Hi, this is Pastor Ken and these are my thoughts on a Thursday…Go Climb A Tree!
When I was a young boy the high tech method of illustrating a Sunday School lesson did not involve a HD 4K television screen. We also didn’t have anything called a “Smartboard”. Instead my Sunday School teacher employed the use of something called a “Felt board” For those who do not remember these amazing devices, it was a stiff piece of cardboard covered in a piece of felt cloth. Paper cutouts of the characters involved in the bible story had strips of a slightly different felt on the back of them, which allowed them to adhere to the main felt board kind of like Velcro. I say “kind-of-like” because it was just like Velcro except a slight breeze, say from the teacher walking in front of the board, would “blow” the paper cutouts off the board and onto the floor. Half of the morning’s entertainment was in watching the teacher patiently return the characters of the story to their rightful place on the felt board. Additionally, it was always fun when the class was over, to play with the cutouts ourselves, re-animating the story to include facts found only in our imaginations.
One of my favorite memories of those felt-board lessons was the one depicting the account of Zacchaeus “the wee little man” who not only had a felt board lesson, but a children’s song written about him as well. Recalling it even now, I can see myself sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the felt-board looking up at Zacchaeus precariously perched on top of the tree, both of them hanging on to the board for dear life with little to no chance they weren’t going to end up on the floor before the lesson was over.
I can certainly remember the story from recall but instead allow me to read it to you now from the New Living Translation. The account is found in Luke 19:1-10 Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. 2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. 3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” 6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. 7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. 8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” 9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
There are the obvious ever-important lessons to be gleaned from this scriptural account. First and foremost, Jesus came to save those who know they need Him. He desires that everyone be saved, but knows that He can only help those who realize they are hopelessly lost and helpless to save themselves. Second, we can learn that Christ wants to see us make changes in our lives as a result of our relationship with Him that are reflective of His character…like integrity. Zacchaeus illustrated that by proclaiming publicly that He would make amends where his lack of integrity had allowed him to cheat others. Third, we can conclude that faith in and personal relationship with Jesus brings about righteousness in our lives. However, there is another lesson here that I think should not be over looked.
Zacchaeus was an interesting character. However, prior to meeting Jesus he was not thought of highly at all. (Pun totally intended) The scriptures describe him in a way that might suggest that in all likelihood he suffered from a condition known in our society as ‘Short-man-syndrome’. Luke speaks directly to the fact that physically Zacchaeus was a short man. The indicators of his ‘short-man-syndrome’ don’t end there though. It was also important to Zacchaeus to be seen as successful. We know that due to the fact that his employment had made him very rich! Add to that the fact that He was the supervisor at the office, and the probability dramatically increases that professionally he was an overachiever. What career had he profited so well from? Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a turncoat, a traitor. His job was to collect taxes for the Roman empire from His fellow Jewish citizens. He and his colleagues were totally hated by their own people for doing such a job, as well as completely distrusted by the Romans for being willing to do so. These men often overcharged the taxes levied on the Jews so they could line their own pockets, a self-justified reward for the lack of respect they encountered from both sides. Zacchaeus was not a man known for action worth emulating.
On the day that is described in this passage, Zacchaeus did something we should not only take note of, but something we should ask ourselves if we are doing each and every day. I know the obvious answer here might be ‘Go climb a tree’, and although it might make a cool tee-shirt or bumper sticker, that’s not the answer. Zacchaeus did climb a tree, but it was his motive and the circumstances that made the action so noteworthy.
Zacchaeus’ motive was that he wanted to see Jesus. We don’t know exactly why he wanted to do that. He may have just been curious. I think however that Jesus, who knows the condition of the heart responded to Zacchaeus as He did because He saw in him a genuineness that was much deeper than simple idle curiosity. I believe that…because of the risks Zacchaeus was taking. He was exposing himself to ridicule simply by climbing the tree. By doing so he was pointing out his own deficiencies, he was too short to look over the crowd and too despised to be permitted to push his way to the front of it. But regardless of the ridicule he might endure, Zacchaeus climbed up in that tree and positioned himself for an encounter with Christ.
Had Zacchaeus not been up in the tree Jesus would likely not have singled him out to ask him if they could have dinner together at his house. Zacchaeus would also likely have missed out on a life altering experience that day. It is obvious by his response to the Lord that meeting Jesus changed his life dramatically, but none of that would have happened had he not positioned himself to have an encounter with Christ.
The obvious lessons I pointed out a few moments ago are indeed important, but I think we need to be asking ourselves an equally important question this account raises. Are we positioning ourselves for an encounter with Jesus today? Are we doing the things necessary to make it possible for Him to speak to us. Have we spent time in His word today? Have we spent time talking to Him in prayer? Have we been meditating on the things of Him? Are we telling other people about how amazing Jesus is, and how good He is to us? All too often I have heard people complain…”Why doesn’t Jesus speak to me?”…but we don’t expend the effort to have an encounter with Him, and then we wonder why we aren’t hearing clearly from Him.
At great personal cost Jesus already did the incredibly difficult work so we could have a growing, living relationship with Him, now He is waiting to see…will we take hold of it. Will we position ourselves as Zacchaeus did so that we might have that personal encounter with him on this day? He desires daily to walk with us and talk to us, so what are we waiting for…let’s go climb a tree!
So now, Being willing to do whatever necessary to have that all important encounter with Jesus today, just do it…and go be awesome!