The Seeking Savior
We come to the Lord's table with a particular focus, accent, and emphasis on remembering Him. To do so this morning I direct you to the Zacchaeus narrative of Luke 19:1-10 where Jesus gives us a commentary on His ministry. A saving event took place and commenting on the event Jesus gives us a thought stirring insight into His mission on earth: He tells us why He came, "The son of man came to seek and to save the lost" (19:10). He tells us that He is a seeker, a seeker having come to save. He is therefore "The Seeking Savior."
So today let's remember Christ as the seeking savior. To do this we need to look at the context with Jesus in it and thus we can look at Jesus in this context. My outline will follow the event by location. This can be captured with three prepositions, through, at, and in. He is passing through Jericho, He stops at a sycamore tree, and He stays in the house of Zaccheaus.
1A. He is passing through Jericho
To all appearances Jesus was going to simply pass right though town without stopping. ("Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through," Lk. 19:1). The point of this language is that nothing had been set up for lodging in Jericho. No prior commitment had been made. This fact is evident to all.
Most of all it is evident to a man named Zacchaeus who is immediately introduced by the narrator. He was wealthy and a tax collector (19:2, cf. the difficulty of the wealthy entering the kingdom, 18:24). Tax collectors were negatively stereotyped among the worst of sinners (i.e. the only good tax collector is a dead tax collector). Being a chief tax collector indicates his prominence in and around Jericho, a city strategically located as a hub in a network of trade routes that brought tax revenues into Roman coffers.
Zacchaeus desires to see Jesus. But this is not to have an audience with Him. It is not to visit with Him (like "I'm going up north to see my Aunt and Uncle"). He simply wishes to see what He looks like, to see Him from a distance. But he is unable to see Him because of the crowds combined with his height (19:3). Determined to catch a glimpse, "he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way" (19:4). We get the sense that for Zacchaeus this was a fleeting opportunity since Jesus would pass through the city and quickly disappear down the road.
Before we leave this attempt at seeing, we should ponder an interesting contrast that emerges in light of the preceding event (18:35-43). On one hand is the blind beggar and on the other is the wealthy taxman. In truth, there is only one poor blind man and it is Zacchaeus. The physically blind man begged for mercy from the son of David (18:38). He was not blind spiritually when he was given physical eyes to see. But Zacchaeus was unable to see Jesus in more than one way. He was unable to see Jesus physically because he was a short man and the crowd blocked his view. But when he is up in the tree and Jesus comes into view does he see Him? Does He know Him? No, he cannot see. He is blind. He is lost. Therefore being "wealthy" hints of his true poverty and the true peril of his soul.
2A. Jesus stops at the sycamore tree
But with a marvelous precision Jesus stopped when he reached that particular sycamore tree. There He looked up into the tree and spoke some words that were as surprising as they were intimate. Eye to eye, He called to Zacchaeus by name, commanded this chief tax gatherer down from the tree, and insisted that He stay at the man's house (19:5). Although Zacchaeus had never seen Jesus before this moment, the impression that we receive is that this is not an accidental or casual encounter; this is not a meeting of total strangers. Jesus is very personal, pointedly authoritative, and forcefully driven. Listen carefully to this sentence: I must stay at your house today (note the accent on must, your, and today). It had to be at the house of Zacchaeus and it had to be today. It is imperative that this meeting take place with Zacchaeus and the time of the meeting is not left to chance; the time is now. The suggestion is that the time has come and the day has arrived (this is history of redemption language). There is more going on here than what first meets the eye.
Without a moments delay, Zacchaeus obeyed the command of Christ. With joy he received the Lord into his home (19:6).
3A. Jesus stays in the house of Zaccheaus
The scene has shifted from passing through the city to stopping at the sycamore tree and finally to staying in the home of the tax collector. That final location occasions the complaining and muttering of the people against Jesus: "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner" (19:7). Thus the scene shifts to inside the house of Zacchaeus. There the words of Zacchaeus and of Jesus stand in opposition to the words of the crowd (cf. but, v. 8).
1) The words of Zacchaeus
Ironically, the "sinner" shows himself now, suddenly, to be a saint. This "money man" commits himself to giving instead of stealing (8a) and he confesses his sin with commitment to make restitution fourfold (8, as the law required of a thief, Num. 22:1f.). Here is a repentant sinner owning up to his sin and turning away from it.
2) The words of Jesus
When Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus (v. 9, to him), He looked at Zacchaeus while He spoke to others who were present (v. 9, He referred to him as "this man"; thus to him and about him at the same time). Therefore the contrast with the condemnation of the people (v. 7) is continued. This means that Jesus is responding to the rejection of His words of intimacy, authority, and destiny (v. 5b, I must stay at your house today) that took Him to stay at the sinner's home.
He answers the words of condemnation with words of salvation. He answers the people by proving that salvation has come "today" to the house of Zacchaeus (note the conclusion, v. 9a, and two premises, vs. 9b, 10). And He not only proves that this is a day of salvation for Zacchaeus but that it is necessarily so. He is not simply showing that Zacchaeus has been saved but that salvation has arrived at his house on this very day as something absolutely necessary (something that placed an imperative on Christ in His mission).
Three questions help gather our thoughts here.
1) Why does our Lord present an argument for this opening claim of verse 9? It is due to the muttering that reveals a context of debate and disagreement. Moreover, our Lord also uses logic in a penetrating and thought provoking way. He does this by presenting the argument with some missing elements that we must fill in by careful listening to His words. Interestingly in this context, He calls for a seeking faith. To know Him we must meditate, study, search, think, pray, and seek diligently.
2) How does He prove that "today salvation has come to this house" (which in turn justifies His intimacy, authority, and sense of destiny regarding the sinner Zacchaeus)? Surprisingly it is not by citing the conversion of Zaccheaus shown in his repentance. He takes us as it were behind the repentance of this sinner to the purpose Christ had in His very coming into the world.
To see this, consider the first premise: "because he too is a son of Abraham" (9b). Note carefully what this is not saying (but where our minds may go intuitively). It is not saying that he is a son of Abraham because he is saved (by faith and repentance). That is the thought given in Galatians (3:26-29, you are sons by faith, there is neither Jew nor Greek, you are Abraham's seed and heirs) and Romans (4:16, Abraham's offspring are those who are of the faith of Abraham). But that is backwards to the words of Christ here in Luke.
We have to turn it around. It is not that he is a son of Abraham because he is saved. Instead, it is that he is saved because he is a son. Furthermore, this cannot mean that salvation has come because he is a Jew for many Jews rejected Christ.
3) What then is the point? Jesus tells us something remarkable about this lost sinner that made it necessary that Christ bring salvation to his house on precisely this day. He tells us that Zaccheaus is a son of God's covenant with Abraham and thus a son of God. Salvation had to be brought to Zaccheaus because he was already known intimately by Christ as His brother, His child, and His son. This lost sinner was a child of God by covenant.
Jesus opened a window into the eternal covenant in which lost sinners were given to Him. In this covenant in eternity past, Christ was appointed to come into the world to seek and save these given ones (cf. Jn. 17:1-5). In a parallel line of thought, the writer of Hebrews tells us that Christ came into the world to help the descendents of Abraham (Heb. 2:16). And who are these descendents of Abraham? They are the children God gave to Christ (2:13) and for whom therefore He took flesh and blood in order to save them as their faithful high priest (2:14-18).
1) Now we can sense the power of the argument when it is filled out. Lost sons of the eternal covenant are the sinners that Jesus came to seek out and save. Zacchaeus is a lost son of the eternal covenant. So, Zacchaeus is a sinner that Jesus came to seek out and save.
2) That is what gave Jesus a tone of intimacy, authority, and necessity about staying at the house of Zacchaeus. He has been looking for Zacchaeus from the foundation of the world, from the time of His coming into the world as the son of man, from the time of His entry into Jericho. Looking up into the tree He found this man, this particular sinner among the sinners of that city.
3) Therefore, being a seeking savior means that Jesus seeks particular lost ones until He finds them and when He finds them He brings them to repentance (because He finds them, they repent). He seeks the lost sons of the covenant family, chosen sons, who are missing from the Father's house. When He finds them they welcome Him into their homes and He brings them home to the Father. As put by my son Jonathan, this is where "God's love for man meets the product of that love in the heart of man."
4) Now everything falls into place. Now we know why Jesus stopped at that precise spot where He looked up speaking words of intimate personal knowledge. He knew this man by name before the foundation of the world. Now we know why He insisted on staying at the publican's house. Now we know what imperative drove Christ in His mission. Jesus is driven in the entirety of His work from beginning to end by His determination to save those given to Him by the Father. And save them He will, each one individually and personally by a determined and seeking love that will find without failure. The son of man has come to seek and save the lost, that is, the lost sons and daughters of the eternal covenant.
5) This is a marvelous way to remember the Lord Jesus as the seeking savior. It brings a profound comfort to our frail hearts knowing full well that we are so lost without Him. And we know full well that we cannot find the lost or give sight to the blind. The comfort is that what is impossible with us is possible, planned, and accomplished by the seeking savior. But it also brings feeble but deeply felt thanksgiving to our lips. Ultimately these truths drive us to our knees in awe at the work of Christ that is going on in our lives. Unasked, uninvited, unsought, He sought and He found you and me; therefore, we cling to Him seeking Him. He is so compassionate, so personal, so determined, and so able that His seeking gave each one of us "the glory of a private inclusion in the intimate circle of God's saved ones" (Vos, Grace and Glory, 64, the paragraph that spans pp. 63-64 is given below for further meditation).
It is not as if Christ at random wandered through this world on the chance of finding someone upon whom to exercise his power of salvation. With reference to each one of the children of God there was with him from the beginning a unique compassion, a personalized love, and in result of this a singleness and determination of purpose, that imparted to his seeking of the least one of us the glory of a private inclusion in the intimate circle of God's saved ones. Of such seeking Jesus was conscious, and with all the wideness of his compassionate heart, which no world of sinners could overcrowd, he was not ashamed to acknowledge the gracious privileges and distinctions that pertained to the Lord's people or to any individual child of God. On this very occasion he gave expression to them in the words: 'Inasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham,' words which trace back the blessed issue of Zacchaeus' encounter with Jesus to the covenantal promise made ages before to the patriarch, and ultimately to the sovereign election of which this promise was the outcome. It is with this as it is with the Pauline statement: no more than one can say, 'Who loved me and gave himself for me,' is it possible to say, 'Who sought me and saved me,' except by a profound faith in the elective purpose as the ultimate cause of the personal inheritance of salvation.