Past sermons

Stories of Grace: the tax collectors tale

Pisgah 27/3/22


 

Two of the big themes in the lent period are repentance and confession -

These lead us up to Easter where Jesus takes all of our Shame filled confessions, and allows them to spiritually die with him on the cross. 

This is called Grace -

It isn’t earned or deserved - and as we saw last week,

…or we are responsible for is owning up to it (the sin),

…….. and asking for help

 

Today we encounter one of the most famous and memorable stories  of Grace in Jesus’ recorded encounters -

Jesus meets a man despised and shunned by practically everyone -

From common thieves to powerful priests,

…but true to form, Jesus once again confounds the watching world by demonstrating that absolutely anybody can receive Grace -

 

…..If they are willing to own up to it (confess)

And turn their back on it (repent)


 

Luke 19: 1-10   

 

We all like to moan about the tax man - 

..but somebody has to do it!   

 

Without the taxes, 

..we'd all be in pretty sorry state:

 

  No policemen, bin collections, street lights

 = NO STABLE SOCIETY.  

 

While no likes putting in -

 ...we all take out in one way or another.

 

BUT IMAGINE HOW WE'D FEEL,

… IF WE DIDN'T benefit in any way?   

 

Imagine if tax collectors gathered up our hard earned cash, 

...and sent it to some other country?   

 

AS WE GET PROGRESSIVELY POORER, 

....THEY BECOME PROGRESSIVELY RICHER.   

 

Then imagine how you'd feel towards the chap down the street - 

....a local chap (perhaps you went to school with him) 

 

Who makes a really lucrative living,

…. by collecting taxes from this foreign abuser?   

 

Would you buy him a pint?

 

MEET ZACCHAEUS

= probably the most hated and despised native born man in town.

 

But how did Zacchaeus get his job? - 

....through a first century careers advisor?   

 

Did he have to take an exam, 

...or study for an accountancy degree?  

 

Apparently not - 

...according to historical records, 

 

= the Romans held an auction,

… and the highest bidder got the job.   

 

They collected a set rate of tax, 

....and were allowed to demand,

…… whatever fee they felt appropriate from the taxpayer.   

 

= Literally they charged you for collecting your own own taxes -

…..TALK ABOUT POURING SALT IN THE WOUND.

 

So Zacchaeus has paid a not insubstantial sum,

…. at the start of his 'career', 

= for the right to fleece his friends and neighbours.

 

Any Israelite,

who happened to be passing through his hometown of Jericho.   

 

Useless fact:

 At 1300 feet below sea level, 

....Jericho is the lowest city on earth....   

 

And Zacchaeus was the lowest crook in town,

….so he was both MORALLY and LITERALLY the lowest of the low!

 

I have this sunday school mental IMAGE,

….. of a chubby cheeked little accountant like figure,

………………………………… hilariously clinging to a tree,

 

....an annoying, 

but essentially harmless bureaucratic pest,   

 

WHEN IN REALITY Zacchaeus was probably closer,

….. to what we might describe today as a mobster,   

 

-extortion and intimidation are his tools of the trade.   

 

so when the gospel writer describes The crowd,

…… calling Zacchaeus 'a sinner', .

………...you get the sense that LUKE was being polite,   

 

I suspect some of the language was probably unprintable,   

 

How would you describe a NASTY neighbour,

..who had shamelessly fleeced both you and those you love, ..……………..and now lived in obscene luxury on his ill gains?

 

So when Jesus wanted to demonstrate God's passion,

…. for redeeming sinners, 

 

HIS OUTRAGEOUS GRACE, 

 

...he couldn't have chosen a more outrageous,

…….. OR LESS DESERVING EXAMPLE.   

 

WHAT BETTER WAY OF GETTING PEOPLE'S ATTENTION - ..PROMOTING YOUR IDEALS, 

....... than THROUGH SHOCKED WORD OF MOUTH GOSSIP

 

I’ve mentioned here before,

…that I was a rather naughty/troubled boy in my younger school years.

 

All though lower school,

…teachers had used punitive methods (including a smack or two),

…….but to little or no effect.

 

MRS MOORE - a new teacher who took me in the last year,

…took a different approach 

(Probably new fangled and overly liberal to some of her colleagues)

 

But instead of laying down the law -

…her first act was to make me class and cloak room monitor.

 

She also set aside time to ‘listen’ to me throughout the week -

…rather than reprimand and shout at me.

 

As I’ve said before -

IT WAS THE MAKING OF ME,

…..I truly believe that she was an agent of Jesus’ Grace

(Whether she knew it or not)

 

By making me a monitor - 

…the least deserving and unlikely boy

(Probably a controversial decision in the staff room)

 

= this NEW TEACHER was setting her stall out,

…….she was going to do things differently

 

Jesus was also setting his stall out - 

...HIS WAY WAS IN COMPLETE CONTRAST,

…… TO THE WORLD AROUND HIM

 

HE NEEDED TO DEMONSTRATE THIS - 

....MAKE A PUBLIC STATEMENT,

…….. THAT WOULD SHOW THAT HE WAS SERIOUS.   

 

Vs 5;

“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today".   

 

That would be pretty controversial today, 

...but it was the worst social faux pas imaginable in their context.   

 

Hanging around with the wrong people can harm your reputation -

 

...but the Jew's believed,

 …..that you could also be spiritually stained,

……. if you associated with the wrong people,   

 

...lepers - 

…..menstruating women - 

...... and, yes - TAX COLLECTORS.   

 

I bet the curtains twitchers were exhilarated,

… on the day that Jesus went to Zacchaeus' for dinner -

 'Have you heard' ---- ooooh!’   

 

so - as disciples of Jesus, 

...tasked with emulating his example,       

 

= we are called to be as graceful as he is.   

 

THAT'S ONE SIDE OF THE COIN - 

....one aspect WE ARE TO TAKE FROM THIS TEXT

 (nothing new to us,

But no easier to swallow for all that  - 

The basics of being a Christian are REALLY hard 

...and JESUS MODELS IT FOR US)   

 

NOW LET'S LOOK AT THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN - 

...(and this learning doesn't come watching Jesus, 

……..But actually by looking at Zaccheaus himself)   

 

1stly, Zacchaeus confesses - 

.... by his confession and offer of making restitution to all of his victims, 

 

= HE'S BASICALLY PUTTING HIS HANDS AND ADMITTIN,  

…….. all his dodgy, nasty way's - 

…………… have made him A VERY NAUGHTYBOY! 

 

HIS CONFESSION IS DISARMINGLY HONEST.   

 

BUT I wonder how many of us -

..who have been nowhere near as sinful in contrast, 

    = have been less honest with ourselves and God at times?   

 

how adept we 'minor' sinners,

….. can be at  self-deception and SELF-JUSTIFICATION!  

 

 'they were so rude - what did they expect?' 

'A taste of their own medicine will do them good' 

'They cut me up' 

'I was tired, overworked' 

'Oh come on - it wasn't that bad - everyone does it!' '

....it was only a little white lie'   

 

Etc,etc,etc.... 

FAMILIAR? (Or am I the chief of sinners?)   

 

One of my automatic - 

…unthinking responses,

 

to being found wanting, 

......is SELF-JUSTIFICATION.   

 

Which is why I thank God for giving me EMMA! 

(Our spouses are invaluable,

… because they are among the few we can rely on to say it like it is!)   

 

So that's one of the things we can learn from Zacchaeus - 

= honest, humble confession.

 (Some life lessons come from unlikely sources!)   

 

But the other thing is the importance,

…… of ACCEPTING our forgiveness.   

 

One of the biggest problems Ihave encountered,

….. both in secular counselling situations, 

……....and among fellow Christians,

 

Is the inability to FORGIVE themselves, 

...or, from a CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE 

       = Accept that they are forgiven.   

 

WHAT STOPS US? 

.... IS IT HUMILITY??   

 

NOT ACCORDING TO ONE PREACHER I ONCE HEARD,   

 

He turned to his listeners,

…. and told them that REFUSAL TO FORGIVE ONESELF,

 = egotism.   

 

Harsh?   

 

This is the famous verse he quoted: 

"Once in my darkest anguish I cried in bitter grief,

'O Lord, my soul is black with guile, of sinners I am chief!' But then my guardian angel whispered from behind, 'Vanity little man, you're nothing of the kind!'   

 

I'M SURE THAT IT'S AN OVERSIMPLIFICATION,

….. TO SAY THAT THIS DESCRIBES EVERY ONE,

…………. WHO CAN'T FORGIVE THEMSELVES, 

………………...OR ACCEPT THAT GOD CAN,   

 

= BUT IT DEMONSTRATES: 

…there's a fine line between the kind of humble honesty,

…….. that accepts forgiveness,   

 

And the kind that takes itself too seriously! ------------------------------------------------------   

 

Back to Zacchaeus - 

He was rich, probably had an enviable life-style,

 

.....WHY WAS HE SO QUICK TO JUMP AT THE CHANCE OF FORGIVENESS?   

 

(= effectively dumping his fortune) 

WHEN JESUS CAME INTO TOWN??  

 

 ... personally - and this might sound a bit odd,

……….but I suspect he felt lonely.   

 

The bible tells us that SIN ALIENATES us

 (From GOD and EACH OTHER - 

….at least in any meaningful way)   

 

People might have been polite to his face

 (After all, he's the man who calculates your taxes,

….. and arranges enforcement of payment) 

 

-But nobody would have liked him.

 

NOBODY WOULD HAVE THROWN,

….SO MUCH AS A CUPFUL OF WATER ON HIM,

…….. IF HE WAS ON FIRE.   

 

Sometimes the Zaccaeus' of this world,

… claim not to care what people think about them, 

BUT DEEP DOWN I THINK THEY'RE FOOLING THEMSELVES,   

 

Human beings are designed for relationship - 

....without it we can never truly be fulfilled.   

 

How could Jesus have compassion on such a despicable, …PARASITE of a man? 

 

Because he sees beyond the surface (the sin), 

.......and in ZACCHAEUS I suspect,

…….. he saw a sad, lonely, vulnerable little man.  

 

AS CHRIST'S REPRESENTATIVES ON EARTH - 

...do we look beyond the yuck to the underlying need?   

 

Do we look at even the nastiest people, 

...and choose to see someone made in the precious image of Christ?

 

Do we remind ourselves that he died for them too? 

("I didn't come to help the righteous - I came for the sinners')   

 

we still need wisdom of course - 

...we are called to LOVE - 

………..not be christian doormats!   

 

= Barry was a former pastor of ours in Leicester -

…a short man, built like a bull,

……Who had a confident, friendly and strong exterior.

 

An exterior which hid the scars,

…. of the childhood sexual abuse he experienced,

 

= at the hands of his father.

 

Jesus helped him to forgive the most despicable man he knew -

his father (not justify him)

…AND THIS BEGAN A PROCESS OF SPIRITUAL AND EMOTIONAL HEALING IN BARRY.

 

BARRY was MARRIED at this time,

…and had young children of his own

 

He obeyed God by reaching out to the elderly cantankerous man

…. who had abused him

 

HE LET HIM COME OVER FOR FAMILY OCCASIONS

 

But he NEVER allowed him to be alone with with the children.

And he layed down some VERY strict boundaries,

… to protect his family.

 

 As we read in scripture;

..we need to be as innocent as doves,

….and as wise as serpents - 

 

FORGIVING AND GODLY in other words -

…Reaching out IN LOVE - in CHRISTS NAME,   For their sake.

….…but not unthinking and naive

 

________________

 

SO - TO CONCLUDE:   

 

AS GOD'S REPRESENTATIVES ON EARTH - 

...WE HAVE A MISSION.  

 

This isn't particularly palatable sometimes - 

...But it is our God given Mission, 

        = FORGIVE AS WE HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN.   

 

AND 2NDLY - 

...AS FELLOW SINNERS OURSELVES, 

.....we need to be humbly honest with God and ourselves,   

…….AND THIS EVEN EXTENDS TO FORGIVING OURSELVES.   

 

_______________

 

SO,

THAT'S GOD’S PLAN FOR REUNITING A LOST AND LONELY GENERATION - 

...BRINGING US BACK FROM EXILE.   

 

It's different to the world's way of doing things - 

  • it's not a dish best served cold

  • And it’s selection criteria can be baffling at times

 

...but that's the Kingdom of heaven for you -

 

ARE YOU IN?