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When Jesus Invites Himself To Your House for Dinner (mp3)
1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ ”
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.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:1-10 NIV
A Great Story and A Couple of Songs
Isn’t this a great story? When I was in the Beginner Department, I learned this song:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
And a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree,
For the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Lord was passing by,
He looked up in the tree,
And he said,
Zacchaeus, come down,
For I’m going to your house today!
This is one of those Bible stories that has something for everyone. If you’re short, it’s the story of the perserverance of a short guy, Zacchaeus, and the difficulty he had trying to see Jesus. Short people, like myself, are still smarting from Randy Newman’s hit song, Short People back in the 1980s. The lyrics went like this —
Short people got nobody,
Short people got nobody,
Short people go nobody
I am told that Randy Newman wrote that song to show how wrong prejudice of any kind is, but as you can imagine, not everybody got the joke and lots of people were offended by it, short and tall. Apparently, being short still has it’s difficulties. I found a website, Short Person’s Support, that among other things, has the Who’s Who of Short People, listing 300 famous short people in history.
If you’re a kid, you know exactly how Zacchaeus felt. You’re too short to see over adults, so you’ve got to get a good vantage point, preferably higher up than anybody else, so you can see what’s going on. So, Zacchaeus climbed a tree, which always has appeal to little kids.
But if being short wasn’t bad enough, in this story, we not only have a short man, we have a short man who was a tax collector. Double-whammy. Short and a cheat — not a good combination.
But there was something different about this short guy. He wanted to see Jesus. Despite his stature, despite his shady dealings, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus.
Why? We don’t know. Maybe Zacchaeus had heard that Jesus healed people. Maybe Zacchaeus heard that Jesus fed people. Maybe Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was standing up to the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders, and he thought Jesus was taking up for the underdogs of society like himself. Maybe Zacchaeus heard that Jesus said some really unusual things about the kingdom of God — how the kingdom of God was right here, right now. Zacchaeus, for whatever reason, wanted to see Jesus.
If you’ve ever been in a crowd that was not well organized or managed, you have some idea of the crowd that Zacchaeus tried to make his way into that day. The word was out that Jesus was coming. Maybe some boys or young men had come running down the road shouting, “Rabbi Jesus is coming!” Today, that probably wouldn’t gather a crowd, but you’ve got to transport yourself back to the first century.
Life in Jesus’ day was hard. Days were long, people worked hard and diversions from the drudgery of work and the difficulties of everyday life were few. Villages were small and everyone knew everybody’s business. The woman at the well is an example of that. So, when the word spreads that Jesus is coming, I’m sure that many stopped what they were doing to catch a glimpse of this man, this enigma, who might free them from the oppression of the Roman system and the corruption of their leaders. After all, that’s what messiahs did, if he was the messiah.
The Significance of the Sycamore Tree
Here’s another interesting thing: the sycamore tree. This tree was probably ficus sycomorus, a rather large fig tree. This type of sycamore grew to be about 60-feet tall and had a canopy about 18-feet wide. So, it was a big tree. The tree was cultivated for its fruit (although not as good as some varieties of fig); and its timber (Egyptian mummies were buried in coffins of sycamore). This type sycamore is called The Queen of Trees in Africa because it provides shelter and food for creatures as large as the gray hornbill, Africa’s largest bird, to small wasps who help polinate the trees, and who in turn are sustained by the sycamore fruit.
The sycamore tree is mentioned a couple of other times in the Bible in Amos and Jeremiah. The Amos passage is particularly interesting, and has shadows of the coming of the messiah in it. It’s the story of God reaching out to save the people of Israel, despite the difficulties that are coming their way. Here’s what Amos says:
1 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: He was preparing swarms of locusts after the king’s share had been harvested and just as the second crop was coming up. 2 When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”
3 So the LORD relented.
“This will not happen,” the LORD said.
4 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: The Sovereign LORD was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the land. 5 Then I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”
6 So the LORD relented.
“This will not happen either,” the Sovereign LORD said.
7 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”
“A plumb line,” I replied.
Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.
9 “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed
and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”
12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”
14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
Do you hear the portents of Jesus and Zacchaeus there? Amos pleads for God to forgive Jacob, meaning Israel, because “He is so small!” And God does forgive, but places a plumbline in the midst of his people to show them what is straight and true. Then, God promises that the high places and sanctuaries where improper worship is carried on will be destroyed. In 70 AD, the Roman legions will overrun Jerusalem, destroy the city and the Temple, and leave it desolate. The nation will again go into exile, not to return until 1948 when the political state of Israel is established. And all this prophesied by a keeper of sycamore trees, Amos. Now, I’m not saying there is a point-for-point parallel in the story of Amos and the story of Zacchaeus, but Jesus knew the Amos story and all the elements in the story of Zacchaeus, shadow the Old Testament prophet Amos. Those with “ears to hear” would understand and relate the two stories.
In the Zacchaeus story, then, there is a warning and a connection with the Old Testament prophets. And, remember where Jesus is headed — to Jerusalem to fulfill his destiny, to make his sacrifice, to redeem the nation.
Dinner Conversation with Jesus
But there’s more to this story, too. I really like the part of the story where Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus had not planned on dinner guests, especially Jesus. But he quickly responds, swings gingerly down from his perch in the sycamore tree, and leads Jesus to his house.
We have what they call in the film industry a flash-forward. Actually, I don’t know if they call it that, but the point is the scene changes and Zacchaeus is talking, perhaps after they’ve had dinner. Perhaps after he’s heard Jesus talk about the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps after Zacchaeus has had the chance to ask Jesus a lot of questions, like — “Is there any hope for me?” or “Everybody hates me, what should I do?” or “How can I help you?”
We don’t know what the questions were, but we know Zacchaeus’ answer. “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.”
“Here and now” — Zacchaeus isn’t waiting, he’s acting. “Here,” in his own home. “Now,” while the crowd is still peering in the windows. Not later, not tomorrow, not after he calculates what he can afford to give. “Here and now, I give half my possessions to the poor.” But wait, there’s more — “…and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” If? Of course he’s cheated people. Of course he’s overcollected. Everybody knows that, even Zacchaeus. It’s the way the system works. It’s expected, anticipated, complained about, but ultimately complied with. So, there really is no uncertainty in Zacchaeus “if.” This is Zacchaeus’ way of saying, in a very eastern manner, “Okay, I’ve cheated a lot of you, but today I’m going to make it right.”
And there it is — real repentance — a turning around, a change of direction, an embrace of the kingdom of heaven here. Zacchaeus is caring for the poor. Jesus said when you do that — feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned — you do it to Him. It’s the new kingdom ethic, the new way to live life. And, the rest of it is — Turn the other cheek, treat others as you want to be treated, love your neighbor as yourself — all of those things that perhaps Jesus and Zacchaeus had a chance to talk about over dinner.
Entering the Kingdom
And so after Zacchaeus publicly repents — because repentance is the first step in embracing the kingdom — Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
Salvation has come to this house — this house owned and occupied by a sinner — because Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham, too. And what makes him a son of Abraham? Not just his birth, although that is the physical reason Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham. No, it’s his rebirth. It’s Zacchaeus willingness, like Abraham, to follow God into a new kingdom. A land, like Abraham, that he’s never seen. A kingdom that is not like this world, but for now is in this world. Salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house because it is now an outpost of the kingdom of heaven, managed by kingdom ethics, and one more piece of the puzzle where God is making all things new.
What happens when Jesus invites himself to dinner at your house? You get the opportunity to repent, to turn around, to embrace the kingdom, to become a son or daughter of Abraham. Because Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost.
Jesus Has Invited Himself to This Dinner Table
Today we gather around the table to which Jesus invited himself 2,000 years ago. It is the table of fellowship. And if there were crowds looking in these windows today, as surely they must have looked into Zacchaeus’ windows with great curiosity, the people in the crowd would say, “Jesus is sitting at the table with sinners.” For we are all sinners, lost like Zacchaeus in a world that is the polar-opposite of the kingdom of God.
But as we come to this table today, we can say with Zacchaeus — “Here, now I’m turning around.” “Here, now I embrace the kingdom of heaven and will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, minister to the prisoners, treat others as I want to be treated, turn the other cheek, love my neighbor as myself.” All part of loving God and loving each other. All part of the kingdom of God. Here. Now. In this moment.
And we will hear Jesus say, “Today, salvation has come to this house for these are children of Abraham, too!”