OUT ON A LIMB
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2000
Jesus was going through the city of Jericho. A man was there named Zacchaeus, who was a very important tax collector, and he was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but he was not able because he was too short to see above the crowd. He ran ahead to a place where Jesus would come, and he climbed a sycamore tree so he could see him. When Jesus came to that place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down! I must stay at your house today.” Luke 19:1-5 (NCV)
Have you ever wanted something so bad that you didn’t care how silly you looked, you would do anything to get it? I have seen the most reserved, unassuming people turn into raving idiots just to win some silly radio contest or get a cheerleader to throw them a little plastic football after their high school team scored a touchdown.
Wait a minute! I’ve done some goofy stuff like that, too. Last Summer, while on vacation, my wife and I were with some friends watching a live song-and-dance show. At the end of the performance the actors threw these cheap little plastic necklaces into the crowd. My friend and I just had to have one and we didn’t care whose back we had to jump on to get it. We were right there with hundreds of other semi-intelligent adults jumping up and down, waving, trying to get our commemorative necklace.
Before you roll your eyes at my immaturity, ‘fess up! I bet you’ve done something like that, too. Maybe it was a pie-eating or a watermelon seed spitting contest. But you wanted that t-shirt or whatever the prize was and didn’t mind making a spectacle of yourself to get it.
At least Zacchaeus wanted something with a bit more substance. He wanted more than anything to get a look at Jesus. He had heard of His reputation for befriending unlikely people. He knew that Jesus was known for cavorting with publicans and sinners. That was one of the chief raps on Him and one reason the Pharisees despised Him so. Li’l Z had probably also heard that Jesus changed people just like himself. Matthew, a former publican, was one of Jesus’ loyal followers. Had Zacchaeus and Matthew been friends? They were at least professional associates.
Zacchaeus had amassed a fortune, but he had done it at the expense of his own people. He had done it by over-taxing them and pocketing the profits. He, no doubt, had a huge self-image problem. It was hard for him to face himself. He was not proud of who he was or what he was doing. He wanted a change. But he somehow knew that the change had to come from within. Something had to happen in his life that would make him a different person. That was where Jesus would come in. If only he could see this Stranger from Galilee. If only he could talk with him.
When Jesus came to Jericho it was at the height of His popularity. People were curious. They went out in droves to see the miracle-working Rabbi . The crowd was large and Zacchaeus was not. He was a little fellow. Most of the time that might not have bothered him so much. He could hide in the crowd and not be noticed. He was, after all, more unpopular than the average IRS auditor. Better not to be seen. Maybe that was how he lived his life. But not on this day. This day he didn’t care who knew. He didn’t care who saw. He didn’t care how ridiculous he looked. He was going to see Jesus. So, he climbed a tree. This grown man, this wealthy tax collector, hiked up his robe, kicked off his sandals, and began hoisting his diminutive frame up a Sycamore.
Now, let me ask you another question. when was the last time you were so desperate for a word from God, so hungry for His touch, that you did not care how you looked to anyone else, you just had to get God’s attention?
I have not often had people interrupt my sermons, but a fellow did once when I pastored in California. I was preaching on salvation and this man none of us knew had quietly sneaked in to the sanctuary and sat himself on the back pew. About halfway through my sermon, he got up and timidly walked to the front of the church, folded his hands in front of him, and stood there with his head bowed. I was a young preacher and didn’t know exactly what I should do. Neither did any of my deacons or ushers. I stopped speaking, looked at the man and then at my head usher. Then, I said, “Excuse me a moment, folks.” I stepped around the pulpit, down the platform steps and in front of the man.
“What can I do for you, sir?” I asked.
“I need to be born again,” he answered.
I motioned for a deacon. He took the man to another room and led him to Christ. What a powerful moment that was! That man didn’t care that he had interrupted a worship service. He did not care that a congregation of strangers was watching him and wondering what was wrong with him. He only cared that Jesus was passing by and he wanted to see him.
That fellow and Zacchaeus are exceptions. Too often, a pastor will see a person grip the pew in front of him, knuckles white, head down, jaw set, and resist the urge to move toward God. He wants to see God. But he doesn’t want anyone to know it. see His desire for anonymity is greater than his desire for divinity. That is tragic.
I urge you today to understand that when God is moving in your life it is not a time to be self-conscious. If God is moving you to witness to a friend or co-worker, to teach a junior boys’ Sunday school class, to surrender to the gospel ministry, to kneel at an altar during a public invitation, don’t resist! If you do, you just might miss out on the greatest opportunity of your life. Jesus might pass you by when He really wanted to go home with you and change your life forever.
I know. You don’t want to be a fanatic. You don’t want anyone to think you have gone overboard on religious stuff. But, why not? Don’t be so afraid of going out on a religious limb that you never get up the tree.
A Prayer For Today: “Lord Jesus, help me to lose my self-conscious approach to Christianity. If you can hang in open shame before a jeering crowd for me, I can put up with a few sideways glances for you. Give me holy boldness, Lord, I pray. Amen.”