Tuesday, July 6, 2010


This morning, I’m going to tell you one of my very favorite stories from the Bible. This story is about a man named Zach. Did you know there was someone in the Bible named Zach? Now Zach wasn’t like any of you. You guys have plenty of friends, and even those people who aren’t your friends want to be your friends. Not only did Zach not have any friends. But nobody wanted to be Zach’s friend at all.

You see, Zach was well…vertically challenged. That means he was short. Much shorter than most people. And I bet when he was growing up, the kids at school teased him for being short. If fact, I bet he got pushed around quite a bit. There are some people out there who will push you around or give you trouble just because they can get away with it. And I bet Zach was a bully magnet. All the bullies in the neighborhood took turns picking on Zaccheus. Oops -- yes, that was his real name: Zaccheus. But we'll just call him Zach. It's easier isn't it?

But it is even worse than that. You see, Zach was a tax collector. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever heard your Mom or Dad talk about taxes, but they are not one of the nice things in life. I remember when I was little. Every year, my Dad would lock himself into a room to do our income tax. Nobody was allowed to go into the room. And when my Dad came out for dinner, he always looked so tired and sad. That’s what taxes can be like, and taxes have been around for a lo-o-o-o-ong time. The big difference is that now, the government uses shops and banks to collect taxes, and they make us send our own taxes in every year. Not too long ago, governments hired tax collectors to collect taxes. But as you can imagine, if everybody hates taxes, then not too many people would want to be friendly with tax collectors.

So Zach was short, and he was a tax-collector. That would have been bad enough. But it is even worse than that. You see, when Jesus lived, the government was the Roman Empire. The Roman army had come and taken over the land. The Jewish people wanted to get rid of the Romans in the worst way. So when one of their own kind became a tax collector, not only was he associating himself with taxes, but he was associating himself with the enemy. People thought that Zach was a traitor.

So Zach was short, and he was a tax-collector, and everyone thought he was a traitor. That would have been bad enough. But it is even worse than that. You see, the only reason that anyone would ever want to be a tax collector back then was that it was a good way to become rich. Not only did the government pay the tax collectors well; the tax collectors soon learned that most people did not really know how much money they had to pay! So the tax collectors started to ask for more money than they were supposed to. And they gave the government what they wanted and put the rest of the money in their pocket. So not only was Zach thought to be a traitor, he was thought to be a thief as well.

So nobody wanted to hang around with Zach. Nobody wanted to be Zach’s friend. Maybe you know of someone like that at school. Maybe you can think of someone who is not very popular at all. I bet Zach felt a little like those people feel, and of course that means he was very sad. So even though Zach was very rich, he felt very, very lonely. Even though everything looked good and smart and healthy on the outside, Zach knew that he was sick on the inside. He wanted to have friends, he wanted to be a friend. Sure, there were people who pretended to be his friend, but they would always end up stealing from Zach, and they were never seen again. Zach didn’t want false friends – he didn’t want people who just pretended to be friends to take advantage of him – he wanted someone who would be a real friend.

And then one day…one day he heard that there was this guy. He didn’t really know what to think about this guy. Some people were saying that he healed people, that he said things that not only made you think, but also reached down and touched your heart. Of course, this guy that everyone was talking about was Jesus. He heard that Jesus could look into people’s hearts and see the hidden things inside. And he heard that Jesus was kind to those who were willing to have their hearts changed. Now Zach knew that nobody would believe him, but he really wanted to have his heart changed, too. He knew that he hadn’t been good, but he didn’t think that he was strong enough to change on his own. Zach wondered whether Jesus might be willing to help him, too. He sure was curious about him, anyway, and he decided he wanted to see Jesus. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to meet Jesus, but He wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

Then Zach heard rumors that Jesus was coming to town, so he came up with a plan. Right near the gate of the town that Jesus was certain to come through, there was a big old fig tree. Has anyone every seen a fig tree before? Well, a fig tree is a great place to hide. Really big leaves, really close together. But a fig tree, especially a sycamore-fig tree, is also a great place to climb. With the branches coming almost down to the ground even the shortest of people could climb up. So Zach decided he would climb up the fig tree near the gate coming into town, and when Jesus arrived, he would be able to get a good look at him. And besides, it was a great place to hide. Nobody would ever have to know that he was there, and he would sneak down when everyone was gone. But even the best plans don't always work out quite right, and it didn’t quite work out the way way Zach intended.

Zach made his way up into the tree all right. That part worked out. And he was sure that nobody he knew saw him climb up there. And Jesus came into town all right. He even came to the right gate, there beside the tree. And there was a crowd of people wanting to see Jesus, and some of them were being healed there in front of Zach’s eyes. A woman brought her son who couldn’t walk. After Jesus touched the boy’s legs, he could throw away the crutches. An old man came who couldn’t see. Jesus touched his eyes, and gave him his sight back. It was even more wonderful than anything that Zach had ever expected. But then the most frightening and terrible thing happened. Jesus suddenly asked the crowd around the gate to be quiet. Zach ducked back a little behind the big fig leaves and held his breath…and then Jesus calls out…

“Zach! Zacchaeus”

Jesus isn’t even looking in the same direction as the tree, so Zach just figures there must be some other person with that name. As if! Then Jesus slowly turns around, looks up into the tree and smiles. There is no question about it. He is looking right at Zach!

“Zaccheus! Come down out of that tree. I’m coming to your house for lunch.”

Whoa. How crazy is that. Zach’s heart must have been beating a million beats a minute. What would he do? What could he do? Of course, he came down right away. And now, instead of Zach’s turn to be shocked and surprised, it was the entire crowd’s turn to be shocked and surprised. Jesus was going to go to the house of a thief and a traitor. Back then you never ever went to somebody’s house unless they were “acceptable” – and tax collectors were NOT acceptable. No doubt people were quick to point out Jesus’ “mistake”. But he insisted that this was NOT a mistake. Jesus really, really was going to Zaccheus’ house for lunch!

Now, we do not know what Jesus and Zach talked about at lunch, but they did become friends. And after Jesus left, Zach’s heart was totally changed. After meeting Jesus, people usually change what they consider important. Before meeting Jesus, Zach thought money was important. Now, he didn’t mind giving it away. Before meeting Jesus, Zach was worried about what people thought about him. Now, it didn’t matter much at all – he knew that only what God thought about him was important. Before meeting Jesus, Zach would do anything for a friend – even a fake friend. But after meeting Jesus, the best friend in the world, nobody wants fake friends anymore. Now that doesn’t mean that Zach was mean to those people. It just means that Zach didn’t have to do wrong things just to make those fake friends happy. Meeting Jesus made Zach change his whole outlook on life.

Everyone had thought that Zaccheus was not good enough to be Jesus’ friend.
Even Zaccheus didn’t think that he was good enough to be Jesus’ friend.
Jesus surprised everyone – including Zaccheus – by wanting to be his friend anyway.

Everybody knew that Zaccheus had done all kinds of bad things.
Even Zaccheus knew that he had done some bad things.
Jesus wanted to be Zaccheus’ friend anyway.

Everyone thought Zaccheus would have to become good before Jesus would want to talk to him.
Zaccheus also thought that he would have to become good before Jesus would want to talk to him.
Jesus surprised everyone by wanting to become Zaccheus friend, and letting Zaccheus become good when he was ready to.

And Jesus wants to be your friend, too. Maybe you are hiding from Jesus. Just like Zach did. You see this crowd, and many of them are Jesus' friends, and you might even see changed and healed hearts. But maybe you're hiding inside your own mind, not wanting to be seen, not really participating with the rest of the crowd. But maybe, just maybe, Jesus is calling your name, asking you to come out from your hiding, wanting to talk to you and become your friend. Don’t put it off. Don’t imagine that he is talking to someone else. Jesus wants to be your friend today. He'll be the best friend that you'll ever have.