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A Man up a Tree

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
April 27, 2022 4:00 am

A Man up a Tree

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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April 27, 2022 4:00 am

What kind of people would you seek for your team or committee? Probably not “the least, the last, and the left out”—but Jesus does! Listen to Truth For Life with Alistair Begg to find out what happened when a despised tax collector encountered Jesus.



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If you were putting together a team or a committee, what kind of people would you be looking for? You probably wouldn't be looking for the least, or the last, or the left out. But that's exactly what Jesus did. And today on Truth for Life, we'll find out what happened when an unscrupulous, despised tax collector had an encounter with Jesus. Alistair Begg is teaching from Luke chapter 19, or in verses 1 through 10. Well, if you look carefully at the material that surrounds this, you will be aware of the fact that what Luke is providing us with here is a description of Jesus' last personal encounter before he arrives in Jerusalem. Back in chapter 5, Luke recorded the party at the house of Levi, who was also a tax collector. And on that occasion, Luke tells us that the religious authorities had complained about the way in which Jesus was apparently choosing his companions. And they had asked him, Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners? And on that occasion, Jesus had made it clear to them that, You don't go to the doctor unless you need him.

And once again here, in verse 10 of chapter 19, Luke summarizes for us the ministry of Jesus, For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Now, let's say just a word about the background here, in terms of, first of all, the place. The place itself was a desirable place—that is, Jericho. In the city of Jericho, there were four forts. There were the gardens of Archelaus. And the description of the place at that time was of waves of feathery palms, endless stretches of rose gardens, large, sweet-scented, balsam plantations behind the royal gardens, and perfume carried on the breeze—perhaps the key to why it was called Jericho, which actually means perfumed. Its climate was wonderful too. Even in the winter, the residents could only bear the lightest of clothing on their backs. It was a strategic place on the caravan route from Damascus to Arabia.

It was both a military center as well as a commercial center. And so the population was diverse. It is trying to get a sense of the vibrancy of it and the dimensions of it, and the way in which, if we had from a vantage point looked down on it, we'd have seen life going on, all of the bits and pieces of life—families gathering for breakfast and people going out to work and coming home again and asking questions of their children. And in the midst of all of that, this little man whom we're about to meet. For the procession as it came through town was a matter of significance—not just this procession, but any procession. Jericho was the last station on the road that was taken by festive pilgrims from Galilee and Perea on their way up to Jerusalem. And it was the custom for the townsfolk when a festive band came through to go out in order to greet them, perhaps to sell to them if they were trading, to catch an opportunity of purchasing from them things that couldn't be purchased in Jericho, to welcome them and to watch, and hopefully to encourage some of them to spend a night with them in order that they might get revenue from that. In the crowds, there would be men who wondered about who would be there, and particularly this procession, insofar as the word would have preceded them, that included in this group was none other than Jesus of Nazareth. And so there would be those who would be wondering, having heard something of Jesus, whether he would speak, whether he would perform a miracle. Will he teach us one of his parables? Will he be the guest of one of the leading religious or social figures?

And of all the possibilities in the minds of the citizens, probably none, although maybe one, had the farthest notion of what was about to take place. They were introduced to Zacchaeus. He entered Jericho and was passing through, and behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. Ironically, his name means the just or the pure. His mom and dad had taken him and said, Let's call him Zacchaeus.

Let's pray that he will be the embodiment of his name, that he will be just and for justice, that he will be pure, that he will be righteous. It's an amazing irony, isn't it, in light of what we know of him, in light of the way in which he had been running his life. Because we're told that he was a chief tax collector.

In other words, the way in which the system worked, you could, in the kind of multiplicatory, exponential growth factor that was built in to the duplicity and the bribery that was part of it, you could really line your nest if you were a tax collector, but particularly if you had risen to be a chief tax collector. Now, the disrepute in which these folks were held is really significant, and those of us who are Second World War buffs might be able to get close to it by realizing that Zacchaeus and his kind were as hated as Nazi collaborators in occupied France. That's the extent of the disdain for this character in the population. It's not that he was parking his car opposite somebody's driveway and annoying them. It's not that he had a dog that was barking in the middle of the night. It's not that his children were kicking balls up on the roof of the next-door neighbors.

There's nothing superficial like that at all. It's a deep-seated hatred of this kind of individual and of what he represented in terms of lining his own nest at the expense of his own people. His disrepute is hard to quantify. He had a house, probably a nice one. He had a job, a despised job.

He had money. He was small, and he had a desire that he wanted to see Jesus. That in itself is of significance, because not everybody wants to see Jesus. But this little man was seeking to see who Jesus was. He went to his bed that night, presumably, and he said, you know, when he set out his clothes for the morning, and he put his shoes under his bed, he said, when I get up in the morning, I'm going to get up pronto. I'm going to go see who this Jesus person is.

I may at least get a glimpse of him tomorrow. I wonder why. It possibly was simply curiosity. He's a curious kind of person. He doesn't want to miss much.

He's probably not the kind of individual that wants to be behind the trends. Curiosity. Or it might have been connection. Maybe a connection, a tenuous connection, but one nevertheless.

With Levi, the word may have gone right through the system, the tax collectors and publican system, that one of their own had actually been hosting a big party at his house for none other than Jesus of Nazareth. And that would have made them nudge one another and wonder. Perhaps it was that connection. Perhaps it was his conscience. Perhaps when he laid in his bed at night, and he realized exactly what he was doing, he tried to explain it away, but he couldn't. And his conscience kept accusing him. Perhaps he laid in his bed, and he said, you know, I can't keep on like this.

I'm going to have to make a change. Was it conscience? Was it compassion? Was it the fact that the word that had spread concerning Jesus was that he was so unlike the religious fellows who were always picking faults, who were always finding everything wrong, and the word was out that this Jesus was a compassionate soul, that he had time for individuals, that in point of fact he seemed to go for the least likely individual, that he was always looking for the person who was at the end of the line. He was looking for the left out individual.

He hadn't come just looking for cheerleaders and quarterbacks. In fact, he didn't really seem to be very concerned with those folks. Maybe it was compassion.

Maybe it was companionship. He'd heard that Jesus had become a friend to many. Indeed, they had said of him that he was a friend of sinners. That was the bum rap that he got, that he was a friend of sinners. Well, the Pharisees didn't like that. That was a matter of disdaining them. But for a sinner, he's a friend to sinners. That's why when you go back to Luke chapter 15, as the story of the lost coin and the lost sheep and the lost boys, it starts off by saying that all the Pharisees were muttering, and the sinners were coming to hear what he had to say. Well, he wouldn't have had very many friends, would he, except his own kind.

The longing for friendship. On a superficial level, he would have said, there he goes. There he goes into his big house. There he goes with all of his cash.

There he goes with all of his apparent influence. And on the outside, it must have looked okay. But on the inside, all of that superficial stuff could not compensate for the fact that his feet never actually went down onto a solid foundation. There was no rock beneath him that could sustain him. All of that, and more besides, presumably, is wrapped up in his longing to see Jesus.

Somewhere inside of this wee man, there was a deep, nameless, irresistible urge to meet Jesus. But he was hindered. He was actually as hindered as the blind man who had been calling out. The blind man couldn't see. Neither could Zacchaeus. He couldn't see for a different reason. But he was a determined little character. He wouldn't have done as well in business if he hadn't been.

And he cast aside all restraint, we're told, in this well-known account. He ran ahead, small in stature, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him. You know, that's not what you're supposed to do. You know, can you imagine if the local bank manager in your small town, in Shugram Falls in Ohio, when we had the Memorial Day Parade, and everybody's just come in with their lawn chairs and everything else, and the local bank manager starts climbing up a lamppost in the middle of the town. And the people are looking around, saying, what is Mr. Jenkins doing up there? Well, apparently, he hasn't been able to see this last little while, and he thought if he would climb up there. People say, that looks absolutely ridiculous to me. I mean, how important is it for him to see?

And someone says, apparently, it's very important. Because, you know, his friends must have been saying, man, Zacchaeus has apparently lost his mind. He climbs up into the wide, welcoming branches of the sycamore tree. The only road that Jesus can take is the road that he is on. He's coming. Zacchaeus is waiting. There he is.

The scene is set. So he ran ahead, climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up. First of all, he came to the place. That's remarkable in itself, isn't it? I mean, there are a lot of places he could have stopped, presumably, but he stops in that place.

You'd almost think it was planned, wouldn't you? Zacchaeus must have been freaked out just by that himself. He said, can you believe this? The procession stops. It's like, you know, when the president comes or something, and you go and you stand in the street, and the cavalcade stops right where you are. You go, can you believe this?

It stopped right here. That's Zacchaeus. He's looking down now at the head of Jesus, saying to himself, this is fantastic.

This is more than I hoped for. I thought I might be able to see him. And then he says, oh, he's looking at me. And he looked up.

All those faces, all those eyes at eye level. But he looks up. And then he says, Zacchaeus. Well, Zacchaeus must have almost fallen out of the tree at that point.

Because after all, when he went to bed the previous night, he was hoping for a glimpse. Now he's involved in a conversation. Now it's as though they had agreed to meet at this tree. It's as if all of eternity had planned this moment. It's as if God, in his inestimable plan of salvation, had determined that in this moment, and at this place, and at this tree, a divine encounter would take place. That's exactly what was happening. That's exactly what was happening.

That is what is always happening. Some of you can remember a place where you met Christ. Might even have been here.

It's precious to you, and understandably so. Here, Jesus stops and addresses the least likely to be noticed. He's hidden up in a tree. The most hindered in coming on account of his stature, and yet the most concerned of all to see Jesus. Well, it just reinforces what the gospel writer is telling us, that Jesus is committed to seeking out the least and the last and the left out. Throngs in the street and one up the tree. Wonder of wonders.

Miracle of miracles. Who's looking for who in this story? You got it. He says, hurry up and get down, for I'm going to stay at your house today. I must stay at your house today. Why must he stay at his house today? The answer is in verse 10, isn't it? So he hurried and came down. I don't know how high up he was. So he hurried and came down.

It's interesting. How do you hurry down? Anyway, he came down the tree. Boom, he's down the tree. And he received him joyfully. Says Edersheim, and Edersheim's book on Jesus is just absolutely super.

It's hundreds of pages, but he writes as a converted Jew, and does so with great insight. Here's just one of his sentences concerning the fact that he hurried and came down the tree. Edersheim says, in that dim twilight of the new day, and at this new creation, the angels sang, and the sons of God shouted together. And all was melody and harmony in his heart. Nothing was as yet clear to him, but all was joyous in his soul. And then the murmurs, the grumblers, begin in verse 7. And when they saw it, they all praised God. No, they all grumbled.

They all grumbled. Back to the same old story. We just don't get it. Why does he keep hanging around with these same wretched, sinful people? Now, we have no record of the private conversation between Jesus and Zacchaeus in the home. Verse 8 tells us of the transformation which gives evidence of the new life that is now his. The whole current of his life has been turned.

The robber has become the giver. And so Jesus says, if you want to know what has happened here today, salvation has come to this house. Zacchaeus had not found purpose in his life, right? He didn't need purpose in his life. His purpose in his life was absolutely clear.

Get as much as you can get by whatever underhanded means you need to use in order to satisfy your wretched soul. That was the purpose in his life. So Jesus, in the privacy of the conversation, obviously didn't have a conversation with him about, are you feeling a little lost, Zacchaeus, or are you feeling purposeless, Zacchaeus, whatever? No, no, no, no. No, he probably said to Zacchaeus, he said, let's just take the law of God for a moment.

Let's just start with what you know. Have you loved the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength? And have you loved your neighbor as yourself? Zacchaeus would have said, no, I absolutely have not. And he said to him, well, you see, what you need, Zacchaeus, is not purpose. It is salvation. Now, let me tell you, when you speak to your friends, you've got to make sure that you don't get yourself hung up on that felt-need journey, because there's nowhere to go from there.

You must stick with explaining the gospel. If you simply say to people, well, are you missing a little purpose in your life? The guy says, purpose in my life? Let me show you my diary for the next six months. I've got purpose coming out of my ears. Well, are you feeling unfulfilled? No, no. My wife is fantastic, and my kids are average, and the job's okay.

No. So where are you going to go with this? Oh, I was going to tell you, if you said you had no purpose, I could tell you about purpose. If you said you were unfulfilled, then I could tell you. Or you could tell him that you've got Jesus in your heart, but he may say to you that he's got Buddha in his heart. And then what are you going to do then? Then you're going to have to say, well, one Jesus equals two Buddhas. You know, and say, well, no, Jesus is this. You're at sea.

You're immediately at sea. That's why we've got to use the Bible to explain the gospel to our friends, and first we need to understand it for ourselves. It is the law of God that convicts us of our sin, of our brokenness, of the fact that we have engaged substitute gods. You see, Zacchaeus had broken the first commandment.

He loved something other than God much more. And Jesus had come to deal with that. Salvation has come to his house. It's wonderful, isn't it? I look forward to meeting Zacchaeus, all being well.

You do, too. Remember that song from Sunday school? You have heard of little Moses in the bulrush?

You have heard of fearless David and his sling? You have heard the story told of dreaming Joseph? And of Jonah and the whale I often sing?

There are many, many others in the Bible. I should like to meet them all, I do declare, and by and by the Lord will surely let us meet them at that meeting in the air, because there's going to be a meeting in the air in the sweet, sweet by and by. And I'm going to meet you, meet you over there in that home beyond the sky, and such singing you will hear, never ever heard by mortal ear. It'll be glorious, I do declare, and God's own Son will be the leading one in the meeting in the air. And if somehow or another we can all get together, we will have one evening we'll have with Nicodemus, another evening we'll have with the guy who was on the bed, another evening we'll have with the woman of the well, see how good looking she really is, and it'll just be fantastic. Will you be there by grace, through faith, because you met Jesus up a tree, on a bed, in the night, at the well?

It's what it's all about. It is a divine encounter with Jesus that can transform a greedy, self-centered crook into a generous giver. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg.

Alistair will be back in just a minute. Alistair just mentioned we need to understand and use the Bible to explain the Gospel to others. That's why at Truth for Life, we teach directly from the pages of Scripture. In fact, our mission is to open the Bible every day so you can better understand what God's Word says and how it relates to your daily life. We do this, of course, with God's help.

We trust in His Spirit to work to convert unbelievers, to establish those who already believe, and to encourage pastors to teach the Scriptures faithfully. So along these lines, we hope you have grown in your relationship with Jesus as you listen to Truth for Life. Now if you have yet to request the book we've been talking about recently, titled Saints and Scoundrels, it's available for a few more days. The author is Nancy Guthrie and she helps us get to know some of the people in the Gospels as more than simply Bible characters. She also shows us how Jesus extended grace and forgiveness to each of them. Request your copy of the book Saints and Scoundrels when you give a donation to support the ministry of Truth for Life.

To give, click on the image in the mobile app or visit us online at truthforlife.org slash donate. Now here's Alistair to close with prayer. Father, thank you. Thank you that the Son of Man came to seek and to save those that were lost. And when I was lost, you came and rescued me, reached down into the pit and lifted me. O God, such grace. I am as loved by you as I could be.

You know all the things I've ever done, and yet your blood has canceled everyone. O God, such grace to qualify me as your own. We thank you for the wonderful good news of the gospel. Thank you that in each of these little vignettes we see fresh evidences of your loving, initiative-taking grace, and the necessity of repentance and faith and belief. What a difference it must have made for Zacchaeus then to open his home.

All of that stuff, even when he'd given it away, he probably had plenty left, plenty to share, plenty to enjoy, plenty to have sanctified by the amazing goodness of God. So then help us to respond accordingly as the Spirit of God works within our hearts, so that on that day when we stand before you, we may do so unashamed, clothed in a righteousness that we don't deserve, imputed to us in Christ himself. For we pray in his name. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. Hope you can join us tomorrow. We'll hear about a dramatic act of devotion that incurred both admiration and astonishment. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-26 11:41:08 / 2023-04-26 11:50:15 / 9

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