaeus goes door to door in his home town, giving back the money
to people he has cheated? A tax man giving out money? Unheard of! But a tax man not
only giving back what he has stolen from people, but giving back four times what he has
stolen from people? The word would be going around the town like wildfire that Jesus had
changed this man’s heart. It’s not what Zacchaeus said that would have convinced
people. It’s what he did. Is there obvious evidence in your life and mine that we have
been changed by Jesus? Can you point to the fruit of repentance? Or is it all just words?
Talk is cheap. Repentance and restitution speaks much louder than words. For
Zacchaeus, the fruit of his repentance was that he made restitution with the people he
wronged. And there was another thing.
Generosity... The Evidence Of A Changed Heart
Jewish law required people to tithe, which meant giving ten percent of their income. In
the days of Jesus, a person who gave away twenty percent of their possessions was
regarded as being very generous. When Zacchaeus encountered Jesus, something
changed in his heart. Instead of amassing wealth for himself, he gave away not ten
percent or twenty percent, but half of all his possessions to the poor. It was Albert
Schweitzer who said “If you own something that you cannot give away, then you don’t
own it, it owns you.” Was Zacchaeus giving away half his possessions to earn his
salvation? No, he was doing it because followers of Jesus get their whole value systems
turned upside down. Greedy people become generous people. Selfish people become
giving people. People who carry grudges become forgivers. Today I want to play another
video clip. This is another of the Alpha interviews with Nicky Gumbell. I’m not playing
these because I’m advertising an Alpha course, but because these are people who are
telling how Jesus changed their life. Listen as Laura Oakes tells her story.
Video Clip – Discharged from the Priory – Laura Oakes
Start: At beginning of clip - End: At end of clip - Time: 3mins 41seconds.
Did you get what Laura said about how her life has changed? She said “I love life for the
first time. And I love people. I’m absolutely bubbling over with love for people.” That’s
what Jesus saw in Zacchaeus. His repentance was real. His generosity was real.
Something inside him had been released. And Jesus makes the wonderful declaration
“Today salvation has come to this house.” Jesus could see that Zacchaeus had changed.
Sometimes, it’s the small Christ-like things we do that make the biggest impact on the
lives of others.
The African Bishop, Desmond Tutu, was once asked why he became an Anglican rather
than joining some other denomination. He replied that in the days of apartheid, when a
black person and a white person met while walking on a footpath, the black person was
expected to step aside to allow the white person to pass and nod their head as a gesture
of respect. "One day" Tutu said, "when I was just a little boy, my mother and I were
walking down the street when a tall white man, dressed in a black suit, came toward us.
Before my mother and I could step off the footpath, as was expected of us, this man
stepped off the footpath and, as my mother and I passed, tipped his hat in a gesture of
respect to her! I was more than surprised at what had happened and I asked my mother,
‘Why did that white man do that?’ My mother explained, ‘He’s an Anglican priest. He’s a
man of God, that’s why he did it.’ When she told me that he was an Anglican priest I
decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican priest too. And what is more, I
wanted to be a man of God."
Westlake Church in Nyon, Switzerland