Snapshots of Kindness – part 2
It’s a new year, some would even say a new decade. Have you heard this? That if we go back 2,000 years in our calendar that since there wasn’t a year 0 when our current era began, now the new decade doesn’t begin with year 0 but with year 1-so hence this Jan 1, 2021 was the start of the new decade, not Jan 1, 2020. But either way-whether you’re on Team 0 or Team 1 for counting the new decade, as of now we are officially there-the roaring 20’s! A whole decade lies before us-who knows what awaits! But a lot has also changed over the decades, a lot has changed in the past year. I came across an interesting article this week about one of my favorite decades-and it said-Amazon is cool but it’ll never be as cool as malls were in the 1980s. Arcades, packed food courts, jeans from the Gap, gadgets from Sharper Image and Brookstone, thumbing though cassettes at Sam Goody, books from B Dalton, free samples from Hickory Farms, navigating the map on the mall directory, live musical performances, mall cops and mall Santas, indoor trees, glass elevators, and the occasional person falling into the water fountain full of pennies. It was paradise. And there were giant cinnamon rolls! Ahh Cinnabon! But who didn’t love malls in the 80’s, even the 90’s! Now we all know that malls are quickly fading, lots of empty vacancies in malls, stores going out of business-but as I was walking through Whitman Mall last week I was thinking what’s not to love about this? Yes Amazon is super convenient for all your shopping needs-but how boring sitting at home on your laptop compared to the action of the mall where after shopping you could get a slice of pizza at Sbarro’s, something from Panda Express and the big cinnamon roll. Maybe catch a matinee at the mall movie theater or go to the ice skating rink-it was an event! Malls were packed back in the day, vast parking lots where you could hardly get a spot. And the reason I bring this up-besides being nostalgic for the mall and all the weird kiosks-is because that’s what we’re talking about this morning-a packed public place with lots of shops and kiosks and places to eat, basically the 1st century version of malls known as the marketplace where big crowds would gather for all their shopping and commerce. But instead of being inside and riding up the glass elevator to look out from the upper level of the mall atrium to get a good view, our main character climbs a sycamore tree to get a good view. He’s a rich man who could have spent lots of money in this 1st century mall, but instead he experiences a life-changing encounter where he’ll begin giving away lots of his money. The man we’re talking about is Zacchaeus-and he’s our next Snapshot of Kindness.
You can open your Bibles to Luke 19 in the NT. Last week our snapshot came from David’s life in the OT-and we saw that because he had received kindness from his friend Jonathan, he was compelled to show it. Today in the NT, Zacchaeus will receive kindness from Jesus and also be compelled to show it. But when his story begins he seems to be the most unlikely of people to show kindness; probably one of the most unlikely people in the whole crowd. This was a guy people had feared, written off, and desperately tried to avoid-check it out-Luke 19:1-3.
There’s a lot of information to unpack in those few verses. But the first thing that stands out is how unpopular Zacchaeus would have been. Now malls in the 80’s were all about popularity. Hanging out with your friends, going to the right stores, buying Guess jeans. Maybe you remember being with your friends hanging out at the mall having a blast. What Luke is telling us is that here in our 1st century mall-in the marketplace where Jesus and His disciples were passing through-Zacchaeus wouldn’t have been with any friends. He would have been sitting in the food court drinking his Orange Julius all by himself. If you’ve ever read the Jesus Storybook Bible’s version-they entitle his story-The Man Who Didn’t Have Any Friends (None). Listen to what they say-Storybook, 264-5. And why would they do that? Did Zacchaeus live in a town with a bunch of mean people? Move somewhere new! Luke has intentionally given us 3 descriptions of Zacchaeus that when put together don’t describe someone on the popular list. What did he say-short, rich and greedy. Not tall, dark and handsome-but short, rich and greedy. How many short, rich and greedy people do you like? Do you have any good friends you’d describe that way? He’s so short, rich and greedy-love that guy! No-but being rich and greedy is exactly what chief tax collectors were known for. And Zacchaeus oversaw a large and prosperous tax district in Jericho. The Romans decided how much each district would pay in annual taxes-but it was up to the tax collectors to go and get it. Now undoubtedly Zacchaeus would have had other tax collectors working under him-but he was the boss. And so one of two things happened-either your local tax collector came to you asking for your tax-which you knew was too much-but were forced to pay. You know I don’t have that much-how am I going to feed my family? This is my money, I earned it-let me off easy this time! Sorry the boss wants it-nothing I can do. Pay up! And you knew that Zacchaeus was behind it. Or Zacchaeus himself came to collect your taxes saying pay up-along with a couple of henchmen holding clubs! But either way you avoided Zacchaeus at all costs. If you saw him in the marketplace or out in pubic, you’d walk the other way, don’t make eye contact with him, kids be quiet, keep a low profile-otherwise he’ll remember that you owe him taxes! So everybody knew he was rich because he was taking their money from all of their hard work! So good reason why this short, rich, greedy guy was so disliked.
And before we go any further, I want to ask if you know anybody like that? Maybe not a tax collector or the modern day IRS agent in your life, but who is it for you that when you see them, you hurry the other direction? That when they show up, you go running? You avoid eye contact or getting into a conversation with them. That the moment you see them, you really hope they don’t see you. Who’s the Zacchaeus in your life? Who comes to mind? Here’s our first application question-Q1:Who have I rejected and deemed unworthy of kindness? That’s what was going on in Zacchaeus’ life-he would have been rejected by the people, labeled as fringe and deemed unworthy of kindness. Reach out to your neighbors, be kind to your co-workers, help the elderly-but the chief tax collector-forget him, write that guy off! And for good reason, right? One commentator said that Luke has spared no insulting image to portray Zacchaeus as a despicable character. And let’s be honest-that’s exactly what he is-as Zacchaeus looks in the mirror he probably says-despicable me! He knows who he is. He knows what he’s done and how he doesn’t deserve anyone’s kindness by stealing from them only to make himself rich. He sits in luxury, eating 3 good meals a day, probably taking multiple vacations a year, while the rest of the city is working hard to scrape by hoping he doesn’t demand too much tax money from them. Zacchaeus is completely unworthy of anyone’s kindness. But so far in this series has kindness ever been based on who’s worthy? Has it been based on people who deserve it? Is kindness only reserved for those who are nice and respond kindly back to you? Not at all. So we ask to ask ourselves-Q1. To begin reflecting on our hearts-because this is what Jesus is going to challenge in us. As another commentator says-Imagine the worst case scenario, the person most unlikely to respond to Jesus’ message. Can you imagine that? How would you handle it if the most unworthy and despicable person you know responded to Jesus’ message? Would you be excited for them? Would you praise God for His goodness and kindness even to someone like that? Or would you grumble and complain about it? Would you question what God is doing-and why that person? We’re going to see the people’s response to Zacchaeus-but first I want you to ask the question why was Zacchaeus seeking Jesus?
Because that’s the other important piece of information to unpack-Luke 19:3-4. Why? That’s the question I would love to know the answer to-and I hope one day to ask Zacchaeus that question in heaven-What made you seek Jesus that day? What drew you to him? What compelled you to climb that tree-because that’s not a normal thing to do! But why would Zacchaeus of all people-a despicable and undeserving guy-be so intrigued by Jesus? Why so persistent to shimmy up the tree and see him? I think the answer to that isn’t any different from our own lives and why we are drawn to Jesus. Because it always goes back to His grace and loving kindness. We’ll leave Zacchaeus in the tree for a minute-because we need to glance at earlier story in Luke that may shed some light on this. Take a look at Luke 5:27-28. And this is Matthew, one of the 12 disciples, who wrote the book of Matthew. Levi was his former name-and being a tax collector was his former job. Because what happens when Jesus shows up and calls to Levi? Everything changes. That without hesitation-apparently leaving tax papers and tax money right there at the booth-Levi gets up and follows Jesus. Can you imagine the looks from the other tax collectors-or even the chief stationed there-what are doing, where are you going? But here’s what so important about this-the other tax collectors soon find out why. Luke 5:29-Levi has a great dinner party in order to tell all his co-workers and tax-collectors friends what happened in his life, how he’s been transformed by Jesus. Which is the key question that gets asked-Luke 5:30. That whether these guys crept into the dinner party, or were hanging around outside as most dinner parties were in the courtyard of houses that were opened up to the neighbors-this becomes the million dollar question-Why do Jesus and His followers spend time and show kindness to such unworthy and despicable people like tax collectors? None of us can stand them-they’re dishonest cheaters-why does Jesus reach out to them? And you can imagine Levi who’s hosting this dinner party thinking this is precisely why I’m hosting this party-as Jesus gives the answer-Luke 5:31-32.
That is the message of the gospel. That is the message that saves us-and it’s the same message for everybody. When Jesus talks about the healthy who have no need of a physician-they don’t exist; that category is just for the sake of making His point. Because we’re all in the sick category-whether as someone who’s done terrible things in life or someone who’s grown up religious and hasn’t done anything too bad-at least by the world’s standards-none of are born saved or automatically justified. You and me and every other tax collector and sinner out there have all made mistakes and done things we shouldn’t-and that means we need to hear this message. We need to understand that Jesus has come to call us to repentance. He’s come to heal our hearts and bring us new life. I’m sure the tax collectors heard this message loud and clear while the self-righteous Pharisees didn’t. The question is have you heard this message? Has it penetrated your heart-so that you are realizing the Lord’s called you to repentance? That He’s called you to surrender yourself and trust in Him. And maybe this is the message Zacchaeus heard too-and maybe it had begun to penetrate his heart. Who did Levi invite over to his house that night? A large company of tax collectors-perhaps Zacchaeus was in attendance and the message had started to impact him. Or maybe Zacchaeus wasn’t there-but other tax collectors he knew were. This wasn’t a large geographical area-so maybe at the tax collectors’ yearly conference they were telling him about meeting Jesus and hearing this message. You should have been there-this Jesus said He’s come for people like us-to save us and not condemn us. We’ve never heard anything like this before. And maybe Zacchaeus is thinking this is exactly what I need to hear. No matter how Zacchaeus got the news and learned about Jesus-could it be that Zacchaeus decided to climb the tree because He’d made the assumption that Jesus had come for people like him and has a soft spot for tax collectors? No-absolutely not-Jesus didn’t come for people like Zacchaeus. He doesn’t have a soft spot for dishonest, greedy tax collectors. Wrong assumption there. Or was it? Luke 5:31-32-even dishonest, greedy tax collectors. Maybe Zacchaeus was the one guy who made the right assumption when he climbed the sycamore tree that day!
Back to the passage-Luke 19:3-4. Zacchaeus was eager to see Jesus, persistent to see Jesus-so much so that he scurries up the tree like a little squirrel because he’s a little man! I know it’s been awhile since anyone’s been to the movies but what do you do when someone really tall sits right in front of you? You either move or resign yourself to only seeing half the screen while you keep looking to either side. But if it’s a movie you really want to see-you’ll move. I’m not sitting behind a tall person trying to watch Star Wars or Avengers-I’ll move! And Zacchaeus wasn’t going to be stuck behind some tall people in the crowd trying to see Jesus. He makes his way up the tree to get an unobstructed and clear view. The problem is that the grace and kindness of Jesus can’t be clearly understood from a distance. You’ve got to get close to see Him-v. 5. And isn’t it ironic how Jesus says the one thing Zacchaeus least wanted to hear and most wanted to hear? Least wanted to hear because it means that Zacchaeus can’t stay hidden, he can’t see Jesus in secret or remain anonymous or keep his distance-all things he wanted to do-especially when he’s a hated outcast, and someone people have written off and always avoid. Now he has to be exposed in front of everyone-climb down the tree and hear the ridicules-Of all people, Zacchaeus why are you here-go home? And yet Jesus takes what Zacchaeus fears most and says what he most wants to hear-v. 5. Just like that Jesus proves He has come for guys like Zacchaeus; that he has a soft spot for undeserving tax collectors like Zacchaeus, that Jesus really isn’t here for the healthy, but for the sick. And in order to understand that Zacchaeus can’t maintain his distance, but needs to see Jesus up close and personal. And it’s no different for us. Q2:How have I been maintaining my distance from Jesus and trying to observe Him from afar? Because you can’t do that. It doesn’t work that way. Trying to stay far back and being a casual observer will never allow you to be a participant of His grace. Jesus’ mission isn’t to just wave at you as he’s passing through the crowded marketplace-I see you over there. Keep it up! No-Jesus is saying to each of us-I want to stay at your house, I want to enter your heart and transform you life. What’s keeping you from that? What’s keeping you from climbing down the tree and seeing Jesus face to face? What’s keeping you from giving Him access to your heart?
And let’s be honest-maybe it is the fear and worry about what others might think. That’s a very real concern-and Zacchaeus faced it too. Look at what happens-Luke 19:6-7. It’s the exact same complaint from before when Levi had his dinner party. Why is Jesus wanting to spend time with guys like that? What’s He thinking? Again-it’s the idea that someone like Zacchaeus doesn’t deserve the kindness and grace of God. That Jesus has come for the good people who just need a few tweaks here and there. To help out those who are already nearly there. But that’s not the case at all. Jesus hasn’t come for good people, He hasn’t come for those who don’t need much help. He’s come for those who are beyond help because they can’t help themselves. He’s come for those who are completely and utterly lost without Him. And that includes guys like Zacchaeus-and it includes people like you and me. Jesus does have a soft spot for sinners and tax collectors. And it’s not something to grumble about-but something to praise Him for! Q3:When have I been grumbling about showing kindness to the “wrong” people? We can be just like this crowd-grumbling that the Lord showed kindness and grace to someone we don’t think deserves it. Or far more often-we can be secretly rooting for someone to crash and burn and get what we think is coming to them. Lord, I sure hope you show them and let them have a taste of their own medicine. Time to punish them Lord, time to make their life miserable for how they’ve acted. I can’t wait to see the carnage and disaster. And then we’re baffled when God shows them grace. We’re grumbling when the kindness of God enters their life instead of His judgment. Have you had those thoughts before? I’m sure we all have. As one writer said-From what others could see Zacchaeus was beyond salvation-and if you lived in Jericho you would have written him off too.
But the good new of the gospel-the incredible news of the gospel-is that Jesus doesn’t write people off. From His perspective no one is beyond salvation-and that’s something we can’t forget. That instead of grumbling about God’s grace and kindness in someone’s life. Instead of wishing ill upon them-we need to celebrate what God’s doing and praise Him. That’s what Jesus does-Luke 19:9-10. Don’t miss that word lost because it’s the hinge upon which the entire gospel balances. Jesus came for the lost-not those who are found, not the healthy, not the religious or those who think they have their act together-He’s come for those who don’t. Who’s lives are falling apart without Him. And instead of grumbling about that point-let’s praise God for it! This is a common theme in Luke-take a look at the end of the parable of the prodigal son-Luke 15:32. And that’s because the older brother was angry and grumbling about it. He was mad that the Father showed grace to his younger brother-and are we mad too when our Father shows grace to someone? Do find ourselves disappointed when someone receives grace instead of judgment?
What is our response when God’s grace is poured out on someone’s life? What’s our response when it’s poured out on our lives? To keep it for ourselves because we think we somehow deserve it? To assume-of course I’ve received His grace-why wouldn’t I? But that guy-no way-never deserved it in the first place! That’s not what Zacchaeus does. When his life is turned upside by God-he goes out to do the same to others-Luke 19:8. He’s not just paying people back what he owes them. He’s going above and beyond-He’s showing kindness and grace to others because that’s what He’s received from Jesus. And don’t lose sight of the fact that he didn’t have to. Jesus isn’t telling him to do this. Jesus isn’t saying-for this salvation thing to work in your life you’ll need to pay people back 4 times what you took from them. Once you do that-then we’ll reserve your spot in heaven. Not at all. This isn’t a necessity or requirement-because there’s never a requirement to grace-this is Zacchaeus willingly showing kindness because he’s been transformed by it. Back to our theme-Kindness-because we have received it, we will show it. That was true of him-will it be true of you? His life was overwhelmed with the Lord’s kindness and now he’s revealing it. Can you image the looks of people’s faces when Zacchaeus shows up with 4 times the amount he took from them. People would be stunned-thanks but why all the money? And then Zacchaeus gets to tell them why! Because of Jesus-it’s all because of Him-and now my small lowercase kindness points to His great uppercase kindness! But don’t forget-Zacchaeus’ kindness puts his wealth in jeapordy-you can’t give away half of what you have-plus fourfold to anyone else-without feeling it. Zacchaeus’ kindness put his wealth in jeapordy-but it multiplied his praise and worship to God! Hughes, 659. If anyone lives out the words of Rom 12:1-2-it’s him! He was transformed-what about you? Last question-Q4: What will I surrender to Christ that has my heart? That’s what Zacchaeus did. For so long money and greed had his heart-it was his life-but once Jesus showed up-He had his heart. Does Jesus have your heart? Does your spiritual life look like Zacchaues? Transformed by grace and consumed with kindness? Or are you still grumbling and trying to show grace to those who deserve it? Never works that way!