Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation is come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Mapalad ang Bumabasa by azarius. Creative commons image on flickr.
Not too long ago, I collected the day’s mail—and printed on the outside of an envelope were the words “WE WILL FIND YOU.”
Inside was a letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, stating that I was delinquent on my tax returns from 2006—and that I’d better pay up (with penalties and interest), or face jail…
Well, I lived in West Virginia in 2006—and the matter was easily resolved…
But for all the unpopularity of the IRS and the state and local tax agencies, there was no one more hated in Jesus’ day than the tax collectors.
These were men selected by the Roman government from the elite social classes to collect taxes in their districts and neighborhoods. The government didn’t pay them, but instead gave them free rein to collect extra taxes in order to make a profit—and as you can imagine, fraud and corruption were rampant. If you didn’t pay up, they’d call in the Romans, and you’d go to prison.
The man Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector—which made him especially rich, especially powerful—and especially hated… One wonders if he needed bodyguards when he was out in public.
When Jesus comes to town, Zacchaeus wants to see him. Since he can’t see Jesus over the crowd, he climbs a Sycamore tree—and Jesus spots him immediately. To everyone’s shock, Jesus tells Zacchaeus to come down immediately—because Jesus will be staying at his house today.
People can’t believe what they’re seeing, because they know Zacchaeus. To them, he’s the scum of the earth. And yet, Jesus is honoring him by becoming his guest.
As the people grumble and complain, Zacchaeus stands up and declares, “Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor—and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I pay it back fourfold.”
Let’s be clear here—he’s not promising to do this… This is what he’s already doing because of Jesus. He’s burning the bridges to his opulent lifestyle and boldly moving forward into his new life in Christ.
This is why we symbolize the Holy Spirit with fire—because when Jesus shows up, things change. People change. Today, on Reformation Sunday, we celebrate this “charismatic combustion”.
Yet this is dangerous, because being a child of God is playing with fire—and we all love the safety of the status quo, even if the status quo isn’t that great. Who wants to change?
Consider our church: if you’ve been here for a while, everything’s comfortable and safe. I think the only thing that makes us uneasy here is the attendance. So how might Jesus shake things up? Maybe by sending in a Zacchaeus or two? Maybe by disrupting our plans and best-laid plans? Maybe by taking our greatest failures and using them to teach us something we need to learn?
Since you are loved by Jesus, you have the Spirit—and sooner or later, you are going to feel the heat!
The fires of the Spirit bring your sins to light. All your failures and shortcomings are exposed. You see the people you hurt. And if that isn’t enough, the Spirit’s fire forms and shapes you like steal. You are purified, you are strengthened, you are transformed into something different than before. And sometimes, the Spirit’s flame will consume and destroy things that are precious and valuable.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have my sins and imperfections exposed. I don’t want to know about all the people I hurt on a regular basis. I don’t want to lose or give up anything. And most of all, I don’t want anything to change unless I’m calling the shots.
Zacchaeus enjoyed a great deal of power and privilege, even though people hated him. Martin Luther could’ve lived a fairly comfortable and uneventful life as a monk and a parish priest, if he’d kept his mouth shut about what the Bible really said and kept his 95 theses off the church doors. And even Jesus could’ve had a fruitful ministry if he’d avoided the cross.
But the Spirit drove Zacchaeus up the tree. Jesus invited himself over to his house. The Holy Spirit used Martin Luther to set the Church on fire, because it was broken. And Jesus gave his life on the cross so that the Holy Spirit could bring his salvation to the ends of the earth.
All this shows that God will not be timid or passive when it comes to loving you. Sometimes, God will love with you with comfort and gentleness; often God will love you with blazing fire. So are you ready for that fire—not knowing what that fire will bring and what it will do? Will you pray for that fire?
Are you ready to climb up a tree like a child to see Jesus? Are you ready to go out on a limb to for his love?
Are you ready for the fires to break you down—and make you into someone new? Are you ready to be take risks? To give away half your possessions; or to repay fourfold those you’ve trespassed against? To go out on a limb to show someone how much they matter to God? Are you ready to be set on fire?