Do you ever wonder how it is that sometimes people end up so far from the place they began? That’s the way it was with me. I was raised in an average Jewish home, we went to synagogue on the Sabbath, and we said our prayers at meals. As a little boy I was taught the Law of Moses from the Torah, which is why I wonder how I could ever stray so far.
It’s not like I planned to disgrace my parents, or become ostracized from the religious community. Things just happen. You know, you just begin by wanting more out of life. I got tired of being dirt poor. I deserved more than the stinking lot that I grew up. So when the opportunity came to keep the books for a rich man in town I took it. Yes my parents warned me at the time that it would lead to no good, but I thought to myself, “They just want to control my life.” How could I know, I would end up as a chief tax collector for the Roman army? No one thinks that far ahead.
One day you’re sitting on your father’s knee and the next you’re hiring thugs to help collect money that you shouldn’t even receive, from poor people that never did you any harm. Wanting more than I had as a child slowly turned into avarice and greed, eventually my heart became so hard that it no longer mattered who I hurt or how much. All I could see were the riches I desired and the power and pleasure they would bring. I had no idea I would become so cold and empty on the inside, and hurt so bad that I couldn’t stand to think about what I had become.
Then the day came when I began to hear about John. He was considered a prophet by the people, and I must say he was compelling to listen to. But what was that to me, I had become an outsider, and no longer part of the local community. But still, even though I wouldn’t admit it at first, his preaching did stir my heart.
Eventually the people began to talk about the coming of Messiah. I would hear them talk when they waited to approach my bench. Then the stories started, this one said he was healed of leprosy, another one from being deaf and mute. I even saw a man I could have sworn was blind, or maybe he pretended to be blind, but then he didn’t pretend anymore. I don’t know, I began to doubt my doubts, I didn’t know what I believed. Eventually my doubts began to give way to curiosity, and I just wanted to see the man that all the talk was about. I wanted to know who he was.
Then I heard that he was going to pass nearby, so I left my bench and ran out to see him. Try as I might, I could not get close enough to catch a glimpse; and being a small man, I couldn’t see over the crowd at any point. Then I got the idea to run on ahead and climb a tree, surely then I would be able to see his face, even if it was just for a moment.
I saw the crowd as it approached. You can always tell when someone of importance is in a crowd by the way people form a little circle around the man. I could hardly see him from a distance, and then as he came closer, I could only see the top of his head. Then something happened that shocked me at first, and I could feel a pit in my stomach; the man at the center of the crowd stopped right below the spot where I was. You’ve heard the expression, ‘stuck in a tree’, that was me and in more ways than one.
It was then that I got my first look at the face of Jesus; after pausing he looked up at me. I will never forget the look on his face; there I was looking down at Jesus. There is an irony about that picture in my mind now, for surely in my life at that time, I was looking down on him. All I ever elevated in my heart was my wants, desires, hopes, and dreams. I had no thought of him. Not really, not till recently. He meant nothing to me. I did not know him, and I did not care if he existed.
Then I heard him for the first time, the very first word that I heard come from his lips was Zaccheus. How on earth did he know my name? I was stunned, embarrassed, and at the same time he made me feel wanted and important. It is no little irony that my name means “pure” because at that very moment I felt anything but pure. I was sitting in a tree and a man that was being hailed as Messiah called me by name. It is no wonder that when he said, “Hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house” that, that is exactly what I did.
On the way to my house I wondered about his words, “I must stay at your house.” What did that mean? Why must he stay at my house? I was confused, of course, I had no knowledge of God, I always lived for myself, the idea that someone would live for the will of God was as foreign to me as lands I had never visited. But one thing was now sure that Jesus was coming to stay at my house.
On the road I could hear some of the religious leaders grumble about the fact that Jesus was coming to see me. “He is going to stay with a sinner,” they said. Of course that was nothing new to me, being called a sinner. But this time Jesus was being pulled into my world, or rather he chose to come into my house. Was he desirous to know me, and why was he willing to come under verbal attack because of me? Who was this man, and why did he want to eat with me?
When he entered my house I felt a profound sense of joy, at first I did not know why, but afterward I felt accepted and dare I say it – loved. What did this man know about me? He had to hear what they were saying on the road, how did he know my name? And still he seemed to care about me.
Thoughts rushed through my mind from when I was a child, teachings about the Messiah, and the words of John, “”This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'” I never met a man like this Jesus, could it be true what John spoke about him? My mind was racing so fast that I could hardly keep up with my thoughts. Was John truly a prophet, had he spoken accurately? “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” Was this Jesus the Lord? And then the most profound thought of all entered my mind, again it came from the words of John, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” I don’t know about the sins of the world but I do know about mine. It was at that point I stood up; it was almost like someone else lifted me off my feet. You might say that at that very moment I took a stand in the midst of all my guests, it was as if I was compelled to confess what was in my heart, my heart was filled to overflowing, and out of its abundance my mouth spoke. “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”
I knew the scriptures from my youth and how Moses said in the book of Exodus, “If the stolen item should in fact be found alive in his possession, whether it be an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he must pay back double” but my heart was so full at that point, I thought, “I would rather pay four times as much.” I had wronged so many people, I had all to do to keep from weeping, but I felt forgiven by someone, I didn’t even know. And not only that but what He said really seemed to matter to me.
And then Jesus spoke the most important words I have ever heard, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” On that day I not only found out who Jesus was but who I was – a sinner, which I already knew but it came to me with a depth of understanding and clarity that wrecked my soul. But at that moment I was not only a sinner but a saved one, and still more a son of Abraham. I had been rejected by the community and the religious leaders but the one called the Messiah called me a son; and so I came to understand that I was a son not merely by Hebrew birth but because that day I exercised the same faith as Abraham.
On a day that I will never forget, I found myself up a tree and looking down at the Lord Jesus Christ; I may have looked down on Him that day but I will look up at Him forevermore. It has been many years since that great day and I have endured many trials for my Lord, but none was as great as when I through I lost Him to the grave. You can imagine my horror when He was taken to trial by the religious elite and crucified by Romans soldiers. O’ but there was no greater day than when He rose from the dead, which day was followed by the teachings of the Apostles who revealed to us the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection.
As I said, there is an irony in looking down at Jesus that day because Jesus lowered Himself for me, He descended to the realm of the dammed in order to rectify the harm I did to God’s image in me, His good pleasure that was lost through my pride, and most of all His sense of justice when I exalted myself to His place by taking control of my life. Jesus left heaven, the Father, and the Holy Spirit in order to take my place and suffer my sins’ eternal punishment in three hours. He most certainly did descend!
It was the Apostle Paul who penned the words, “who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
I looked down at Jesus that day but I will look up to the Lord of glory forevermore. I hope you have done the same. Peace!