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“To Seek and Save”

Luke 19:1-10
Bob DeGray
July 18, 2010

Key Sentence

Jesus came near to seek and save.


I. The Incarnational Savior (Luke 19:1-7)
II. The Missional Savior (Luke 19:8-10)


For decades, generations, centuries, churches have had banners, often invisible, that have proclaimed their enthusiasms. In the Reformation these banners included the phrases Sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone"); Sola fide ("by faith alone"); Sola gratia ("by grace alone"). We still stand these banners. Later entries were more theological: we’re a Reformed church, Calvinist; we’re a Weslayan church; Arminian.

In more recent years banners have often been about how we do church: we’re a Bible church; we’re a full gospel church; or more recently we’re a seeker church; we’re a purpose driven church. Churches have banners. Here at Trinity one of our banners has always been that we’re Scripture focused; we believe and teach the word of God; another of our banners has been that we are ordinary people with an extraordinary God.

In today’s church there is a growing movement for reform and change which can broadly be labeled the emergent movement. Emerging churches come in many varieties, some Biblically solid, some questionable. But among the more Biblical concepts associated with the emergent movement are two banner concepts I want to explore this morning: missional and incarnational.

Let me give brief, working definitions of these two banner words. Incarnational means being Jesus to others. Just as God so loved a fallen sinful world that he sent his Son into it to save it, just as the word became flesh and lived among us, so we are to become like Jesus and live among the people of a sinful fallen world. ‘Missional’ means we don’t follow Jesus for our sakes, but we’re ‘on mission’ in our lives, living out the heart desires of God, bringing the good news of Jesus to others. In the contemporary church, whole websites are devoted to explaining and illustrating these terms: people like Michael Frost and Francis Chan speak around the world, calling people to missional and incarnational living. And though I’m concerned about parts of the emergent movement, and don’t agree with every attitude affirmed under these banners, I believe these two terms reflect solid Biblical truth.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us that “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is the light of the world; we are the light of the world only to the extent that we reflect his light, bringing it into the dark places around us. So the best place to see incarnational and missional is in the life of the incarnate Son of God. I could chose almost any Gospel text to show these things, since Jesus’ whole ministry was spent carrying out the Father’s mission. But I’ve chosen a passage in which Jesus himself tells us the mission of his incarnation: he came to seek and save. Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'"

8But 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." 9Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

Jesus was passing through Jericho on his way up to Jerusalem. In Luke 18 Jesus told the disciples “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. 33On the third day he will rise again.” So Jesus is fully aware of his mission in the broadest sense, and yet he still takes the time to interact with individuals and to show compassion along the way.

Passing through Jericho, Jesus, the disciples and the crowd encounter Zacchaeus. His name is from a Hebrew word meaning pure or righteous, but this man had not been pure or righteous. As ‘chief’ tax collector he was the head of the local taxing unit in Jericho, a wealthy center of trade and industry.

The way tax collectors became rich was to tax as much as they could, and then give whatever they had to to Rome. For Zacchaeus there would be double bounty, because he’d get a cut from all the other tax collectors in the district.

So it’s no surprise Zacchaeus was rich. The flip side was he couldn’t have been popular. Tax collectors were considered the worst sort of people, despised because they were greedy and unfair, ripping off their own people in order to gain favor with the Gentile oppressors. Zacchaeus would have been probably the most evil man in town, not befriended by anybody.

But what kind of person is this in the privacy of his own soul? He is outcast, he’s despised, he’s made to feel worthless despite his wealth. I suspect he is very lonely, hurting for a friend who cared for something other than his money. Maybe at one time he’d been hard-hearted toward God and others, coldly pursuing self interest. But it seems clear from this account that he’d reached the end of that road and found it meaningless. As so many others have, before and since, he found seeking satisfaction in wealth to be a dead end.

So Zacchaeus did the only thing he could: he started seeking something else. Verse 3 says ‘He sought to see who Jesus was.’ It’s an interesting phrase. He didn’t just want to see Jesus - he wanted to see who Jesus was. Perhaps he’d heard that Jesus was a friend to tax collectors and sinners. Perhaps he’d heard of his miracles, or his compassion. He wanted to see for himself this man he had heard of, wanted to see if just maybe Jesus held the answer to his troubled heart, if Jesus could bring into his life some meaning and healing.

The attraction of this incarnate Son of god is so great that Zacchaeus probably goes further than even he expected to seek him. Zacchaeus is short, and the crowd is large, and nobody particularly wants to let the town’s biggest sinner get to the front. But he was resourceful; he ran ahead and “climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.” The sycamore fig tree is not a sycamore tree at all, but a ficus, a true fig tree, though the fruit is smaller and less sweet than familiar figs. It still grows in Israel, where the wood has long been used for caskets. It’s an easy tree to climb.

Verse 5: When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." Jesus knew Zacchaeus was there, looked up at him and called him by name. This may be a miraculous knowledge, as in the case of Nathanael in the book of John. Or maybe Jesus knew of him, or overheard who this fellow was in the tree.

Jesus commands him to come down immediately - to waste no time about it. Jesus assumes authority in this man’s life, and tells Zacchaeus “I must stay at your house today.” The word ‘must’ translates a common Greek word ‘dei,’ which can also be translated ‘it is necessary’. It is often used to indicate the divine necessity placed upon Jesus.

For example, in Luke 2 Jesus says to his parents “Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I must be in my Father's house?” Again, in Luke 9, Jesus announces his crucifixion “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” It is a necessary part of the incarnation. In a similar way the stop at Zacchaeus’ house is a necessary part of the incarnation: the Savior must seek the seeker.

Zacchaeus does what Jesus asks, verse 6: he comes down and goes with Jesus to his own house. This is the heart of incarnational ministry, specially as taught in the contemporary movement: just as Jesus came to a sinful world and went where the needs were greatest, so we are called to a sinful world to incarnate, live out, flesh out, the life of Jesus where the needs are greatest.

So the proponents of incarnational and missional ministry challenge our comfort zone. They critique the fortress mentality of the traditional church, and the attractional model that says if we just do church well people will show up. They claim church is not effective when it isolates itself from the world, seeking safety, instead of being salt and light. Francis Chan, for example, says “I found that the American church is a difficult place to fit if you want to live out New Testament Christianity. The goals of American Christianity are often a nice marriage, children who don’t swear, and good attendance. Taking the words of Christ literally and seriously is rarely considered.”

Now I hope that’s not as true of us as it is of some churches, but it is definitely a tension, one we have to deal with. Are we a hospital where people can come to find healing? Or are we a forward aid station where corpsmen go out and find the wounded? Or maybe we are supposed to be something of both.. I believe the team that is in Slovakia this morning is attempting to live out the life of Jesus in the English camps. In a different but still powerful way, the people who sat in several hospitals with Laura Pinard were living out the love of Jesus where it could be seen.

The same tension we feel as we wrestle with the concept of incarnational ministry is seen in our text. As Jesus and Zacchaeus went to his house, “all the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'" In previous chapters it was the Pharisees who accused Jesus of dining with sinners, but now the whole crowd is of the same opinion. To them a tax collector is quite simply ‘a sinful man’, and for Jesus to stay in such a person’s home was virtually the same thing as sharing in his sin.

Again, we have a tension here: some among us feel strongly called to go to these people, even to these parties; not to participate in the sinful parts, but to be there representing Jesus. And that’s a hard calling, because we’re not Jesus, we don’t fully imitate him yet, sometimes when we’re there we may not represent him well in the things we say and do. But I have to believe that it’s often better than not being there at all. If we’re not called to that, and not all are, we need to learn how to be supportive and encouraging, helping others do it well, not being those who gather together like this crowd to mutter.

Because when Jesus shows up, when his incarnate life is visible in us, great things can happen. Verse 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.”

Before we look at that, I have to point out that in my opinion there’s a conversation missing at this point. We don’t know what Zacchaeus has said to Jesus and what Jesus has already said to Zacchaeus. It’s just not there. Could it be that Luke expects us to understand what has gone on by virtue of having read his Gospel? I think so: Luke expects us to have at least two things in mind when we see this rich tax collector. First, he expects us to remember the account of the rich young ruler, how Jesus challenged him to give up everything to follow. But he couldn’t do it, and Jesus said it was easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom. We know that riches can keep people from seeing the desperate need of salvation.

But Luke also expects us to remember the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Do you remember the key line from that parable? ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’. God atone for me for I am a sinful man and I need a sacrifice that only you can give to pay for my sin. I think Luke expects us to see in Zacchaeus the same kind of tax collector. The missing conversation is this tax collector’s recognition of sin and Jesus promise of forgiveness.

This implied conversation is of critical importance to us and to our mission. No one goes from being attracted to Jesus to being saved, simply by giving away their possessions or paying back wrongs. Those may be consequences of salvation, but there has to be this conversation of faith first. Like the tax collector at the temple, we need to be able to say “God have mercy on me, a sinner’ with a real recognition that our sin separates us from God, that our sin is worthy of his judgment, deserves his wrath. We may not have ripped off quite as many people as Zacchaeus, but we have sinned by disobeying God and by harming others. So we all stand in need of God’s mercy.

And Jesus is the only answer. His death on the cross and his resurrection victory mean that our sins have been paid for, that God’s wrath has been taken, and that forgiveness is freely offered. If we will simply recognize that the path of sin we are on leads to certain destruction, and turn from faith in ourselves to faith and dependence on Jesus, we will be saved.

The implied conversion conversation makes sense of Zacchaeus’ changed life. Paul says ‘if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation - the old is gone, the new is come’. He says “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” This is what enables Zacchaeus to say “I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody, I will pay back four times the amount."

Zacchaeus shows perfectly the radical change the Holy Spirit can work in the life of a saved person. Up until now he has grasped his possessions with both hands; he’s been driven to cheat and defraud those in his power. But now he stands, either at the meal or at the door of his house and he announces that he’ll give four-fold to those he cheated, and half his possessions to the poor, probably leaving him nothing. So there was a dramatic life change in Zacchaeus, brought about by his encounter with Jesus.

As the section ends, Jesus reveals that this episode epitomizes his mission, which he beautifully summarizes. Verses 9 and 10: Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." Jesus speaks to Zacchaeus in the same public forum in which Zacchaeus just spoke. Jesus tells them ‘salvation has come to this house’ by which he means ‘salvation has come to Zacchaeus’; there’s no indication of any family present, though it’s not impossible. But clearly the focus is on Zacchaeus.

Interesting that Jesus uses the word salvation in this context. The word has a wide range of meaning; it can mean something as concrete as the healing of a disease or something as graphic as the rescue from the winds and waves. It’s not used often in the Gospels for salvation from sin, or salvation to eternal life. But it is the word used in the account of the rich young ruler: Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to be saved. The disciples said ‘well, then who can be saved?’ Jesus said ‘with man this is impossible but with God all things are possible.’

Now, in the account of Zacchaeus, Jesus shows that it’s true. There has never been a less likely candidate for salvation than rich, sinful Zacchaeus. He should have been hardened by his sin. He should not have been seeking Jesus.

But Jesus was seeking him: the Holy Spirit was already at work to soften his heart, just as the Spirit must be at work every time a person turns from self to faith. We may want to be incarnational, to live the life of Jesus in the world, to show his compassion. We may be on mission, bringing the good news to those who desperately need to hear it. But unless God is at work through his Holy Spirit, salvation will not come to those we minister to.

So Jesus says ‘this man is a true Jew’, a son of Abraham. The tax collector was considered unclean, cut off from his people, a sinful man with no part in the Jewish covenant promises. But Jesus points out that they’ve got it wrong - a true Jew is one who, like Abraham, has depended on God by faith for the salvation Jesus alone can give. Paul will say it this way “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit.” Salvation is an inward reality.

Verse 10, the punch line of the story, is one of Jesus’ most clear statements of his mission: “The Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.” Zacchaeus was lost: lost in sin, doomed to judgment. But salvation had come to him because the Son of Man, Jesus himself, had come to him, had sought him out and had given him the gift of salvation. Jesus attributes the power to save to himself: he comes to seek and he is able to save, to rescue not just from disease or peril, but from the very slavery of men and women to sin.

The call voices by the contemporary church is for us to be like Jesus, to be incarnational, to allow our flesh, our bodies, our lives to be used by God to live out the life of His Son in the world. And it’s a call to be missional, to not allow ourselves to get distracted from God’s mission of salvation, but to be used by God on that mission. I believe this is a Biblical calling.

But how do we put it into practice? I believe we can apply verse 10 directly to the things we’ve been talking about: For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost. Applied to us that would read ‘we must go to seek and save the lost.’ The ‘we must go’ calls us, by way of application to get out of our comfort zones. Incarnational and missional living cannot take place if we only remain in places of utter security and safety. Just as the shepherd goes to find the lost sheep so we must go, in a broad but concrete sense, to be where lost and needy people are.

We must go to seek – that the incarnation, being Jesus to people. This means showing up in the flesh in people’s lives, lives of un-believers and lives of believers to show compassion in the same ways that Jesus did, for physical needs, mental needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs.

We must go to save – not that we can save anybody, but we can bring the glorious The Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.message of salvation through Jesus wherever we go and wherever we seek. This is missional living – the mission of Jesus was to save: salvation has come to this house. And we must be willing not just to go and do the acts of compassion that show Jesus to people, but to speak the words of compassion that show them the way and the truth and the life found in Jesus.

We are to be a people who go out of our comfort zones to put flesh on the truth of Jesus’ compassionate presence and to be used in his saving mission.