TO SEEK AND TO SAVE THE LOST
Key Verse: 19:10
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
In this passage, Jesus saved one sinful man, Zacchaeus. And then he revealed the very purpose of his coming to this world. Jesus came to seek and to save God’s lost children. This purpose has never changed. Through the Holy Spirit in us, Jesus seeks and saves God’s lost children today. Let us not hide ourselves, but come to meet Jesus like Zacchaeus. Lord, Jesus! Please do not pass those who came to meet you today. Please seek and save them so that your salvation may come to them today.
This incident happened about a week before Jesus’ death. Jesus was heading for Jerusalem in order to redeem the whole world through his death on the cross. Jesus entered the historical city, Jericho. Jericho is about 14 miles away in Northeast of Jerusalem. It is famous with palm trees. Jericho was the first city that the Israelites took. We remember the famous Jericho military operation and Rahab. We also remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The stage was the way to Jericho. As a Good Samaritan Jesus entered Jericho in order to help one robbed person.
In the city, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He worked in the local IRS office in Jericho. His position was “Chief Tax Collector.” He was wealthy. As we know, the Israel was a colonial country to Roman Empire at that time. The collected taxes went to Roman emperor. So the chief tax collectors were hired by Roman government. Roman government provided them with authority and material security. Those who worked in the tax collector’s office could make lots of money. However, they lost something very important. Though they were Jewish, they had to live for Rome. So they became traitors to their own people. They were treated as public sinners. They were mostly despised like dogs.
When Zacchaeus was born, his parents named him “Zacchaeus.” It means “up right” or “pure.” His parents wanted him to be righteous. Once he thought about being a patriot and save his country. But when he faced the cruel reality of his country, he began to admit pragmatism and selfishness. After his college graduation, he submitted his resume to the Roman IRS office in Jericho. His parents must have opposed the job. But he got the job. For recognition, he mercilessly collected taxes from his own people. As the result he got promoted to be the chief tax collector in the office. He achieved what he wanted. He became wealthy. He could buy and eat whatever he wanted. At first, he was happy. But he could not gain real happiness as he expected. He felt meaninglessness and emptiness. He suffered from guilty feelings. But he could not change his job due to the bad career. He wished to live righteous life if a second life were given to him. But he could not undo his life. One day, he heard about Jesus who forgave an adulterous woman. He also heard about Jesus who gave a new life to a tax collector like him. He must have envied Levi. He wished such thing would happen to him too.
One day, he heard that Jesus was passing through Jericho. He had never seen him before. So he wanted to see who he was. He had heard about Jesus many times through others. The more he heard about Jesus, the more he wanted to meet him face to face. But he could not expect to meet Jesus face to face because he was a notorious sinner. He thought that Jesus would not talk to him. There was no reason for Jesus to pay attention to him among so many people. He knew that he did not deserve anything from God except God’s wrath. What he wanted was to see Jesus how he looked like. That desire was so strong that he could not miss the chance. But it was not easy to see Jesus. Look at verse 3. “He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.” Jesus was surrounded by a large crowd. They were all taller than him. He jumped, but he could not sill see Jesus. He could not go into the crowd because he could not be with them. At that moment, he got a brilliant idea. He ran ahead of Jesus and climbed up a sycamore-fig tree. Because he was as fat as a pig, it was not easy to climb up a tree. It was not proper for a middle-aged chief tax collector climb up a tree. But his desire was so strong that he ignored everything. After many tries, he climbed up the tree and sat down on a thick branch. His earnest desire for was revealed in this way. Even though he was a public sinner, his soul was crying out to God for salvation. The more sinful, the more people long for God’s salvation.
Now let’s think about Jesus. Look at verse 5. “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Jesus is God. Even though there was a large crowd, he knew the heart motive of everyone. Jesus could have passed the spot of Zacchaeus. But Jesus never does so. Jesus always searches for faith from men. Jesus never misses our faith. Jesus always blesses those who come to him by faith. Jesus stopped at the right spot and looked up Zacchaeus. Among so many people, Jesus focused on Zacchaeus. Nobody concerned Zacchaeus. When people saw him, they spit on him. They tried to throw stones at him. When they saw Zacchaeus on the tree, they ridiculed him. But Jesus was different from them. Jesus looked him up with his full love and compassion. It was not funny to Jesus. It was joy to Jesus. Zacchaeus just wanted to see Jesus. But Jesus stopped and paid full attention to him. This is amazing grace of God upon him. He had never received such full attention from others. What did Jesus say to him? “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Jesus invited himself to his house. It was because that was what Zacchaeus actually wanted. Jesus knew his heart desire. So Jesus decided to eat with him and stay at his house. Jesus’ coming to one’s house is not a small favor. Jesus’ coming is God’s coming. Jesus’ coming is God’s kingdom’s coming. Jesus’ coming is salvation’s coming. Jesus does not come unless he is welcome. Once I asked my bible student, “Would you accept Jesus into your life?” He replied, “No.” He thought that Jesus would bother him. Jesus cannot come into his life even though he really wants. Jesus does not come to us to bother us. He comes to our life in order to give us salvation.
What was Zacchaeus’ response? Look at verse 6. “So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.” Zacchaeus knew that he didn’t deserve Jesus’ coming into his house. He didn’t deserve having personal relationship with Jesus. But Jesus wanted to come into his house and stay with him. He was overjoyed. He came down at once and welcomed Jesus gladly. Here we can see that when God blesses us, his blessing overflows. He blesses us much more than we expect. We are fully quenched. This reminds us of John 7:37-38. “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” When we accept Jesus into our life, God’s amazing grace overflows in us until we are fully changed.
What was the response of the townspeople? Look at verse 7. “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’’” It says that all the people muttered. It shows that there was none who could accept Zacchaeus. All of them hated and judged him. They thought that Zacchaeus deserved God’s curse. When Jesus entered his house, they criticized even Jesus. Criticism comes from legalistic self-righteousness. When we think that we are more righteous than others, we start to criticize others. Legalistic self-righteousness is a sin against God. To Jesus’ eyes, the townspeople were not better than Zacchaeus. Our standard of righteousness is Jesus. How we think of ourselves is not important. How Jesus thinks of us is important.
According to what the townspeople said, who is Jesus? He is a guest of sinners. It means that Jesus is sinners’ friend. The word, “friend” is so wonderful. According to my dictionary, “friend” means a person who shares the same feelings of natural liking and understanding, the same interests, etc., but is not closely related.” Usually it is used among peer group. Friends love each other, trust each other and share everything depend on the level of friendship. There is no secret between close friends. God accepted Abraham as his friend. (2Ch 20:7) When he planned to destroy Sodom, God did not hide his plan from Abraham. (Ge8:17) Before his death, Jesus started to call his disciples, “friends.” “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15) The disciples could be Jesus’ friends because they knew Jesus’ business and co-worked with him. We cannot be friends with Jesus because there are fundamental differences. Jesus is our creator and we are his creatures. But Jesus lowered himself to our level and wants to be our friend. He wants to share everything with us; his righteousness, his love, his joy, his peace, his life, etc. In order to share all these things with Zacchaeus, Jesus entered his house as his friend. Jesus is God. He is our Savior. At the same time, he is our friend. Because we are his friends, he died on the cross for us. Because we are his friends, he shares everything with us. This friendship will last forever. If we accept him as our friend today, the kingdom of God comes into our heart today.
Zacchaeus invited Jesus, his disciples, his followers from Galilee and his friends. His house was big enough to accommodate them all. He prepared lots of food and served them. For the first time, he spent his own money for others. He was full of joy because Jesus came into his house. He became new creation in Jesus. He was not the greedy and selfish chief tax collector any more. Look at verse 8. “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." This is his repentance. Jesus did not say to him, “Zacchaeus! Repent!” Jesus did not say anything to him. But he himself made a decision to get rid of his sinful life and to live a new life. Jesus is light. When light comes into our heart, darkness goes away. When the Holy Spirit comes into our heart through Jesus and his words, he makes us repent. Now he was willing to share his possessions with the poor. His selfishness had gone. He was willing to pay back four times the amount to those whom he had cheated. His conscience was brought back. Money was not his life goal any more. His new life goal was Jesus. In order to gain Jesus, he was willing to lose something. This reminds us of St. Paul. Once he treated Jesus as garbage. But when he met Jesus personally, he confessed like this, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…” (Phi 3:8) When Jesus comes into our life, our value system changes. Jesus is most precious. So we focus on Jesus with all our heart, soul and strength.
How did Jesus respond to Zacchaeus’ repentance? Look at verse 9. “Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.’” Jesus accepted his repentance. Jesus forgave all his sins and declared his salvation. “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” Here Jesus declares that he became a son of Abraham. This implies that he had not been a son of Abraham. Physically, he was a son of Abraham. But Jesus does not count physical heritage. He counts spiritual heritage. “A son of Abraham” means a child of God. Abraham is the ancestor of faith. Through faith only we can become children of Abraham and children of God. Physically we are not children of Abraham. But because we come to Jesus by faith, Jesus declares that we are children of Abraham too. God says to us, “He(Jesus) came to that which was his own(the Israelites), but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he(Jesus) gave the right to become children of God…” (John 1:11-12) When we accept Jesus, Jesus restores our sonship. We are not any more children of the Devil, but the children of God.
After declaring Zacchaeus’ salvation, Jesus revealed the purpose of his coming to this world. Look at verse 10. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." Jesus came from God to find the lost and save them. Here we have to clearly understand the meaning of “the lost.” When we lose something, we don’t know where it is. But to God it is not the case. God’s spirit is everywhere. Whether believers and non-believers are all in the presence of God. God knows where they are, but because of sins their relationship with God is broken. Then they are lost. God is watching over them. God is waiting for them to come to him with repentance. Before Jesus came to Jericho, he had known that Zacchaeus was seeking God in his deep soul. So in order to save him, Jesus came to Jericho. Because the Samaritan woman was seeking God in thirstiness, Jesus went to Samaria to save her. Because the demon-possessed man cried out to God, Jesus went to the region of the Gerasenes and saved him. Two thousand years ago, Jesus came with his human body and was seeking the lost. The same Jesus is still seeking the lost through the Holy Spirit in us. Jesus saves whoever comes to him.
I was born in Buddhism family. I was familiar with Buddhism culture and identified myself as a Buddhist. I regarded Christianity as a foreign religion and rejected it. Once my high school tablemate was a son of a pastor. Every lunchtime he sang a hymn and prayed. Without any reason, I hated him very much. Meanwhile, due to my inferiority complex, I was seeking living God who could solve my inferiority complex. I became very religious from that time on. I went to Buddha’s temple. Once I thought of being a Buddhist monk. Once I devoted myself to a Japanese religion. But I could not find the solution for my inner problem. So I became interested in Christianity. One Sunday, my mom asked me to go to the village and buy wine. There was a church. So I attended the worship service and went home. Then my mom scared me that I would be cursed if I changed my religion. For my religious freedom, I decided to go to a college far away from my house. On the military academy application form, I wrote “Christianity” on the religion field. I did not know God, but God knew me and waiting for me in my college. On the day when I picked up my acceptance package, God sent a bible teacher to me. Through bible studies, God revealed himself to me and saved me. Ungodly people may say that it was an accident. But according to this passage, when I looked for my creator, God came into my life and saved me. There are many students on campuses. Like Zacchaeus and me, there are some students who look for our living God. Jesus knows who they are. Jesus wants to send us to them to teach the word of God. Through us Jesus seeks and saves the lost.
In this passage, Jesus is the one who lost his precious children. All human beings are his children. How many children has he lost so far? The number is uncountable. How does he feel? No one can comfort him. So without resting, Jesus is seeking the lost all over the world. Jesus has found and saved us. As his friends, let us participate in Jesus’ ministry.