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First the Invitation, then the Transformation


On these Family Worship Sundays, I try to invite lots of dialogue and make it interactive, so please when the time is right, jump right in and participate, and for those of you watching online, feel free to use the comment section to participate as well …

Let’s begin where our story begins. Where our story today is about a man named Zacchaeus. And I’d like to tell you that Zacchaeus’s friends would call him Zach for short, and yet the truth Is, Zacchaeus probably didn’t have any friends. And that’s because he was a … (any kids out there know the answer? What was Zacchaeus’s job?) … tax collector!

Rather than going by Zach for short, Zacchaeus was probably used to being called names like “thief” or “traitor” or “nincompoop” if that was even a word back then … the point is this … tax collectors were some of the most hated people in all of town.

As a tax collector, Zacchaeus’s job was to, well, collect taxes. Which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. The problem though was that Zacchaeus went about it in a dishonest, greedy, and in a really slimy way. In fact, he was a big bad bully. For example, let’s say it’s tax season. $50/person. Imagine I’m Zacchaeus and it’s time for me to collect taxes.

“Alright, that’ll be $100.” (Put up a fight) “Fine, you want to argue with me? If you keep arguing we’ll make it $100.”

“Alright, that’ll be $200.” (Put up a fight) “Give me $200 or else I’ll spread rumors about you all over town”

“Alright, that’ll be $250.” (Put up a fight) “If you don’t pay up, I’ll see to it that you’re thrown in jail.”

Alright, thumbs up, or thumbs down, let me see it, if I am Zacchaeus, how do you feel about me? Thumbs down.

In fact, whenever you saw Zacchaeus, you’d probably want to let the boo-birds fly, you’d want to shower him with boo’s. In fact, let’s hear it for Zacchaeus, let me hear how you feel about him. BOO!!

As a tax collector, Zacchaeus would have been the most hated man in town. Sure, he would have had lots and lots of money, but probably few, if any, friends.

One day Zacchaeus hears that Jesus would be passing through his town. And we learn that Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. Maybe Zacchaeus had been hearing stories about this Jesus, this great teacher, this miracle worker, this divine healer and wanted to see Jesus for himself. Maybe Zacchaeus was feeling a real emptiness inside, the emptiness of having lots of wealth, but no one to share it with. Or maybe he had heard stories about this Jesus, who had shared meals with rich and hated tax collectors just like him and maybe wondered if he could be with Jesus too. We’re not totally sure why, but at the very least we know this, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus.

But there’s a problem here, isn’t there? Zacchaeus is a tax collector, yes, but he’s also … what do we learn about Zacchaeus and his physical stature? What are we told about his height? He’s short!

That’s right, he’s short! You know, being short is a great quality when you’re on an airplane where there’s not enough leg room. It’s not a great quality though when you’re in a crowd. Because unless you’re in the front, short people can’t see! And c’mon now, you just booed the guy, you think the crowd is going to be nice to Zacchaeus, this big bad bully and let him make his way to the front of the crowd? Alright, I want you to turn to the person next to you and say, “No way, you big bad bully!”

And so Zacchaeus has an idea. He is so desperate to see Jesus that what does he do next? What’s his solution to this problem? He climbs a tree!

That’s right, he climbs a tree! All in an effort to see Jesus. And here’s where you might think the story would end. With Zacchaeus seeing Jesus. That’s pretty cool enough, right?

And yet, here’s what’s so crazy. Not only does Zacchaeus see Jesus, Jesus sees Zacchaeus! In midst of the entire crowd of people, Jesus looks up into the tree and sees Zacchaeus.

And what’s even more shocking is what Jesus says next, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

That’s a much nicer thing to say. Say to a different person next to you, “I’ve got to stay at your house today.”

Out of all the people there that day, Jesus invites himself over and wants to share a meal with the most hated man in town.

Out of all the people there in the crowd that day, from the town mayor to the religious leaders, from the cute little children to the popular kids, from the people who could have made the best homemade meals and offered him the most comfortable stay, of all the people that Jesus could spend time with and stayed with that night, Jesus wants to be with Zacchaeus, the most hated man in town.

Which kind of makes you wonder, why? Why would Jesus do such a thing?

Well, notice what Jesus says about himself at the very end. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” You see, Jesus came to love and save people like Zacchaeus.

And Zacchaeus, though likely unbelievably surprised, is thrilled to receive Jesus’s invitation, as it says, so [Zacchaeus] came down at once and welcomed [Jesus] gladly.

Now, did you notice how the crowd felt about all this? About Jesus inviting himself over to Zacchaeus’s house? It says,

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

They were shocked, appalled, disgusted by Jesus’s words here.

In other words, it’s time to let the boo-birds fly again, even if they weren’t saying it with their words, they were feeling it in their hearts. Let me hear it now. BOO!!

And why would they have muttered and booed? Well it’s not only because they hate Zacchaeus, I think more importantly because they misunderstand how life with Jesus works.

You see, they look at Zacchaeus and see a man who doesn’t deserve an invitation. They see a person who isn’t worthy of Jesus’s time. They’ve got to be thinking, just about anybody else would be a better choice than Zacchaeus. In other words, they think Jesus should have chosen someone more deserving.

They think that in order to be with Jesus, you’ve got to act right before you get an invite. That you’ve got to get yourself cleaned up before Jesus shows up.

And yet, with Jesus, it’s just the opposite. With Jesus you get an invite, and he’ll help you get right. With Jesus you’ve just to show up and he’ll help you get cleaned up. With Jesus, life with him always begins with an invitation and then simply by being in his presence he’ll help you change in all the right ways.

In other words, with Jesus, there’s always an invitation before there’s transformation. It all begins with an invitation, followed by transformation.

In my hands here I have a few of my four year old son Noah’s favorite toys. Do any of the kids know what these are called? They’re transformers. And what is a transformer? It’s a toy that begins as one thing (say, a police car) and can be changed into another (a cool blue guy whose name I do not know … ).

To be transformed is to be changed from one thing to another. And that’s exactly what happens to Zacchaeus upon receiving this invitation from Jesus.

The crowd mutters to one another that Jesus is going to the home of a sinner, and what does Zacchaeus say?

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.”

(give money back to people you stole it from). Hey, what I did was wrong, and I want to make it right.

Friends, those are the words of a person who has been transformed by the love of Jesus. Those are the words of a person whose heart has been changed.

Those numbers. Half of my possessions to the poor. Four times what I’ve stolen. That’s Zacchaeus going way above and beyond what’s necessary. This isn’t a man that’s saying “What do I have to do? But rather “What can I do? This is a man who wants to make things right. This is a man whose heart has been changed, a heart who’s been transformed from a place of greed to a place of generosity. All because of an invitation from Jesus.

Friends, so it is with us and Jesus. Jesus loves us so much that he says to us “Come to me just as you are” and at the same time he loves us so much that he will not leave us as he found us. The natural response to Jesus’s invitation, to God’s supernatural grace is transformation.

As one of my seminary professors, Haddon Robinson used to say, “You can no longer live the life you used to live, because you are no longer the person you used to be.”

Zacchaeus can no longer live the life that he used to live, because he is no longer the person he used to be.

First the invitation, then comes the transformation.

And Jesus, having seen this change in Zacchaeus, says, “Today, salvation has come to this house.”

So friends, as we begin a new year, it begins with an invitation from Jesus.

Jesus knows your name, he knows your story, and though he knows your backstory, he wants to share a meal with you. If he wanted to be with a slimy tax collector Zacchaeus, you can trust he wants to be with you too.

And here’s what’s so beautiful when we desire to see Jesus. We begin to realize that while we wanted to see him, he wanted to see us. We think we’re reaching out to him, all while he’s been reaching out to us. We think we’re seeking him, when the truth is he’s been seeking us.

So, spend time with Jesus. Be in his presence. Discover him in scripture. Go to him in prayer. Join us here at church. Be in his presence.

And then let him rub off on you. Where do you want to change? Where you do need to be changed? He’ll show you where and how over time.

There’s a really small but important detail that I love about this story.

Where Jesus doesn’t stay, “Zacchaeus, I want you to come over to my house today.”

Instead Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, I’m coming over to yours.”

Which is kind of bold when you think about it. “Hey ________, I’m coming over for dinner tonight.” It’s not something we normally do.

But Jesus does. Maybe partly because he’s in Zacchaeus’s hometown, not his.

But I think there’s more to it. Truth is, it can often be more vulnerable to welcome someone into your own home than it is to go to someone else’s.

The guests see just how clean or unclean your house really is, they see how you treat your kids in a tense moment, they might see all the weird things that are in your fridge, or ask about the meaningful pictures that hang on your wall. It can be kind of vulnerable.

And so it is with Jesus. The invitation from Jesus is to let him in. To let him into your world. To let him see the real you. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Let him in and over time he’ll change us, transform us, in all the right ways. Jesus says, “I have come to seek and to save the lost.”

Dear God, we want to see Jesus. Change our lives and transform our hearts so that we can live for him. Amen. (Deyoung)

“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart. I want to see you.”

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