November 03, 2019, Pastor Kurt Lantz
Dear sinners seeking to see Jesus,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Who is Zacchaeus? Is he Zacchaeus the tax collector as he is first introduced in the Gospel Reading (Luke 19:1-9); or Zacchaeus the rich man, as he was likely known to most people in Jericho; or Zacchaeus the short man, as anyone in the crowd would have pointed him out; or Zacchaeus the sinner as the people grumbled when Jesus chose to stay at his house?
Or is he Zacchaeus the blessed host; Zacchaeus the benefactor to the poor; Zacchaeus the honourable who restored more than he was required to do; or Zachaeus a son of Abraham? Who is Zacchaeus?
We tend to identify people according to their sinfulness and overlook their saintliness: Zacchaeus the tax collector; Doubting Thomas; the Sinful Woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:37); the Woman Caught in Adultery recorded in John 8; the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). All of these people are known by what they did, not who they are.
We can do the same thing with the people whom we know and live with in our families, at school or at work. There is the drunk uncle, the meddling sister, Bobby the Bully, and Lilly the Liar. And it doesn’t seem to matter to us if they change their behaviour. We still see them and refer to them by their former sins. Doubting Thomas does not become known as Confessing Thomas after he exclaims, “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28). The prodigal son does not become known as the son who knew his father’s grace. The sinful woman is not referred to the one who loved Jesus much (Luke 7:47).
Actions are important insofar as they reflect the faith in the heart. We see that so clearly in the account of Zacchaeus. In response to God’s grace in sending Jesus the Saviour, to his home, Zacchaeus stood to make the formal announcement of his contrition. “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” That was going above and beyond what would have been required by the Old Testament law. Zacchaeus’ heart was so full of thankfulness and praise to the Lord Jesus, that it was not about fulfilling any prescriptions for him. It was about living as the holy saint, who the complete forgiveness of Jesus had made him to be.
Likewise, Jesus told Simon the Pharisee regarding a sinful woman who washed His feet with her tears: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). When God’s grace engenders faith in the heart, outward actions cannot help but follow.
But actions without faith do not make anyone holy. In the Old Testament Reading we heard the LORD chastise his people for doing the very things He had commanded them to do in worship. “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?” (Isaiah 1:11-12).
These actions were an abomination because they were not done with faith in the LORD. The people did not do them because their hearts were moved by God’s forgiveness and grace. They did them to try to offset their sins, not to put an end to their sinning. Unless they put an end to their oppression of the poor, like Zacchaeus did, there would be no forgiveness for them. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (vv. 16-17).
For the salvation that Jesus brings is not a change in name, a change in what people call you. It is a change in your very status before God Himself. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (v.18).
No matter what people continued to call Zacchaeus, it was evident that God had effected the change. Not only was his behaviour changed to giving freely to the poor and restoring more than was required, but He was known to the Lord Jesus not as a tax collector and sinner, but as a Son of Abraham, a child of the promise of everlasting life in the eternal city.
As our congregation takes increasing opportunities to hear about “Stewardship Under the Cross” through the weekly bulletin paragraphs, the monthly articles on the back of the calendar, and upcoming Bible studies, I hope that the point is clearly being made that this all has to do with how God has changed us by grace to be His holy people, and not about trying to offset our sins by doing something more than we used to do. Our giving in offerings, whether it be 10% of our income, more, or less, cannot make us holy. But when they are given like Zacchaeus gave, above and beyond what any law of God requires and with the aim to assist those who are poor, oppressed, and in need physically and spiritually, they reflect that we also are children of the promise of eternal life, that our scarlet sins have been washed away in Holy Baptism and we are clothed in white like wool.
In the Revelation of heaven, granted to John, the image is given of a host of people in white, who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7). They are forgiven in Jesus and clothed with His righteousness. We can project that image now in repentant action, like Zacchaeus did, or like the sinful woman did in anointing Jesus with costly ointment and then washing His feet with her tears.
How much should I give? What should I do? Who should I help? Every time someone writes a manual about it, we take it like a checklist of things to do until we are finished, or a way to offset the sins we want to continue sinning. There is no checklist. There are only the opportunities that God sets before you to reflect the holiness that He has given to you in Jesus. The LORD said through Isaiah, “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” Cease to do evil (intoxication, adultery, cheating, stealing, slandering), and help the oppressed (by giving toward their physical needs and supporting the preaching of the Gospel). We have the practical examples of Zacchaeus and others who responded to God’s grace according to their own vocations.
St. Paul’s letters to the churches often begin with something similar to what we hear in today’s Epistle Reading: “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing… To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3, 11-12).
God is at work in you as He was at work in Zacchaeus, a son of Abraham. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He came to the house of Zacchaeus. In fact, He said, “I must stay at your house today.” Why? Because, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Salvation comes with Jesus. It must come with Jesus, and Jesus comes to seek and to save the lost.
He does not come for those who are trying to fulfill requirements, giving their rams and lambs while they continue to indulge their sins, hurting others along the way, not caring for those in need around them. He comes rather, to those who know that they have sinned much more than they would ever be able to repay. He comes to people like Zacchaeus, and to the sinful woman who loved much because much needed to be forgiven. He comes to prodigal sons and doubting disciples, and today, salvation has come to this house, to you.
Jesus has come to stay where His Word is proclaimed and His Sacraments are given. He has come right here in the Gospel to seek and to save the lost. He has come to turn your scarlet sins white as wool, to clothe you in His righteousness, His holiness, to make sinners into saints.
He came to die on the cross for the sins of the world, the Lamb of God who was slain but stands again (John 1:29; Revelation 5). He suffered and died for all of your sins and rose again from the dead so that Thomas could confess, “My Lord and My God” and you could join that confession of praise and thanksgiving. Your sins are forgiven in Jesus.
He came to seek and to save the lost and today He comes to this house to seek and to save you. There is forgiveness for you here. Jesus comes in the proclamation of His Word. His words to Zacchaeus are His words to you this day, and His presence at the table of the tax collector reaches its fulfillment for you with His presence at this table to give you His body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins. Though your sins be as scarlet, they are washed white as wool in the blood of this Lamb, Jesus, and the white robe is yours to wear for all eternity.
Zacchaeus the tax collector; Zacchaeus the rich man; Zacchaeus the short guy; Zaccheus the sinner? He is Zacchaues the saint because Jesus brought salvation to his house. Jesus brings salvation here so that you are no longer identified by your sins. Your identity is now in Christ Jesus. His holiness is given to you. Jesus makes sinners into saints. Today salvation has come to this house.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.