Scripture: Luke 18:31-19:10
Have you ever gone on a long trip with someone you know, but don’t really know all that well? It’s an interesting thing to consider really. As you travel, you get to know more about each other, the things you have in common, the things you don’t. By the end of the trip, one of two things can happen. One, you are great friends who will keep in regular touch with each other, maybe even plan more trips together. Or you will hate each other and you will not stand to be in the presence of anyone who dares utter their name.
I’ve been on a couple of such adventures, and I honestly think I can say I’ve experienced both outcomes. Now, maybe not as drastically as I have described, but through travelling I have found people I consider good friends, and others I have pretty much never spoken to again.
It’s the way of life. We can’t get be friends with everyone. We aren’t compatible with every person we come in contact with. Some people just rub one another the wrong way, and it’s really better if we all just move on to the people we like. Am I wrong? I didn’t think so.
Now I know Jesus told us to love our neighbours as we ourselves are loved by God, and we try to do our absolute best. But sometimes it’s just easier to love someone when they are far away.
You know what I mean? I can still love them, I just don’t need to see them very often.
We have made it to the 5th Sunday of Lent. We’ve been travelling together for these last 5 weeks hearing about Jesus and his journey to Jerusalem. I hope you all still love each other.
We’ve also been travelling with Jesus too. We were with him up there on the mountain top at the moment he was transfigured and met with Moses and Elijah, not too many weeks ago. And ever since then he’s been heading to the great city of Jerusalem, and we’ve been with him on the journey.
We’ve heard him tell some powerful stories along the way. We heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, and how important it is to show the love of God to our neighbours.
We’ve heard about the importance of repentance from the sin in our lives and how God pours His life out for us so that we may receive the gift of eternal life.
We’ve heard how God never stops looking for his lost children. And when we find Him we are received with joy and celebration.
And finally Jesus taught us it’s not about how rich or poor we are, it’s how we treat one another with what we have that shows the importance of God in our lives.
What a journey it’s been. And every step of the way Jesus has challenged us to rethink what it means to be a child of God; from how we act, to how we spend our money, to how we view the world around us, Jesus has pushed us hard on this lenten journey.
And in the end, we are blessed to know we are children of God.
How has the journey been for you so far? Have you been drawn closer to God through these difficult teachings, or has Jesus challenged you too much and you’ve been pushed away?
Those Jesus pushed away were those who were unwilling to take to heart the real love he was offering. By inviting people to recognize the errors of the way they were seeing things, Jesus was inviting them, and all of us, to see how God sees the world and how we fit into it as His children. Simply, Jesus invites us to become more like him.
In our reading today from the end of Luke 18 and the start of Luke 19, these are the last stories we will look at before Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem for the final time.
We begin with a reminder as to why we’re making this journey with Jesus. He’s mentioned it a number of times since the transfiguration, he wants to make sure we remember this. It’s important.
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33)
It’s in Jerusalem that the Old Testament prophecies will be fulfilled. It is the place where he will die, and it won’t be pretty.
We also read that the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. He’s said it three times since they turned toward Jerusalem, yet they don’t ever seem to get it. We learn today that the meaning of this was withheld from them, it was hidden.
One thing is clear about the disciples. They love Jesus, they really do. But they don’t quite get who he truly is. Sure there are glimpses, sure they may look like they get it at times, but truly, they don’t. If they did their responses to his claims about what will happen in Jerusalem would be very different. I’m sure they would protest loudly to convince him to not go in. And even after he goes in, they wouldn’t leave his side quite so willingly, if they knew who he is.
Maybe? Maybe not? Who really knows? It’s all hypothetical I realize.
The questions is, why don’t they get it? Why is it the message is hidden from them?
The simple answer is they don’t have the Holy Spirit to reveal it to them. Even as we read it today, we need the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the meaning of the scriptures so we can truly see Jesus as the Son of God, the One who has come to reconcile, to save the world to himself.
We can know the stories, sure. But we can’t know the will of God without the help of the Holy Spirit. Many people over the last 2000 years have heard and read the stories of Jesus, but they don’t see the Truth in them. The Truth that Jesus reveals to us all as God’s Son, the One who has come to be our Lord and Saviour.
Notice how different the disciples act after they receive the Holy Spirit. That’s when they finally understand everything Jesus has been teaching them. But not only that, they understand the meaning of those stories, they see how Jesus has been showing them glimpses into God’s kingdom, and they see how he is the way to salvation.
It’s the power of the Holy Spirit which compels them to passionately share these new understandings with everyone they meet.
But for now, they just don’t get it. They will, but not yet. The words have been planted in their minds, and once they get the Spirit, then they will take on a whole new meaning, powerful meaning, life changing meaning.
As Jesus continues to lead the way to Jerusalem, they come upon the village of Jericho. A village very close to Jerusalem. We’re talking around 20 kilometers. What’s that? About from here to Sydney? Not that far at all.
As he approaches the village there’s a blind beggar. As the man hears the crowd moving by he asks who it is. People tell him it’s Jesus.
The beggar shouts, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
The crowd tells him to keep quiet.
Again the beggar shouts, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus hears his cries and asks that the man be brought to him. When they are face to face Jesus asks what the man wants from him.
“Lord, I want to see.”
5 simple words. That’s all he wants. He wants to see again.
And Jesus gives him his sight back. Not with any display of grandeur, all Jesus says is, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”
In the three phrases the man speaks, he acknowledges that Jesus is more than just a regular man. He called Jesus the “Son of David.” He called him “Lord.” The man has heard about Jesus and knows he can do something, but he also knows that it’s not the man Jesus who is doing these things.
He knows he can do this because Jesus is the promised One of God.
And now a man, who has been struggling with being accepted into society, is fully welcomed back into the crowd. He can see! And everyone is amazed!
Once again, Jesus is giving someone they need, not just by giving him his sight, he has given the man back his life. He won’t need to beg any more, he can get a job and earn his own keep!
This is a great contrast to how the disciples can never seem to “see” who Jesus is, yet this blind beggar can easily understand there is something special about Jesus and that he is the One God promised.
The disciples can’t seem to “see” who Jesus is, yet a blind man receives his sight after he “sees” Jesus.
And now we finish today with one more story about someone having trouble seeing.
I think we’re familiar with Zacchaeus. He’s a Sunday School character for many of us I imagine. There’s even that cute little Sunday School song…
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.
We’re told Zacchaeus is called a chief tax collector. We aren’t really sure what it means, it doesn’t show up anywhere else, but Luke points it out, probably indicating he was well known in the community, and was also very wealthy.
We’re also told he’s a small man. But the word used to describe him doesn’t necessarily mean he was short, it could also mean he was “diminished” because he was not well liked in the community, being a tax-collector and all.
He too hears of Jesus coming to town, just like the blind beggar, and Zacchaeus wants to see him. So, either because he’s short and can’t see over the crowd, or because the crowd keeps pushing this undesirable man away, he climbs a tree to get a birds eye view of the action.
Tax collectors are known as cheats. They collect tax on behalf of the Roman Empire, but also make huge mark-ups to fill their own purses. As a result, they are hated by the general public. So when Jesus stops at the base of the tree to talk to Zacchaeus people would be expecting Jesus to teach this man a very harsh lesson.
We just need to look at how Jesus addressed other rich people to know this is what’s going to happen.
Last week we looked at the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus really gave him a hard time about how he used his fortune.
In Luke 12, Jesus tells the story of a rich man who tried to store up his excess for a rainy day, only to lose his life and lose it all.
Just before our reading today, in Luke 18, Jesus was approached by a rich young man who was looking for advice on how to inherit eternal life. Jesus challenged him and his dependence on his possessions and his wealth telling to him sell all he has and give it to the poor.
So here in Luke 19 we have Jesus looking up at a hated, sinful, filthy rich tax collector. We KNOW what’s going to happen right? Jesus is going to shred him to pieces. The crowd just can’t wait to see it either.
Instead, Jesus invites himself to the house for a stay.
How could Jesus stay at the house of that awful sinner?
Everyone can see he’s rich. Everyone can see he’s clearly another one of those cheating tax collectors. How could Jesus go to his house?
What does Jesus see that causes him to stop and talk to Zacchaeus?
After he comes down the tree and hears the crowd muttering that he is a sinner, and that he doesn’t deserve the company of one as great as Jesus, what does Zacchaeus say?
“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.” (Luke 19:8)
Zacchaeus speaks in the present tense. He does not say, “I will give half my possessions to the poor.” He says, “I give half my possessions to the poor.”
See the difference?
It seems that poor, wretched, sinful Zacchaeus is not the evil villain people have made him out to be. Zacchaeus is a generous man who gives to the poor half of his income, before Jesus even needs to teach him anything.
And if Zacchaeus has defrauded or cheated anyone, he will pay back four times what he cheated them.
Does this sound like a sinner and a cheat?
We like to think this exchange took place at the house of Zacchaeus, but it doesn’t. There is no change of scenery, it all happens right there on the side of the road in the shade of the sycamore tree.
The people see Zacchaeus as a sinner and a cheat because he is a tax collector. A well known tax collector, who may have been some sort of regional manager over other tax collectors.
It seems they saw wrong.
And Jesus declares right there in front of the crowd that salvation has come to this household because Zacchaeus is a child of God.
The disciples are unable to see who Jesus truly is, they can’t see what he means when he says that the Son of Man will die.
The blind man can see who Jesus is though. And because of his faith, Jesus rewards him by giving him a place in society where he can live a good life.
The crowd sees Zacchaeus as an evil sinner. But Jesus sees who he truly is.
Sight is such an integral part of who we are as people. We use our sight for many, many things… including judging people based on their lifestyle, for good or for bad.
We all have our preconceived notions about how the world works and how people fill different roles within it. We choose to see it this way, whether intentionally or not.
Jesus sees much more. Jesus can see through this exterior we put on as we try to please people in our lives. Jesus can see into our hearts. He knows our deepest secrets. He knows what we do in our lives which are pleasing to God, and he knows what we do which is displeasing.
Throughout Lent we are challenged to look at what we do. We are challenged about how we look at the world around us. We are challenged to reevaluate our lives in relation to the invitation Jesus makes to us to be our Lord and Saviour.
What keeps us from seeing Jesus for who he truly is? Even when we know he can see us for who we truly are.
And Jesus wants to change us.
He wants us to be what God truly wants us to be.
His dearly loved children.
Will you put your trust in Jesus, the one who sees deep into our hearts? Will you let him in there so you can be God’s precious child?
Jesus wants us to see the life God has planned for us. Jesus wants to transform us more into his likeness, with a heart for God, and hearts for those whom God loves.
Will you let Jesus walk on by, or will you do anything to get him to stop and be with you?
Call out his name! Climb a tree! Wave, scream, beg… Jesus will stop for you and come into your life if you truly seek the Son of Man, the Promised One of God, our Lord and Saviour, he will stop and change your life.
That’s a promise we know he will keep, because he has done it over and over again for 2000 years. And he will keep doing it until he returns and we are all in the family of God.
Would you pray with me?
You see so many things we cannot see. You see into the hearts of men and women who seek you out in the midst of the crowded ways of life. You see our failures, our sins, our selfish desires, and you still love us.
Help us to accept this love and allow you to work within us to make us new. Help us to be transformed into the image of God, as you have shown us how to live as His children.
Help us to see the world, and people, around us for who they truly are, a people with hearts where God, our Father, will lead, restore and heal.
But we first ask that you start with us, Lord Jesus, so we may be part of this beautiful transformation.
We pray this in your most holy name. Amen and amen.