Robert Jeffress - A Short Story About A Big God
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". The wee little man, Zacchaeus, had it all. He was wealthy, he was powerful, and no one could stand in his way. So how did Jesus take one of the most hated men in all of Jericho, and transform him into the city's greatest philanthropist? Well, today we're going to see what we can learn about Jesus and his heart for sinners, from his encounter with Zacchaeus. My message is titled, "A Short Story About a Big God," on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Scott Winig tells a story about a pastor, who was calling the visitors from his church, the previous Sunday, and on one of the calls, he found on the other end of the phone, a little boy who was talking in a whispered tone. The pastor said, "Who is this"? The boy said, "This is Jimmy".
— Well, how old are you Jimmy?
— I'm five.
— Could I talk to your mother?
— She's busy.
— Could I talk to your dad?
— He's busy too.
— Well, is there anybody else in the house I could talk to?
— The police.
— Well, could I talk to one of the policemen?
— They're busy.
— Jimmy, is there anybody else in the house?
— The firemen are here.
— Well, can I talk to one of the fireman?
— They're busy.
— Jimmy, what is everybody busy doing?
— They're looking for me.
You know, Jimmy is not unlike a lot of people, who are in hiding right now. Maybe some of you are hiding. Some people are hiding from the police. Some people are hiding from parents, from whom they've been estranged. Some people are hiding from their mate, hoping that an immoral relationship won't be uncovered. Some people are hiding from their bosses, hoping their incompetence won't be revealed. But interestingly, some people are actually trying to hide from God. They avoid reading the Bible, or going to church, or praying, hoping that they can stave off that inevitable confrontation with their Creator. But of course, it's impossible to hide from God, isn't it?
Now think about little children who are taught to play hide and go seek, for the first time. And the little child is told, "Okay, go hide". And so he just stands there, closes his eyes, and put his hands over his eyes, thinking that as long as he can't see other people, they can't see him either. A lot of people think that about God. They think, "Well, if I just cut off communication with God, if I can't see God, then God can't see me". But as David the Psalmist said, "Who can flee from thy presence, o God"? God is omnipresent, he can see everything, everything. And yet that doesn't keep us from hiding from God. What is it that motivates people to try to hide from God? One word, guilt. Whenever we feel guilty, whenever we know we have fallen short of God's plan for our life, our first instinct is to hide. That instinct comes naturally, it's inherited.
Remember the first couple Adam and Eve, they had a great relationship with God, until sin became a barrier with that relationship with God. Genesis 3:7 says, then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves loin coverings. They thought that by making that little garment, a fig leaf, somehow they could hide from the presence of God. But the fact is, in spite of their efforts, God came looking for them, not because God hated them, but because God loved them, and wanted to reestablish a relationship with them. And only when God killed that innocent animal, and covered them with a skin of that animal, could they truly be forgiven of their sin.
You know, that's the message that starts in Genesis 3, and extends through Revelation 22. And that is, God doesn't hate sinners, God loves sinners. He searches for them and rejoices when he re-establishes a relationship with them. And that's our truth we see illustrated so well in the story we're going to look at today. In our study of the Gospel of Luke, we've come to Luke 19. It's a story about Jesus' encounter with a man named Zacchaeus. And today, we're going to look at what I call "A Short Story About a BIG God".
Turn in your Bibles to Luke 19. Today, I'm going to build the whole message around these timeless principles. Three hope filled eternal truths about God's attitude toward those who are trying to hide from him. And I want you to write these down, as we go through this passage together. The first truth we need to understand is God searches for us, in spite of our sin. God searches for us in spite of our sin. Look at verse 1, and Jesus entered, and was passing through Jericho.
Now, remember where we are in the story of Jesus. These are the final days of his earthly life. He's on his way to Jerusalem, to accomplish his mission of giving himself on the cross, as our sacrifice for our sins. And so he is going toward Jerusalem, and he's coming from Jericho to Jerusalem. And that's where we're introduced to this man named Zacchaeus. Luke tells us three important points about Zacchaeus we need to understand. First of all, Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Look at verse 2, and behold, there was a man called by the name of Zacchaeus, and he was a chief tax gatherer, and he was rich.
Now this is the sixth time that Luke talks about tax collectors. Why is he hung up on tax collectors, did Luke have a bad audit or something? Why was he so focused on tax collectors? Well, the reason is the theme of Luke, remember written to the gentiles, the non-Jews, is Jesus didn't come just for the Jews. He came to save everybody who would turn to him, including the tax collectors, and the sinners. To some people, that's redundant, but he's talking about the tax collectors, and the sinners. And so he talks about how the Jews rejected Jesus, but it was the tax collectors, and the sinners who were attracted to him. He came to save the outcast of society. The second thing we find out about Zacchaeus in this story, verse 2 says he was rich.
Now, you know, lots of people have antipathy toward the wealthy people. But the Jews really hated Zacchaeus, because the way he had made his wealth was by cheating them. Here they were, trying to eke out a living, in a largely agricultural society, when Zacchaeus was living an exquisite lifestyle, from the money he had extracted from his fellow Jews. Now, even though Zacchaeus was wealthy, he was a social outcast. He lived on the fringes of society, which explains why he was probably attracted to the message of Jesus. He heard that there was this new kind of rabbi in town, a rabbi who wasn't a part of the Jewish establishment. A rabbi who didn't look down on sinners, but actually had a message of hope for them. A rabbi who didn't uphold an impossible standard of righteousness, which nobody could keep, but instead offered forgiveness for those who repented.
Zacchaeus was attracted to the message of Jesus. And not only that, here was a rabbi who didn't condemn prostitutes and tax gatherers. He actually hung out with them. He had dinner with them. And so Zacchaeus was attracted to this message of this rabbi named Jesus. And that leads to the third thing we know about Zacchaeus, and that is, he was short, look at verse 3. Because he was attracted to the message of Jesus, he was trying to see who Jesus was, and he was unable to because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. That's a nice way of saying he was vertically challenged. He was short. He was really short. Now some of the sources I looked at this week said that the average Hebrew male, in Jesus' day, the average height was five feet. That was the average height. So if Zacchaeus was short, he was really short.
Now I want to engage in just a little bit of sanctified psychoanalysis here for a moment. Imagine what life was like for Zacchaeus growing up, if he was that short. Just imagine the people at school, the kids at school, making fun of him all the time. He was probably the last to be chosen for any sports team at school. People ridiculed Zacchaeus, and somewhere along the way, he said to himself, "I'm going to get even. I'm going to make something of myself". And the best way for him to do that was to become a tax gatherer, where he could obtain wealth, but also exact revenge on his fellow Jews, who had ostracized him. I think that's what we have going on here with Zacchaeus. And that explains why Zacchaeus couldn't see Jesus. It wasn't only because he was short, but because he was relegated to the back of the crowd. Nobody would let Zacchaeus up to the front, they hated Zacchaeus. But he was desperate to see Jesus.
So what did he do? Look at verse 4. He ran on ahead, and he climbed up into a sycamore tree, in order to see Jesus, for he was about to pass through that way. What happened? Look at verse 5. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and he said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your home".
Now, I want you to underline, in fact, circle that word MUST. It's the key of this whole passage. "I MUST stay at your home". Why did Jesus have to stay at Zacchaeus' home? Was it because Jesus had no lunch plans? Is it because he had no way to eat? Why was it necessary for him to stay in Zacchaeus' home? This word translated, must, in the English, is awarding Greek D-E-I, dei, dei. Literally it means of moral necessity. Jesus said, "Out of moral necessity, I must stay at your home". That word dei is the very same word that is used in John 4:4, that describes Jesus' journey from Galilee, in the north, to Judea in the south. And John said he must go through Samaria. I think the King James says something like he needs must go through Samaria. Same word, of moral necessity.
Why did Jesus have to go through Samaria? Because Jesus had a divine appointment with a woman at Jacob's well, with whom he would share the Gospel, the hope of eternal life and forgiveness. That's why he had to go through Samaria. He had a divine appointment, and it's the same thing here. Jesus had to go through Jericho, and he said, "Zacchaeus, I must stay at your home," why? Because I have a divine appointment to you, to satisfy your greatest need. Who took the initiative in establishing this relationship? It was Jesus, Jesus is the one who said, "I must stay at your house".
Do you realize that if you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, it's not because of your initiating the relationship. God is the one who orchestrated all of the events of your life, to bring the right people, the right circumstances into your life, to bring you to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It all starts with God. 1 John 4 says, in herein is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us, and gave himself as the propitiation, the satisfaction, for our sins. He initiated this relationship with Zacchaeus. God searches for us, in spite of our sin. That's the first truth.
Notice the second truth here is God forgives us of our sin. He forgives us of our sin. God doesn't hate sinners. He loves sinners, and longs to reestablish that relationship with them. That truth was lost on the pharisees, they never got that. They thought God was just like they were, they thought God hated sinners, and wanted to keep them out of heaven. Over and over again, the pharisees grumbled and said, "Why does he hang out with sinners"? And notice what Jesus said, Luke 5:31-32, Jesus answered and said to them, "It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance".
Now, the fact is pharisees were just as much sinners as the tax collectors and the prostitutes. The different was they realized their need for Christ. The pharisees rejected their need for Christ. You see the same difference here. Look at verse 6, and Zacchaeus hurried, and came down and received Jesus gladly. That was his attitude. He knew he needed forgiveness. But when they, the pharisees, saw it, they all begin to grumble, saying, "He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner".
So Jesus comes into the home of Zacchaeus, and he has a conversation with him. We don't know the details of that conversation, but it was a life-changing conversation for Zacchaeus, because I want you to notice the result of that conversation. This passage reminds us that God searches for us, in spite of our sin. God forgives us of our sin, and notice thirdly, God frees us from our sin. Somewhere in the middle of that private conversation, Zacchaeus addressed not only the Lord, but the entire group, and somebody recorded it.
Look at verse 8, and Zacchaeus stopped, and he said to the Lord, and presumably everybody there, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much". Because of his forgiveness, because of his salvation, Zacchaeus said, "I'm a new man, and this is what I'm going to do, behold, Lord, I'm going to give half of my possessions to the poor". Jesus never asked him to do that. He didn't say to Zacchaeus what he had said to the rich young ruler, "Oh, you think you're so holy, well then give everything you have up to the poor".
It's not that the rich young ruler could buy his salvation. Jesus was trying to show him he wasn't as holy as he thought he was. But he said that to Zacchaeus. But Zacchaeus voluntarily said, "I'm going to give up half of my possessions. And not only that, I'm going to pay back four times, whatever I have stolen". How did Jesus respond to that? Verse 9, he said, "Today, salvation has come to this house," because he, Zacchaeus too, is the son of Abraham. For the Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. You see, the fact that Zacchaeus was willing to give up this money, that didn't buy his place in heaven, but it proved that he was truly saved. When Jesus said, "Salvation has come to you, Zacchaeus," I believe he's talking about salvation, in the fullest sense of the word.
You see, salvation is not just a case of being forgiven by Jesus of our sins, but also being freed by Jesus, from the power of our sin. Salvation is not just about being exempted from the penalty of God for our sin, in the next life. Salvation means being freed from the power of sin in this life. That's why God saved you. That's why God saved me. Not so that we could do whatever we want. He freed us so that we could follow him. Paul said it this way, "Do you not know you are not your own. You've been bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body". For the Son of man came to seek and to save those who are lost. Jesus finds us, Jesus forgives us, and Jesus frees us, if we are willing to ask.