When I attended Passion Twenty-Ten about a month ago, I served as an usher on the floor, at the stage. Besides Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Charlie Hall, and Christy Nockels leading worship at each session, there were two Hillsong United concerts that week, each on different evenings with NO ticketed seating (i.e. a free-for-all for crazy college students). Even though every student was going to get into the building and have the opportunity to attend the concert, hundreds of students lined up outside in 30 degree weather. Why? To get the best seats. To get seats up front.
Once the doors opened, students poured into the arena, sprinting down the stairs, darting through aisles of chairs, letting go of girlfriends’ hands because they slowed them down…Doing everything they could to get as close as possible. They wanted to see it up close. They wanted to experience it firsthand, not through a gigantic screen.
I can’t fully explain the look of satisfaction on the faces of those students whose efforts were rewarded, those who found themselves sitting in the first five rows of the entire arena. All of them had cold, red noses but their huge smiles silently implied, “It was worth it.”
When was the last time you did everything you could to get the best seats at an event? Have you ever stood out in the freezing cold for way too long because you knew that for which you were waiting was totally worth it? Then maybe you can relate to the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19.
1He [Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. 2And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. 4So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
I adore this story. How many of you know the song? “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he…” I think that kids’ song gave me a pretty incomplete view of this Bible story. I have always thought Zacchaeus was some sweet, young teenager who climbed up in a tree to see Jesus. After studying the text, however, I find that scenario is certainly not the case.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector, and a “chief” tax collector at that! He would have been an extremely hated man among the Jewish people. Essentially, tax collectors were Jewish people who were employees of the Roman government, collecting taxes for Rome. They made a healthy commission by over-taxing their own people, and were typically the wealthiest in town. They were greedy, dishonest cheaters! Tax collectors were not allowed to attend the synagogue and were considered unclean by Jewish law.
Now even though all of that was true, verse 3 tells us something so much more important: “He was seeking to see who Jesus was.” My God is so gracious–He allows anyone to see Him, regardless of who we are or what we’ve done. The Greek word for seeking means, “to seek, to aim for, to strive after, to crave.” Also, the word translated to see means, “to see with the eyes, to see with the mind, to know, to become acquainted with by experience.” This tax collector was craving to know Jesus! He didn’t just want to wave at the Savior of the world as He passed by. That wasn’t the point. He was striving to become acquainted with Jesus by experience! I pray that this describes your life. Strive to know him. Oh Jesus, help me crave to know You!
There was a problem: Zacchaeus could not see over the crowd of people because he was short. BUT that little guy didn’t let that stop him! He ran ahead and climbed up a tree to see Jesus. What obstacles are standing in the way of your intimacy with Jesus? Time, a relationship, simple daily distractions, guilt from past sins, pride, bondage to sin, feelings of inadequacy, fear? I promise you: there is a solution to any obstacle you may face in your aim to know Jesus. Second Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” Pray for wisdom. He will give it. Then, climb that tree.
Be prepared: intimacy with the Father through Christ Jesus in the power of the Spirit will require everything of you. Zacchaeus gladly gave half of all he owned to the poor and he pledged to pay back everyone he cheated fourfold. This act did not earn his salvation, it proved it. You know what He’s asking of you. I know what He’s asking of me. Do we want to know Him more? It will cost us.
Looking at the last verse of this story, Jesus says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” The word seek is the same Greek word used in verse 3 about Zacchaeus seeking to see Jesus. Jesus sought Zacchaeus first, and long before he climbed up that tree in Jericho. Jesus has always been seeking mankind, striving after us, craving relationship with us, before we ever thought about seeking Him. He sought us two-thousand years ago. He sought us before the foundation of the world. Seek to know Him.
Just like Zacchaeus climbed up a tree to seek Jesus, Jesus climbed up a tree to seek us. It was called the Cross of Calvary.