We all know someone in our church or youth group that we rather avoid. We feel they don’t fit. They don’t match up to our standards. It could be a dubious background. Worse, maybe he drinks and smokes. Or someone sporting tattoos or dyed green hair. Even though we often say that the church is welcoming to all, in reality it is far from true. We are willing to say hello but not willing to invite them out for a meal. We keep our distance from people who seem to be a bad influence to our kids. In our hearts, we just wish that this person might consider joining another church. Do you know what Jesus would do? The Bible tells us in Luke 19.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
Zacchaeus wasn’t a good guy. Tax collectors were seen as traitors of the Jews and much hated. When Jesus came into town, Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was but nobody was going to let him through. Do you ever stop people from coming to see Jesus by the way you treat them? How many people have left the church without ever seeing Jesus! Back to the story. Zacchaeus was a short man, maybe like me, who has difficulty looking over crowds. So he climbed a tree to see Jesus. The amazing thing was this: Zacchaeus wasn’t only looking for Jesus. Jesus was looking for him. Who would expect that Jesus, a holy man of God, would look for this scumbag?
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
Jesus prophetically knew Zacchaeus’s name. Of course. Jesus was looking for him. He wasn’t just passing through. Can you imagine if you jostle with the crowd to snap a photo of your favourite celebrity and she suddenly turns to you and calls you by name? I would be stunned and honoured at the same time. So was Zacchaeus. Jesus not only called his name, but insisted on going to his house. Out of all the people in Jericho, definitely there were some “better” people to spend time with. Why with this great sinner? That’s the heart of Jesus.
Even in churches, who should you choose to spend time with? We often shut sinners out when they don’t behave. We say they are a bad influence to others. But Jesus purposely spent time with sinners without asking them to change their behaviour first. He showed them respect and love. That’s how we reach lost sinners. We intentionally spend time and love them first without condemning them. Even if they somehow change, it is external only. For permanent change, they need a heart change from the inside out.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
After Zacchaeus received Jesus, he repented of his wrong ways. When sinners receive Jesus, then they will reform their ways. They need Jesus to change their hearts. Jesus sums up his ministry when he said:
“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
We need to be like Jesus by seeking and saving the lost. He sought them on their turf, not his. He went to where they were. Likewise, we should go to them. Go to the malls. Go to their houses. Go to the bars. Go to the coffee shops. Go to the club houses. Go overseas on mission trips. Jesus’ heart is to seek and save the lost. What about yours?