How much you matter to God – Part 4

“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’ ” Luke 19:5

We are learning from Jesus’ encounter with a wealthy man named Zacchaeus how much we matter to God. So far we have discovered…

– No matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me (Luke 19:4-5a).

– No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me (Luke 19:5ab).

Zacchaeus’ appearance made him feel lonely and insecure. His accusers made him feel bitter and resentful. But it was Zacchaeus’ sins, his own lifestyle, his own choices, that made him feel guilty and ashamed. So Jesus Christ did something even more shocking. He didn’t just walk up to the tree and look up and notice Zacchaeus. And He didn’t just call him by name and affirm him as a pure one in front of everybody else who hated him. 

Jesus then said, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” (Luke 19:5). Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner. This is truly amazing!

Think about this. The Son of God, walked all the way through town to find the biggest scoundrel in town and says, “I’m going to go to your house. I’m going to be your guest. Out of all these thousands of people, I choose you, Zacchaeus.”

This leads us to our third profound truth: NO MATTER WHAT I’VE DONE, JESUS ACCEPTS ME (Luke 19:5c-6) and He wants a relationship with me. This is the biggest mind blower of all. Jesus knew that there was no way that Zacchaeus would ever invite Him to his house because Zacchaeus was carrying a lot of hidden guilt, perhaps like some of us today. Because in his mind, Zacchaeus was thinking, “I’m not good enough to have Jesus Christ at my house. I’m not good enough to have God as my guest. You don’t know the things that I have done. I am not good enough to have a relationship with Him.”

And many of us have felt that way. We say to ourselves, “I’m not good enough. If you knew all the shameful things I have done You could never love me or want to spend time with me.” But we are wrong. Spending time with Jesus is not based on our goodness. It is based on God’s incredible love and grace for us. Regardless of all we have done wrong, Jesus Christ still wants a relationship with us.

So Jesus takes the initiative and says, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Notice, that Jesus did not say, “I would like to stay at your house.” No, He said “I must stay at your house.” This was a divine appointment. It was a necessary visit. 1  Since Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, He obviously knew Zacchaeus. He knew everything about him, but that did not deter Jesus from taking the initiative and inviting Himself to Zacchaeus’ house.

The truth is, like Zacchaeus, we have done a lot of things we are ashamed of. We have all hurt other people with our own brand of selfishness. Sometimes it is out in the open. Sometimes it is in secret. But we have hurt a lot of other people in our lives by the things we have said and done. Our choices have deeply wounded people. But Jesus wants to change us more than condemn us. Jesus said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17). Christ came into the world to cleanse us, not condemn us. So He looks at you and me, and He says, “I know you, I love you, and I accept you in spite of all that you have done. And I want you to know and love Me and have a relationship with Me.”

Some of us may think, “If I come to Jesus Christ with all the dirt in my life, He is going to condemn me!” If this is how we think, then we don’t understand how much we matter to Jesus Christ. When we come to Christ in faith, no matter what we have done, Jesus still accepts us. Jesus said, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37b). Christ guarantees that when you come to Him in faith, He will never reject you. This may be difficult for us to understand if we have experienced a lot of rejection in our lives.

But there is a big difference between people and God when it comes to forgetting our past. When we sin, people have a tendency to remind us of our past sins. But God forgets! The Bible says, “ ‘16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,’ says the Lord: ‘I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ 17 then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’ ” (Hebrews 10:16-17). God was not teasing when He said He will remember our sins no more. God has a forgetful nature. “Just as it’s against your nature to eat tree or grow wings, it’s against God’s nature to remember forgiven sins.” 2

“You see, God is either the God of perfect grace… or He is not God. Grace forgets. Period. Grace does not judge! He who is perfect love cannot hold grudges. If He does, then He isn’t perfect love.” 3 Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve. He gives us what we need instead of what we deserve. None of us deserve to be forgiven. None of us deserve to have our sins remembered no more. But God’s grace forgives and forgets!

Think about this. If God did not forget, how could we pray? How could we sing to Him? How could we dare enter into His presence if the moment He saw us He remembered all our sinful past? 4

Let me illustrate this with a $100 bill. If I took a $100 bill and crumpled it up in my hand, would you still want it? Yes. But what if I stomped on that $100 bill with my dirty shoes on? Would you still want it? Yes, of course you would. But why? Because it has not lost any of its value. Yes, your life may be crumpled and stained by sin. It may be a total mess. But your life has not lost any value to God! And, yes, you have blown it but Jesus Christ still wants a relationship with you. 

When we come to Jesus, He accepts us and He will never reject us. No matter what we have done, Jesus wants a relationship with us. Knowing that Jesus notices everything in our lives, He affirms us regardless of what anyone else says about us, and He still wants a relationship with us in spite of the fact that we have rejected Him in the past, how should you respond to Him?

The way Zacchaeus did. The Bible says, “So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.” (Luke 19:6). I think Zacchaeus was saved before he hit the ground. He thought, “This is a deal I am not going to get anywhere else. I am going to take advantage of it right now.” Zacchaeus didn’t just receive Jesus joyfully into his house that day, he joyfully received Jesus into his heart. His heart was filled with joy because no one had ever showed him such love and grace as Jesus just did!

With the God who notices… affirms… and accepts you and is waiting with open arms, give me one logical reason why you should refuse to receive him as your Savior. There is none. It is so simple. The Bible says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12). Believe and receive. Zacchaeus joyfully received Jesus into his life by believing in Him. God became His Father in heaven and Zacchaeus became God’s child forever at that moment of faith.

Today I want to invite you, like Zacchaeus, to jump out of the tree you are in or get off the limb you are out on or get out of the dark hole and receive Jesus Christ into your life. How can you do that? The Bible says you must simply believe in Jesus Christ. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (I John 5:1). Jesus is the promised Christ, the Messiah-God (cf. Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1, 14, 41; 20:31). When you believe this, you are born of God. You are placed in God’s family forever and He will never cast you out (John 6:37).

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus makes it very clear that there is only one way to God and that is through Him. Our sin, the wrong things we have done, separate us from God (Romans 6:23a). But Jesus has provided the only way back to God by dying on the cross for all our sins (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6). He took our place and punishment on the cross, was buried, and then rose again. The Lord Jesus is alive today and He now invites you to believe or trust in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life.

Just as you trust a chair to hold you up through no effort of your own, so you must trust in Jesus Christ alone as your only way to heaven. Your good life, religion, or prayers will not save you. Only Jesus can save you. The Bible says, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). Did you catch that? “No other name under heaven” can save us from eternal separation from God outside of Jesus Christ. Your monk, parent, pastor, peers, politician, priest, prophet, or imam, cannot save you from your sins. You and I cannot save ourselves. But Jesus Christ can.

And the moment you place your trust in Jesus for eternal life, you become God’s child and God comes to live inside you through His Spirit. He can change the way you see yourself.

If you just believed or trusted Christ alone today for His gift of salvation, I would like to give you a chance to tell God what you have done. You can pray this prayer in your heart, keeping in mind that prayer does not save, trusting Christ saves.

Prayer: Dear God, thank You for noticing every detail of my life… for seeing my potential in spite of my sin… for wanting a relationship with me in spite of all that I have done wrong. Today I realize there is nothing I can do to deserve heaven. So right now as best I know how, I am trusting You alone, Jesus, to forgive all my sins and to give me eternal life. Thank You for the assurance that I will now be with you in heaven when I die. Thank You for not being ashamed of me. I do not want to be ashamed of You, Lord Jesus. Please help me to see myself as You see me – forgiven, redeemed, and saved forever. Help me to tell others what You have done for me. In Your mighty name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

When you believed in Jesus, He placed you in God’s family forever (John 1:12; 6:37). All of your sins are forgiven (Colossians 2:13-14). God has forgotten all your sins so you can approach Him with boldness now through prayer (Hebrews 10:16-22). God is now Your Father in heaven and you are His child forever (Matthew 6:9). You now have many brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world. And at that moment of faith in Jesus, everything changed in your life just as it did in Zacchaeus’ life. Lord willing, we will discover next time just how dramatically Zacchaeus’ life changed and how Jesus can change our lives too.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1717.

2. Retrieved from Steve Siemen’s communion meditation at NewLife Church in Pleasant Hill, Iowa on August 8, 2021.

3. Ibid.

4. Adapted from Ibid.

How much you matter to God – Part 3

“And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’ ” Luke 19:5ab

During COVID, people have felt disconnected and isolated from one another. Many have felt all alone and unwanted. They may feel as though no one cares about them or notices them, including God. But the Lord has something to say to us about this.

We are learning from Jesus’ encounter with a man named Zacchaeus how much we matter to God. Zacchaeus was a man who felt all alone and unwanted because of his appearance and his actions. The only attention he received from people was negative. But that all changed one day when he met Jesus Christ passing through the city of Jericho.

Since Zacchaeus was a small man, he had to climb up into a sycamore tree to get a look at Jesus as a large crowd of people followed Christ on His way through Jericho. When Jesus came to the sycamore tree, He stopped and looked up at Zacchaeus. From this we learned that no matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me (Luke 19:4-5a). But Jesus did more than look at Zacchaeus.

All of his life Zacchaeus had been ridiculed and rejected. First, because of his appearance. He was a small or little person. Second, because of his actions. He was a chief tax collector who became wealthy at the expense of the people from whom he collected taxes. He was dishonest and corrupt. Nobody liked the way Zacchaeus looked or the way he acted. Imagine the kind of gossip that was spread about this guy! He was the most hated man in town. No doubt Zacchaeus heard many cruel remarks directed at him. There was a surplus of criticism behind his back. Evil things were said about him throughout all of Jericho and beyond. No wonder he had such a low self-image.

But Jesus did something else. Not only did Jesus stop at Zacchaeus’ tree and look up at him, but notice what He does next: And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’ ” (Luke 19:5ab). Imagine the shock of Zacchaeus. “He not only stopped. He not only looked up at me in front of all these other people. He knows my name. I didn’t hear anybody tell Him my name. I didn’t hear Him ask anybody what my name is. He just knows it. How does He know my name?”

From this we learn the second profound truth about how much we matter to God: No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me (Luke 19:4-5a). God not only knows where you are, He also knows who you are. He knows everything about you. When Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, it shocked everybody. For two reasons: one, the fact that Jesus knew the name of the biggest scoundrel in town. And two, because of what his name meant. “Zacchaeus” means “pure” or “just.” Pure or just one!?!  Zacchaeus was anything but pure or just. He was the biggest crook in Jericho. He was a deceptive, dishonest, and despised scoundrel. This was probably the first time in many years that Zacchaeus was called by his real name. I doubt any one called him the “pure” or “just” one. He was anything but pure and just. But in spite of Zacchaeus’ sin, Jesus affirms him. 

Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, I look beneath all that emotional hurt, all that pain, all that other people have said about you and beneath all that I see a pure one. Zacchaeus, I made you to be pure. I didn’t make you to be a crook. I made you to be pure.” Christ is affirming him while everybody else in the world is putting him down. 

Someone has said, “God has your picture in His wallet. That’s how much God loves you.”  God doesn’t really have your picture in His wallet. He has something much more profound. The Lord said, “See, I have tattooed your name upon My palm.” (Isaiah 49:16 LB). When Jesus Christ looks at the scars in His hands where He was nailed to the cross, what do you think He is thinking of? You! Because He died for your sins. God says, “No, I don’t just carry your picture in My wallet. This is how much I love you. I died for you. I have tattooed you on My body. That is how much you matter to Me,” God says.

It really doesn’t matter what other people say. Jesus says, “I affirm you.” Jesus looks at Zacchaeus and says, “You are a pure one. I can see it in you. I can see all your potential in spite of all the hurt in your life.” Some of us have had a hard time feeling good about ourselves because some people close to us have said some really hurtful things. 

Maybe we have even been rejected in the home. The Bible tells us, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” (Psalm 27:10). It breaks God’s heart to see kids abandoned, abused, or neglected by their parents. Parents will say to kids, “We didn’t plan you.” They didn’t, but God did. There are no illegitimate children. There are illegitimate parents, but there are no illegitimate children. When those closest to you hurt you or abandon you, God says, “Climb up into My lap and let me hold you. You are safe in My arms. You are wanted. You were planned. I have a purpose for your life.”

We need to remember this: When other people have called us all kinds of names it doesn’t matter. We are not defined by what other people say to us. We are defined by what God says to us. What matters is Jesus Christ calls us by name.

When we become Christians by believing in Jesus Christ for His gift of eternal life (John 3:16), God tells us that He as transformed us from guilty sinners into forgiven saints. This is why the apostle Paul begins his letter to an immature church at Corinth, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” (I Corinthians 1:2).

The apostle Paul refers to the believers “at Corinth” as “those who are sanctified [set apart positionally from their sin] in Christ Jesus” (I Corinthians 1:2a). He addresses them as “saints” positionally even though their practice was far from saintly (I Corinthians 1:2b). The Corinthians had permitted their pagan culture to invade the church as seen in their divisive sectarianism (1:10-17; 3:1-4), their exaltation of the world’s wisdom above God’s wisdom (1:18-31), their toleration of sexual immorality among their church members (5:1-13), their lawsuits against one another (6:1-11), their immoral relations with temple prostitutes (6:12-7:5), their questionable practices (10:14-33), their mistreatment of one another at the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), their selfish misuse of spiritual gifts to edify themselves instead of the entire body of Christ (12:1-14:40), and their denial of the resurrection of the dead (15:12-58).

Paul addresses them as “saints,” so they will begin to live like the saints they are in Christ. The more believers see themselves as saints in Christ, the more they will live like saints. Nowhere in I Corinthians does Paul doubt or question the salvation of the Corinthian believers. What he does question is their understanding of who they are in Christ. For example, in I Corinthians 6:19, he writes, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” The more they understood and believed their new identity in Christ, the more they would live the way God created them to live in Christ.

When professing believers do not go on to grow toward Christlike maturity, it is important that church leaders do not automatically assume that they are unsaved. It is possible they are not saved, but not because they lack a changed life. What makes a person unsaved is their unbelief toward Christ (John 3:18, 36). Many believers lack spiritual growth in their Christian lives because they have not been discipled by older believers. Discipleship involves helping believers to see who they are in Christ, so they can begin to live like the person God created them to be in Christ Jesus (cf. Ephesians 2:10).

Christ’s interaction with Zacchaeus teaches us that no matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me. He has always got His eyes on me. No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me. He calls me by name.

We are not defined by what other people say to us. Nor are we defined by what we do. We are defined by what God says about us. And God tells us that we are forgiven “saints” who are set apart positionally from our sin and shame to serve God practically (cf. Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:2;  2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2; I Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Philemon 1:7; Hebrews 13:24; Jude 1:3; Revelation 5:8; 19:8; 20:9).  

Prayer: Father God, like Zacchaeus, many of us have been deeply wounded by the words of other people. We have permitted those words to define who we are. But when Jesus pursued us and saved us the moment we believed in Him, we were transformed from guilty sinners into forgiven saints. Thank You so much for saving us from our sins and giving us everlasting life. We are now defined by what You say to us. Like Zacchaeus, we are pure in Your eyes, having been forgiven and cleansed of all our sins (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; Titus 3:4-6). Please renew our minds to see ourselves as You see us so we may live a life of purity in the power of Your Holy Spirit. We are still amazed by Your grace toward us. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Luke, 2016 Edition, pg. 271.

How much you matter to God – Part 2

“And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him.” Luke 19:5a

We are looking at Jesus’ encounter with a man named Zacchaeus to discover how much we matter to God. When we begin to see ourselves through God’s eyes, God can make the greatest changes in our lives.

Last time we saw that Zacchaeus was a wealthy man living in the city of Jericho who was probably quite miserable. His misery was connected to his appearance and his actions. He was a “short” or small man who probably received a lot of teasing all his life for the way he looked (Luke 19:3). He was also a “chief tax collector” which meant he got rich by stealing from people (Luke 19:2). So he was not liked by others because of his profession. It is likely that Zacchaeus did not even like himself because of his guilty conscience. He knew that he was making his own wealth at the expense of other people. He was deceitful and dishonest. He had lost all of his self-respect and his zeal for life. Most likely he felt all alone and unwanted.

Can you identify with Zacchaeus? Have you lost your self-respect? Have you experienced pain and rejection because of your appearance and/or your actions? Do you feel all alone and unwanted? Or do you know someone who does? If so, then I think you will be very interested in what happens next in this account of Zacchaeus. We are going to look at three profound truths the next few days which can change our lives forever.

The first truth is NO MATTER HOW INSIGNIFICANT I FEEL, JESUS NOTICES ME (Luke 19:4-5a). When you transition to a new phase in life – graduate from high school and go to college, start a new job, move to a new community, or retire – you may feel lonely and insignificant, like no one notices you. But know this, Jesus Christ notices you.

When Zacchaeus heard that Jesus had come to the city of Jericho he did two things that no wealthy Middle Eastern man would do. “So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.” (Luke 19:4). One, he “ran” through a crowd, and two, he “climbed” a tree. These were things that little boys do in crowds, not wealthy well-known government officials. But Zacchaeus wanted to get ahead of the crowd and he found “a sycamore tree” where he hoped that Jesus would pass by and then he climbed up in that tree. 

His desperation caused him to do something a bit below his dignity. But Zacchaeus was willing to endure some public scorn to see the one everyone had been talking about.” 1

Luke may have been presenting Zacchaeus’ actions as a commentary on Jesus’ words that unless people become like little children they cannot enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:17).” 2 Constable also draws attention to this when he writes, “It is interesting that Zacchaeus did some childlike things, namely, running to see Jesus and climbing a tree, unusual activities for an adult government official. Jesus had formerly commended the tax collector in His parable for childlike faith (18:13). He had also taught the importance of childlike faith (cf. 18:16-17).” 3

Another commentator notes, “The crowd as [a] physical barrier and Zacchaeus’ strange position up in a tree can serve as spatial symbols of his isolation from his community.” 4

What Zacchaeus did was shocking, but what Jesus did was even more shocking. Jesus walks straight through the city past thousands of people packed in that crowd, and He walks right up to that tree and He stops. “And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him” (Luke 19:5a). In a packed out crowd, Jesus notices Zacchaeus. Christ looks up into that tree and fixes his gaze on this miserable man.  

I can just imagine Zacchaeus’ heart starting to pound or more probably, feel like it was going to explode! Adrenaline was flowing through his body. His throat was all constricted. Zacchaeus may have turned around to see if someone was behind him up in the tree because he can’t believe Jesus would stop this parade just to look up at him. Then Zacchaeus realizes, “Jesus is looking at me! Out of all the people in Jericho, He is looking at me! Why did He stop here? Why did He look up? Why is the Son of God looking directly at me!” At that point in time I imagine Zacchaeus was in shock. 

Why did Jesus do this? Why did Jesus stop right at that tree and look up? Because He knew Zacchaeus’ heart and He knew exactly where Zacchaeus was. Luke presents Jesus as the Savior who has come into the world “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Zacchaeus was isolated and lost. Jesus knew this. So He took action.

And you know what? God knows exactly where you are today. You may be up in a tree. You may be out on a limb. You may be in a dark hole. You may think God has forgotten you and that He is thousands of miles away from you. But He is not. He has got His eyes on you (Psalm 17:8). There has never been a moment when God took His eyes off you. Never! He has seen every breath you have ever taken and every thought you have ever had. He has heard every word you have ever said and seen everything you have ever done – good or bad (cf. Psalm 139:1-18). And He has constantly looked at you with eyes of love.

It is may be difficult for us to imagine that God pays that much attention to us because we don’t pay that much attention to Him. We don’t notice God twenty-four hours a day. But every moment of every day God has His eyes on us. Jesus said, “… But God never overlooks a single [sparrow]. And He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head!” (Luke 12:6-7  MSG). For some of us, it is not very difficult to number all the hairs on our heads! God loves us with a love we have never imagined. He has always paid attention to us. He has never taken His eyes off of us.

When our daughters were much younger shooting baskets behind our house, they would constantly say, “Watch me Daddy! Watch me!” All of us have a deep need to be noticed. We want to be seen. So we say, “Watch me Daddy!”

Adults do this all the time. We are constantly saying, “Watch me! Watch me!” We don’t say it that openly. We do it by the kind of clothes or makeup we wear; by the way we fix up our houses or decorate our lawns. We may also do this by the way we talk or style our hair. We try to accomplish big things so people will pay attention to us. Deep down inside we are saying, “Watch me! Pay attention to me!” We do this because we have a deep need to be noticed. And only God can meet this need all the time.

Most of us – even those of us who have been Christians for a long time, have not fathomed how awesome the love of God is. It is like an ant trying to figure out a human being. Our brain is not big enough to figure out how much God loves us or how much He pays attention to us. God is teaching us that NO MATTER HOW INSIGNIFICANT I FEEL, JESUS CHRIST NOTICES ME. May God the Holy Spirit massage this truth into the depths of our souls so we can stop striving to get attention and rest in the loving gaze of our heavenly Father.

Prayer: Precious heavenly Father, thank You for this wonderful encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus did nothing to deserve Jesus’ loving gaze. If anything, he deserved a look of judgment and wrath. But instead, the Lord Jesus gave Zacchaeus something he had probably never received before – a look of compassion and understanding. Yet are any of us really any different than Zacchaeus? We also have a deep need to be noticed and understood. We too have felt ignored and unwanted. Perhaps our sin and shame has left us isolated and all alone. Thank You, our Lord and our God, for noticing every detail in our lives. Thank You for never taking Your loving eyes off of us. Others may have ignored or neglected us, but You have always noticed us. Our value comes from Your constant loving gaze which could never be earned. Thank You for knowing where we are and what we need. We love You, Lord Jesus. Please help us keep our eyes on You. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1717.

2. John A. Martin, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 506.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Luke, 2016 Edition, pp. 271-272.

4. Ibid., cites Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation. Vol. 1: The Gospel according to Luke, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), pg. 123.

How much you matter to God – Part 1

“And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.” Luke 19:3

One of our greatest needs in life is to feel valuable or important. Because of this, we are constantly looking around and in our minds we are evaluating other people and comparing ourselves to them. In our society we tend to base our importance or self-worth on four things.

First, we judge our worth by our appearance, asking ourselves, “How do I look?” If I look good then I think I must be good or valuable. People invest all kinds of time and money to improve their looks because this is how they measure their worth.

Second, we judge our worth by our achievements, asking ourselves, “What have I accomplished? How successful am I?” We invest many of our resources to accomplish big things because we think our importance is based upon our achievements.

Third, we judge our worth on approval, asking ourselves, “How well am I liked?” If a lot of people like me I must be important. We want people to like us so we concentrate on doing everything we can to win their approval.

Finally, we judge our worth on our affluence, asking ourselves, “What do I own? How many possessions do I have?” Deep down we believe that the more possessions we have, the more importance we possess.

The problem with these four standards is that none of them are stable. They can all change. For instance, can your appearance change? Absolutely! Beauty fades doesn’t it? Our successes are surpassed by other people, our records are broken, our possessions wear out and people we think love us, die or abandon us or sometimes even reject us. So if we want to build our self-worth on something that lasts, we must build it on something that cannot change. And there is only one thing that won’t change – what God thinks about you. The greatest changes in our lives take place when we see ourselves as God sees us.

A wonderful example of this principle is a man in the Bible we are going to look at the next few days. His name was Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a man who lived in the city of Jericho. One day Jesus came to Jericho and Zacchaeus had an encounter with Jesus that changed his life. 

We see this in the Bible in Luke 19. 1 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.” (Luke 19:1-4). Zacchaeus didn’t want to talk to Jesus. He just wanted a glimpse of Christ. And if there was ever a man who needed his self-image built up, it was Zacchaeus. Because in the four ways we evaluate our worth, Zacchaeus struck out on the first three. But he was wealthy. He had a lot of money.   

In the first place, Zacchaeus didn’t like his appearance. The Bible tells us that he was “of short stature” (Luke 19:3). The Greek word for “short” (mikros) literally means “small.” Zacchaeus had the body of an undeveloped child. He wasn’t just short. He was a little person. His body had not developed fully into adulthood. He was probably ridiculed and teased all of his life about how he looked. You know how kids can be ruthless on the playgrounds. They can make fun of you and give you hurtful names. And all Zacchaeus’ life he had probably lived not liking the way he looked. 

Not only that, but this guy was hated by everyone in the city of Jericho. It says he was “a chief tax collector” (Luke 19:2). Tax collectors are never popular but in Roman days it was even worse. The Roman system of collecting taxes was absolutely corrupt. In the first place, you had to bribe an official for the privilege of becoming a tax collector. Second, you could collect and keep as many taxes as you wanted to keep as long as you paid Rome its due. For instance, maybe a family owed Rome $100, and you could say, “You owe Rome $1,000.” They would pay you the $1,000. And then you could give Rome $100 and keep $900 for yourself. So you could collect as much as you want.

This is how Zacchaeus became so wealthy. He got rich by stealing from other people. So he was hated by everybody not only because he was a tax collector, but because he was the “chief” tax collector which means he was in charge of the whole scam. So he probably didn’t like the way he looked. Plus people made fun of him and nobody liked what he did either. So as a result, Zacchaeus probably hated himself. How do I know that? Because you cannot have a guilty conscience and feel good about yourself at the same time. There is no way. He knew that he was ripping people off. He knew that he was making his own wealth at the expense of other people. He was deceitful, dishonest, and a lying scoundrel. He had lost all of his self-respect and his zeal for life.

What we have here is a guy who has a lot of money but doesn’t like himself. A man who is lonely and miserable. But one day everything changed. In one moment, he met Jesus and discovered how much he mattered to God. When you learn that, you will never be the same. The story of Zacchaeus illustrates three profound truths. If you will allow God to imprint these truths in your heart and mind, your life will never be the same.

Can you relate to Zacchaeus? Have you lost your self-respect? Have you experienced pain and rejection because of your appearance and/or your achievements? Do you feel all alone and unwanted like Zacchaeus? Or do you know someone who does? If so, it is time you join me next time as we look in on Jesus’ encounter with this miserable man.

Prayer: Father God, the world teaches us that our importance is based on our appearance, achievements, approval, and affluence. Most of us fall short in at least one or more of these areas. Some of us may have no respect for ourselves because we are not living the way You want us to live. We have taken advantage of others to build ourselves up. And now we find ourselves all alone and unwanted. Lord God, please speak truth to us. Help us to see ourselves through Your eyes. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Endnotes:

1.  Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 651.

How can I grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 2

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” John 10:14

I can also grow closer to the Good Shepherd when I REALIZE HIS INTIMATE KNOWLEDGE OF ME (John 10:14-15). “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” (John 10:14). It was important for a shepherd to know his sheep. He must know their needs, weaknesses, and their problems. Without this kind of knowledge, he would not be able to adequately provide for the needs of his sheep. Christ is the Good Shepherd not only because He lays down His life for us, but because He has an intimate knowledge of us.

Jesus repeats His “I AM” statement when He says, “I am the good Shepherd.” “I AM” was the name of the Self-existing God who had revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). Since Jesus is the Self-existing God, He knows everything about us – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and He still loves us. It is also important that the sheep know their shepherd. They must know his voice so they can respond when he calls them. They must learn to trust their shepherd so he can provide for their needs.

In this technological age, it is easy to begin feeling like a number on a computer instead of a person. We are identified by our Social Security number rather than by our name. We receive junk mail addressed to “Resident” instead of personalized correspondence. Such impersonal methods may cause some people to conclude, “No one cares about me. No one knows where I am or how I am feeling.” But that is not true. Jesus cares. He knows you by name (John 10:3). He knows you intimately (John 10:14).

We never need to feel like the young student who felt slighted when Edward VII, the king of England from 1901 to 1910, was visiting a city to lay the cornerstone for a new hospital. Thousands of school children were present to sing for him. Following the ceremony, the king walked past the excited youngsters. After the king was gone, a teacher saw one of her students crying. She asked her, “Why are you crying? Did you not see the king?” “Yes,” the young girl sobbed, “but the king did not see me.” King Edward could not have taken notice of each child in that throng. Jesus, however, gives individual attention to each of us. Christ knows who you are. You matter to Jesus.

You may think God has forgotten you and that He is a thousand miles away. But He is not. He has got His eyes on you. There has never been a moment when God took His eyes off you. Never. He has seen every breath you have ever taken, every thought you ever had, every word you have ever said, everything you have ever done good or bad, and He has constantly looked at you with eyes of love. 

It is hard for us to imagine that Jesus pays that much attention to us because we don’t pay that much attention to Him. We don’t notice God twenty-four hours a day. But every moment of every day God has His eye on you. Jesus said in Luke 12:6-7 “…  God never overlooks a single sparrow. And He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail – even numbering the hairs on your head!” For some of us that is not very difficult! God loves you with a love you have never imagined. He has always paid attention to you. He has never taken His eyes off you.

The more we understand how intimately Christ knows us and loves us, the more we will want to “know” our Shepherd on a more intimate level like the Son knows the Father. “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” (John 10:15). The Son must know the Father to follow His will, just like the sheep must know the Shepherd to follow Him faithfully. Jesus taught that the relationship the sheep enjoy with Himself is unique, as His relationship with His Father is unique.

Jesus’ intimate relationship with His Father is what enabled Him to obey His Father even to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8). He laid down His life for the sheep. When Jesus was verbally and physically abused by His enemies, He did not retaliate. Instead, “He committed Himself to Him Who judges righteously” and He “bore our sin in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed.” (I Peter 2:23-24). Peter explains further why Jesus bore our sins in His own body. “For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (I Peter 2:25). When Christians face injustice and suffering, they can be reassured that they have a good “Shepherd” who cares for them and provides for them. This Good Shepherd is the “Overseer” of their souls who protects and watches over them.

I am reminded of a story I heard about a Christian woman who invited her unbelieving feminist female friend to church one Sunday. After the pastor finished preaching about the role of men and women in marriage from Ephesians 5:22-33, the feminist looked at her friend and said, “I could follow a man who is willing to die for me.” The Christian woman replied, “There is such a Man and His name is Jesus Christ.” Knowing the love that Christ has for us draws us closer to Him as our Good Shepherd. When you know that Someone genuinely loves you enough to die for you, you can trust Him to lead you and care for you.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, living in this time of COVID and social unrest, it can be easy to feel alone and unimportant. We may feel that You have lost our address and do not even care about us. But Your Word reminds us that this is not even close to the truth. You are our Good Shepherd and You know Your sheep intimately. Our feelings may tell us that we are all alone and unimportant to You, but Your voice of truth reminds us that You are always with us and Your eyes and ears never take their focus off of us. Your love for us is constant regardless of our past. You demonstrated this when You died for us even though we were still undeserving sinners (Romans 5:8). The more we focus on the truth of Your constant love and care for us, the more we will want to draw close to You. Your love casts out fear. Your love removes the barriers we have erected to protect ourselves. Though we were once lost sheep, we have now returned to You, Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. We can now trust You to provide, protect, and guide His precious sheep so we can live to please You alone. The more we know You, the more we want to make You known. In Your matchless name we pray. Amen.  

Are you investing in what lasts?

“John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ ” John 1:15

After explaining that the Word, Jesus Christ, is the Creator God and only source of eternal life Who became a human being (John 1:1-14), the apostle John records the testimony of John the Baptist (John 1:15-36). He begins with, “John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me’ ” (John 1:15).

We are told that John the Baptist “bore witness.” What does it mean to be a witness? Is witnessing something one is or something one does? Sometimes we think that to be a witness for Christ means “I just have to live a godly life and that is enough. I don’t ever have to tell anyone how to be saved. They will eventually come to Christ on their own.” But listen. The Greek word translated “bore witness” (martureō) is used in a courtroom setting. And it means “to testify, give evidence, or speak the truth.” What would happen if you took the witness stand in a court of law and never said anything? The judge would hold you in contempt of the court.

Living the holiest life does not tell people how they can obtain eternal life. No amount of watching your godly life tells me how I can know Christ personally. If you live a holy life, it tells me something has happened to you, but it doesn’t tell me how I can have the same experience or what causes you to live that way. Maybe you are a person of high morals. Perhaps your parents disciplined you as a child. Words are more than just helpful for me to know Christ: they are essential. Sooner or later, someone has to talk to me about Jesus in order for me to know Him personally.

If we live a holy life but never tell people about Jesus, then the world will give us all the credit instead of glorifying the Lord. Silent believers are like beautiful road signs with no words or directions printed on them. They are nice to look at, but they don’t tell you how to get where you need to go. We need a balance. Yes, we need to live a godly life, but we also need to use our lips to tell people how to have eternal life through believing in Jesus alone (John 3:16).

When John the Baptist testifies about Jesus, he is not speaking softly. The Bible says he “cried out.” The Greek word translated “cried out” is krazō. This word is imitative of a raven’s piercing cry. It expresses an urgent scream or shout from someone who has deep emotions about their message. John was extremely passionate regarding what he was about to say. Why? Because he understood Who Jesus is and he also understood his purpose. John the Baptist was “sent from God… to bear witness of the Light,” Jesus Christ (John 1:6-7; 8:12). He understood his identity as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23; cf. Isaiah 40:3). John’s purpose was to prepare the people of Israel “that all through him might believe” in their coming Messiah-God for His gift of everlasting life (John 1:7b; 3:36; cf. Acts 19:4). John’s voice was temporary, but his message was eternal.

John the Baptist’s message centered around an eternal Person. He cried out, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me’ ” (John 1:15b). The word translated “preferred” (emprosthen) denotes having greater dignity or rank than another (cf. Genesis 48:20; John 1:30).

In Bible times, chronological priority meant superiority (those who were born first were considered superior). John is saying that Jesus is superior to him because Christ came before him. John the Baptist recognized the pre-existence of the Word, Jesus Christ, as God (John 1:1-2). Even though John the Baptist was born six months prior to Jesus (Luke 1:26, 36), John says “He was before me.” How could John the Baptist say this? He could say this because Jesus was always before John in His Pre-existent state as God.

In the Old Testament, the Lord God of the universe said, “This is what the Lord says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: ‘I am the first and I am the last; apart from Me there is no God’ ” (Isaiah 44:6; cf. 41:4; 48:12). The God of the universe has no beginning and no end because He is eternal. This is what makes Him uniquely God.

In the last book of the Bible, the exalted Lord Jesus Christ said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “Who is, and Who was, and Who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). The apostle John shares Jesus’ testimony, When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. Then He placed His right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last’ ” (Revelation 1:17; cf. 1:13).  At the end of the Book of Revelation the exalted Lord Jesus Christ said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13). Make no mistake, the Lord God of the Old Testament is the same as the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament. This is John the Baptist’s message. He is acknowledging Jesus’ superiority as the eternal God with no beginning and no end when He says, “He was before me” (John 1:15b).

With the Coronavirus in the news a lot, all of us are confronted with the frailty of humanity. None of us are promised life on earth tomorrow. God is using COVID-19 to persuade people to think about what is eternal.

Since Jesus has no beginning and no end, we are to invest our lives in what lasts. What two things on this planet last for eternity? It is not your bank account… cell phone… video games… house… car… job… or your achievements. I have done a lot of funerals, and I have never seen anyone pull a U-Haul behind a hearse. What lasts forever on earth is people (Matthew 25:46) and the Word of God (I Peter 1:23-24). We have an incredible opportunity to invest in both by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the unsaved (Mark 16:15) and then training those who believe in Christ through the discipleship process (Matthew 28:19-20).

Whom are you sharing the gospel with and training in discipleship? If we are not evangelizing and then discipling those who believe the gospel, we are failing to invest our lives in what is lasting. But this need not continue. Today, you can decide to invest your life in what lasts forever.

Prayer: Lord God Almighty, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, I bow my heart before You in worship. You are so amazing! You could have remained in heaven for eternity receiving glory from all of Your angels. But instead, out of love for me and all people, You humbled Yourself and became a human being on earth without ceasing to be God. And You were obedient to death on a cross to pay the penalty for all of our sins! Therefore God the Father has exalted You to the highest place and given You the name that is above every name, that at Your name, Jesus, every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that You are Jesus Christ the Lord, to the glory of God the Father! Forgive me my Lord for focusing so much on what is temporary. Thank You for reminding me to focus on what is eternal. Use my voice, Lord Jesus, to proclaim that You are the eternal God who offers eternal life to those who believe in You. Please use me to multiply followers of Yours while there is still time on earth. I pray this for Your glory and honor, Lord Jesus. In Your name. Amen.

How does God feel about you?

HOW DOES GOD FEEL ABOUT YOU?

1 O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before,and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.” Psalm 139:1-6

I would imagine that most of us have been to a funeral where we hear people say some very positive things about the person after he or she is dead. But you do not have to die before you can hear God say some beautiful things about you. Psalm 139 is a very descriptive Psalm written by King David that expresses how God feels about you and me. For the next four days or so, Lord willing, I am going to look at this Psalm.

Today we will discover just how important we are to the Lord. God knows every minute detail about us because we are so important and valuable to Him (139:1-6).

“Lord, You know me as well as if You had diligently and thoroughly investigated me” (139:1). God has “searched me” like a miner searching for minerals or a lawyer investigating legal facts.

“Lord, You know everything I do while sitting down” (139:2a). The words “sitting down” and “rising up” are a merism which refers to everything between sitting down and rising up.

“Lord, You know what I intend to do long before I ever do it” (139:2b). The word “thought” can also include intentions or motives. The word “afar” is speaking of distance in time. God knows what we are going to think long before our thoughts are even developed.

“Lord, You know everything I do publicly and privately as if You had painstakingly sifted and separated each act from another” (139:3). God knows everything I do publicly on a “path” far from home and privately (“lying down”) in my home. The word “comprehend” (zarah) refers to winnowing or sifting. God’s concern for me is reflected in His intricate involvement in knowing everything I do. If God did not care about me, He would not pay so much attention to every detail of my life.

“Lord, You know all my ways because before I speak, You know exactly what I will say” (139:4). God knows what I am going to say before I say it.  

“Lord, Your intimate knowledge of me makes me feel surrounded and controlled” (139:5). The word “hedged” is a military term used of an army surrounding a city on all sides. God’s thorough knowledge of me causes me to feel completely encompassed (“behind and before”). It seems like God has “laid” His “hand upon me” so that He makes me do whatever He wants me to do. Your intimate knowledge of me is a threat to my autonomy and wanting to act independently. Your control springs from Your complete knowledge of me.

“Lord, Your thorough knowledge of me is beyond my power to escape” (139:6). The word “wonderful” (pili or pali) means difficult or incomprehensible. God’s thorough knowledge of David is way too much for him! It is “high” like city walls that are too high to be captured. When David said, “I cannot attain it,” he meant that he could not overcome or get away from God’s complete knowledge of him.

Someone who knows all about us may reject us or expose our weaknesses, and this is scary for us to consider. We may feel overpowered and out of control. This was how David felt when he wrote this part of Psalm 139.

On the flip side, the fact that God is so interested in knowing everything about us shows how valuable we are to Him. You may feel unimportant and insignificant because no one seems to pay attention to you here on earth. But stop right there! God is crazy about you, so much so, that He has done a thorough investigation into your life. And He knows everything about you. You are not some piece of tissue or collection of chemicals. You are the object of God’s care and concern. This is why He has painstakingly sifted and separated every thought, action, word, and motive in your life. YOU … ARE … VALUABLE … TO … GOD!!! Let this soak into the depths of your soul. No one cares more for you or has more interest in you than God!!! Spend time with Him and get to know Him. Let Him show You how important you are to Him.

Prayer: Precious Father God, thank You for showing me how important and valuable I am to You. You know everything about me – what I do publicly and privately, what I think and say, and even my motives. Such complete knowledge of me, Lord, makes me feel surrounded and controlled. My tendency is to run from someone who knows me so well because I fear rejection. I fear that no one could love me as I am. But Your knowledge of me is not intended to scare me, but to show me how valuable I am to You. Thank You for showing me this today. Help me to believe it so I will stop trying to prove my worth through what I do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How do I know the Bible is True? Part 6

6. The evidence of SELF-TESTIMONY supports that the Bible is true. 

Self-testimony is valid evidence in a court of law. The Old Testament authors often made claims like, “And the Lord spoke to me, saying…”or “The word of the Lord came to me, saying…” Henry Morris in his book Many Infallible Proofs(San Diego: Creation Life, 1974, pp. 156-7) claims there are 2,600 such claims of divine inspiration in the Old Testament. The New Testament also claims to be inspired word-for-word by God. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17-18). According to Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus says the Bible is accurate down to each letter of a word and each stroke of a pen.