The Power to Change
Perhaps one of the first Bible stories you remember learning as a child was the story of the little short guy who climbed up in the tree to see Jesus. But the wonderful thing about the scripture is that there are continually new things that you see, details you hadn’t noticed before. And as you think about those, deeper understanding about God and about God’s good news for our lives can come. Maybe this story is very familiar to you, or maybe not. But as we read the story of Zacchaeus, listen for anything that strikes you as new or interesting.
Read Luke 19:1-10.
Why Was Zacchaeus So Motivated?
What struck me first in a new reading was how odd, how unusual, this story really is. It’s not every day that one of the city’s most prominent and wealthy citizens climbs a tree just to see a traveling preacher. I wondered, why did Zacchaeus want so much to see Jesus that he gathered his toga around his little legs and shinnied up a tree? This was hardly a dignified thing for one of the most prominent men of the city of Jericho to do. What motivated Zacchaeus to see Jesus? Well, maybe curiosity. Jesus’ reputation as a teacher who drew crowds and a miraculous healer proceeded him. And Jesus was also highly controversial. Was Zacchaeus just curious, wanting to see for himself? Maybe, but I don’t think that was enough to motivate his action. There was some great need in his life that drove him up that tree. Something within him desperately hoped that seeing Jesus would make a difference in his life.
Maybe Zaccheus really wanted change in his life, but couldn’t bring it about. Had the thought occurred to Zacchaeus before this time that he could make things right by giving away half of his possessions to the poor and restoring fourfold to anyone he had cheated? Perhaps he had thought about getting his life in right order before, but how could he maintain his style of living if he did that? What about his retirement plan? Would people think he’d gone soft and he’d lose his professional effectiveness? Maybe he longed for a new and different life, but lacked the power to change. It could have been longing for change drove him up the tree that day Jesus passed through Jericho.
Why Was Jesus So Urgent?
The next thing that stands out is the urgency with which Jesus said, “Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (English Standard Version) Jesus looked at this man who was looking for Him. Jesus had a way of seeing straight to the heart. He could see the sin, but he looked beyond the fault and saw the need. He saw the potential. This little wealthy cheat could become a great man in the Kingdom of God. Despite the greed that was so apparent in Zacchaeus’ life, Jesus could see his potential for “righteousness”, which means right relationship with God and with other people. And Jesus saw his readiness for salvation. There is nothing more urgent than salvation.
What does salvation mean? Some Christians would immediately say, “It means going to heaven after you die.” According to the Gospels, salvation is so much more than going to heaven when you die. There is that precious promise of eternal life that gives us assurance for how we will spend eternity. But salvation is also a reality for this life.
The Greek word Jesus uses here for “save” and “salvation” means to rescue, save from harm, heal, make whole. Salvation is the continuing change Jesus brings into our lives now. Jesus brings a new power to live in right relationship with God and others right now. Jesus brings wholeness to our brokenness now. Jesus brings new purpose as he invites us to join him in his mission of seeking and saving the lost now.
The ongoing change that Jesus continually brings into our lives affects others around us and brings wholeness to their lives. Salvation is not just an individual matter. God’s work in our lives moves out in concentric circles of wholeness. After Zacchaeus’ declaration of how his life will be different, Jesus doesn’t say to Zacchaeus, “Congratulations, you can go to heaven when you die.” He says, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Zacchaeus’ new life will bring new life to everyone in his household — starting today!
How Motivated Are You?
Do you long for change in your life? Does it seem impossible? As a minister, I’ve worked with people who have good intentions: addicted people who see the destruction their addictions wreak on their families, who long to be free, but just keep on drinking or overspending or overworking. I’ve talked with fathers and mothers caught up in the race to get ahead financially who hate not spending enough time with their children, but they feel powerless to break the pattern. I’ve talked with people with controlling, negative spirits who long to be a positive influence in their families, church, and community, but who cannot break free of their need to criticize and control. I’ve talked with people who have dreams such as creating something good, writing a book that will help people, going back to school to train for a job that will be more fulfilling. But day after day passes and they just can’t take the step to move toward the dream. I’ve talked with Christians who long to be more and do more for God, day after day passes and they can’t seem to get there. So many of us are stuck.
The Choice That Must Be Made
It’s really interesting that Luke records this story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus just shortly after he had the encounter with another rich man. You can go back just a few verses in your Bible from the Zacchaeus story to Luke 18:18-27. You’ll find this story of the ruler who came to Jesus and asked, “Good teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus told him, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and come, follow me.” As Jesus watches the back of the rich man walking away sorrowfully he says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
Then Luke records this story of another rich man, Zacchaeus, who demonstrates what is possible with God! He was freed from greed to live generously; he was delivered from perpetrating injustice to promoting justice; he was lifted from the path that leads to destruction and led on the path of eternal life. What is the difference in these two rich men?
Both men sought Jesus. Both demonstrated the first step toward new life: seeking Jesus.
If we really want the power to change, we need to devote time and energy to getting closer to Jesus. What is it that helps you go deeper in your relationship with Christ? Spending time with the scriptures, spending time in prayer, reaching out to meet the needs of others in his name?
Our first step is to make growing in Christ a priority in our lives. It’s out of that relationship that the power for change comes. It’s his Holy Spirit living in us that is the power.
The second step is to prayerfully listen for direction. In faith, we do the next thing Jesus tells us to do. Any move toward new life is going to seem risky. Our part is to take that step, trusting that God will be there to provide whatever is needed.
Both rich men sought Jesus. Here is the difference: one did the next thing Jesus told him to do; the other did not. One, in faith, made an outrageous response and received outrageous freedom and joy. The other went away stuck and sorrowful.
What about you? Jesus really sees you. He knows your heart. He knows what will set you free. He knows what will move you toward wholeness. He knows what will get you unstuck and lead you on the path to abundant life now. He knows how you can become effective for him. Will you take that next step today? Today salvation can come to your house!
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