Grace For The Journey
“Better Call Saul” is a modern crime drama series that portrays the life of a shady attorney named Saul Goodman. Created by Vince Gilligan, the series is a spin-off of “Breaking Bad” and recounts Goodman’s earlier years practicing law. Saul Goodman is the typical American “ambulance chaser” type of lawyer. His tactics are sneaky, his ethics are shaky, and he’s not liked at all by the well-to-do, more respected lawyers and professionals. At the same time, however, there’s something about Saul Goodman that’s kind of endearing. He’s got a great sense of humor and a dogged perseverance that keeps him going in spite of repeated setbacks and disappointments. There’s something about his character that’s even lovable at times and you find yourself pulling for him (Isn’t that crazy how good writers make you do that? Suddenly you’re pulling for the con-man!).
I believe Saul Goodman is the modern-day story of Zacchaeus. We read about Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10..
Like Goodman, Zacchaeus was rather unscrupulous in his profession. We’re told in the Bible that Zacchaeus was a tax collector and we have to remember what that meant in New Testament times. Briefly, tax collectors were more like independent businessmen who gained wealth by overcharging others. Add to this the fact that Zacchaeus was a Jew working on the wrong side; working against his Jewish brethren and for the Roman Gentiles, and you’ll understand why he was no doubt despised by other Jews.
Frederick Buechner describes Zacchaeus memorably as “a sawed-off little social disaster with a big bank account and a crooked job.” Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was not just a tax collector, but “a Chief Tax Collector,” a title used only here in the New Testament. Whatever else being a chief tax collector may have meant, it certainly carried huge financial rewards (Luke 19:2).
Zacchaeus was rich largely because
He had taken from others.
But while Zacchaeus was
Rich in earthly terms,
There was a great void
In his spiritual bank account.
Zacchaeus is a picture of the human soul’s longing for meaning. I believe this his explains the tree climbing incident. It would not be unusual for a child to climb a tree, but for a full-grown man to scurry up a sycamore tree suggests a longing that money could not buy.
I feel sure that Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus. How could he not have heard? It had not been that long ago just over in Bethany (less than 15 miles away) that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Everyone had heard of that! Given all the other healings of people who had been sick or blind, it’s no wonder Luke tells us that Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus “because of the crowd.” There was a huge crowd lining the streets of Jericho, just waiting to catch a glimpse of the miracle worker from Nazareth.
The Bible tells us that Zacchaeus “ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him,” because Jesus was going to be passing through in that direction.
Here is a picture
Of intense longing and desire
– If not desperation –
To see Jesus Christ.
It’s not just that Zacchaeus was short and climbed the tree for a better view of a popular figure passing through town, but that an inner desire for meaning was driving him to capture a sight of Jesus Christ.
The text in verse 3 literally reads that Zacchaeus “was seeking to see Jesus, who he is…” The phrase suggests more than a casual look. It suggests more than Zacchaeus’ merely being able later to tell others he had seen Jesus in Jericho; the way we might say we had seen a famous celebrity or politician from a distance.
Rather . . .
The phrase suggests
The idea that Zacchaeus
Really wanted to know
More about Jesus Himself.
To see what sort
Of person Jesus was.
Zacchaeus was wanting
To see Jesus not for
What He could do,
But for Who He was.
What does this say about the inability of wealth, treasures, and toys to satisfy the soul’s greatest yearnings and longings?
Zacchaeus is searching. If the story took place today I can see him running down the busy city street, this short guy elbowing his way through the crowd of people, before grabbing hold of a low-lying branch and pulling himself upwards, scuffing up his Italian shoes, his Tommy Hilfiger necktie catching on a twig, the crystal of his fine Swiss watch, a gold encased Jaeger-LeCoultre, smudged by dirt and grime in an effort to hoist himself to a vantage point that he may see . . .
The One who,
Though He was rich,
Had become poor,
That Zacchaeus through
His actual poverty
Might become truly rich
(2 Corinthians 8:9).
The bottom line is this . . .
Earthly riches, earthly pleasures,
The so-called “finer things of life”
Mean very little to us
When we come to realize
That apart from Christ
We are lost and undone,
Our sins unforgiven,
Our spiritual life – dead.
Zacchaeus needed an encounter with Christ. He ran ahead and climbed up into that sycamore tree to see Him, to see Jesus for who He was.
Jesus looks up into the tree and calls Zacchaeus by name. Jesus knew him! Just like Jesus knows your name. He knows you and he knows what you are thinking. He knows what’s in your heart. He knows what are your greatest wants and desire.
And Zacchaeus received Christ joyfully (Luke 19:6). Not everyone thought Zacchaeus should be so joyful. After all, Zacchaeus was a swindler, a deceitfully devious, and corrupt criminal. Some religious people would say Zacchaeus had no business being anywhere near Jesus. That’s the way the religious scribes and Pharisees felt. Rather than celebrating Zacchaeus’ encounter with Christ, Luke tells us “they all complained” and spoke disparagingly about Christ’s fraternizing with the tax collector saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.’”
Well . . .
What were they?!
Were the religious folks
Not sinners, too?
Of course they were.
They were sick,
Yet unaware of
Their need for a doctor
Zacchaeus’ heart has changed. He was willing to make restitution four times what he had taken from others. And he was willing to give away half of his belongings. Imagine a rich guy giving away his wardrobe of Armani suits, his Rolex watches, so much stuff – here is a man who had truly encountered Christ!
He was willing to give away
Earthly riches because
He had discovered
The inestimable wealth
Of spiritual riches.
Jesus changes everything. When we truly encounter Christ our whole world changes. We have new desires and new ways of seeing things.
More than any other Gospel writer, Luke stresses the truth that Jesus came to save all people without distinction and had a special love for the outcasts, the social rejects, the hated, the “Saul Goodmans” of the world. Jesus loves tax collectors, thieves, liars, adulterers, swindlers, murderers, and prostitutes. So . . .
He loves you
He can save you, too.
There are no “incurable” cases.
The Good Physician can heal your soul.
The vilest offender
Who truly believes
That moment from Jesus
A pardon receives.
May we never fall into the sinful, sanctimonious, and self-righteous ways of the “religious people” in Luke’s Gospel. Let’s not act like the scribes and Pharisees, looking down our noses upon other “sinners.” Jesus said He came for those who know they need a doctor. Churches are to be places that provide spiritual triage and care for all who know they are sick.
The only difference between a saved outcast
And an unsaved outcast is Jesus Christ.
Even as Christians we are forever in need of Christ.
While sin no longer reigns in our lives, it remains in our lives.
Humility causes us to take sin seriously and to grow in our capacity to overcome sin, continually reckoning ourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:11).
I recall something a Christian speaker said sometime back. It’s this simple statement:
“You wouldn’t be so shocked by your own sin
If you didn’t have such a high opinion of yourself.”
Christians are still outcasts, but not without hope. We are a work in progress, growing in increasing measures and degrees of holiness.
To quote the children’s hymn:
He’s still working on me
to make me what I ought to be
How loving and patient He must be
He’s still working on me.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”