Friday, March 25, 2016

Searching for Answers? (a candid look at the life of a seeker)

Luke 19:1-10 – Searching for answers??
A candid look at the life of a seeker
He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector... and was rich.
3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature.
4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 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.”
6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house… 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Searching for answers?  A candid look at the life of a seeker.   Let’s pray

Leo Tolstoy wrote what the Encyclopedia Britannica describes as “one of the two or three greatest novels in world literature” – War and Peace.  But he also wrote another lesser known work, an autobiography entitled A Confession, in which he tells of his search for the meaning of life.
Rejecting Christianity in his youth, Tolstoy left the university in search of pleasure.  In Moscow and St. Petersburg, he drank heavily, lived promiscuously, and gambled frequently.  Like so many young people, his ambition was to become wealthy and famous; but the more he drove himself, the more he discovered nothing satisfied him.
In 1862, he married a loving wife and had 13 children.  In the minds of his friends, his life was the picture of ‘happiness.’
But just underneath that happy façade were questions that haunted him to the verge of suicide:
  • What is the meaning of life?  
  • What have I achieved that really matters?  
  • What will happen to me when I die?

Here was a man who had everything he had always dreamed of – but there was one thing that no amount of money could buy – peace.  All his successes proved unable to answer the deepest questions of his soul.
He THEN turned to science and philosophy – hoping THESE would give him purpose.  But as he considered his contemporaries, he saw that people were not answering what he called “the first-order questions of life.”
  • “Why am I here?”  
  • “Where am I going?”  
  • “What’s life all about?”
Eventually he found that the peasants of Russia had been able to answer these questions through their Christian faith.  He came to believe that only in Jesus Christ can man find the answer.

A hundred years later, nothing has changed… people are still grappling with life’s most basic questions.  Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the rock group Queen, who died of AIDS in 1991, asked in one of his last songs, “Does anybody know WHAT we are living for?

What are YOU “living for?”  Maybe YOU are like Tolstoy – ambitious, filled with goals – driven to succeed… only to find a certain barrenness about it all.  Oh, we aren’t questioning your abilities… or even your morality… but I wonder, after ALL you have accomplished, are you still scratching your head wondering “Is THIS all there is?”
Zacchaeus was like that.  He was a man who had turned his back on his Jewish heritage with ONE essential pursuit – wealth.  He had risen as high as the ladder would take him – showing no regard for all those he had hurt along the way.  “It was a small price to pay,” he may have thought, “Any who judge me are just jealous.”  His ruthlessness as a tax-collector, had not only earned him the position of ‘chief tax collector,’ it had also earned him a spot on Israel’s most-hated list.

No doubt, the noise in the street outside his home made him more than a little bit curious.  But it wasn't simple curiosity that drove him up that tree. He was searching for what all of us desire – peacepurpose.  Anything less would have caused him to dispatch a servant to see what all the hubbub was about.  But it was Jesus coming – and this merited closer inspection.

I don’t pretend to know all the thoughts running through his head – but I think we can rightly assume that in the very least, Zacchaeus was searching… it MAY have been novel curiosity that moved him to such great lengths, but more than likely it was an inescapable need that drove him up that tree.  

He wanted to know more about “Jesus” – and THIS is what he learned:
1.  First, he learned what Jesus knows.  

I am sure he was trying to be inconspicuous, hoping he would go unnoticed as the crowd passed beneath him, but when the procession stopped, he heard Jesus calling to him above the clamor of the crowd, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”
This was no ‘chance encounter.’  Jesus knew his name and desired to go home with him.  

Coincidentally, the name, “Zacchaeus” literally means “righteous one.”  The Jews put a lot of thought in the names they gave their children.  More than likely, Zacchaeus was born to a devoutly religious couple – a couple with dreams for their son… that he would one day grow up to be a godly man deserving of his name – one who would bring honor to his family.  I am sure they never dreamed their son would become one of the most despised men in all Israel.
The Jews regarded tax-collectors as traitors, you see.  Israelis hated the Romans – they were ruthless and unscrupulous occupiers with no regard for God or the things of God – and for one of their own, a Jew, to become an agent of the Roman government, was nothing short of treason.  All who held such an office were declared “unclean” by the priests and excommunicated from the Jewish faith.
He was not only a tax-collector, but “chief” among them.  He had grown rich and powerful on the backs of his own people.
“Zacchaeus???”  How often his family must have lamented what he had become.
But Jesus knew him and wanted to fellowship with him ANYWAY.  The Lord knew that this man was searching for something that no amount of money could provide… that he was despised and lonely – “small,” not only because of his height, but because of his choices.  Jesus had no intention of leaving this man just as he found him – no, He had come to meet his greatest need.  
A fascinating story, don’t you think??
But what makes it even MORE fascinating is the fact, that, not only did Jesus know this man, He knows you. He knows ME.  He knows all the shameful things I’ve done… my regrets and disappointments.  He knows the times I’ve failed - the loneliness I feel.  He knows ME, and YET desires to fellowship with ME?!?

J. I. Packer, in his book, Knowing God, said:

“What matters supremely, is NOT the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it – that He knows me.  I am graven on the palms of His hands.  I am never out of His mind… He knows me and loves me and there is never a moment when His eye is off me or His attention distracted from me – no moment when His care for me falters.”  

Even when our own decisions have made a mess of things, when we feel that no one understands or even cares, He - knows - US.
Zacchaeus, (insert YOUR NAME here) …hurry and come down because I want to go home with you today!”  He knows you… the questions you have, the guilt you carry, the hunger in your heart for unconditional love – and He desires your fellowship.
2.  Second, Zacchaeus learned what Jesus DOES.
Jesus was just days away from His trial and crucifixion.  He knew all the suffering ahead of Him.  He knew that those He loved more than life itself would betray Him… that those He had come to save would reject Him, beat Him, and crucify Him.  But in spite of all the things that must have been weighing on His mind, He took the time to interact with this man up in a tree – out on life’s limb… because THAT’S what He does.
Anyone halfway familiar with the life of Jesus, knows SOME of what He does – they know about His miracles… how the blind could see, the hungry were filled, and the lame walked because of Him.  They know about His challenging preaching.  And they know about His love.  People even know about His crucifixion and resurrection.
WHAT ELSE do we know about Him?  What does THIS STORY and our OWN EXPERIENCE teach us about the things He does?  3 things:
First, Jesus cares about us individually.  That’s important. Of all the people following the Lord that day, possibly thousands, He stops the processional and calls out ONE MAN.  

We aren’t just nameless faces to Him.  Given all the needs represented in the crowd, given all the scores of people calling His name, clamoring for His attention and blessing, HE calls out Zacchaeus… by name.
This isn’t the only time He does this, by the way.  You may remember how Jesus was approached by a religious official named Jairus on behalf of his sick daughter.  His daughter was about to die and no one else could help her.  Jairus put his reputation with the spiritual leaders of Israel in jeopardy by asking Jesus to come to his house and heal his 12 year old daughter on the verge of death.  But it was worth it – because you see, when you are in trouble and no one else can help, you realize GOD is all you got!
As the crowd pushed toward Jairus’ house, a lady who was cursed with a blood disease for 12 years, pushed her way through the masses and touched the hem of Jesus robe – curing her instantly.
All at once, Jesus stopped the crowd and asked, “Who touched me?”  Peter, amazed that the Lord would even ask such a question, basically said, “With all these people jostling us around, You want to know ‘who touched you?”  But the Lord refused to go one step further until the lady came forward – for you see, you are more than a number with Him – He is interested in you PERSONALLY.  He wants to know you.

After singling him out, Jesus demanded a response.  It is not enough to hear Him calling you – you must respond to His call.  Zacchaeus could have refused the Lord.  We have record of people refusing the Lord at other times – like the Rich Young Ruler, or the Religious Leaders.  In fact, there were SOME people Jesus couldn’t help at ALL because they refused to believe in Him.
Had he so chosen, Zacchaeus could have ignored Jesus.  But he came down of his own free will in response to our Lord’s request and he received Jesus.
What about you?  Will YOU respond to the Lord’s call on YOUR life?  Will you receive Him?
I see the struggle almost every week – the struggle between responding and not responding – of giving your heart to the Lord or trying to forget about it.  One thing is for sure, God wants to come into your life and do something great – but He’s not going to force you.  It is a personal decision only YOU can make.  Zacchaeus did, and that leads to the third thing Jesus does…
He changes lives.  A heart that is genuinely touched by the Lord – WILL change.  Zacchaeus had a new desire – not only did he live for the Lord from that day forward, he promised to go back and right all the wrongs he had committed against otherseven though he knew it would come at great personal loss, he wanted to make things right.  That’s evidence of a changed life, folks.
Jesus is still changing lives.  

Who could count the number of broken lives and homes He’s put back together – all the dreams that were once shattered and hopes lost, lives ruined by bad choices – He has healed and restored.  

He wants to do this for you too.  

Which leads us to Zacchaeus’ final discovery…
3.  Not only did he learn what Jesus knows and what Jesus does, he also learned WHY Jesus came…  Look at v. 10, “(He) came to seek and to save the lost.

That is the key verse to the Gospel of Luke – and really, the key verse to the entire Bible.  It sums up the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus in one short sentence, “(He) came to seek and to save the lost.
Are YOU lost?
Zacchaeus allowed his curiosity to move him up a tree.  He was short and he couldn’t see.  

But why are YOU here?  Curiosity?  Maybe you came to satisfy the request of a friend or family member?  Maybe you came because you thought it was a good thing to do.
But deep inside you KNOW you have longed for more… Like Tolstoy who wrongly thought that happiness could be found in success and sin – only to find that those things could never answer the deepest questions of his soul – or like Zacchaeus who thought that more money would give him meaning, but found that no amount of gold could ever satisfy his need for God.
Why are YOU here?
Whatever may be the reason, you’ve learned what Jesus knows – He knows YOU – all about you.  He knows the emptiness you feel, the regrets you have, the hurts and disappointments - He knows YOU – personally.
You’ve also learned what He does – how He cares about us and wants a relationship with us.
And you’ve learned Why He came – to seek and save the lost.  He came to save you.
I wonder IF YOU will respond?
Will YOU receive Jesus?  Like Zacchaeus, will you “hurry and come down” so that YOU can experience His love and mercy?  One thing is certain, He wants to do for YOU what He did for Zacchaeus…

Will you let Him?

JMaybe you are like Zacchaeus, afraid and uncertain… and ALSO like Zacchaeus, you are one decision away from a changed life.  Will you receive Jesus?  If so, we are going to give you that opportunity right now.  We offer you that opportunity right now...

Every head bowed and every eye closed...