Read Luke 19: 1-10 to start.
In the spring of 1985, Canadian paralympian Rick Hansen set out on a world tour in his wheelchair to raise money for spinal cord research. He travelled 40,000 kilometres, across 34 countries, taking 26 months to complete his trek. It was called the Man in Motion tour, and it was an absolute success, raising 26 million dollars, and certainly increasing awareness of those living with spinal injury and how they could do things that no one expected of them. While he didn’t get much attention at the start, by the time he some months along he was making international news and folks took notice.
He met a lot of people on that tour, and no doubt shook a lot of hands. One of those hands was mine, because when he rolled into Charlottetown in the fall of 1986, I heard that he was going to be at the parking lot for the Ellis Brothers’ Shopping Center, which was only a five minute walk from my house, so I went down there to see him. There were a couple of hundred other people with the same idea, so there was quite a crowd, but ten year old Marko was pushy and persistent, and I made my way to the front. I wanted to see him, and I did. I don’t remember if I said anything, but I remember that I shook his hand.
Was seeing Rick Hansen a moment that changed my life? Not especially, even if I do remember details of that day, such as the well-worn leather gloves he was wearing and that for someone who was internationally famous, he seemed smaller than I expected.
Of course, we meet people every day, and most of those times have little or no impact on our lives. When I meet a cashier at a store, which happens quite often, or maybe a new courier driver, which happens less, but still reasonably often, that does not really affect me in any way.
There are times, though, when we meet someone and it changes everything. I remember when I met my wife, both when we first crossed paths at a school fundraiser, and later, when mutual friends invited us both to the same event and put us on the same team, and that absolutely changed the course of my life. I remember when I met my boss, he found out that I did some web design, and he asked “Do you charge much?” I’ve been working for him for the last 18 years, so I guess the price was right.
If not for those two meetings, I would not likely be here behind this pulpit this morning, I would not be living in Bob & Marg MacGregor’s old house with my wife, four kids, and a mildly idiotic cat. There are times you meet someone, you see someone, and it leads to a much larger change than you would ever imagine.
In the passage we read to start this morning, we read about a man named Zacchaeus. He’s a familiar character, there’s of course the children’s song we sing about him and his tree climbing abilities. We only know him from this 10 verse section of the gospel of Luke, we know he was a tax collector, in fact the chief tax collector for the area, and he know that he was wealthy, and that he was short. This is not a lot of background information, to be sure, but it paints a picture of a man, who despite his worldly gains, wanted something more. He wanted to see Jesus, despite the obstacles he faced.
We sing about that in the song as well, he climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see. He didn’t care about the crowds, he didn’t care what people would think, and I can’t imagine that he people would be terribly impressed by Lil Zach, who was not likely a young man, nor was he likely a nimble climber, it’s not easy to climb a tree when you don’t have long arms and legs. He might well have looked five kinds of ridiculous up there in that tree waiting for Jesus of Nazareth to pass by. People were not especially fond of him anyway, tax collectors were generally disliked as anyone who takes your money tends to be, and even more so, they were seen as collaborators with the Roman government. They considered Zacchaeus to be a sinner, and were shocked when the Lord noticed him, spoke to him, and went to dine with him.
What people thought about him did not deter Zacchaeus. Even if he may have endured scorn, even if he may have felt slightly ridiculous up in that tree. But it all paid off, for he saw the Lord. And even more importantly, the Lord saw him.
We know the rest of the story. The Lord called to Zacchaeus in the tree, and told him that He was going to his house that day, to which Zacchaeus readily agreed, and then shortly repented of his avaricious ways. He pledged to give half of his goods to the poor, which would have no doubt been a significant amount of money, and perhaps even more importantly, to refund anyone that he had defrauded by overzealous tax collection efforts, which is something that the tax system at this time was notorious for.
This was a dramatic change for Zacchaeus. We don’t know if there is any particular lead up, if he had long been troubled by his greedy, sinful ways, or if this was a recent development, or if it all happened on that one day, if he woke up that morning planning to go on making as much money as he could, and by the evening had done a complete 180, giving money away and seeking to make good on his unjust gains, but we know that he changed.
A meeting with the Lord did that for Zacchaeus. We don’t much else about him, but we know that he found salvation that day, and that he had been lost, but the Lord sought him and saved him, as we read at verse 10.
Seeing Jesus is often the turning point people need, in fact, I would argue that if you have not seen Him, then it is definitely something that you need. Even if you have, you may need to look to Him again, to see Him once more.
There are of course many other examples of people who came to see Christ. In John chapter 12, we read about a group of Greek who came seeking Jesus, I’ll read a few verses from there.
(Joh 12:20) And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: (Joh 12:21) The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. (Joh 12:22) Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. (Joh 12:23) And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.
I’ll pause there, because I could probably preach a whole sermon about the Lord’s response to these Greeks, this is the well-known passage about a corn of wheat falling into the ground to die and bring forth much fruit, and about hating your life in this world to keep it, as opposed to loving your life to lose it. However, that’s not my point here, it’s about seeing Jesus, and likewise being seen by Him.
Like Zacchaeus, these Greeks sought to see the Lord, but they did have some challenges in doing so. They brought their request to one of the disciples, Philip, perhaps because of his Greek name, who brought it to Andrew before they both told Christ. This seems awkward, likely because these Greeks were not Israelites, they were not His people or of His nation. He came first to the lost sheep of Israel, and maybe they had some understanding of that. Maybe they didn’t, we don’t know their level of knowledge, nor are we told about their particular reasoning, merely that they asked. They wished to see the Lord, but they were not quite sure how best to approach Him.
As gentiles, they had no particular claim on the Lord, and they had no solid reason to believe that they deserved any sort of audience with Him. Certainly we see others in the gospels that approached the Lord who behaved as if they had every right to be there, but these Greeks did not. They came carefully, but still they sought Him, and He did not turn them away.
Nor did he turn away the young children brought to Him, as we read in Matthew chapter 19, I won’t have you turn there, but I’ll read a few verses (Mat 19:13) Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. (Mat 19:14) But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 19:15) And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.
We see at verse 13 that the disciples rebuked those who brought children to see the Lord, no doubt thinking that He had more important things to do, more valuable audiences to reach, rather than a group of kids. But the Lord was more than willing to see them, and to lay his hands on them, and to pray over them before He departed. It wasn’t a huge event, probably only taking a few minutes out of His day. But it likely meant the world to those children, and no doubt to their parents as well, who made the effort to bring them.
It is worthwhile to note that all three of these groups, or individuals in the case of Zacchaeus, were not high status people. They were not important, they were not influential, they were not well liked or accepted as valuable by society at large. They were not popular or special or holy in any way. But that didn’t matter to the Lord, not even a little. He said to Zacchaeus that He was come to seek and to save the lost, to the Greeks that His hour of glory was at hand, and to the children that the kingdom of heaven would be made up of people like them. These people, these outsiders, sinners, foreigners, children, they were not distractions from His ministry, they were the primary target of His ministry. These are the people who wanted to see Christ, and these are the people that He wanted to see.
Those who wish to see Jesus have the opportunity to do so. It’s not about mere curiousity, although certainly that is a factor that may play into it. Zacchaeus sought to see Jesus, who He was, it tells us, we are not told that he was looking for a life changing encounter, and likewise those Greeks wanted to see Him, but we are not told specifically why, although I imagine they were curious. No doubt those children were curious, children usually are, but I can’t imagine their parents brought them to see the Lord simply to satisfy some curiosity. They were looking for the Lord to lay hands on their children, they were looking for something more than simply to satisfy inquisitiveness.
Anyone who today should earnestly wish to see Him I believe will not be turned away. That may not always be the case. In Isaiah 55, at verse 6 we read (Isa 55:6) Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. That does suggest that He may not always be found, that there is not an infinite window in which we might see Him. Seek the Lord while He may be found. Do not delay. There is little I can think of that is more tragic than looking for Christ and not being able to find Him.
In Luke 24, after the resurrection, two of Christ’s followers were walking to the town of Emmaus, when He joined them on the road without revealing His identity. They talked with Him, and He with them, and at verse 24 there is a little phrase that caught my attention. I’ll read from verse 24 (Luk 24:22) Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre; (Luk 24:23) And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive. (Luk 24:24) And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not.
How sad for those who had eagerly ran to the tomb, and while they had found it empty and His body no longer there, they had been unable to find the Lord. Perhaps they did not even imagine that He might be nearby. Of course, he was very near, as we know from reading in John’s gospel that Mary Magdalene saw Christ in the immediate area not long after.
But how sad as well for these two on the way to Emmaus. I know they were not speaking of themselves at that point, but these two were in His very presence as they spoke, but like those who went to the sepulchre, Him they saw not. To be so close to the Saviour and not to realize it! To be right there, and not see Him! No wonder they later ran back to Jerusalem once they discovered who it was, when, as it says in verse 31, their eyes were opened.
It says in the verse before that he took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, was it that action that reminded them of the Last Supper in the Upper Room, and they clued in? Or was it that they saw His hands as He broke that bread, and the nail prints were revealed, and it could be none other? Or was it at that point that God the Father decided it was time to pull back the veil and let them see the resurrected Son for who He was? I know not which was the case, but their eyes were opened, and finally they saw. How close they came to missing out, though. How close they came to not seeing Him at all.
Surely they were not expecting to see Him on the road to Emmaus. They were not looking for Him there, why would they be? They thought He was dead, even though He had told them repeatedly that He would rise again not long after. Their thoughts, their expectations were limited, and so Him they saw not.
It is a tragedy to look for Christ, and not to find Him. It is a greater tragedy still to not look for Him at all. That is the condition of many people in this world today, and indeed, not only today, but for almost as long as there have been people in this world there have been those who did not look to their maker, those who do not seek Him, who are not interested, but who are comfortable in their lost and fallen state, who are content to remain in their sins.
Maybe content is not the right word. Certainly being without Christ in this world is anything but a state of contentment, rather, there is much discontent, there are millions, nay billions of people who are not satisfied with how things are, with how their lives have unfolded, with the pain and suffering that they see around them, or that they themselves endure. Some folks are resigned to their fallen condition, they may not be happy with it, but they have grown accustomed to their lost estate, and so they remain therein, unwilling and uninterested in seeking a change. They do not see Jesus because they do not even start to look for Him. It is terribly difficult to find when you do not seek.
There are others who are not content with how things are, they know there must be something more, and maybe they look for Christ, or salvation, or higher purpose, or eternity, or whatever or whoever they imagine Him to be and to bring, but they look in all the wrong places.
In Matthew 24, we read about dark days, days that are perhaps not far off, or days that in some aspects have long been here, for people have searched for Christ and have instead found counterfeits and false prophets for a very long time indeed.
(Mat 24:23) Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. (Mat 24:24) For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (Mat 24:25) Behold, I have told you before. (Mat 24:26) Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. (Mat 24:27) For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. (Mat 24:28) For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
Some people put a lot of stock in signs and wonders, but I believe that is a perilous path to tread, because not all signs and wonders are necessarily of God. For that matter, if you took someone from another century and put them into our world today, we would easily be able to show them all sorts of wondrous things, from cars that move faster than the fastest racehorse to machines that fly through the air, to boxes that make sounds like they contain an entire orchestra or display moving pictures, to devices that allow doctors to see your bones inside your body, or to give light without flame or heat. Pretty amazing stuff, but hardly miraculous, and certainly not signs of divine power. This is evidence of the excellence of God’s creator, because it displays the fact that we have been created with the ability to build and design all manner of impressive things, but making something new and wondrous is not divine. We should not assume that signs and wonders point to Christ, when just as easily they point to distraction and entertainment, to spectacle and showmanship.
It is tragic to look for Christ and not find Him, it is equally tragic to not look for Him at all. But I think it is perhaps worst of all to look for Him, and to instead find some replica instead, some substitute, some knock-off, that does not require repentance nor offer salvation, but instead tickles the ears, amused the senses, and helps you feel better about yourself as you are rather than bringing about change that leads to life.
That is what happened with Zacchaeus, he was not the same man the next day. He desired to see Jesus, and he did, and he was changed as a result. That is what Christ will do when we see Him, when we truly see Him, when we search for Him with all our heart.
There are many things in this world that want to grab our attention, that want to distract us and occupy our time. If we are not careful, they will do exactly that, and we will miss out on what is important. Just as I close, I would like to read from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 17. (Mat 17:1) And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, (Mat 17:2) And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. (Mat 17:3) And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. (Mat 17:4) Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. (Mat 17:5) While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. (Mat 17:6) And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. (Mat 17:7) And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. (Mat 17:8) And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
It’s a familiar account to be sure, and a dramatic moment for those three disciples who were present for it. There is one key phrase I would call your attention to, and that is at the close of verse 8. They saw no man, save Jesus only.
In this loud and chaotic world, who are you looking at? Where are you looking for guidance? What are you looking for? There are a thousand voices that all call out, that would draw you in, that would distract and detract, that would pull you away from Christ, that would stop you from seeking your maker. If you do not already know Him, then this world will work to keep it that way. The adversary would much rather have you look anywhere else, or nowhere at all, rather than looking to the Saviour for salvation.
If you do know Him already, and I believe that the majority of you already do, then keep looking for Him, keep looking to Him. Read His word, not casually and out of obligation, but read to know, to see, to understand. Pray, not to have a chat at the sky, but to speak with someone who loves you. He’s there if you are looking for Him, and He doesn’t care that you have flaws and shortcomings, that you have obstacles to overcome. In fact, it’s the flaws, shortcomings, and obstacles that He is particularly concerned with. If we were perfect, if we were in need of nothing, then why would we bother to try and see Jesus? We could be content in ourselves, and that would be that. It is the fact that we are not okay that should drive us to see Him, as it drove Zacchaeus to climb a tree, as it lead those Greeks to approach Philip, as it prompted those parents with their children to bother the disciples with their request. He’s waiting for you to seek Him. Do not delay.