I Am Second Week Three - Success

This week I am preaching the third installment of the three part sermon series, "I Am Second," which is based on the program by the same name.  You can find out more about I Am Second at www.iamsecond.com.  I Am Second is a program that helps connect people to Jesus in very earthy and messy ways---much like we relate to one another.  It's also bears witness to what can happen in your life when you place Jesus first.

What I love about I Am Second is that it uses the real testimonies of people who encountered Jesus and discovered that when they put him first, incredible things happen.  Many of the stories that you find on the I Am Second website are from celebrities and athletes, but there are more than a few from ordinary people with extraordinary testimonies.

Our study these past few weeks has taken us to the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life and through some incredible stories of transformation.  In each of the stories that we've studied, people encountered Jesus and were transformed so powerfully by the encounter that they desired to place him first in their life.

This week we're studying the story of Zacchaeus, from Luke chapter 19.  When I was a kid growing up in the Fairfield Road Baptist Church in Greenville, SC we used to sing a little song about Zacchaeus.  It went something like this:

"Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
and a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see.
And when the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree.
And said, 'Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I'm going to your house today!
For I'm going to your house today!'

I sang this song... with gusto. So did you, you know you did.  In fact I bet your were singing it just now.  Lord knows, I was.  I am pretty certain that when I actually preach this in front of people that we'll all sing it together.

Why do we love this story, and this song so much?  What makes it so memorable that all of these many years after we stopped being kids (for some of us, it's like many, many, many years) we can still remember it?

I think that kids love the story of Zacchaeus because they often feel like they are at the back of the room, or behind the crowd and unable to see what's going on. This story reminds them that Jesus sees the "little people" and wants to hang out with them.

I think that adults love this story for many of the same reasons, but mostly because I think they realize just how costly and embarrassing it can be to get close to Jesus--especially when we're not exactly the most... holy... people.  And when Jesus sees us and calls us down, we feel---wanted, accepted, received...

These are all good things, I suppose.  But the fact of the matter is that the song doesn't really match the actual story.  What we learned in Sunday school probably doesn't go all that far below the surface of what was really happening in the text.

First and foremost... this is an amazing story that essentially demonstrates how Jesus redefines success.

Not to mention that it's a fantastic moment where Jesus' true mission is revealed, and it's a moment of real transformation for a man of whom I am sure no one expected transformation of any kind.

What happens to Zacchaeus in this story is nothing short of a miracle.  Undoubtedly there were all kinds of things that he thought to be true about himself, but none of those things matched up with what was true about what he did... everyday... in spite of what he might have believed.

We've all been in that place before, unfortunately.  We have all sorts of opinions about how the world should work, government should function and politicians should act, but instead of doing something about it, we'd rather sit in front of the television eating frozen dinners.  We know exactly what it takes to lose weight, eat healthy, exercise properly, but what we do is join a gym and then never go.

You see where I am going with this don't you?

Then we will say all kinds of things about how we believe in God, follow Jesus and love everybody like a good Christian ought to... But then we go to church when we have nothing better to do... never crack our Bibles or pray unless we're in trouble... and ignore the great needs of the world because someone else will handle it...

Or we say that we are generous, that we trust God with our money---and then we never share it, give sparingly and secretly think that tithing is for people who have more... or the preacher.

Here's one of the truest things that you will ever hear anyone say about the subject of success:  There can be no success if what we do is different than what we believe. 

So... if you go about saying that you're putting Jesus first in your life, but your actions, your life... your finances indicate otherwise...

Then most likely he's not... first in your life.

Let's take a look at Luke 19:1-10 to see what happened when a weasely, good for nothing rotten tax collector got the chance to encounter Jesus...and to put him first:
1. Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.
Jericho was an oasis city on the other side of the Judean wilderness, across some gnarly mountains, south of Jerusalem.  It's not far from the Jordan River, and was the first city that the Hebrew people conquered under Joshua when they came out of the wilderness and moved toward the Promised Land.  This was a symbolic moment for Jesus as he basically retraced those steps...  
2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.
Zacchaeus was not only a tax collector, which was bad enough business--he was a chief tax collector.  He had a bunch of nasty tax collectors under him and he got a cut of everything they collected.  He was like a Mafia capo.  When I think of Zacchaeus, I don't think of a "wee little man," a phrase that makes him seem like the leprechaun from the Lucky Charms commercials.  I think of Joe Pesci. You know who he is right?  The guy from Goodfellas.  "Am I funny to you?"  A nasty, loud, violent, sociopathic little man.  
3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
I love it.  This is the last guy on earth that the crowds in Jericho would expect Jesus to want to hang out with.  Zacchaeus built his wealth by taking the money of his fellow townspeople.  He was crooked.  He took more than he needed, and definitely took more than what was owed.  His house would have gotten bigger and bigger, with more slaves, more luxuries, more of everything.  His neighbors would have seen this and cursed his name.  This is the very rich man that Jesus told his disciples was about as able to enter into the kingdom of heaven as a camel was able to pass through the "needle's eye."  But as he told them then---nothing is impossible with God. 
6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
What caused Zacchaeus to climb up the tree to see Jesus?  Was it simply curiosity, or was it something more? Could it have been an innate desire to discover if there was really something to the message Jesus was teaching?  Could it have been a desire to change his life? To become... human again? I also love it how Jesus tells him that it is "necessary" to come to his house.  Of course it is.  
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 8 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.”
The guy publicly gives away half of his money.  Then on top of that he vows to make fourfold restitution to anyone he has wronged---which was probably a lot of people.  The maximum that Jewish law demanded in terms of restitution was four times the amount stolen, and this was never imposed.
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
This is a very revealing moment for Jesus.  He demonstrates his true mission.  He's not the kind of Messiah that anyone is expecting.  The Pharisees were trying to convince their fellow Jews that if they just obeyed the law and kept the rules, that God would love them, restore them and send his Messiah to rescue them.

But Jesus turns that on its ear.  HE IS THE MESSIAH precisely because he restores the ones who cannot be restored.  This is the true nature of the kingdom of God, a kingdom of grace and not law.

And suddenly, in the middle of all of this Zacchaeus is struck by how unbelievable the grace Jesus has shown him truly is---and he shows it by putting Jesus first.  For the first time in his life, perhaps, Zacchaeus knows what it's like to live rightly, justified and free.  When he completely turns over all that he is to God, including his wealth, his possessions, his... success.  He obtains something that he has not been able to achieve in all of those years of earthly success:  peace.

"Today," Jesus says, "salvation has come to this house..."

In his book Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning tells this parable:  It seems that there was a young man who had sinned so much that the church excommunicated him, and cast him out.  He was told that he was never welcomed there again.  He pleaded, and begged but to no avail.  He wanted to return, and repented of what he'd done, but could find no healing.  So he finally found his way to Jesus.  "Lord," he told Jesus, "they won't let me in because I am a sinner."  To which Jesus replied, "What are you complaining about? They won't let me in either."

I get it.  The church has not been the most hospitable place for broken and hurting people.  I once had some older church members in my former church complain about the kinds of people who were coming to our church.  Some of them were young, tatted up, pierced and played really loud music. Many of them wore jeans to church.  Most of them couldn't even spell Presbyterian. Some were recovering alcoholics.  They were all rough around the edges.  I told the complaining group  that our church was a hospital, not a country club. Some of the older church members got offended.

I wish they'd gotten offended about the way they said one thing and did another. Truth be told... I'm no better most of the time.

Here's the truth.  We are all sinners. We all hang in the back of the crowd, not really sure if we are worthy to meet Jesus.  We all climb the tree, afraid that we'll be discovered and that all of the things we've done to mismatch our outside from our inside will be revealed.

And Jesus simply walks up to us and says... Let's go to you house.  It's necessary that we go to your house.

Will you bring him home at last?  Will you trust him with your everything?   Will you do whatever it takes to be made right with God and with those in your life you may have wronged?

Will you put him first and yourself second?

Because: There can be no success if what we do is different than what we believe. 

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