Today we’re going to look at a familiar story in the Bible. As a matter of fact, if you were raised in a Christian church this was one of the first stories you heard. It’s a story about Zaccheus. You probably learned a little song about him. That he climbed up in a Sycamore tree. I think kids like this story because kids like to climb trees. Interestingly Zaccheus’ name means “pure and righteous” in Hebrew and when Jesus met Zaccheus, he was anything but pure and righteous. Now, Zaccheus lived in Jericho and Jesus is on His last trip to Jerusalem before He was crucified, and He passes through Jericho. On the outside of Jericho (Luke 18), He heals a blind man and that just adds to the excitement of Jesus passing by, Jesus passing through the city of Jericho.
Now Jericho, at the time of Jesus, it was a very beautiful city. If you’ve been to Israel and had been with me, Jericho isn’t what I would classify as a beautiful city today, but there is an area with a bunch of palm trees. There’s a spring there. During the time of Jesus, it was known as a very beautiful city, a very wealthy city, and it was known as “The City of Palm Trees.” It was situated right where a couple highways come together and there was a lot of commerce in that city and so there was a lot of wealth. It was here at Jericho that the Romans decided it would be a great place (because there was a lot of traffic) to collect their toll tax from everybody. And the Romans didn’t want to collect it themselves. They hired Jews to collect it. They didn’t pay them anything. They simply said, “Get what you can. This is how much you better give us” (whatever that was), “and if you want to tack on 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, we don’t care. That’s totally up to you. Whatever you can get away with. You just give us the money.” So, that’s how they were paid. Now apparently there were a lot of tax collectors in Jericho because there were a lot of people passing through and Zaccheus was Chief Tax Collector. He was in charge of all of them. Which I’m sure meant that he got a piece of the pie from all the other tax collectors. The Bible said he was rich. And as you can imagine, the Jewish people hated these tax collectors. They viewed these tax collectors as traders to their country. Traders to their God. They were religious outcasts. Now, I’m assuming something here, but for a Jewish man to take on this position of tax gatherer, he would have had to make a decision that money was the most important thing in life. Because to become a tax gatherer or tax collector, he had to understand that his nation would hate him. His family would hate him. He had to make a choice between God, his country, his family and friends and money. And these tax collectors had decided, “I’m choosing money.” Money was their God. So Zaccheus heard about Jesus, that Jesus was coming and like everyone else, he had heard about Jesus, and he was curious, and that Jesus had just healed someone, and that news had spread like wildfire. So Zaccheus, like everyone else, ran out to see Jesus.
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
This story about Zaccheus, I read it (as with many of you, I’m going through the New Testament 120 days and reading two chapters a day) and when I got to Luke 19, I felt impressed that I was to talk about this. So, I looked at this story and it was interesting, in all these years I’ve never preached a message on Zaccheus. So, I read it and read it and read it, Lord what are you trying to say? And what I believe what He wants me to share with you are 4 Truths about Evangelism. 4 Truths about evangelism that we can see from this passage. The first truth is this.
1) Evangelism is priority #1
… to Jesus. Jesus clearly told us in verse 10 that He came to save the lost. He clearly declared that His mission was to save the lost. That was His purpose. So, it’s not surprising that He noticed Zaccheus. Jesus was always noticing that person that everybody else was ignoring. When Jesus looked up into that tree, I want you to understand that He saw you and me. Jesus was always looking for that person that maybe others were ignoring. It’s all through the New Testament. He was looking for that hungry person, that desperate person, that needy person. There was a woman at the well (John 4). Taking time for the children who they were trying to scurry off (Matthew 10). The lame man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5). The blind man at the back of the crowd. No one was paying attention to this guy, but Jesus saw him and healed him (Luke 18). The woman who touched the garment of Jesus (Mark 5). A woman whose son had died in the city of Naan. They were just kind of passing one another and He raised her son from the dead. And the healing of 10 lepers. And there’s a lot more, but I want to talk about probably my top three stories in the whole New Testament about Jesus (Mark 5). So, Jesus gets in the boat and He sails across the Sea of Galilee and about the middle of the lake, a storm, just this fierce storm builds up. And I believe it was a demonic storm trying to get Jesus from the other side. Of course, He calms it. Rebukes it. He gets to the other side and this demoniac comes running at Him and the demoniac told Jesus, “I have a thousand demons.” And nobody cared about this guy. So, Jesus cast this legion of demons into these hogs, these pigs, these swine. And these hogs, these swine, when the demons come in them, they run off the cliff and are killed. And if you go with me to Israel, we’ll sail right pass it (the cliffs). You can see them. We’re on a boat, we take a boat trip and you can see it. Now, what’s important to understand is that during the time of Jesus, let’s say a community would have a lot of pigs or swine. And they would take all their swine, they’d put them together and they took turns watching them. When Jesus cast those demons into those swine, the economy of that area was hurt. Jesus did not hesitate, even a moment, to hurt the economy of that whole area for one guy. One demoniac. One crazy dude.
The whole New Testament is filled with examples after examples about how every person is important to God. If somehow you think you aren’t as important to God as me, you haven’t read the Bible. There is no partiality with God. Jesus had the greatest agenda of any person who ever walked the earth, but He always stopped for that one person and we see it again, and again, and again. Jesus made sure we couldn’t miss it. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter your social status. It doesn’t matter the color of your skin. It doesn’t matter what car you drive. It doesn’t matter what country you were born in. It doesn’t matter what you did or what you didn’t do. God loves you. You are important to Him. That’s what this cross represents. Jesus came to rescue people, to save people from their sins, to offer them forgiveness and through that forgiveness they can have freedom. They could know God. They can have a relationship with God and ultimately have eternal life. When Jesus looked into that tree, as I said before, He not only saw Zaccheus, but He saw every one of you and me. And all of those that you are around every single day. People are valuable to God. Jesus died for people. He saw people. He noticed everyone. He noticed everyone. And now Jesus has given you and I His ministry of noticing people and telling them about Jesus. Evangelism is priority number one in the church and the last thing Jesus said before He ascended into heaven was, “Go into the world.” Now I’m not saying that’s the only thing a church should be interested in. Of course, we should be interested in serving one another, loving one another and discipling, worshiping, fellowshipping. But it’s obvious if you read the Word, evangelism is priority number one. The church is to seek the lost. The church. “Yeah, those other guys.” Do you understand you’re the church? I’m the church. This is a nice building, but if nobody’s in it? You make the church. We could be meeting outside. We could be meeting in a tent. We’re the church. So, how does this apply to you and I since evangelism is supposed to be the number one priority of the church (and that’s you and me)? How does that apply to us? First of all, I think you just have to agree with Jesus. Evangelism is priority number one. Jesus said He came to save the lost. To find them. To tell them the truth of what He offers and now that’s our number one priority. And Jesus has no favorites. Romans 2:11, “there’s no partiality with God.” What it means is, like Jesus, you and I just have to keep our eyes open. We just have to notice people. Something we Americans do not do very well. There’s lost and hurting people all around us, we just don’t’ notice them. So, let me ask you a question, do you really notice people that are around you? Now I’m not talking about just when you go to the grocery store and notice someone. The people that you hang around every day. There are work with you. They’re at school with you. They’re at meetings that you go to. You’re around them every day. You know their first names. But do you really notice them? Or maybe you don’t know their first name. They come into the lunch area. You say hi to them every day, but you don’t even know what their name is. Do you really notice people? Everyone I have ever met, who’s bringing people to the Lord on a regular basis, bringing them to church, the one characteristic that they have is they notice people. They notice people and they simply ask the question, “How are you doing?” Depending on what they may be going through, you know, “How are things with you today?” They anticipate God opening doors and most of them have learned how to put the urgency of the task or their moment behind. You and I run around like with a jet back. Even when we go into… I said Alpha Beta. I always say that, and my wife goes, “Man, they died a long time ago.” Albertsons. Guys, when I get up in the morning, I get my coffee. First thing, coffee. I sit down, and I make a list. This is what I’m going to do today. And then I pray, “Lord help me.” But that list. I live by that list. And a good day is when I get to cross it all off. Rarely do I cross everything off. So, I go into Albertson’s and if I see there’s a line, “ahh! ehh!” And Albertson’s in Lakeside, they don’t have the self-serve thing anymore. That made me angry. I’m standing… “if we had a self-serve line, I could get out of here.” So, I said, “You know what? I’m going to go talk to the management.” So, I go and say, “Why?” This woman, she must have been told, “Don’t tell them why.” So, I said, “I want to talk to somebody else.” It boils down to, people were stealing stuff. But the point I’m trying to make is, I was ticked off because it was going to cost me an extra four or five minutes. I mean if you really time it, that’s all it would have taken. We are running around like crazy. When really four or five or ten minutes really isn’t going to matter. I like to ask myself, why are you in such a hurry? So, I can go home and sit? Rarely are any of us under so great a time constraint that we couldn’t take a few minutes and ask somebody, “How are you doing?” Now there are some people who have a gift from the Holy Spirit and they can, I mean they just get words from God. They can walk into the store, “Hey, can I talk to you for just a minute?” “Uh, yeah?” “The Lord is telling me that you’re having trouble in your marriage and your son and daughter and…” the people start crying. “Can I pray for you?” That doesn’t happen to me. And if you do have that gift, you need to use it. You have a responsibility to use it.
I went on a motorcycle trip and this young man went with me. I mean he shows up with a helmet, no gloves, shorts. I’m going, “Oh my gosh, you want to die.” We get to this restaurant in the back country and you know, the owner of the restaurant comes up and just wants to know how things are going and he’s sitting there going, “The Lord is telling me things about you right now. You should be going to church.” I’m going, “Oh my Gosh.” “You should be going to church. You’re being disobedient. You need to start going to church. You and your husband. As a matter a fact, you’re having great trouble with your husband,” and all this stuff. She starts crying and I’m like, “I just wanted pancakes.” Next thing I know, she’s sitting there, and he goes, “We need to pray for you,” so the Holy Spirit falls on her. You understand, that’s not normal. I mean, it’s normal for that person, but for most of us, it’s just simply noticing the people around us and then at some point asking them, “How is it going?” And at that point, the Holy Spirit will open up doors for you. You’ll know what to say. Maybe it’s, “Can I pray for you?” Or, “I’ll be praying for you this week.” You just opened up a huge door. Do you understand that people are watching you? People are watching you. Which brings us to the second truth about evangelism and the story about Zaccheus.
2) Many people are curious
People know you’re a Christian and they’re curious. Why would Zaccheus run ahead of the crowd? I mean, he’s a rich guy. For sure he’s got, you know, the best suit. Beautiful shoes, probably curled up. Who knows? The shoes curled up twice, not just once. They were the special ones. And why would he do something like only children do and climb up a tree? There must have been a void in his life. Like so many in every generation, he tried to find meaning and purpose through wealth, possessions, power, but instead of filling him with a sense of fulfillment and peace, he was left empty.
Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature.
Luke 19:3 NASB
What I like about the Word of God is, I mean I’ve read this scripture, who knows how many times, but I’ve never seen this before. Zaccheus went into the tree, not just to see Jesus, “to see who Jesus was,” I never saw that before. He just didn’t want to see Him, this phenomenon, he wanted to find out who He was. For sure, he had heard about Jesus. He was a national phenomenon. Some were saying He was a prophet. He was a messiah. A miracle worker. But he didn’t want to just see that. He wanted to find out who Jesus was. Zaccheus had to be wondering, could this Jesus have the answer I’m looking for? Curious people, hungry people, disillusioned people are all around you. Hurting people. People that don’t have answers to what they’re going through are all around you every day. And they’re looking at you. I can just hear some of you saying, “Well, I don’t want people looking at me. I don’t want people looking at me!” Well, it’s tough because you’re a Christian. You’re different. You have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. They’re looking at you. You’re different. You’re born again.
Last week I talked to a man who works at a coffee shop here in San Diego. He goes, “I don’t know what to do pastor. There’s a real good comradery there and they’re all going drinking after and partying and all this stuff and I always tell them, ‘no’.” I said, “Just go to the manager and tell her very politely, ‘This is why I don’t do that. I’m not condemning you. I just can’t do it because I’m a Christian. I don’t do those things’.” And you see, before long, some of those people are going to be curious and they’re going to want to talk to him.
Dr. Dudley Woodberry. (Doesn’t that sound like a comic strip?). He was a professor at a Christian University. And for fifteen years he went around to Muslim countries and interviewed Muslims who had converted to Christianity. And it really was interesting to him because when a Muslim converted to Christianity in most of these places that he was, it really was a significant deal. The family disowned them. They were under the threat of death and he wanted to find out what was it that made you interested in Jesus? Do you know what the number one reason was? They saw what Jesus did to someone else. They ran into somebody who was a Christian and it made them curious. Now many for sure are getting dreams and visions, but what this professor found was the vast majority (750 people he interviewed in a very detailed questionnaire) that was the number one reason. They saw Jesus in someone else. They became curious and that sent them on the road. But this curiosity about Jesus always leads to a third truth about evangelism.
3) Curiosity leads to a confrontation with Jesus
Jesus said, “Seek Me and you will find Me.” Matthew 7. But so often people are curious about Jesus and when they find what His answer is, they don’t like it. It’s not what they want to hear. As a matter a fact, sometimes it makes people downright angry and nasty and that’s why so many in the American church have decided, “Let’s make God’s Word a little bit more palatable. Let’s change it around. Let’s just not tell them the whole truth. We’ll kind of change it a little bit.” How can that be good? You’ve got to tell people the truth. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 that people don’t like Christianity. People end up not liking Jesus because He doesn’t offer them the answer that they’re looking for, or what they want to hear. So, what is that answer that Jesus gives to people’s problems—their emptiness, their lack of fulfillment, just they’re trying to figure out life? How do I deal with this? What is all this for? Why can’t I find fulfillment? How do I find purpose? Jesus’ answer to all their questions is simply this. You’re the problem. Say what? You’re the problem. You know I like things stripped down to their simplest form. You’re the problem. Jesus is the answer. You’re the problem. Jesus is the savior. We need to be saved from our sin nature. We need the Holy Spirit to give us a new heart. We need to begin to live our lives, a person who doesn’t know Jesus needs to begin to live their lives according to the guidelines of the Word of God. And when they do that, they are going to reap the benefits of that. They are going to live the life that Jesus calls the abundant life. But people don’t like to be told that they’re the problem. They want an answer, they want a solution that keeps them in control of their life and they want a God on their terms. How many of you saw the sunrise this morning? It was unbelievable. I sat there and looked at it and went, “Oh my goodness, God you are incredible.” You created all this. How can I ask you…? You’re God, I’m not. If I want to know you I have to come to you on your terms. He’s God. He created the whole universe, for heaven’s sake. And so, sometimes people get angry and walk away. And then the Lord takes them for another lap in the wilderness and hopefully they come back with the same questions. But many people who are curious, when they find what the problem is, that they’re the problem, they admit it. They say, “Yes. I’m here because of me. I’m just reaping (from) the decisions I have made up to this point.” They admit that. They ask God to forgive them and they say, “Jesus, come and save me. Come into my life. Help me out of this situation.” And Jesus does. He places His Holy Spirit in them. They become born again. Old things have passed away. New things have begun. The truth is, you can’t give your life to Jesus without change taking place. Which brings us to the fourth truth about evangelism that I see in this passage about Zaccheus.
4) Salvation produces fruit
Whenever somebody gives their life to Jesus, there is a change because a commitment to Jesus is a life changing event. Giving your life to Jesus is a life changing event. You are never the same. You are born again. God’s spirit has come into your life. How can you ever be the same person doing the same old things? If there’s a person who comes here on Sunday morning, says some words, goes out and their life doesn’t change, maybe they haven’t become a Christian. Becoming a Christian changes you. When the Holy Spirit comes into your life even without this (holding up the Bible), there’s a basic understanding of right and wrong. The Holy Spirit is living inside of you now. I still remember, I was roofing at the time. I gave my life to Jesus. I go on the roof and I hear Jesus’ name being taken in vain and it bothers me. Twenty-four hours earlier it didn’t bother me, I didn’t care. All of a sudden it bothered me. Something had changed. One day I thought abortion was perfectly fine. It was a woman’s right to choose. The next day I knew it was murder. Absolutely, positively. That quick. I’m just trying to give my example. There was immediate change. I knew some things. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:16, when you give your life to Jesus, a veil is taken away from your eyes. You see this world differently. All of a sudden you can see things spiritually that you never saw before because God’s spirit is living inside of you. A change takes place. It is true that all you have to do is say a few words to become a Christian. But confession, repentance, accepting Jesus as savior is more than just a few words. It has to come from in here (pointing to his heart). A person has to admit, “I’m the problem. I’m a sinner and I need a savior.” Whenever anybody admits that, Jesus comes, and change takes place. The apostle James put it this way.
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
James 2:14 NASB
In other words, he’s saying, if they’re claiming to be a Christian and you can’t see anything in their life, you better start praying for them.
For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
James 2:26 NASB
When a person is born again, they change. Simple as that. Their life and their actions begin to reflect what has happened to them. It’s a process. It’s called sanctification. Well, there’s two parts of sanctification. There’s positional sanctification. You and I are declared holy because of our position, because of Jesus. Before God He’s declared, you’re forgiven. You have eternal life. But there’s a sanctification process that happens to us here on earth. We are day by day dealing with things and getting them out of our life. Things that are affecting us. When someone meets Jesus and they give their life to Him they change. And Zaccheus is a great example of this.
Every time I give a message, there’s one thing I always want whoever listens to me, to take from that message. I don’t emphasize it like I’m going to do right now. But I learned a long time ago that most of you forget 99, 95, maybe even 100% of what I say, an hour or two from now. Kind of discouraging, but there’s been a lot of tests. That’s the fact. So, there’s always one thing. Now that you know, you’ll see. I may have a bunch of points, but there’s always one thing that I keep coming back to and today it’s this. My prayer for you is that you start noticing people. You start noticing people. You actually ask God, “Help me to notice people.” You told me to, as a Christian, as I deal in this world, that’s supposed to be my number one priority. Worshipping you, dealing with my family, of course, but then I’m supposed to notice people and when you notice people all you have to do is be willing to ask one question, “How are things going?” That’s it. You notice people and then at the right time, you just say, “How are you dealing with things? Can I pray for you?” Just something. “How are you doing?” That’s all you do is ask, and when you do it, just from that question, the Holy Spirit will take you to what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to pray for them. You’re supposed to help them out in some way. It’s not that difficult. Can you imagine if fifty people from this church this weekend get that in their head? Fifty of us, this weekend, go out and this week start noticing people and ask the question, “How are you doing?” Wonder if one hundred. Wonder if two hundred. Think about that for a minute. I don’t know how many people go here. Mark and I have never taken the time to try and figure it out. A lot. There’s certainly bigger churches. If 200 of us this week said, “God, help me to notice people,” and you really asked someone’s name and you start to get to know them a little bit and before the end of the week you just ask the question, “How are things going?”, how many of you know amazing things would happen to this church this week? Remember, we’re the church.