Today’s Bible reading presents the famous story of the “wee little man”, Zacchaeus.
From an early age, I felt like I could relate to Zacchaeus. Those of you who have met me know why. Neither Zacchaeus nor I will ever be the tallest man in the room! It doesn’t bother me so much now compared to my “wonder years”. At some point, I finally embraced the fact that it is what it is.
But Zacchaeus’ stature isn’t what the story is about. The Sycamore Tree isn’t what the story is about. The central focus of the story is Zacchaeus’ radical transformation from being a greedy tax collector to a repentant Christ-follower after his encounter with Jesus.
As I just typed that, I realized how strange that redundancy should sound: a repentant Christ-follower. Every Christ-follower should be marked by a changed life as a result of encountering the One we follow. And following Him involves — even requires — repentance: Turning from us and turning to Him.
Tax collectors weren’t the most popular people of Jesus’ day. Evidently, tax collectors lined their pockets with whatever extras they could exact from their taxpayers. And from Dr. Luke’s description, Zacchaeus was really good at his job. Dr. Luke even hints at that in naming Zacchaeus a “Chief Tax Collector”. (Luke 19:2)
Other than the disdain of the religious leaders that Jesus had gone to “stay with a sinful man”, Dr. Luke doesn’t give us any details of Jesus’ visit to Zacchaeus’ home. He only gives us the result of the encounter: Zacchaeus will never be the same. His behavior changes because his heart changes. An encounter with Jesus is always a heart encounter first. Then it overflows into a behavior change. In expressing his repentance (Luke 19:8), Zacchaeus promises restitution to those he has wronged. This is straight out of the Law (Leviticus 6:5, Numbers 5:6–7)
Philosophers will sometimes use the “Prime Mover Argument” in an effort to prove God’s existence. It says that everything in the universe is in constant motion. Therefore, there had to be a Prime Mover who set the first thing into motion; that Prime Mover is God.
Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he wanted to see Jesus. But before Zacchaeus needed the tree, God put that tree where Zacchaeus would need it. God is always the “Prime Mover”. God is the One Who seeks. Jesus said that the Father seeks spirit-and-truth worshipers. (John 4:23) That’s a good thing! Because on our own, not one of us would seek God! (Romans 3:10–12) And in our reading today, Jesus said that He was sent to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10) And the day our first father sinned, it was God who was seeking. (Genesis 3:8–9)
The religious leaders criticized Jesus for being with sinners. The underhanded accusation was that Jesus was with hanging out with sinners because he was one, too. But note that in every situation where Jesus hung out with sinners, the sinners changed but Jesus didn’t. Every situation. He never compromised on the Truth of His message. And neither should we.
It is admirable when Christians reach outside our comfort zone and roll up our sleeves to rub elbows with people unlike ourselves. But in reaching out, we must be very careful to “love the sinner” and not share in their sin, nor encourage them in their sin. Like Jesus, believers should love the sinner out of, and away from, his/her sin.
In case you’ve missed this major theme, everyone is a sinner. Our goal in discipleship/becoming more like Jesus is to become in our experience who we already are in Christ Jesus. In Jesus, we are saints. But until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will struggle with becoming more saintly in our beliefs, our attitudes and our behavior, and less as a sinner.
The Christian life isn’t about behavior change. If it were, it would be just like all of the other religions. Instead, the Christian life is about having a relationship with Jesus Christ. But as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, our behavior will change. Just like Zacchaeus!
This devotional was originally published July 23, 2019.
Taxes. Laws. Government Officials. Law Enforcement Officials. What do these have in common? Like them or not, they’re all part of Citizenship in the United States of America.
Believers are citizens of two kingdoms. In today’s Bible reading, Paul asserts that a believer living with a Kingdom of God mindset will be a good citizen of the world in which he/she lives.
Paul says, “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.” Romans 13:1 (CSB)
Yes, obeying the inconvenient traffic laws, honoring and praying for government officials from the “other” political party, even paying your income taxes. All of these will mark a child of God who lives with a Kingdom of God mindset. Why? Because it’s an expression of Christlikeness. (Romans 13:14)
I remember walking into an IRS audit (my only one). I had heard horror stories. I knew I had been honest in reporting my income and deductions. And yet, I was still nervous. There was a red flag, but not a violation. After reviewing my paperwork, the IRS agent told me that I was “in compliance”. When I asked what that meant, she replied, “It’s all good.” I asked her how often says that to people under audit. She replied, “Let’s just say that we earn our money.” Ouch!
Being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God doesn’t mean that I’m not involved as a citizen of the USA. In fact, my Kingdom of God citizenship informs my US Citizenship. It affects how I vote. It affects how I pray. It affects how I interact with the police officer when he pulls me over. It affects how I respond to the Red Light Camera citation in my mailbox.
Look, I’m not perfect. I struggle with laws (eg, Red Light Cameras) I don’t like. And when called to account, I paid the fine. I didn’t want to. I feel they’re unconstitutional (you can’t face your “accuser” in court). But as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, I had to suck it up and write the check for the fine.
There are speed zones I don’t agree with. There are politicians I don’t agree with. But being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God will influence my citizenship in the United States of America.
And if you’re a believer, you’re a citizen of two kingdoms. As a child of God, you’re called to be a good citizen of both. Doing so is a reflection of Christlikeness.
This devotional was originally published May 31, 2019.
Today’s Bible reading records some of the saddest times of Jesus’ life. He weeps over the religious leaders of His day, pointing out their hypocrisy, and He weeps over Jerusalem for killing the prophets God sent to her.
In pointing out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, he also tells His disciples and the crowd to listen and obey what the leaders’ say when they sit in Moses’ seat. (Matthew 23:3) There may be two reasons Jesus told them to do this:
- Sitting in Moses’ seat confers God’s authority. Regardless of their personal lives, these leaders are still speaking God’s truth. To disobey the leaders is to disobey God.
- Even on this side of the cross, obedience is still required. Just because Jesus has paid our sin-debt doesn’t mean that we can live however we want. I preach grace. I preach mercy. I preach these things because I have received so much grace and mercy. I preach these things because I believe these are important truths for God’s people to hear. But grace and mercy are not opposed to obedience. They empower obedience!
As you contemplate the grace and mercy that God has given to you as a believer, do you think you can live however you want? Are believers no longer bound to live moral, God-pleasing lives? Let me ask you, “What Bible verses are you getting that from?”
If believers were released from obedience, then why do the Apostles give commands in the book of Acts and in their letters? Even in the fifty days between the Resurrection and the Day of Pentecost, Jesus gave His disciples commands to obey:
- Go back to Jerusalem and wait for the promised Holy Spirit
- Make disciples by baptizing and teaching obedience
Obedience on this side of the cross is empowered by justification. It is empowered by grace and mercy. It is empowered by the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. We don’t obey in order to get God’s favor. Rather, we already have God’s favor which empowers us to want to obey Him. (Galatians 5:16, Romans 1:5)
Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will experience the tension between our “already justification” and our “not-yet justification”. Like Paul in Romans 7, we will do things we don’t want to do, and we won’t do the things we do want to do. (Romans 7:15-24)
And while we struggle in our conflicting desires on this side of eternity, Paul reminds us in Romans 8:1, there is no condemnation for believers.
This devotional was originally published May 7, 2019.
Today’s Bible reading is well-known, especially by those who don’t want to be judged by you. You may have even quoted Jesus when He said, “Judge not, that you not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1 ESV)
Oftentimes, this passage is pulled out of thin air as if it had no context at all. Sure, Jesus told His Disciples not to judge, but look at the context of His instruction. Fourteen verses later, He says,
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
Matthew 7:15–20 (ESV)
Obviously, in order to beware of false prophets, you have to do a certain amount of judging. He says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:20 ESV) So what’s going on here? Is Jesus contradicting Himself? Of course not!
Let’s look a little closer to the immediate context of Matthew 7:1 by looking at the very next verse. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2 ESV) And then look at verse three through five. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3–5 ESV)
It appears that Jesus is simply saying that we need to be aware that we all suffer from bad eyesight. And we will be judged by the same standard by which we judge others.
We had some friends whose kids wanted a slice of pie. But there was only one slice. They told their kids that one of them could cut the piece in half and the other kid could choose which half to eat. Let me tell you, the kid cutting the pie made sure that he sliced the pieces exactly the same size! If he hadn’t, he would surely have eaten the smaller slice!
All of us have trouble seeing clearly. And when it comes time to make judgment calls, Jesus tells us to be careful. Our judgment should be according to the way that we would want to be judged. This is an application of the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) which sits right in the middle of the chapter.
In today’s Bible reading, James warns his readers against being an arsonist by not controlling their tongues. He argues that although it’s very small, the tongue can create a great deal of damage. Perhaps James has Proverbs 18:21 in mind.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21 (ESV)
James spends a great deal of time talking about the tongue. It’s a good thing. The can easily create havoc in a church setting. Perhaps it’s “sharing a prayer request”. Actually, it’s slander, gossip, or backbiting. Perhaps it’s “speaking the truth in love”. Actually, it’s demeaning or berating. Perhaps, it’s “stretching the truth” or — a preacher’s favorite — “ministerially speaking”. Actually, it’s lying. There are other ways Believers sin with our tongue, but these may be the most “innocent”. Either way, it’s not using our tongue to edify and bless.
The tongue can get you in a lot of trouble. The wise person who wrote the proverb was correct. Words can heal or words can kill. You get to choose how you use your tongue.
Before you say something, before you “share” something, before you post something on Social Media ask yourself a few questions:
- Is it true? Have you personally verified it?
- Is it helpful? Is it encouraging?
- Is it the right time to say it?
- Is it said in the right tone? Is this the best way to say it?
- Does it involve the person(s) talked about? The person you’re telling, are they part of the problem/solution? (If not, don’t share it; it’s gossip, plain and simple)
- If it’s a corrective word, have you confirmed with someone else (in confidence) if it needs to be said? Have you confirmed with them that now is the time to share it? Do you need to bring that person along to be present when you deliver the word?