Caught Off Guard
(New Growth Press)
Where is the reality of God in the middle of careers and groceries? Why are so many believers frustrated with the enormous gap between what they know about God and how they actually live? In Caught Off Guard, author William P. Smith graciously addresses these seekers who have become dissatisfied with merely “talking theology” and instead yearn to taste and experience the “real thing”—a God who desperately longs for relationship with them.
Have You Lost Your Joy?
By William P. Smith
CBN.com Zacchaeus was lost. In his hometown, on a road he knew well, he was desperately lost. He just didn’t realize how far gone he was.
He wanted to see Jesus, but so did lots of other people. He couldn’t get through the crowd, so he climbed a tree for a better look.
My children love to climb trees and I don’t blame them. I did too when I was a boy. But an adult in a tree draws attention. If you drive down a street and see kids playing in a tree, you smile and keep going. But if you noticed a grown man up there, you would probably slow down and wonder what was going on.
There’s something about post-adolescents in trees that suggests the dangerous (older bodies don’t flex or heal as well as younger ones) and the ridiculous. Zacchaeus, a wealthy, feared government official, set himself up to be ridiculed for the rest of his life. Embarrassing stories tend to develop a life of their own. Even today Sunday school songs immortalize this man’s peculiar behavior! So here’s this little man, who probably already had endured his share of insults regarding his height, providing raw material for new, embarrassing stories. Why is he doing this?
It could have been simple curiosity that drove him to go looking for Jesus, but curiosity is not enough to drive someone to such desperate behavior. I have never endangered my reputation for the sake of satisfying simple curiosity. Something else drove Zacchaeus. Despite his wealth, his life was not going well. We’re not told what was wrong, but as you consider the lengths he went to, you realize he wanted something more – something that even his wealth couldn’t give him. He was dissatisfied with his life and his dissatisfaction drove him to seek out Jesus.
Poor Zacchaeus! His money can’t give him what he wants so he embarrasses himself to see if Jesus can. Doesn’t your heart go out to him as he tries so hard to see the Lord? The crowd apparently didn’t feel the same way. No one moved aside so the little guy could see. I wonder why?
Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Today, it’s difficult for us to imagine what that meant to people then. I dislike paying taxes as much as (or possibly more than) the next guy, but I don’t hate the people who work for the IRS. Nor would I try to keep one out of church or away from a public event.
Tax collectors were not just civil servants, they were also professional thieves. Not only did they collect the tax Rome imposed, they imposed additional levies to feather their own nests. Their job gave them an opportunity to rob people using the weight of Roman authority.
Zacchaeus stole from his own people. When Luke tells you he was a chief collector, and a rich one, he’s making it clear that Zacchaeus had stolen a lot of money from a lot of people.
He idolized money, but instead of getting what he wanted, he harvested the rotten fruit of the crowd’s hatred and his own dissatisfaction. He was getting what he had coming to him. Kind of served him right, didn’t it?
Yet out of the entire crowd, Jesus singled him out and chose to go to his home. Why? There must have been more deserving people present. What did Jesus see in the man that drew him – some redeemable trait, some inkling of love for God, or latent drop of humanity? Was that why Jesus moved toward him? If you look for such things in the passage, you’ll be disappointed.
Luke 19 notes none of these things as the reason Jesus demanded to eat with him. Many people were seeking Jesus; what made Zacchaeus stand out? Jesus explains his choice simply by saying that he came to seek and to save the lost (v. 10). The quality that drew Jesus to Zacchaeus was the fact that he was a lost man.
In seeking out Zacchaeus, God shows you his heart. So often we talk about what Jesus did or said but ignore his attitude toward us and what drives him. Your God is passionate. He’s on a mission. Jesus came to look for those who wander through life dazed and confused, often by their own fault. He searched them out intently, looking beyond those who clamored for his attention to locate those who had no hope. Jesus was not put off by Zacchaeus’s despicable sins. He did not recoil from him. Rather, Jesus saw his lostness and found him.
Jesus is the same today. The same grace that moved him to leave heaven and cross time and space to find one pathetic conniver half-hidden in a tree is the same grace that moves him to look for you. He looked for you when you first came to know him and he looks for you even now. Desperate people – lost, confused, frightened – need to know that God searches for them.
Being found made Zacchaeus a joyful man. Notice that nothing external about his life had changed. He was still a chief tax collector. He had still ruined people’s lives. The crowd still hated him . . . he was still short! Yet suddenly he’s joyful because Jesus loved him and had entered his life. Jesus alone produced an explosion of joy in him.
Have you lost your joy? Then you’ve likely forgotten, or little realized, how dreadfully lost you were. Perhaps you’ve forgotten how wonderful it is for the God of the universe to want to be your Father, Savior, and friend. Sometimes we treat him as the consolation prize: “Well, I don’t have a girlfriend, a job I like, or a BMW, but at least I have Jesus.” No wonder we have trouble being joyful! Joyless, dried-up people have forgotten where they’ve come from, which means they’ve forgotten how Jesus has treated them. Now they take him for granted.
Zacchaeus points the way for joyless people. Spend some time remembering how badly lost you were. Think back to the time before you knew Jesus and how kind he was in searching you out. Think back to your lostness this morning when you criticized your husband, picked a fight with your roommate, or swore at another driver. Then consider how good Jesus is to keep searching for you, knowing he will find you. When you meditate on the two realities of being lost and having a Savior who doesn’t quit until he finds you, you can’t help but experience joy.
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Adapted from Caught Off Guard by William P. Smith, © 2007. Used with permission of New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC.
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