Illustration: A pastor phoned the home of some recent
visitors to his church, and a voice on the other end of the phone answered with
a whispered "Hello."
The pastor said, "Who is this?"
The whisperer said, "Jimmy."
The pastor said, "How old are you, Jimmy?"
"Well, Jimmy, can I please speak to your mom?"
"Well then, Jimmy, can I please speak to your
"Jimmy, are there any other adults in your home?"
"Can I speak to one of the police officers?"
"Jimmy, who else is there?"
"Well, Jimmy, can you put one of the firemen on the
"They're all busy."
"Jimmy, what are they all busy doing?"
"They're busy looking for me."
Like Jimmy, a lot of people in life are hiding. They are
hiding from the police or parents. They are hiding from coaches and teachers.
Some of them are hiding from bosses, and others are hiding from spouses. Many
people today are hiding from God. But that raises an important question: In
light of the fact that God is everywhere and knows everything about us, what
could possibly motivate us to want to hide from him?
Sin causes us to hide from God
There are probably a lot of answers to that question, but I
think biblically speaking one of the key answers is we have a tendency to hide
from God because we know we've done something wrong. A natural human
characteristic is, when we've done something wrong, we want to run and hide
from the authorities.
Illustration: A few months back I was driving on
South Sheridan, and I won't tell you how fast I was going, but it was pretty
fast. Before I knew it, I saw those red flashing lights in my rearview mirror,
and I had to pull over. I dutifully pulled out my license, my registration, and
proof of insurance. I was submissive to the police officer, who was kind and,
unfortunately, issued me a ticket. But the whole time I was sitting there, what
I really wanted to I could I wanted to floor it and run away and
That's the story of humanity with God since the dawn of
time. Go back to the Book of Genesis in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were
there; everything was wonderful and perfect. There was full disclosure,
complete and total hiding. But then they chose to disobey God, and
because of their sin they fell from the state of grace. Later on, the text
tells us God came into the garden looking for them, calling out for them, and
Adam responded to God, "I heard you walking in the garden. I was afraid,
and I hid."
Sin and hiding are the Siamese twins of the fallen state of
men, women, and children. All of us at different times in our lives are going
to try to hide from God. In fact, this morning you may have even come to
church, but for some reason you are hiding from God. There is only one way to
deal with our hiding and its cause, which is our sin. The answer comes to us
from Luke 19.
Luke directs us to the story of Jesus and says, "Jesus
entered Jericho and was passing through." In the larger context of this
story we know Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, and this event takes place in
the last few days or so of his life. As he goes towards Jerusalem, he passes
through the city of Jericho. Jericho was a wonderful city. It was quite
cosmopolitan. It had wonderfully wide streets, beautifully decorated, and it
was one of the centers of Roman imperial power in that part of the world.
As Jesus is passing through, Luke tells us in verse 2 that a
man was there by the name of Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and
wealthy. Many of you know that tax collectors in the ancient Roman world were
viewed as the scum of society. You see, in Israel there were four occupations
that marginalized people because they were considered immoral occupations. One
was to be a gambler. The second was to be a usurer, to lend money at an
exorbitant interest rate to other people. A third occupation considered immoral
was to be a pigeon trainer. Nothing against the pigeons, it's just that they
were used in gambling. The fourth and the lowest and least esteemed occupation,
the one considered the most immoral, was to be a tax collector.
There were two reasons why. Tax collectors, first of all,
worked for the Romans, and Rome was the imperial oppressive authority over the
Jews. So tax collectors were considered traitors. The second reason tax
collecting was considered immoral was that tax collectors almost always
financially raped their own people. The Romans would hire a tax collector, and
they'd say, "You need to collect this amount for us. Anything beyond that
you can keep for yourself." And so they did. In fact, one Roman writer
tells us that the idea of an honest tax collector was so rare that when one
city in the empire had a tax collector who was somewhat honest they erected a
statue to memorialize him.
Well, this story tells us Zacchaeus was a chief tax
collector, which meant he had numbers of tax collectors working for him, and
that he was wealthy. This meant he had ripped off a whole lot of people for a
long period of time. He was not a good guy; he was a bad guy. He was morally
ragged and on the fringes of society.
But somewhere along the way he heard about this rabbi named
Jesus, a religious person who, on occasion, hung around morally ragged people
and happened to go to parties where there were prostitutes and riffraff and tax
collectors. So he was curious about Jesus.
Luke says in verse 3 he wanted to see who Jesus was, but
being a short man, he could not. He was vertically challenged because of the
crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore fig tree to see him, since Jesus
was coming that way. We can imagine the scene: The crowds pack the streets, and
Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus. He runs to the street, but the crowds are there.
They are taller than he is, and he can't see. I also suggest to you they knew
who he was and did not like him, and so they wanted to exclude him from the
view. He has one option. He runs down the street and climbs a sycamore fig tree
to see Jesus.
That's an interesting detail in the story. Why would Luke
say Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore fig
tree? Why not just a tree? That caught my curiosity, and so I looked it up and
here's what one expert said: "Because the branches of the sycamore fig
tree are strong and wide spreading, and because it produces many lateral
branches, it was an easy tree for Zacchaeus to climb and in which he could easily
be hidden." Oh, Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus, but he doesn't want Jesus to
see him. He's hiding.
Let me ask this question this morning. Are any of us in this
room this morning hiding from Jesus? Oh, you can run, but ultimately you can't
hide. Look at verse 5: "When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said
to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your home
Jesus finds us when we hide
Jesus didn't care about his occupation. Jesus did not care
about his reputation. Jesus was concerned about his salvation, because
Zacchaeus was a human being made in the image of God. Yes, he was morally
ragged and, yes, he was hiding; but that's what Jesus does. In the midst of our
hiding, he comes and he finds us. The reason he does that is because he loves
you and me more than we will ever know.
Illustration: One of my favorite authors is John
Ortberg. In one of his books he tells the story of his sister Barbie and her
favorite doll when she was growing up, a doll named Pandy. Here's what he says:
When Pandy was young and a looker,
Barbie loved her. She loved her with a love that was too strong for Pandy's own
good. When Barbie went to bed at night, Pandy lay next to her. When Barbie had
lunch, Pandy ate beside her at the table. When Barbie could get away with it,
Pandy took a bath with her. Barbie's love for that doll, from Pandy's point of
view, was nearly a fatal attraction.
By the time I knew Pandy she was
not a particularly attractive doll. In fact, to tell the truth, she was a mess.
She was no longer a valuable doll. I'm not sure we could have given her away.
But for reasons that no one could ever quite figure out, in the way that kids
sometimes do, my sister Barbie loved that little rag doll still. She loved her
as strongly in the days of Pandy's raggedness as she ever had in her days of
great beauty. Other dolls came and went; Pandy was family. Love Barbie; love
her rag doll. It was a package deal.
Once we took a vacation from our
home in Rockford, Illinois, to Canada. We had returned almost all the way home
when we realized at the Illinois border that Pandy had not come back with us.
She had remained behind at the hotel in Canada. No other option was thinkable.
My father turned the car around, and we drove from Illinois all the way back to
Canada. We were a devoted family, not a particularly bright family, perhaps,
We rushed into the hotel and
checked with the desk clerk in the lobby. No Pandy. We ran back up to our room.
No Pandy. We ran downstairs and found the laundry room. Pandy was there wrapped
up in the sheets about to be washed to death. The measure of my sister's love
for that doll was that she would travel all the way to a distant country to
Jesus traveled all the way from the distant country of
heaven down to earth to save Zacchaeus. Jesus traveled all the way from that
distant country of heaven to find people like you and me. Let me ask you once
again this morning: Are you emotionally or spiritually or morally in some way
like Zacchaeus, up a tree and hiding from Jesus? Well, he loves you so much
he's coming up to that tree, and what he's telling you is, "I want you to
come down and I want to come over for lunch today." The reason is he is
the only answer to the cause of our hiding, and that's our sinfulness.
Jesus cures our reason to hide
To show you what I mean, look at verses 6 and 7: "Jesus
says to Zacchaeus, 'Come on down immediately. I must stay at your house today.'
So Zacchaeus came down at once and welcomed him gladly." Oh, he's excited
now. Jesus is coming over. But look at the crowd. All the people saw this and
began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner." Well,
that was no news to Zacchaeus. He knew he was a sinner. He knew he was immoral.
He knew he was morally ragged. But one of the keys to coming out of our hiding
is to finally admit it out in the open and let Jesus deal with it.
That's true for you; that's true for me.
Illustration: When I was nine years old, it finally
started to dawn on me that I was a pretty sinful person. I have an older sister
named Becky, and I really do love my sister a lot. We get along well now. We
see each other a couple of times a month, and she's a great person, has a great
sense of humor. I really love my sister a . But when we were growing
up, it wasn't always that way. You see, she was older and bigger, and she used
to pound on me all the time, and it hurt. And in my devious way, I looked for
ways in which I could take out revenge.
One day my mom took me to a department store, and they had a
pet department where they were selling exotic pets. One of the pets they were
selling was a crocodile, and my mind started to race ahead. So I
pressed my mom, and in a moment of weakness she caved in and bought me this
crocodile. They put it in a container with a wire top.
As I was carrying it out of the store the crocodile bumped
up against the wire and tried to bite my fingers, and I thought, Cool. I couldn't wait until we got home.
As soon as we got home, I started to chase my sister around the house with the
crocodile. It kept trying to get out and bite her, and she was terrorized,
mortified. My dad came home a couple of hours later. He didn't punish me, but
he said, "You can't terrorize your sister. That's a wrong thing to do, and
the crocodile is going back to the store." He didn't use these words, but
I got the impression, You have sinned.
I have sinned and so have you. So did Zacchaeus, and so did
all those people around Zacchaeus. The only cure for our sin is the death of Jesus.
Luke doesn't tell us in this passage, but if we turn over just a few pages and
move a few days ahead in Jesus' life, that would be the day Jesus walked that
painful road to Calvary. That would be the day Jesus hung naked on a Roman
execution rack before all his enemies. The reason Jesus did that was because he
had to pay the penalty for our sin to a holy God. Jesus died for us.
Illustration: I used to have a good friend named
Debbie Johnson. Debbie was beautiful and bright and gifted. She was a wonderful
mom to a couple of young boys and the wife of a good friend of mine named Dave.
Dave was a pastor here in town. In early 1994 Dave and Debbie Johnson got a
call to leave their pastorate in Denver and go back to Minnesota and serve the
Lord in a church there. About six months after they went to Minnesota, Debbie
was diagnosed with cancer, and about eight months after that she died.
But she didn't have to die. They caught the cancer early on.
All they had to do was give her radiation and chemotherapy, but she wouldn't
take it. Two months before she was diagnosed with cancer, she found out she was
pregnant with their third child, and the treatment for the cancer would have
killed the baby, so she said no cancer treatment. She went full term, gave
birth to that baby, and then she died. She died so that baby could live.
That's exactly what Jesus did for all of us. He made that
huge journey from heaven to find us but also to forgive us of our sin. There is
no one in this auditorium who does not need to be found and to be forgiven of
sin. You know this as well as I do. Sin grabs us and holds us. It binds us and
tangles us up, and then it pulls us down.
Illustration: In his great novel Toilers of the Sea, Victor Hugo tells the story of his antagonist,
the bad guy in the story, and his name is Clabare. Clabare is on a ship with a
variety of people, and he wants to rob them. So he runs the ship aground on a
sandbar. Pretending to be the hero, he persuades all the people to disembark
into lifeboats. He sends them into the ocean and tells them they will be
rescued. He promises to try to get the ship unstuck and come to help them.
Well, after getting them off the ship, he goes into the
stateroom, breaks open the safe, and takes all the jewels and money. Then he
goes into the rooms and finds anything of value, puts it in big bags, and puts
the bags on his shoulders. He is going to swim to a nearby island where he
knows he will be rescued. He jumps off the side of the ship and cuts into the
ocean. He goes to the bottom. As he touches the ocean floor, he pushes off to
come back to the surface. But just as he does so, an octopus tentacle reaches
up and grabs him around the ankle. He shakes free of it, but as he tries to
swim higher another one grabs him around the shoulder. Then another one grabs
him around the waist. He struggles to get free, but he can't, and the octopus
pulls him down to the bottom, where he dies.
We have all had that experience with our sin, haven't we? It
will grab us and hold us and bind us and tangle us up. The only person who can
help us is Jesus.
Salvation frees us from sin's grip
Look at verses 8 and following. Apparently after lunch
Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, here and now I give
half of my possessions to the poor. If I have cheated anybody out of anything,
I will pay back four times the amount."
Zacchaeus makes an incredible claim. The Old Testament law
did not require him to compensate his victims this much. It certainly didn't
require him to get rid of half of his wealth or more. Why does he take such a
Jesus gives us the answer in verses 9 and 10. Jesus said to
him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a son
of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
That's what salvation is. Salvation is being found by Jesus and forgiven by
Jesus, but salvation, in the fullest sense of the term, is to be set free from
the power of sin by Jesus.
The thing that had Zacchaeus's heart, the thing that had
tangled him up was money, materialism. I think I understand why. He was short;
he was probably unattractive; he felt bad about himself, no . But he
was good with numbers. He figured out the way to gain significance and security
in this life was to become a tax collector, and it didn't matter if you ripped
other people off. So money got his heart, and it was the sin that kept pulling
him down. Only when he met Jesus did he realize that significance and security
come not in stuff but in the Lord.
I'd like to ask a few questions of us this morning, and I'm
asking them of myself.
Are you like Zacchaeus: you hide in the pursuit of
affluence? Or maybe the thing that's got you bound up is sexual immorality. Oh,
you have legitimate needs there, but you are trying to meet them in
illegitimate ways. Or maybe many of us are seeking to find significance and
we're tangled up in things that are culturally respectable, like achievements
or higher education or good grades, and that's what drives our life.
Maybe some of us are tangled up in guilt. Something happened
in the past. Something bad took place. We made some bad choices, and we live in
guilt. You know the truth of what Garrison Keillor said, that guilt is the gift
that keeps on giving.
Friends, I say this to myself and I say it to you: The only
person in the entire universe who can set us free from the power of sin is
Jesus. He's come to find us. He's come to forgive us, but he wants us to invite
him over for lunch, invite him into our lives and say, "Lord, I am
struggling with this area. Will you please by your grace set me free from its
Illustration: In the 1840s and 1850s, major portions
of the United States of America were dominated by the institution of slavery,
and it was expanding fast. On one occasion a young congressman from Illinois by
the name of Abraham Lincoln heard about a slave auction being held near where
he lived, and so he went. As he stood at the edge of the slave auction, he
observed as black Americans were led onto the block and auctioned off. Finally
a young slave woman was led up to the block, and they started the bidding on
her, and Lincoln bid. Somebody outbid him, and then he bid higher. Somebody
outbid him, and he bid higher still. After a few moments they said, "Sold."
They took her off the auction block and brought her to Lincoln, and he had the
slave master let her out of her chains. Then Lincoln looked at her and said,
"Now you are free."
She looked up at him with a curious look and said,
"Free? What does it mean to be free?" Lincoln said, "It means
you can think anything you want. You can say anything you want. You can go
anywhere you want."
It sunk in, and the tears streamed from her eyes down her
cheeks. She looked at him and said, "Then I will go with you."
Friends, that's why Jesus made the long journey from heaven
to planet earth. It was so he could find us, so he could forgive us, and so he
could set us free from the power of sin. This morning I'd like us to meditate
on three questions. Are we hiding from Jesus? Have we allowed him to forgive
us? Have we invited him home into our lives to set us free from the power of
Scott Wenig is teaching
pastor at Centennial Community Church in Littleton, Colorado, and associate
professor of applied theology at Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado.