Nov 4, 2019
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Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.
I like stories where the underdog wins. Maybe it's because I've never been much of an athlete. In Junior High, I tried out for the football team and discovered with my size at the time, pain and I didn't work well together. I was a cornerback, and everyone who came at me weighed at least 30 pounds more than me. I saw a lot of blue skies that year while lying on my back. Did I tell you I'm not fond of pain? This business of no pain, no gain, just doesn't work for me. It seems pain is there to tell us something is wrong. We might be doing something stupid and need to stop.
I like it when the underdog wins. Whether in sports, business, or life. It's good to see the guy you least expect to come out on top do just that occasionally. It helps us to know there is hope that any of us can make it. Underdog stories give us the energy and enthusiasm to keep on going when things look kind of bleak. They give us courage when we want to back away from some seemingly insurmountable obstacle in our path.
We find an underdog story told by Luke from some eyewitnesses that saw Jesus come to Jericho. In chapter 19 of the writings in his name, he shares the account in this way.
He [Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd, he could not because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him because he was going to pass that way.
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."
So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner."
Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much."
Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."
Zacchaeus would be called an underdog. No doubt about it. First, he was short. So short, he couldn't see over the heads of the crowds gathered along the road, waiting to see Jesus. That meant he must find a way to maneuver through the mass or find a higher vantage point. Otherwise, the preacher everyone talked about would pass by without Zacchaeus seeing him.
Second, Zacchaeus held one of the most hated occupations in Israel. He collected taxes for Rome from his own people. And how did he earn his wages? From the taxes he collected. Zacchaeus added a little more to each Form 1040 to make sure he could pay his mortgage each month. Everyone knew the game. Tax collectors lived on the excess the received above that which Rome required. And that leads to the third problem for Zacchaeus.
The man was rich. In ancient times, Israel did reasonably well economically. Like any city, Jericho had its slums, its middle-class, and its wealthy. I picture Luke, a physician, one of the higher class in both our day and his, knew what rich looked like. Zacchaeus may have been Jericho's poster child for the wealthy.
That meant no one was going to let him through. He would not push his way past that mob to see the man called Jesus. He'd have to find another way. So he did. Luke tells us he ran down the road and found a tree to climb. Picture in your mind this middle-aged man in flowing robes running down the street, kicking off his sandals, and climbing a tree. Zacchaeus probably put on a few extra pounds since buying food wouldn't be a problem for him. So watch him in your mind's eye pulling his rotund body up those limbs to find the right spot where the branches wouldn't sag too far, but he'd get a good view of this miracle man.
Then imagine the surprise when Jesus stops under the tree. I expect most thought Jesus would ridicule this thief among them. He stole their money and gave it to their oppressors. They knew Jesus was about to let Zacchaeus have it. He preached righteousness and holiness, after all.
But that's not what Jesus did. Luke says, "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.'"
Stay at the house of the tax collector? Spend time with this thief? Make friends with someone who has tried his best to steal us blind through the years? Surely, not! But Jesus did. The crowd didn't applaud Jesus' action. They grumbled and complained. Why would the Prophet, the Teacher, the Rabbi, the Son of God, go to the house of a sinner? Why would he dirty himself by even being in this tax collector's presence? They were not happy. Zacchaeus was. Jesus was. The underdog won.
But the day turned in a rather strange way. After spending time with Jesus, the tax collector changed. He saw people the way Jesus saw people. Zacchaeus' focus shifted. Remember what happened? Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much."
Zacchaeus didn't think about what it might cost. He didn't pull out his calculator to see if he would still be rich or if his plan would put him in the poorhouse. He just did it. We're not told, but I expect Zacchaeus carried through with his promise. Meeting Jesus will do that to you.
Then Jesus says an interesting thing that you might not have caught before. Listen again. Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."
Did you get it? Salvation came through living out the commands Jesus gave us. There are only two. Love God and love your neighbor. Then Jesus told his disciples to make more like themselves. Teach them to love God and love their neighbors. Let them see faith demonstrated through love as James and Paul and Peter tell us. Zacchaeus did it and found salvation.
We can find salvation, too.
We forget about that horizontal beam of the cross, but Jesus says it's as important as the vertical one. He says you can't love God whom you can't see if you don't love those around you that you can see. Paul's letters and the other epistles tell us the same thing. Love other people and give us some examples of how to do that. Then, like Zacchaeus, we can find salvation. It's not about a works-based faith, but as James says and as Paul says, faith without works is no faith. Expressing your faith through your behavior driven by the love of Christ in you demonstrates your faith.
We need more of that demonstrated faith in our world today. We see plenty of hate and vengeance and revenge. What we need to see is love demonstrated - a cup of water for a thirsty child, a blanket for a cold and homeless woman, a small meal for a hungry man on the street. We need to show we love God by loving those around us who appear so unlovable.
That's what Jesus did, and that's what he calls us to do. Just love - with our actions. Be Jesus to the world around us. Now go and do what he said.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible-based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.
Scriptures marked NIV are taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (NIV): Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™. Used by permission of Zondervan