Can You See Me Now?
By Rev. Heidi L. Barham | October 30, 2022
Click here to listen to the service
Read Luke 19:1 – 10
Our New Testament lesson this morning is once again found in the Gospel of Luke. Today’s passage does not include one of Jesus’ many parables but instead recounts the story of an encounter Jesus had with a man as He was passing through Jericho.
The text provides us with three key details about this man: 1) his name was Zacchaeus, 2) he was a chief tax collector and 3) he was rich.
Interestingly enough, in the Greek, the name Zacchaeus actually means, “the righteous or pure one,” however, the Zacchaeus we find here in Luke’s Gospel actually appeared to have two strikes against him.
One, he was a tax collector and two, he was rich. Keep in mind that in biblical times tax collectors and rich folk weren’t exactly high on the list of people considered to be of good moral character. Perhaps not too much has changed in that regard…
Tax collectors were typically closely identified with sinners, robbers and prostitutes. You may recall that last week’s gospel reading called our attention to the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. In that story, the Pharisee said he was glad he was “not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector…” (Luke 18:11b).
Tax collectors were among some of the most unpopular people in Israel… presumably with good reason. They were Jews by birth but had chosen to work for Rome… collecting the heavy taxes that were levied on the people.
Roman officials contracted with local entrepreneurs to collect certain taxes, tolls, tariffs and customs fees within a given area. These entrepreneurs, were the chief tax collectors who would pay the contract to Rome in advance. They would then sub-contract the actual collection work to general tax collectors… with the objective of reaping a profit when the sub-contractors collected the taxes and fees from the people.
Now, the general tax collectors would have already tacked on their own fee on top of the heavy taxes levied by Rome and the chief tax collector expected his piece of the pie as well.
In essence… tax collectors were little better than common thieves… with the exception being that they were sanctioned by the Roman officials. People earning excessive profits under the direction of public officials… I guess there really is nothing new under the sun.
Now given that the system allowed for such excessive abuses by the chief tax collectors as well as the general tax collectors… it should come as no surprise that these were some of the most despised people around.
But remember, I mentioned earlier that Zacchaeus had two strikes against him. Not only was he a chief tax collector who was despised by the people… the text says that he was also rich.
If we look back to Luke 6:24, we see that Jesus pronounced woes on the rich. And in Luke 12 (16, 20), God called the rich farmer a fool and required his soul from him.
One rich man that we read about in Luke 16 (19-31) went to Hades while a poor man named Lazarus went to heaven. While in Luke 18 (23, 25), we read that Jesus said it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.
Now all of that is not to say that God does not want His children to have wealth but when we choose to put that wealth above everything else… there is a problem.
Let us not forget these words found in 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Some of you may know that in addition to my obsession with Hallmark movies, I enjoy mystery novels and crime shows. And very often you will hear one of the detectives or the prosecuting attorney in the story say, “Follow the money…”
The presumption being that at the root of the crime… at the core of the evil that has been committed… there is some connection to money. And that is what we find with Zacchaeus… our chief tax collector who is also described as a wealthy man.
Now if we keep reading in our text for the morning… we find out a little bit more about Zacchaeus. Actually, what we find out is that Zacchaeus was a little man. And although he had a desire to see who Jesus was… because he was such a short man… he could not see over the crowd.
Imagine, if you will, that you are downtown and you suddenly find out that there is a parade about to come through. You hadn’t heard about it until now but somebody said that your all-time favorite movie star was going to be the Grand Marshall.
You might actually be willing to stand out on the sidewalk, even on a chilly day, for a chance to see that person.
But imagine what would happen if the only space that was available for you to stand was behind some of the tallest players in NBA history… like Manute Bol, who is 7’7” tall… or Yao Ming, who is 7’6” tall.
You realize that you won’t be able to see a thing.
Now, you might just say never mind and go inside a local restaurant and see if you can catch a glimpse of the action on TV. Or you could decide to just give up altogether and go home and say, “Forget about it.”
But what if instead of your favorite movie star, you found out that Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, our Lord and Savior, Himself was going to be the leader of the procession.
Would you even think about giving up then? I certainly hope not!
Then imagine… if you had heard that as He was headed toward downtown Cleveland… Jesus had walked through Novelty or Newbury and had been performing unbelievable miracles along the way.
Who knows what lengths you would go to in order to see Jesus…
And that was the situation that Zacchaeus was faced with… he had heard about Jesus and all that He had been doing… and not so surprisingly, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus for himself.
However, the Scriptures tell us that he was “small in stature.” If we want to be politically correct, we might describe Zacchaeus as being vertically challenged or a little height deprived. But the fact is… he was short.
Now, not only was Zacchaeus a small man in terms of physical stature – he was a small man in the perception of the people around him. Remember, he was a chief tax collector and he was wealthy…
Zacchaeus, however, was a man on a mission. Having heard about Jesus and what other folks had already witnessed… he wanted to see for himself.
And when he realized his line of sight was obstructed by the rest of the crowd… Zacchaeus took action. Some might say he resorted to some pretty desperate measures. Indeed, the text tells us he RAN ahead and climbed a tree.
Now, Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and a wealthy man. And on any given day, it is highly unlikely that you would catch him hiking up his robes to run anywhere, much less running ahead of a crowd of people and then climbing up a tree!
But Zacchaeus was willing to do whatever it took to be able to see Jesus.
Now just before the story of Zacchaeus is told… at the end of chapter 18 in Luke’s Gospel, we find the story of a blind beggar who called out to Jesus… asking Jesus to have mercy on him and then asking to have his sight restored. In other words, like Zacchaeus he, too, wanted to see.
But unlike that blind beggar, Zacchaeus didn’t have to call out to Jesus when He approached. Jesus knew exactly where this short, wealthy, chief tax collector was… so, he did not need to call attention to himself.
And not only did Jesus know where Zacchaeus was, He knew WHO Zacchaeus was. Jesus didn’t simply look up and say, “Hey you, little man sitting up in the tree, come down.”
Jesus called him by name – He said, “eZacchaus, come down.” And He didn’t tell him to wait until the crowd moved out of the way and the coast was clear. He said, “…come down immediately. I must stay at your house TODAY.”
It would seem that Zacchaeus wasn’t the only one on a mission that day…
Jesus had something to do and He wanted everybody to pay attention…
But when the people in the crowd realized what was going on, they started muttering, “Can you believe what just happened? Jesus just went with that sinner up to his house!”
I can just imagine the emphasis they placed on that word “sinner.” As if they weren’t all sinners themselves!
Throughout the Gospel accounts, we hear of people being amazed that Jesus would actually sit in the presence of sinners. Well news flash!!! Whenever Jesus is with PEOPLE – He is in the presence of sinners!
And please don’t take this the wrong way… but if Jesus was to walk through the doors of Ledgewood right now… He would STILL be in the company of sinners! And yes… present company included!
Remember, Romans 3:23 tells us that “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But instead of being left to feel ashamed of our sin, we can rejoice in our forgiveness… because Romans 3:24 tells us that, “…all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
But back to Zacchaeus… He knew that he had cheated people and that he had done wrong. He told Jesus that he was going to give half of his possessions to the poor and that if he cheated anybody… he would payback four times the amount.
Now, Zacchaeus wasn’t trying to hold himself out as some sort of super saint. He was simply a man who was honored and humbled to have Jesus come to his house. If you look back at the text, remember, Zacchaeus had only wanted to SEE Jesus for himself.
He didn’t call out to Jesus. He didn’t ask Jesus for a healing like the blind beggar. He didn’t invite Jesus to come to his house. He actually didn’t say one word to Jesus initially.
It was Jesus who called out to him. Jesus took Zacchaeus’ desire to SEE Him… and used it as an opportunity to not only bless Zacchaeus but to teach the crowds (and us) a lesson as well.
Remember, the people began mumbling about Jesus going to the home of a sinner… not exactly rejoicing at Zacchaeus’ good fortune. And if we are being honest… it can be hard sometimes to sit back and watch while other people receive a blessing. Especially when it is someone we have decided is unworthy, undeserving or just plain unlovable…
And yet, so often, that is just who Jesus chooses to honor with His presence. And what honor and blessing Zacchaeus received! He got so much more than he could have ever imagined.
And isn’t that just like Jesus… doing immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine? (See Ephesians 3:20).
Now when we look at the last verses of our text we read, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Zacchaeus simply wanted to SEE Jesus for himself and as a result of his desire… he was not only able to see Jesus… he received the gift of salvation.
I don’t know where any of us may fall on the spectrum between a poor blind beggar and a wealthy tax collector, but suffice it to say, wherever it is, Jesus sees each one of us and knows the desires of our hearts… And He asks us the question, “CAN YOU SEE ME NOW?”
The Lord desires for us to seek Him… to look for Him… to search for Him… to reach out to Him… trusting that He is right there for us to find.
It takes me back to the words of the Lord that Jeremiah spoke to the Israelites who were in exile in Babylon:
Let me say that again… “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you…” I can just imagine God asking the children of Israel, “CAN YOU SEE ME NOW?”
When we seek the Lord, we NEVER have to look far… He is right here with us… waiting for us simply to surrender our lives to Him.
He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:9, Hebrews 13:5) … to be with us always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20) …
That means in the midst of whatever storms we may be going through in this moment, He is right there with arms outstretched asking, “CAN YOU SEE ME NOW?”
CAN YOU SEE ME NOW? … in the midst of your financial crisis and those relationship issues?
Take a closer look… CAN YOU SEE ME NOW? … in the middle of your health challenges and in the deaths of your loved ones?
Come closer… CAN YOU SEE ME NOW? … in the center of the political unrest and upheaval in this country and the world around you?
Keep looking… CAN YOU SEE ME NOW? …even in the wake of devastating tropical storms and Halloween parties gone terribly wrong and senseless violence being perpetrated on innocent victims?
CAN YOU SEE ME NOW?
Well… if the truth be told, Jesus… it can be hard for us to see you… because the situation feels like it is just too much to bear… it feels like we are going to be crushed under the weight of all these problems… like we are going to drown in the storms that are swirling all around us… like the world is literally spinning out of control and is going to fly off its axis at any moment.
Please help us to see you, Lord…
There is some good news for us this morning…
Because even in those chaotic, confusing, and challenging moments… when we look closely… we will see that Jesus is right there… walking toward us on those turbulent waters… telling us not to be afraid because He is right there with us (see Matthew 14:22 – 27) ... right where He promised us He would be… always… even to end of the age.
CAN YOU SEE HIM NOW? Good.