In this series we are going to be covering the basic journey of faith that Jesus calls each of us to. Whether you have been on the journey for a lifetime, or you are taking your first steps, or even if you are somewhere in-between, a relationship with Jesus has its foundation in the simple Gospel truth that ‘God loves you’.
But why does God love us? Why me, why you, why any of us? To unpack the answer to that whopping big question, we’re going to start with how God knows us.
Zac’s Story – Luke 19:1-10 (NIV)
The Story of Zacchaeus (let’s call him Zac, it’s much easier to spell) is one that some of you might have heard before. It often comes up in children’s bible stories: Zac, who is detested by others because of his job, wants to see this ‘Jesus’ guy he’s heard so much about, and so he goes to an extreme (you could say out on a limb) just to catch a glimpse. What he wasn’t expecting was for Jesus to see him…
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 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.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Lets Unpack It
Zac was notorious among the people of Jericho. Tax collectors were despised by the Jewish people and seen as traitors. These people were living in an occupied land, the Romans had conquered their country and now the Jewish people were living under the strict control of a foreign empire. The taxes they had to pay went to this empire, to the army that treated them with brutality and to its emperor seated in Rome far away. But those who collected taxes for the Romans were mostly Jews themselves. They took from their fellow countrymen and gave it to those whom they detested the most. What made things worse is, they would over-charge and keep some of the money for themselves, cheating their neighbours out of what little they had.
But Zac wasn’t just a run of the mill tax collector – he was the chief tax collector, and Luke (the author of this story) makes a point that he was very wealthy. So now we understand a bit more why Zac was hated so much, and why it’s quite surprising that despite this, he still goes out among the crowd to catch a glimpse of this guy everyone was talking about.
But poor Zac; he’s so short he can’t see anything over the crowd! Yet so desperate is his desire to see Jesus, he climbs a tree to just catch a glimpse. Again, here is the chief tax collector, a wealthy man in a prominent role, forgetting all his dignity and climbing a tree like a little kid just to look at someone. I can’t help but picture a crazed fan doing anything they can to catch a glimpse of One Direction or Justin Beiber!
But as Jesus is walking below the tree he looks up and says “Zacchaeus, come down…”
Jesus calls him by name. He doesn’t ask for it; the bible doesn’t say someone pointed out ‘the short guy in the tree’. Jesus just knew Zac was there. He knew who he was, he knew what he did for a living and he knew what needed to happen next. “… I must stay at your house today.”
There is an urgency that Jesus has to stay with Zac. But why? The crowd doesn’t understand it and they start talking; “He’s staying at his place?…the house of a sinner?…Doesn’t Jesus know who this guy is?” Yes, Jesus knows exactly who Zacchaeus is. He knows exactly what he is doing, and its effect on Zacchaeus’ life is powerful.
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.”
Zac is a changed man! He makes a drastic public announcement about how he is going to change his life. And watching this, the people all see what happens to someone when Jesus calls them by name.
You’ve Got A Friend In Me
“Jesus knows you, one by one, personally. He knows your name. He follows you, accompanies you, walk’s with you every day. He participates in your joys and consoles you in the moments of grief and sadness. Jesus is the friend we cannot do without when we have met him.”
– Saint John-Paul II
Saint John Paul II spoke these words to a group who were about to receive their first Holy Communion (the bread and wine Catholics receive at Mass). For these young people at the beginning of their personal journey with Jesus, he thought it was crucial that they hear this truth: ‘Jesus knows you, one by one, personally.’
Zac experienced this same, deep, intimate knowledge. When Jesus looked up and called him by name there was a power in it that caused Zacchaeus to become a changed man. Jesus is still doing the same today in the lives of people like you and me, all around the world.
And guess what? It’s still having the same effect.
Q. WAS CHRIST HIS SURNAME? Why is Jesus sometimes called ‘Jesus’ and sometimes ‘Christ’?
A. The word Christ comes from the Greek “Christos” which means ‘Anointed One’. The Hebrew word “Messiah” also means Anointed One. In biblical times, only priests, kings and prophets were anointed with sacred oil – but Jesus was anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit. Calling Jesus ‘the Christ’ means that He is the One ‘anointed with the Spirit’ – the Saviour sent from God. So yeah, it's not his surname!