Hope for People Who Have Everything but Still Lack Something
Hope for People Who Have Everything but Still Lack Something
G. K. Chesterton, an English writer, once said that "every man who visits a prostitute is looking for God." Really? I believe he's right. In fact, I would suggest that every person who buys hundreds of dollars worth of lottery tickets in hopes of striking it big is looking for God. Every person who tries to get high at a Vicadin party is looking for God. I realize that these people may not know at the time that they are looking for God. They probably don't think, I want to connect with God today, so I'm going to go have an affair with someone who is not my spouse. That's not quite how it happens. But every person who wanders from God's truth, everyone who commits sin, who strays, is looking for the satisfaction and fulfillment that only God can provide.
Blaise Pascal, a seventeenth-century French philosopher and mathematician, said that people have a trace of happiness, but it's only a trace of the original happiness that the first human beings had. We've lost true and full happiness. No person is as happy as they were created to be. Pascal describes this as the "infinite abyss," a giant hole that only God can satisfy.
An article in Sun Times talks about Derrick Rose's new condo at the top of the Trump Tower. It cost 2.8 million dollars. Part of me envied that. I thought, What would it be like to live that kind of life? What would it be like to live at the top of that tower? Living there wouldn't make any us happier. It could never fill the infinite abyss, the hole, in every one of us. Only God can fill and satisfy our longing for happiness.
So what hope is there for people who seem to have everything but still lack what is most important in life, the only thing that satisfies?
This morning we're going to look at the story of a man who seemed to have everything the world could offer but still lacked something. In Luke 19:1-10 we meet a man named Zacchaeus, a man who had everything but still lacked something. He lacked the most important thing in the world. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He's almost there, and he's teaching people what it means to walk with God. Listen to Luke 19:1-10:
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'"
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, 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."
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 the lost."
Zacchaeus seems to have it all.
As Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, he passes through Jericho and meets a man named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is a funny name. It means "the righteous one." We learn that he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. In this time and culture, people despised tax collectors. They made their wealth by extorting money from people. Yes, they were supposed to collect taxes. They would lease these tax districts from the Roman government. They had to provide a certain amount to the Roman government. But they overtaxed and kept the extra money for themselves. There were no checks and balances. Some of these tax collectors were terribly corrupt. People hated them. And this man was a chief tax collector.
Whenever I go back to Montana and fly fish the Yellowstone River, I invariably stop at a little café at the north end of Paradise Valley, a little place called The Pop Stand. It's a nice little hamburger and ice cream joint. It's been there for years. When my parents lived in that valley, they used to visit that café back in the mid-eighties. At that time it was a Tastee Freez, but it eventually became The Pop Stand. In recent years it has gained solid footing because the owner of The Pop Stand, a man who moved into the valley, fell in love with it and bought it. His name is Arthur Blank. He is co-founder of Home Depot, and in his spare time he buys businesses like the Atlanta Falcon, big guest ranches in Montana, and little restaurants like The Pop Stand. He and his wife are often there. His wife will sometimes serve as a waitress, and Arthur will sit in a corner and read The Wall Street Journal.
One of the locals was telling me that one day when Arthur was in the café someone came in and struck up a conversation with him. The person asked, "So how long have you lived here?" "Well, just a few years," he said. "What do you do?" Arthur responded, "I'm in business." For whatever reason the guy kept pressing him. "What kind of business?" "I'm in the industry of home improvement." "Great! What company?" "Home Depot." "Really? Home Depot. What do you do for Home Depot?" "I'm an owner." "Really? Wow, do you own the store over the hill in Bosman?" "Yes, I own that store." "Great. How long have you owned that store?" "Look. I own the whole thing. I started the company."
That's the kind of guy Zacchaeus is. He is not just a tax collector. He is the chief tax collector. He was wealthy, but something was missing in his life. We see this in verse 3: "He wanted to see who Jesus was." Literally, he was seeking to see Jesus.
As Luke's Gospel progresses, we find that Jesus is gaining a reputation. He has come on the scene, and he has proclaimed the good news that the kingdom of God—God's reign which is going to make life better for everybody—has arrived, with him. And Jesus went around healing people and demonstrating the power of the kingdom. He performed miracles and even raised people from the dead. Zacchaeus heard about all this. Even though he had more money than he ever needed, something was missing. He wanted to see who Jesus was. Maybe it was his rejection by the common people. He was hated. If you hated a tax collector, imagine how much you despised and hated a chief tax collector. Maybe that's what triggered his longing. There's often something in our lives that triggers our longing for something more. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but he had a problem. The problem was he was too short to see.
He noticed a vision problem just like the blind man in the proceeding account. But Zacchaeus was not able to see for a different reason—he was too short. I have a book called Peculiar Treasures, written by Fredrick Buechner. Buechner has little vignettes of biblical characters. He gets carried away sometimes, but I love the way he describes Zacchaeus. He says, "Zacchaeus is a sawed off little social disaster with a big bank account and a crooked job." He is so short that he couldn't see over the crowd. Why didn't he just walk around the crowd? Why didn't he just ask somebody if they would let him get to the front? But he didn't do that. He was a tax collector. Nobody was going to let this tax collector get to the front of the crowd. He was unable to see Jesus, the one who was bringing in the reign of God.
Zacchaeus meets Jesus.
So he does something extremely radical in that culture. Verse 4 says, "So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way." Now there are a couple problems with that picture. First, he runs. From what we know about Jewish men in this time and culture, they didn't do a lot of running, at least not in the robes they wore. It was not dignified. On top of that, he climbed a tree. If we had some dignitary coming through town that everyone wanted to see—maybe President Obama or Derrick Rose—can you imagine seeing a dignified, upstanding citizen, even if we don't particularly care for him, climbing up a tree? That's what Zacchaeus does. He's so desperate to see Jesus. He's so desperate for what Jesus has to offer. Perhaps the reason he wants to see Jesus is he recognizes there is an infinite abyss, to use Pascal's words, in his life. And he recognizes that only Jesus can fill it. And if only he can get a glimpse of him, maybe he'll understand what Jesus has to offer, why he's so amazing. So he climbs up a tree.
Interestingly, Jesus looks up. We're not told how he knew Zacchaeus was there. But he looks up, and he said, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." Jesus is inviting him into a relationship. The word that Luke uses for stay or remain is a word that the apostle John uses when he records Jesus' words on the night before he was crucified. He talks to his disciples about remaining or abiding or staying with them and them staying with him. He talks about a relationship, and I believe that's what Jesus is offering Zacchaeus. "I must stay at your house today." Jesus is passing through Jericho. He's on his way to Jerusalem, and yet he's willing to stay, to lodge, to have fellowship with Zacchaeus. It was no small matter to go into someone's home in first-century Palestine. It was an act of fellowship, an act of relationship. And Zacchaeus responded to that. Verse 6 says, "He came down at once and welcomed him gladly." You notice his response was immediate and it was with joy.
Now, the people, as you might expect, didn't respond very favorably to this. They began to mutter and complain: "He has gone to be the guest of 'a sinner.'" And that complaint has come up before in the Gospel of Luke. But notice the replies. It's a criticism leveled at Jesus. How can he hang out with the scum of the earth people like this tax collector, the chief tax collector? What is Jesus doing hanging out with him? Zacchaeus is the first one to reply.
Jesus seeks and transforms Zacchaeus.
In verse 8, he stands up and says to the Lord, "Look, Lord!" His response is to the Lord, but it's really a response, in a way, to this charge. He says, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." That's the fruit of repentance. We read in verse 6 that he welcomed Jesus gladly. But how do we know that welcome was legitimate and sincere? This is the fruit of a person's life who has turned away from his sin and turned to Jesus. We call this repentance. It is the mark of a follower of Jesus, because Luke's Gospel emphasizes that people who follow Jesus use their wealth to meet the needs of the poor. They shouldn't use their wealth simply to build bigger houses, to build bigger empires, but to meet the needs of the poor. Here is Zacchaeus, who, at least by his confession, says that's what he's going to do. Not only is he going to give half of his possessions to the poor; if he's cheated people out of anything, he's going to pay restitution, the kind of restitution that you read about back in the Law of Moses. So we see that Zacchaeus is becoming a sincere follower of Jesus.
In verse 9, Jesus replies, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham." Again, the charge is that Jesus is being a guest of a sinner. How in the world could Jesus do that? What Jesus wants people to understand is that this man, too, is a son of Abraham. As you listen to that language, I hope it takes you back.
Let's look at Luke 1:54, at Mary's song. Mary received the announcement that she would give birth to the Messiah, to the promised deliverer. She breaks into a song. "He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors." When Jesus says to Zacchaeus, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham," he's saying that no matter what he has done, no matter how sinful he is, no matter how much baggage Zacchaeus has—and he has a lot as a chief tax collector—salvation is coming to him, because he is a son of Abraham. He, too, is going to receive the benefit of the Messiah's coming, because he has welcomed the Messiah into his home.
He underscores this, and we come to this profound pronouncement in verse 10: "For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost." That is Jesus' mission statement. Jesus came to earth to seek and to save lost people. Here he is affirming his mission. We see this in Luke 15, in the three stories about lost items and the lost son. Jesus makes it clear: "The Son of Man came to seek." Interestingly, Zacchaeus was seeking the Lord, but it's the Lord that takes the initiative. It's the Lord who seeks. He came to seek and to save lost people.
So, is there hope for people whose lives are missing something? Oh, you bet there is. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. His mission is still the same. It hasn't changed. Only now, Jesus works his mission through you and me, his followers. The story of Zacchaeus is profound because it provides hope for those of us who are sharing the gospel with friends, neighbors, and family members who don't know Jesus. Sometimes we get discouraged. In Luke 18:25, we read Jesus' statement that "it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle …." That would be a camel going through the eye of a sewing needle. It's easier for that to happen than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Sometimes you read that and think, That's what we're up against. Why even bother? But in 18:27, Jesus replies, "What is impossible with man is possible with God." This story of Zacchaeus is an example of a person, a very rich person, who became like that camel, going through the eye of the needle. The impossible has happened. And I think that's the encouragement that some of us need. There is hope for people whose lives are missing something. Don't give up on them. "The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost."
Maybe you've got a Zacchaeus type in your life. They've got everything that a lot of people dream about having. Maybe, like Zacchaeus, they've run over a few people to get what they wanted. Maybe they don't have the best reputation. Do you pray for them? Maybe you invite them to church. When the opportunity comes, you share the gospel with them, and it just doesn't seem like anything positive is happening. This story is a call to us not to get discouraged, not to give up, but to continue carrying out the mission of Jesus, to seek and to save those who are lost. To be sure, I know from Scripture that there comes a point when some people just don't respond to God. But God does not give anyone of us the insight into people's hearts, to know if this person or that person is going to respond. All we know is that with God all things are possible. We are called to continue to share the gospel. We have been sent by the Son of Man who came to seek and save the lost.
It's possible that some of you are not at that place. Perhaps you are lost according to Jesus' description. Maybe you seem to have everything that you wanted in life, but if you're really honest, you would have to admit that there's something missing. You sense there is something more to life, but you don't have it. Maybe it's in those moments when everything is at its best—you're out on a boat somewhere in the Caribbean, the sun is setting, it's just so beautiful—but there's still that haunting. There's still that sense that there is a void, an infinite abyss, in your life. Or maybe circumstances have actually turned bad, and you're aware of that. That sensation is right there on the surface. You know that something is missing. There is hope for you if you turn to Jesus. Turn from your hell-bound race. Do it like Zacchaeus: do it at once. Come to Jesus, the Son of Man, who came to seek and save lost people like me, lost people like you.
This is possible because of the gospel, the good news that Jesus died for our sins and that he was raised to life. Back in 18:31-33, Jesus explains what later becomes known as the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul echoes the two points that Jesus makes. Jesus takes the 12 disciples aside. They're heading to Jerusalem. Jesus knows what's coming, and he says to them: Look, when we get to Jerusalem, everything that is written about me, the Son of Man, by the prophets will be fulfilled. He says the rulers will flog him and kill him. The Son of Man is going to suffer and die. That's the first element that Paul identifies in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul says it happened according to the Scriptures, and it was witnessed in history. People witnessed his burial. And then, in 18:33: "On the third day he will rise again." That's the second element that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15. His resurrection was also witnessed in history. More than 500 people saw Jesus after his resurrection. It also happened according to the Scriptures.
Isn't that a relief? There is hope for you. There is hope for the people that you love. Without Christ, all of us are missing what's most important—a relationship with God. We were separated from God because of our sin. But there's hope. Our baggage, our sin, the poor choices we've made, the train wrecks that we've made of our lives and in the lives of others can be overcome. Jesus died for our sins, and he rose again. And because of that good news, because of Jesus' death and resurrection, there is hope for people who seem to have everything but are missing what's most important, a relationship with God through Jesus, the Son of Man, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords.
Steve Mathewson is senior pastor of CrossLife Evangelical Free Church in Libertyville, lllinois. He is also director of the doctor of ministry program at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon.