THE GOD WHO SEEKS AND SAVES –
THE IMPLICATIONS FOR OUR LIVES TODAY
Luke 19:10 has been a verse of Scripture that has moved me, motivated me, encouraged me, and convicted me all of my adult life. Even today when I read it I am humbled and challenged in my own life. I am honored to be a preacher of the Word of God and an ambassador of Jesus who sought me and saved me and is still working on me today. I want to do two main things as I approach this passage today. First, I want to take a look at the details of the Zacchaeus story and glean some truths from that. But then (and for me most importantly), I want to apply this action and words of Jesus to us today. In doing so we will want to take an overarching view of this passage and then look at ourselves and see how we stack up. May the Holy Spirit speak to us today as we journey together.
I. ZACCHAEUS WAS A SHREWD BUSINESSMAN WHO WAS RICH – BUT THAT IS NOT ENOUGH
Zacchaeus was doing quite well according the world’s standards. He was an outcast from the Jewish community because he extorted people, he pressured them to pay their taxes; he could have exacted a higher price from those he did not like just so his portion of the take would be higher. He was a “chief” tax collector which means he had a large crew under his direction doing his bidding. There may have even been some type of twisted rewards system for those who earned Zacchaeus more money by extorting the most from the people. He was a “little weasel” of a man who was generally disliked and not trusted. But he was rich and had all the accoutrements of life. Many of us today would have looked at that guy and said “man, he has it made.”
RICHES, LIFE STATUS, POWER OVER OTHERS CANNOT SATISFY THE SOUL
There is something in the heart of every man (because we are created by God) that cries out to be reconciled with God. There is an unsettled awareness that something is just not right. Man may not know exactly what that is or where that sense comes from, but everyone knows at one level or another. Yes, the conscience can be seared to the point that the spiritual senses have become dull; almost dead. But still deep down every man knows there is something wrong. Man has a deep need for the forgiveness and life that Jesus alone can give.
II. ZACCHAEUS HAD A COMMON CURIOUSITY ABOUT JESUS AND WANTED TO SEE HIM
We see this all the time in our culture. Someone who is famous is coming by; and we want to just “see” them. Often, we just want to say we saw “so and so” etc. I still remember my dad told me about seeing Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president of the United States, way back in 1932 when he gave a speech here in Roanoke (Salem) for the official opening of the Veterans Administration building. He was proud to have seen him. Now I am sure that there was a wide range of motives here for Zacchaeus. But let me say, people attend church as guests for all kinds of motives. The good news is that there ARE some who attend because they are looking for some spiritual answers and some meaning to life itself. And most are also looking for some genuine fellowship in the Lord.
I think it is a sign of how much Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus in that he got up in the Sycamore tree because he was a short man and could not see in the press of the taller crowd. So he gratified his curiosity by climbing up into the tree.
Take note here: those that sincerely want to “see” Jesus will make some effort to do so. Even in this worldly curiosity there is something to be said for his efforts. His motives may have little to do with spiritual things, but God was about to use his natural curiosity and turn that towards Zacchaeus’ deeper needs. The church and we as Christ’s followers need to take note of this. Some will attend, some will allow you to befriend them, some will inquire other ways, but praise God that this is an opportunity for a person’s conscience or spirit to be made more aware of their deeper needs.
III. JESUS TOOK THE INITIATIVE IN ZACCHAEUS’ LIFE AND HE TAKES THE INITIATIVE WITH US
Jesus saw Zacchaeus and asked him to come down. Now it is at this point that many delay or hesitate. But thank God, Zacchaeus did not hesitate. When Jesus calls to us (or anyone), we do well to heed His call. Zacchaeus’ quick response and an open spirit to continue with Jesus speaks to our culture today. People stay away from anything spiritual; and most especially do not want to get into a conversation about Jesus. We live in a difficult time. But the Spirit of God is still at work and there are SOME who will respond to our intentional invitation (we are ambassadors for Christ). Zacchaeus received Jesus JOYFULLY! He was open to Jesus. This was a precursor to his salvation. I often say: “put yourself in a position to win,” or “at least give Jesus a chance” to work on you. This is all we can ask for in people’s lives – an opportunity to have further dialogue and engagement with people so the Lord can work on them, draw them, help them see their deep need, and eventually respond to Jesus.
Jesus said in John 6 that “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him….” In other words, all of us have been SOUGHT and BROUGHT by the work of the Father through His Holy Spirit! If He did not seek us, we would not be born again. Jesus called out to Zacchaeus and He calls out to all of us today in different ways (some of us know Him and He calls us to a deeper walk; some need to repent of sin and yield their lives to Jesus and He IS calling you today).
IV. NOTE THE RESPONSE OF THE CULTURE – JESUS HAS GONE TO EAT WITH THAT EVIL TRAITOR
Our culture today is not any different. People have a tendency to deride Christians because they are not perfect; they are just as bad as the rest of the world, etc. And they resent that Christians claim to have “been saved.” We must not let culture determine the depth of our commitment and walk with Jesus. We need to do like Jesus and Zacchaeus here; just focus on this divine moment and not let the world interfere with what is happening in this divine encounter. I have had people tell me I am wasting my time trying to invest in some young men who rarely attend worship or express any interest in spiritual things. Well maybe so. But I would rather be seeking people in Jesus’ name than sitting on my “duff.” Maybe I could be more strategic. But the Lord has been working in some of these encounters and He will use His Word in His time.
V. ZACCHAEUS IS GLORIOUSLY SAVED AND THAT IS SHOWN THROUGH HIS ACTIONS
It is obvious that something pretty drastic has happened. A deep inner change has been done in the heart and mind of Zacchaeus. Repentance has taken place and the fruits of that repentance are about to be seen by Jesus and all the people who Zacchaeus ripped off over the years; “I restore fourfold!”
Every person that is truly born again has gone through the “doorway” of repentance and faith (surrender).
True Christians will demonstrate their repentance and faith through an obedience to Jesus. They will “come clean.” They will be honest with themselves and others. A change in attitudes and actions will be observed and people will take note over time (in a good way).
Sometimes restitution is due. In this case Zacchaeus gave back much more than the law required. He had gained his wealth through some dishonest means; extortion, adding to the “bill,” any means possible to get the money and take his cut. Knowing that and now knowing Jesus and His grace, Zacchaeus was broken for Jesus and broken for his past actions that hurt others. So now with Jesus he determined to give back from his ill-gotten wealth. Can you imagine what people thought about Jesus as a result of seeing Zacchaeus’ repentance?!
May others see this type of thing in our lives.
VI. ZACCHAEUS’ SALVATION TOUCHED HIS WHOLE HOUSEHOLD
This is the section of the message that still grips my heart today. This verse, verse 10. Every time I read it or say it, my heart is deeply touched. Today, as I leave you with my last message as your transitional pastor, I am sharing something with you that has brought continual brokenness to my life for most of my adult life. Jesus speaks to me through this verse. If I can, please allow me to share my heart and I believe some principles in this verse that speak to all of us today.
I. JESUS CAME TO SEEK – HE IS A SEEKING SAVIOR
The word here for seek is the same word used in Matthew 18:12: “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?” It means: to seek [in order to find out] by thinking, meditating, reasoning, to enquire into, to strive after, to crave, to demand.
It reminds me of the time my wallet fell out of my pocket as I got out of the car in the parking lot at Best Buy! Let me take a moment to describe the intensity of that search for you!
Friends, lost people are infinitely more important than a lost wallet. We need to step back and ask ourselves what in the world are we doing with our lives! First of all, may all of us be broken because Jesus sought us out.
IF JESUS IS A SEEKING SAVIOR, THEN (IF WE ARE GENUINELY FOLLOWING HIM) WE WILL BE A SEEKING PEOPLE – AND A SEEKING CHURCH
I must say here that this is THE one thing that concerns me the most about people I meet in church. They seem to be perfectly fine with “coming to church” and “being nice to others” without any burden or concern for the people around them to be saved. The local church will be “evangelistic” only to the degree that each member of the church has the same desire that Jesus has: to seek and to save the lost. Yes, I realize that life is often a “heavy” thing. We are busy people. We have a lot to think about and do. But what I am talking about here is a desire or a burden from Jesus that undergirds everything in our lives. This motivation for living will work into every decision we make; it will give us purpose; it will help us call on Jesus; and it will keep us in His Word. I am not talking about a raving lunatic here, I am talking about a core purpose of life. Jesus was unashamed in the face of the pharisaical attitudes of His day to tell very simply what He was about. He did not care if it was culturally frowned upon or not!
EVERY DISCIPLE OF CHRIST WILL HAVE A PERSONAL STRATEGY FOR ATTEMPTING TO GET THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST TO THE PEOPLE IN THEIR WORLD AND BEYOND.
EVERY HEALTHY LOCAL CHURCH WILL HAVE A CHURCH-WIDE STRATEGY TO PENETRATE ITS COMMUNITY AND THE WORLD WITH THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST
II. JESUS CAME TO SEEK AND TO SAVE
Jesus was NOT interested in decisions made at an altar; He was interested in a heart and life surrender that issued forth in ongoing faith and followership. He is interested in an ongoing relationship in which He (through the Holy Spirit and the Word and other solid believers) will radically change a person’s life. The problem that I have in witnessing to some of the young men in our community is that they see all kinds of people who say they “have been saved” or they “have been baptized,” etc. And there is much confusion as to what “being saved” really is. That confusion is in the church itself. That is why the church must do a better job in evangelism; making sure people understand the nature of their salvation and the fact that salvation is wrought by God and not man. It is not something we did; it is something He did. Thank God. And as such, salvation is a total reorientation of life. We need not make it something just FOR US! It is FOR GOD AND HIS GLORY. Our lives will be totally reoriented towards Jesus Christ. This is not some little decision thing. It is not just a commitment “I” make. If WE make the decision, then WE can decide otherwise later on in our life. It is in our control. Salvation is something, once you come to true repentance and faith, that you do not control any more. You OBEY from that point forward. And if you do not obey, you will be chastised or disciplined until you do. And you will wish you had never disobeyed … can I get an “amen” on that one?! So we need to be CLEAR that we are here to SAVE people, i.e. – tell clearly the gospel of Jesus Christ to others so that they will repent and believe with all their heart and mind and soul and then be genuinely born again to never be the same ever again!
Salvation is a deep systemic life change that results in increasing victory over sin for the rest of our lives. Also, salvation means that Jesus can use you in any way He sees fit; including ways which may not be comfortable to you. This salvation is available to all and is for all.
III. JESUS CAME TO SEEK AND TO SAVE THE LOST
Folks, the people around us are totally lost! People are in bondage to themselves, to habits, to all kinds of sexual sin, to recreational drugs, to hard drugs, to abusive relationships, to making money, to sports, to gambling, to power, to job advancement, … you name it. Just listen to the news; PEOPLE EVERYWHERE ARE LOST. What do we mean? Well let me be clear: EVEN NICE PEOPLE WITHOUT JESUS ARE LOST! We fail here most often. Just because a person is “nice” does not mean he or she is a born-again Christian. Just because a person is a baptized church member, it does not mean that they have repented of their sin and trusted Jesus as Savior and Lord. We must be more discerning of the spiritual condition of the people around us. Is there a pattern of obedience? Are they regularly attending a local church? Do they live under the authority of the Word of God … do they even know much of the Word of God? Are they “nice” but yet have ongoing habits and attitudes that seem to contradict the life of a disciple? Do they raise their children with the intentionality of making them a disciple? Let me be clear. Most people I know are LOST. We have a list of people who are on our mailing list that we call “prospects.” Most of these people are lost. We have about 500 households right around our church building, and another 200 or so in a housing development – and I bet you that about 90 percent of these homes ARE LOST! Now the trajedy is this: they have enough Jesus to be inoculated against the real thing. They are playing with Jesus and the Church. They think they are doing ok, trying hard enough to be accepted by God. And they are in bondage, and they are headed for ETERNAL BONDAGE in a place called HELL. There is no in-between area. You may be in the process of yielding to the drawing of the Holy Spirit; you may be in church; you may have family and friends around you that are saved; but until you repent and surrender in faith you are still LOST! And you need Jesus TODAY!
One thing lost people need to understand is the absolute hopelessness of their condition. Only God can show you this. Without the forgiveness Jesus offers and gives, the lost person is resting on his or her goodness to get them accepted by God. The Bible says this is impossible. “There is none righteous, no not one.” The only way our sin can be dealt with is by Jesus taking our sin upon Himself. And that is done only when we recognize our own helplessness, our bondage to self and sin, and cry out to Jesus to save us. There is no “tweener land.” There are only SAVED or LOST people in this world. Are YOU saved today? If not, I humbly plea with you right now; please come as we sing in a moment and we will help you if you want to repent and trust Jesus Christ.
As I come to a close today, my heart is so full I cannot fully express how this passage has changed my life. And I desperately want every person in my hearing today to get this wonderful disease that Jesus gives His disciples. I believe if you are born again that this is in you. But for whatever reason, life has crowded out this passion from your life. I beg you today, please let Jesus restore this. Life lived this way is the most wonderful thing in all the world. I weep as I type this for this message today. Oh my dear Christian brother and sister, let Jesus work in your heart to give you His passion TO SEEK AND TO SAVE THAT WHICH IS LOST! Life lived in this manner will cost you; but if you are a participant in others coming to Jesus, you will not worry about the cost. You will gladly sacrifice more for people to be delivered from bondage to sin and self, to the cleansing and forgiveness and life change that Jesus brings. When people “get it,” when they see themselves and see Jesus as the only way, the One who loved them by going to the Cross for them; there is no other singular event in all of life that is more rewarding. Perhaps some you believers may want to come to this altar today to do at least a couple of things:
Come to cry out to Jesus and admit that this priority of life has not been a core of your life. And you want to come and ask His forgiveness, and ask Him to restore that passion in your life. I am asking you to come to this altar and make this public before God and others. We are letting the world know that we need this passion from Jesus. We are admitting our need and humbling ourselves to one another. And in doing so, we are asking Him to show us how this is to be worked out in our lives.
Come to this altar and let’s all ask the Lord to make Riverdale a “seeking church.” Make it a discerning church that will help people understand that being nice is not enough. People must be made new by Jesus. Being saved is not simply a decision; it is a yielding to Jesus that results in a lifestyle of ongoing repentance. It is a supernatural change. And we come today and cry out to Jesus and say, “Lord would You work in such a way here that we would see people genuinely saved and live for you?”
And as we come for the above, I think it would be good for us all to say as we come to this altar that we praise and thank the Lord Jesus for the past two years and ten months, and we cry out to God to protect and provide and prepare Brother Guy Thompson for the next glorious chapter of Riverdale Baptist Church. We come asking the Lord to do a FRESH WORK here in this place, in us His people. Oh God, may it be said about Riverdale Baptist Church: God so worked there that they now exist TO SEEK AND TO SAVE THAT WHICH WAS LOST!
I just want you all to know one last time – Hey, I love you all.