When Love Comes to Town
When Love comes to Town is a song by U2 and the great B. B. King. They collaborated together on this song first released in 1988. Here is an excerpt from the song:
I was there when they crucified my Lord, I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword, I threw the dice when they pierced his side, But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide. When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that train, when love comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame, Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down, But I did what I did before love came to town.
Love is without question a transformational feeling. The love for a spouse, a child, a girlfriend or boyfriend is one of the most joyous occasions we as human beings ever get to experience. But with love also comes great risk. If you have ever had your heartbroken before or loved someone only to not have it reciprocated, then you understand the risk that is involved with love. The attributes of God are many: He is patient, kind, forgiving, merciful, gracious, transcendent, immanent, all powerful, all knowing, wise, discerning, thoughtful he is all of these things and many more, but the one quality that is probably talked about or at least should be talked about over and over again is the LOVE of God. You see when the love of God grabs a hold of you it transforms you forever. So for the next 10 weeks we will be focusing on people in the Gospels and Acts who will transformed by an encounter that they had with Jesus. Transformed by him because of his miracles and his teaching, but mainly transformed by the love that he had for every individual that we will examine. Here are the goals for this series: 1) For those of you that already have a relationship with Jesus Christ, a reminder of the love that he has for you. 2) For those of you who are exploring Jesus that you would walk away 10 weeks from now confident that Jesus loves you regardless of what you bring to the table. 3) For those of you have a relationship with Jesus but you are beginning to doubt his love for you, that you would walk away with a confidence in God’s love for you that you have not had for a long time. When Love comes to town everything changes. Luke 19:1-10 is where we will be today looking at the story of Zacchaeus.
Seize Every Opportunity:
"He entered Jericho and was passing through."
Jericho was not the final destination of Jesus. He was simply traveling through town on his way to Jerusalem. So not only does he have no intention of spending a whole lot of time in Jericho, but think of the state of his mind. He knows that the arrival in Jerusalem will be the beginning of the end of his life. Imagine his thoughts, his emotions, the anxiety he must have felt as he made his way towards Jerusalem.
I don’t know about you, but when my thoughts and emotions are in another place I rarely stop to seize opportunities that are right in front of me. I have tunnel vision. I just want to get where I am going or accomplish the task that I know has to get done, and yet we see Jesus doing the very opposite here. He’s just passing through and attends to the need in front of him.
I want to encourage you as I encourage myself today to not pass through. Don’t get so caught up in your goals, your daily itinerary, or your destination to miss what God might put directly in front of you. I can tell you personally as a type A personality that I have missed my fair share of opportunities to serve other people or share the Gospel with someone who needs to hear it because I was just passing through to get where I needed to go. Let’s all slow down, take a deep breath, and ask God to help us seize every opportunity that he gives us. Maybe you are a big picture person and the details are not your thing. Sometimes the details are when God teaches you and shapes you.
- My mother was holding me in her arms as a newborn baby on January 28, 1986. I was one month old. That morning something unique was supposed to happen. The Challenger was going to put the first civilian teacher in space. By this point in the history of space travel, space shuttles were designed for a lifetime of one hundred flights each. Launching a space craft into space was now old news. NASA had figured it out. I think you probably know what happened. 7 astronauts were killed in the Challenger explosion. NASA has checklists for everything. They are meticulous in their preparation and procedures. And yet on the morning of January 28, 1986 it was the failure of two rubber O-rings designed to separate the sections of the rocket booster that failed due to cold temperatures on the morning of the launch. Speculations has existed for years over what could have prevented this disaster. What if they would have simply delayed the launch until the temperature warmed up or doubled checked the O-rings. Many people think NASA was aware of the problem but because of past successes thought they would be ok.
The Challenger explosion is an intense illustration to use, but think about individuals you know. Those of us in Christ have the best news in the word that can change the course of a person’s life forever. Let’s seize every opportunity we have.
Take the Initiative:
"And 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.'"
At this point I need to shatter one of the songs that many of you who grew up in church learned about Zacchaeus. Remember the song about him being a wee little man. Unfortunately, this is probably more legend than reality. The Greek text is better represented with a reference not to Zacchaeus’s shortness of stature but to his youth, which would account for why the crowd thought he was insignificant to see Jesus.
Zacchaeus intrigued by Jesus had to climb a tree in order to get a good look at him because of the crowds. But it probably also wasn’t because he was short. The people were actually preventing Zacchaeus from getting close to Jesus. Why would they do this? Because Zacchaeus in spite of the fact that he is wealthy is not respected by the people in Jericho. He is a tax collector, and even though that gives you material wealth it is not a popular profession. Tax collectors were extremely dishonest. In going around and collecting taxes for the Romans they would always add to the amount that the Romans required and keep it for themselves. The people knew that the tax collectors were doing this, but they were unable to do anything about it because tax collectors worked for the Romans.
You see Jesus was aware that the reason Zacchaeus was in this tree was not because he was short, but because he was intrigued by Jesus. He wanted to learn more about him. So Jesus calls out to him. Jesus takes the initiative.
If God is working in people’s hearts than they very well might approach you to discuss matters of faith, but in this day and age you will have to begin taking the initiative if you want conversations about faith to come up. We are more secular as a society than we have ever been so just because you wear Christian t-shirts, pray at meals in public, or keep a Bible on you does not mean people will eagerly come up to you to begin discussing spiritual things.
- In 2019, we will be providing some training opportunities for you to learn how to begin the conversation with people about spiritual things, Also, I want everyone to mark January 20th on their calendar. On this Sunday, I will be revealing a plan for intentional outreach throughout all of 2019. I want you to be here on this Sunday, and begin praying already that God will use this approach to reach many people in our city.
"And when they saw it, they all grumbled, 'He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.'"
The attitude of the people here is concerning. Instead of having feelings of happiness and joy that Jesus would spend time with a tax collector, they had feelings of anger and resentment. Why would Jesus spend his time with someone like this? What could this person possibly have to offer the kingdom of God?
I would caution all of us to look closely at the crowed in this passage. Let’s all ask ourselves this question. Is this us? Whether individually or as a church. Is this our attitude when people visit our church who don’t look like us, dress like us, or make the same amount of money as us? How hospitable are we to outsiders? Is our church building hospitable to outsiders? Do we ever stop to consider what it must be like for someone who comes to this church for the first time and knows no one?
- I will never forget going to church in college for the first time. My roommate had no interest in going along with me, and I knew basically no one when I went off to college and so I walked into a worship service designed specifically for college students not knowing anyone. This was the first time in my life that I was aware of an experience where I was walking into a room full of strangers with no one who knew my name. 15 years later I still would not wish that experience on anyone. And this is coming from someone who is an extrovert. Fortunately, I walked into the room and was immediately met by people who were concerned about me and made me feel like a part of the group. This show was really before my time, but it has one of the greatest theme songs in television history and there is this great line that says, “You wanna go where everybody knows your name.” Now in the show Cheers that was a bar, but don’t we want people to have that same type of response for the church. This is a well-known fact in the church world but most people make a decision on the church in the first ten minutes they arrive. Do you realize what that means? Most likely, the actual worship service is not the deciding factor for people. It’s the parking lot experience, the check in experience if they have children, and the pre service experience of getting a worship guide, finding a seat, and having people talk to them. Our worship and preaching could be top notch, but if all those things prior are not where they should be they are not coming back. I would challenge you this morning to be a part of our first impressions ministry where you can make people feel welcomed every single Sunday. If this is an interest you have mark it on the tab on the worship guide or come talk to me after the service.
Come into Community:
"And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.'"
In verse 8, we have to examine two different approaches to Zacchaeus’s story. Notice here that Zacchaeus is speaking in the present tense. He says I give to the poor, and I restore it fourfold. Some commentators take this as a futuristic present meaning even though Zacchaeus is speaking in the present he means he will act this way in the future so verse 8 would be his repentance and vv.9-10 would be his salvation.
But I actually don’t think that is what is happening here. I believe what some other commentators and scholars believe and that is that Zacchaeus is showing Jesus what his current practice is. Luke mentions nothing of Zacchaeus need for repentance, doesn’t mention Zacchaeus actually repenting, and Jesus himself doesn’t even call on Zacchaeus to repent. So this doesn’t seem to be a story of Zacchaeus’s conversion. So what is Jesus doing to Zacchaeus here? He is bringing him back to the community.
Salvation in verse 9 means that Jesus is letting Zacchaeus and everyone else around him know that Zacchaeus is a part of the community of faith. Don’t miss the significance of what Jesus is doing here. He is simultaneously reassuring Zacchaeus of his place in the kingdom of God, and rebuking the people who thought Zacchaeus was unworthy of a relationship with Jesus. By Jesus restoring Zacchaeus back to the community he is also restoring everyone in his household who also felt this type of ostracism.
Come into community this morning. Maybe you have intentionally separated yourself from the community of faith, come back this year. Invest in the life of our church. Join a small group where you can have relationship with other people who are on this journey with you. And if any of us are the crowd in this story and are responsible for ostracizing people from this community of faith may we ask God for his forgiveness.
Jackie Hill Perry recently wrote a book entitled Gay Girl, Good God, where she recounts her transformative experience with Christ where she lived as a lesbian and the struggle of coming out of that life as a follower of Christ. She talks about one of the strengths of the LGBTQ community is the fact that they have incredible community. It is not just a label that people wear, but they have an incredible sense of belonging and love for the entire group. And she argues in her book, that sometimes the church does not do that. So church of Jesus Christ in New Orleans, I challenge all of us to stand up and be the place of community where people from all different walks of life can come and find the redemption found only through Jesus Christ.