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The Christadelphian | September 2008

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Fellowship in the Gospel: 1 – It is not good that man should be alone
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Poem – Compassion | C. S.
  • Sunday morning “Salvation is come to this house” | John S. Roberts
  • In the image of God 8 – A consistent pattern in leadership and service | Michael Edgecombe, Rebecca Lines, Russell Taylor
  • Pause and ponder 21 – Married in the Lord, part 4: Married to an unbeliever | Stephen Whitehouse
  • “These stones …” | David Ward
  • What’s remarkable about that? | Barry Lambsdown
  • Thoughts on Romans 6 2 – “Living to God” | Graeme Tucker
  • Lamentations | Trevor A. Pritchard
  • Acts of the Apostles 19 – Acts 18:5-28 | Paul Cresswell
  • “For this cause left I thee in Crete” | John M. Hellawell
  • At the foot of the cross Part 1 | Dudley Fifield
  • The power of the tongue | Paul & Vikki Davison
  • The writings of Solomon | Geoff Henstock
  • Signs of the times Anglicans defect to Rome | Stephen Whitehouse
  • Israel and their land Crisis in Georgia
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Sunday morning

“Salvation is come to this house”

THE Gospel record of Luke contains the well-known parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (18:10-14). Both went to pray, the Pharisee proclaiming what a good man he was, the publican ashamed to lift his eyes to heaven and seeking God’s mercy. In the Lord’s parable, it was the publican who returned home “justified” more than the other man.

Pharisee and publican

It is in Luke also that there is found the life-sized illustration of each of these men. The Pharisee is Simon (Luke 7:36-50) who invited the Lord to his home, but did not afford him any of the common courtesies of the day. Instead, judging by appearances, he decided that Jesus could not be such a great prophet because he allowed a harlot to touch him, whom Simon would not touch with a barge-pole!

The Publican is Zacchaeus and his story is in Luke 19. The Gospel records that Jesus entered and passed through Jericho, but this can be misleading. In fact, Jesus stayed overnight at the home of Zacchaeus, as is evidenced by verse 5, “to day I must abide at thy house” and verse 7, “that he was gone to be guest (“to lodge”, RV) with a man that was a sinner”.

However, there is no contradiction here. By his phrase “passed through”, Luke is simply reminding the reader that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. The Master had steadfastly set his face (9:51) to go to the cross and would not now be deflected from this purpose. Everything was subservient to his aim of fulfilling that which the Father required of him. It was in the course of this journey that Jesus encountered Zacchaeus.

Publicans were hated. Zacchaeus was a chief publican and would be regarded amongst Jews as the lowest of the low. It is believed that the publicans were obliged to pay Rome a fixed, pre-assessed amount of money and it was then their responsibility to obtain that money from the people. How they did it was of no concern to Rome and the publicans were often unscrupulous therefore in ensuring that they recouped the amount they had to pay and more! Publicans were very rich.

Wealth and stature

Not all rich men are beyond salvation and some are able to control their wealth and use it wisely in the service of God, but Jesus said that it was hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom. There is a temptation to believe that money can buy everything, to rely on wealth rather than on God, and to look down on the less well off. That this is a danger is shown by the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy:

“Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17)

It is not known whether Zacchaeus despised others less fortunate than himself, but it is almost certain that others despised him. They would resent the fact that he worked for their Roman overlords. They would also resent his wealth, particularly if they felt it had been gained at their expense. It may be that Zacchaeus’ riches were some compensation for the attitude of others towards him, so that he felt their animosity worth putting up with for the comforts that he enjoyed, but it may have been that his riches made him a very lonely man. It can sometimes happen that a man’s wealth can isolate him from those with whom he seeks company.

And he sought to see Jesus. It is probably unlikely that he merely wanted a glimpse of the Lord. The word used means ‘to consider’, ‘have knowledge of’. The Greeks who came to Philip (John 12:21) with their request, “we would see Jesus”, certainly wanted more than a sighting of him. They were asking for an interview with the Teacher, in the same way that someone today might say, “Can I see you for a minute?” It may be that Zacchaeus too was already anxious to be able to speak with Jesus.

But he was little! It is unwise to generalise about little men any more than rich men, but it is worth reflecting on what Luke may be telling the reader here. Little men may sometimes be bombastic. Either as the result of being overlooked or perhaps to ensure that they are not, they may sometimes feel the need to make their presence felt in other ways – “little Napoleons” they are called!

On the other hand, Zacchaeus may have suffered at the hands of crowds before, pushed around and abused by them. Can you imagine the reaction of the people if he had politely asked if he could be allowed to see what was going on? Their hackles would rise as soon as they recognised him. This nasty little man, as they saw him, abominably rich, and detested by all; they would do their very best to ensure that he came nowhere near Jesus! He wanted to see the Lord, but he was never going to in the ordinary course of events.

Now put yourself in the little man’s shoes. What should he do? Give up? Bigger men than Zacchaeus have been daunted by seeming impossible situations. Should he shrug his shoulders and go home, contenting himself with the fact that he had tried? Why did he need to see Jesus anyway? He was a man who had everything – at least in the estimation of others. Perhaps in his own heart there was an appreciation of something missing, a yearning for something deeper.

Fruit on the fig tree

Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree. It is believed that this would be a sycamore fig tree, of the kind that grows to thirty or forty feet high, but with a short trunk and wide spreading branches. Such a tree would be relatively easy to climb, though the smaller the man, the harder it would be. And, even now, would his plan work? Would he be able to “see” Jesus? With what relief and with what pleasure he watched the Master pause and look up at him!

Suddenly all eyes were upon him! Perhaps Zacchaeus was used to braving the opinions of others about himself. But if ever he had felt self-conscious about sitting up a tree or wondered how graceful or undignified his descent might be, such thoughts would be lost in the joy of the Master’s words: “Make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house” (Luke 19:5). Sometimes a man may be too conscious of what others might think, when it is being true to one’s conscience that matters. Those who would see Jesus still must do what is right regardless of the opinions of others.

Jesus too was full of joy. It was not a chance glance upward that revealed the man in the tree. The Lord knew that Zacchaeus was waiting there; he knew the man’s heart and mind. Jesus was ever looking for those who wanted to “see” him. He received graciously those of worldly importance who might come to him in the right spirit, but he sought out the “little” men and women, those despised by the world, aware of their problems, aware of their need. As one writer has expressed it, Jesus found fruit on the fig tree that day.

Men murmured. Jesus was gone to lodge with a sinner! Once again, with disdain for what others might think or say, Zacchaeus, standing before the Lord, seized his opportunity. He made confession, renounced the past and promised to make amends.

Everything about Zacchaeus bespeaks effort and urgency: “He ran” (verse 4), “climbed up” (verse 4), “made haste” (verse 6), “received him joyfully” (verse 6, i.e. showed Jesus hospitality). There are echoes here of the conduct of Abraham in Genesis 18 who entertained angels, possibly unaware that they were angels: “He ran to meet them” (verse 2), showed them hospitality (verse 5), made haste (verse 6), “ran” (verse 7), “stood by” (verse 8, i.e. waited on them as a servant). No wonder then that Jesus says of Zacchaeus: “This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9).

It was not simply that he was a descendant of Abraham, and a Jew, even though a tax collector, but rather that his actions and attitude demonstrated that he was a true son of Abraham, showing Abraham’s spirit and faith.

It is that same effort and urgency about the Lord’s work that is required of the believer today. The self-examination that must be undertaken before participation in the bread and wine may sometimes reveal that energy and vigour in the Lord’s service have diminished. Apparent importance in the world’s eyes may lead people to forget their smallness before God and to consider themselves too “big” to be a servant. The need that the Master still has for humble service can easily be overlooked.

But self-examination may lead instead to feeling unworthy for so wonderful a guest. One may seem to be too “little” for the Lord’s attention, yet such can be equally fulsome in the welcome offered to him. Jesus had time to see those who put time and effort into trying to see him regardless of how little or despised they were in the estimation of others.

“This day is salvation come to this house”. In the breaking of bread, there is an opportunity of welcoming Jesus, the salvation of God, into the house and ecclesial family of which each is a part. There is opportunity again to put aside the concerns of everyday life and to receive the Lord, to make amends through the sacrifice of self in humble, faithful service and to ensure that there is fruit on the tree, one hundred-fold.

John S. Roberts

 

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