No doubt, most everyone has seen some variation of this meme. I’ve had occasion to consider it deeply in recent weeks, and not just from the persepctive of the humor it attempts to invoke.
I’m still thinking (and talking, as my family will attest) about Luke chapter 19, and the story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector going full on child-like in his pursuit of Jesus. I’m still contrasting him with the rich young ruler whose encounter with Jesus is recorded in Luke chapter 18. It’s a juxtaposition and study that is keeping me occupied.
It’s this preoccupation that draws my mind to the metaphoric ideas to be drawn from the story of Zacchaeus. The Bible tells us plainly that Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus when he passed by because he was short compared to the crowd. It’s pretty straightforward but as I noted before, there are parallels to be drawn as we look closer at the reactions of that crowd when Jesus called Zacchaeus to “make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”
The people’s immediate response was that Zacchaeus was a sinner, therefore unworthy to be noticed at all by Jesus, let alone host the Messiah in his house. If not that, then perhaps Jesus wasn’t the Savior and Teacher they thought he was. Something was definitely wrong with this scenario in the minds of the crowd. Zacchaeus certainly was a sinner, and he had no problem admitting the same. However, the swiftness with which the crowd was willing to condemn both Zacchaeus and Jesus clearly indicates that they didn’t view themselves as sinners. Like the rich young ruler in Luke 18, many of them seemed to be under the impression that the law they kept from their youth made them more worthy of the Master’s attention than Zacchaeus.
As I contemplated this, I wondered how many times I had blocked someone in Zacchaeus’ position from seeing the truth of Who Jesus is through my short sighted, self-righteous, limited memory of who I really was (and still am) without the touch of His grace in my own life? Now, multiply that times the numbers of professed Christians in this country who view themselves as moral guardians, lighting the way for the unwashed masses on how to be a good person.
What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over a half century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached.
It is easy to become distracted from Christ as the only hope for sinners. Where everything is measured by our happiness rather than by God’s holiness, the sense of our being sinners becomes secondary, if not offensive. If we are good people who have lost our way but with the proper instructions and motivation can become a better person, we need only a life coach, not a redeemer. We can still give our assent to a high view of Christ and the centrality of his person and work, but in actual practice we are being distracted from “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). A lot of the things that distract us from Christ these days are even good things. In order to push us offpoint, all that Satan has to do is throw several spiritual fads, moral and political crusades, and other “relevance” operations into our field of vision. Focusing the conversation on us—our desires, needs, feelings, experience, activity, and aspirations—energizes us. At last, now we’re talking about something practical and relevant.
In such a scenario, where the churches are crowded with “good people” who have it so together that they can heap judgment and scorn onto anyone who doesn’t fit the mold or who has ever done anything wrong, how are the Zacchaeus’ of the world supposed to see Jesus?
They can’t, because self-righteous throngs of church people are blocking their view. Heaven forbid, someone stand to say, “I know there is hope and healing for you, because I used to be a hopeless mess and He rescued me from the darkness of my depraved nature! Come, Zacchaeus, you can have the seat next to me.”
With each successive year of my life, I appreciate more and more the words of Jesus:
Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Only a fool thinks he has been forgive “little”, but that’s a topic for another day.