Demoted

Who in his day would have predicted Zacchaeus to endure as one of the more endearing characters in the Biblical record? Children gleefully sing of this “wee, little man,” and his determination and enthusiasm warm hearts of every age. Beyond all the feel-good facets of his testimony, however, there is something about it that leaves us a bit unsettled, isn’t there? It’s the money. His eagerness to submit everything to God can leave us examining our willingness to do the same.

Can we all just assume that, upon waking that pivotal day, there was, in Zacchaeus’ mind, no thought, no inclination, nor even the possibility of the joyful generosity for which he is now known? Money was his master—the insatiable god of a calloused life—for this tax collector had amassed his fortune by gouging others, rising as faithfully as the sun to pursue still more by detestable means. Yet on this day, his mind was elsewhere: he “wanted to see who Jesus was,”1 and by nightfall, he had. Zacchaeus called Him, “Lord!”2 and with everything he had, he would serve a new God, the true God.

Jesus once observed, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”3 yet of his wealthy host He declared, “Today salvation has come to this house.”4 How did this happen? What moved Zacchaeus to choose this new path in the opposite direction? In Jesus, he had encountered an engaging God who knew his name and desired his company.5 In Christ, he had met a humble God who would suffer from the crowd a rejection He did not deserve in order to show mercy to this man whose rejection was well-earned.6 On mission to see who Jesus was, Zacchaeus found that Jesus knew him well and that He had come to seek and to save him, “the lost.”7 He had seen who Jesus was, and he “received him joyfully.”8 What was money now but something to be submitted to God for His glory?

Transformation begins with “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”9 His Spirit moves in us, softening the heart that knows it is loved, sharpening the mind that knows Who is true, and strengthening our will “to work for his good pleasure.”10 Jesus is worth far more than anything we have, and we can trust Him with everything we are.

If I give away all I have, … but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3)

Father, I cannot fathom all you’ve done for me, but I can praise you for it. Change my heart into one that does as you lead me to do, submitting everything to you, always in gratitude and joy. Be my Lord. Amen.

1 Luke 19:3
2 Luke 19:8
3 Luke 18:24
4 Luke 19:9
5 Luke 19:5
6 Luke 19:7
7 Luke 19:10
8 Luke 19:6 ESV
9 Colossians 1:27
10 Philippians 2:13 ESV

Just the Beginning

You’re walking into a mess,” my mother-in-law said in a fair-warning tone. Peggy had gone to visit her for the weekend, and upon arriving, learned a pipe had succumbed to Michigan’s winter temperatures, bursting and flooding the furnished garage-apartment that stood a short distance from the house. Where does one start amid so much damage but at triage? So, that is what Peggy did—assess the situation, begin at “first-things-first” and go from there.

Most of us would agree that when Jesus comes to us, He too walks into “a mess,” one of the spiritual variety. What we learn from the story of Zacchaeus, fortunately, is that God doesn’t leave us that way; He begins at once to restore us from the inside out. For a chief tax collector turning from greed, first-things-first was generosity and restitution. “Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount,”1 exclaimed Zacchaeus. It was an exciting beginning to an undoubtedly long transformation, for surely not all his sin was greed, and certainly not all his change was immediate (as I’m sure Mrs. Zacchaeus would attest).

We only come to know our heart as God reveals it. “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent,”2 confessed Paul of his natural inability to know the depth of his own sin. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts,”3 implored David, for he himself could fully understand neither one. Yet even these, our shortcomings, ultimately glorify God, for He does know the depth of our sin, and His love reaches deeper; God does know the breadth of our wrongs, and His forgiveness reaches wider. God knows our “mess,” and He transforms us in His time.

Occasionally we wonder if we’ve progressed at all in our relationship with God. In such times of discouragement, we do well to remember it was Jesus who “came to seek and to save what was lost.”4 He is the initiating God—faithful in all He does—so, with the confidence of Paul, we can live in the assurance that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”5 Salvation is just the beginning.

Father, thank you for sending your Spirit to change me increasingly into the image of your Son. I need Him. When I am discouraged, may He remind me of the work He has already accomplished and assure me of His faithfulness to complete what He has begun. Amen.

1 Luke 19:8
2 1 Corinthians 4:4
3 Psalm 139:23
4 Luke 19:10
5 Philippians 1:6

Changing for Good

An attorney once told me, “Do you know what I’d really like to be? A gym teacher.” Chalk up one more for the “golden handcuffs,” the allurements in life—income, status or power, for instance—that entice us away from what we really want to do, be or become. More sinister are the temptations that, perhaps one small step at a time, coax us away from what we know to be right and down a deceptive path to disillusionment and despair. We awake one day in a place seemingly far away from God and with no apparent way back to Him, but this too is temptation—temptation to doubt God’s seeking love and His saving power. For God knows our proclivity to stray from His ways, and yet in great love He draws us back to Himself, where we find a new and refreshing life of purpose. “God’s Kingdom is near!” proclaimed Jesus as He traveled from town to town, “Turn from your sins and act on this glorious news!”1 It remains today the promise of redemption and freedom and an invitation to change course.

Today’s post is our second look at transformation through the life of Zacchaeus, and standing tall amid all we learn from him in 10 short Biblical verses is this: The change to which God calls us is not an obligation we endure, it is the opportunity we desire. “Look, Lord!” exclaimed the liberated tax collector, “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.”2 His was not the “have to” humiliation of penance, but the “get to” enthusiasm of release. Behind him lay the discarded handcuffs he once thought golden, and before him “the unsearchable riches of Christ.”3

Most of us don’t need to be convinced of our wrong turns in life or the directions in which they’ve sent us; we are well acquainted with them and have lived to regret them. What we all need to realize is that God calls us, saves us and then leads us for a lifetime through the change we seek—change for good on His paths of joy.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11 ESV)

Father, it is a privilege to know your love; it is a relief to know your redemption; it is an honor to walk your paths. Send your Spirit to lead me in your ways and use me for your glory. In Christ I pray. Amen.

1 Mark 1:15 TLB
2 Luke 19:8
3 Ephesians 3:8