A FEW GOOD MEN SERMON SERIES
A SHORT STORY – ZACCHAEUS AND THE SYCAMORE TREE
HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE
JUNE 26, 1994
Recently I was in a restaurant having lunch with some friends and I noticed seated right behind us were two well-dressed businessmen in their fifties and I could tell by their conversation and by their expression, lunch was an afterthought. They had their alligator briefcases, they were exchanging contracts, talking about attorneys, millions of dollars, their particular corporations and their positions. What was going on here? I was listening to a “power lunch”. You see most people think the term power lunch was a late 80’s thing but in reality the first power lunch occurred 2000 years ago in a place called Jericho. It involved Jesus and a man named Zacchaeus. Because after this power lunch, Zacchaeus was never the same. Question. What would you do if Jesus Christ called you on the phone this week and asked you to lunch? What would you do if our Savior called you and invited you to lunch?
Some are thinking, “Well, ah, I wonder what restaurant I would choose. What would I order? I guarantee you, I would say grace before the meal, no doubt about that. (laughter) I wonder what the conversation would really involve, but more importantly, oh no, more importantly, what would Jesus ask me? He can read my mail. What kind of questions would He address? What kind of issues, oh man, wow.” Today, over the next few moments, we are going to address four questions that I believe Jesus would ask you or He would ask me if we could have lunch together. And these four questions come from the life of Zacchaeus. So take your outlines out of the bulletin and look at Luke 19. We will study verses 1 through 10, four questions that Jesus would ask you. And these four questions center around the concept winning friends and influencing people.
Let’s dive right in, Luke 19:1-3. Here is the context. Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. That sounds pretty normal, run of the mill, Biblical stuff, doesn’t it? Jesus was entering Jericho and was passing through. Those words are packed with meaning. Jesus was on His way to the cross, to Jerusalem, to die on the cross for all of our sins and there were many other roads, many other avenues He could have taken that would have gotten Him to Jerusalem quicker. But because He was living in the perfect will of His Father, He went through Jericho. I have been to Jericho before. Lisa and I toured Jericho about eleven years ago. It is a quaint, little Israeli town. Sycamore trees still line the streets and one of the sycamore trees, the guide told us, was the tree that our man Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus. So you see Jesus went through Jericho. He didn’t have to but He did. And the Bible says there was a man who lived in Jericho by the name of Zacchaeus. And the word Zacchaeus, the name Zacchaeus, check this one out, in the Greek means righteous one. We are going to find out Zacchaeus was anything but righteous, the guy was a reprobate. In modern day, 90’s type lingo, we would refer to Zacchaeus as a drug dealer, someone who is despised, who is hated by society. And the Bible says Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, chief tax collector. You see, Rome ruled during that day. And Rome ruled to such a degree that to finance their great empire, they would levy taxes against the nations that they dominated. For example, Jericho was a great taxation center. And here is Zacchaeus, he was born a Jew and Zacchaeus, this Jewish man, worked for the Roman government and he took taxes, more than he should, from his people. They couldn’t even stand the word Zacchaeus. If someone would just say a word beginning with Z, say they were talking about a zebra, others would think they were talking about Zacchaeus. “Oh what a terrible man, I would like to take him out behind my house and…you get the picture. A chief tax collector.
The Bible continues. He was wealthy. Zacchaeus had the cash, he had the mean green, he had the scratch, he had the dinero. Gucci sandals, Giorgio robes, he had it all. And it was a risk just for the man to step outside his guarded house because people wanted to elbow him and knee him and spit on him and take him out back. But we are going to find out, he did. The Bible says, and I love this section of Chapter 19:1-3, the Bible says, and don’t miss this, “He wanted to see who Jesus was.” That is what Zacchaeus did. He wanted to see who Jesus was. And that is like the world. The world, they want to see who is this Jesus. Is Christianity for real? Is it authentic? Is it something I can bank on, is it something I can trust, is it something that will affect my life? “Ed, I am a Zacchaeus-type person, can I really connect with being a believer?” He wanted to see Jesus. But the Bible says, he was short, the Spud Webb of the New Testament. And plus he had a poor vertical jump, he couldn’t really see Jesus because of the crowd. See that. He couldn’t see Jesus because of the crowd. The people were keeping him from really seeing who He was.
As I studied this text over the last few days, I asked myself this question. “Ed, can people see Jesus in your life or are you like the people gathered in Zacchaeus’ time blocking others out from seeing Jesus?” Because too many Christians block people’s view, block their concept, block their vision from really seeing Jesus. They want to see Him, they want to know Him, they want to relate to Him but they can’t because of the crowd. Our little Christian cliques or our stained glass fortresses or our churches, we erect all these barriers and walls and things and people want to see Him but they can’t because of our lifestyle.
The first question that Jesus would ask you or me, just fill in the blanks here, “Is you life, Ed, an asset or a liability for my cause?” That is what Jesus would ask me. “Ed, you talk about living a holy life, Ed, you talk about Christianity, Ed, you talk about sharing Jesus. Is your life, though, an asset or a liability for the cause of Christ?” If you are a seeker here today, if you are a Zacchaeus-type person, this question is not for you. Just kind of zone out for a second. But if you are a believer, is your life, is you language, an asset or a liability for the cause of Christ? What you put in your bodies, alcohol, drugs, overeating, an asset or a liability to the cause of Christ? The places you go, an asset or a liability to the cause of Christ? Could you be a part of the crowd keeping Zacchaeus-type people from seeing Jesus? Often times believers will ask me about an ethical decision. Should I see this movie, should I go to this place? And the list goes on and on. Here is a great test to give yourself. Can you do the particular activity you are thinking about doing if Jesus was sitting across the table from you? Could you do the particular thing you are wondering about, that could be kind of a gray area, could you do that if Jesus was looking you right in the face? If the answer is yes, go for it, if it is Biblical and scriptural. If it’s not, well that could be a warning sign. It is my prayer that my life is an asset, that when people see me they see Jesus and they say, “Hey, I want what Ed Young has.” Can they say that about you? Can they say that about me?
Let’s jump to the second question. It’s a pretty tough lunch so far, isn’t it? We haven’t even taken one chip out and dipped it in the hot sauce yet. (laughter) Luke 19:4. “So, (and this is Zacchaeus now, this wealthy guy), so he ran ahead (circle the word ran) he ran ahead and climbed (circle the word climbed) a sycamore tree to see (circle see) Him.” Here is Zacchaeus, this wealthy man, and it was unheard of in the eastern culture for a wealthy person to run. It’s like the little kids you will see running at the rose bowl parade. “Oh let me see the float, let me see the float, mommy, daddy, look, look.” And here is Zacchaeus sprinting and he jumps on the first limb of the sycamore tree and he climbs it without damaging his designer blazer and he looks down and he is seeing Jesus. I told you to circle some terms: ran, climbed and see. You say, here’s Zacchaeus this sophisticated, intelligent man, he is acting like a child, that is what he is doing. That is what he is doing, he is acting like a kid. Write this reference down, I will read it for you, Luke 18:17, Jesus talking, Jesus said, “Anyone who does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” So to come to Christ we have to have the faith of a child, not to check our intellect at the door but to say God, I trust You. I don’t understand every little thing, but I trust You, I put my faith in You. As children we don’t know why we have all of these stipulations and boundaries, we trust our father, we trust our mother. We’ve got to trust our heavenly parent. We have got to.
So he ran ahead, climbed a sycamore tree to see Him, since Jesus was, and here is the clincher, coming that way. You see, God, because of His sovereignty ordained His Son to be walking that way. Why? Because Zacchaeus is the quintessential seeker. He is a seeker. And this church welcomes seekers. We invite seekers. We invite Zacchaeus-type men and women to attend the Fellowship of Las Colinas. We want you to invade this safe environment to hear a dangerous, penetrating, life-changing message. And we want to take away every hinderance between man and God except the cross and except coming to terms with your sin. This is the focus of this church. It is to preach and teach God’s Word in a very uncompromising fashion. So remember that. The second question is not for believers. If you are a Christian, you can listen but it is not for you. If you are a seeker, if you are investigating Christianity, if you have been religious or you are religious, this is for you. Because being religious has nothing to do with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “But Ed, I’ve been baptized, I’ve been pasteurized, I’ve been homogenized, I’ve been confirmed, I’ve been dunked, I’ve been sprinkled.” I’m talking about a personal relationship. And here is the question seeker, here it is. Jesus would ask you this, “Who have I put in your life (seeker) to lead you into a personal relationship with Me?” Seekers, who has Jesus put in your life for the sole purpose of leading you into a relationship with Him? Because Jesus has strategically placed those believers into your life to lead you to Him. This believer could office right beside you, this believer could be in your apartment complex, this believer could be rubbing shoulders with you right now, this believer could be myself, this believer could be many people. But God will orchestrate it so the believer will come that way when seekers, in this church, are looking, not from sycamore trees, but maybe from the balcony (sorry about that), or the back row, or the front row. But they are not perched today in sycamore trees, are they? They are in cars, they are at work, they are in health clubs, just seeking, just investigating, just seeing if this thing is really what it is all cracked up to be.
Let’s move now to the third question. Luke 19:5-7. The story continues, “When Jesus reached the spot, (and here He is walking and people are pressing, the religious leaders and He could have talked to the religious leaders all day and night about theology, about eschatology, about soterology, but when Jesus reached the spot) He looked up and said to him, Zacchaeus, come down immediately.” Jesus had evangelistic lenses, He saw and He noticed, because He knew people who were outside of His family mattered to Him so much. Recently I got some new contacts, and I thought my other contacts were pretty good until I popped these new ones in, and boom, I could see things even more clearly. I could see things I thought I could never pick up, but because I had these new contacts, because the prescription was changed, I could see it. How we need to pray, believers, for spiritual, evangelistic lenses. Because once you say these words, “God, You give me Your lenses to see those Zacchaeus-type people”, He will pop them in, empowered by the Holy Spirit and all of a sudden, whoa, I didn’t realize that person needed Jesus, I didn’t even see that individual, I didn’t see that one. He will do it. And that is exactly what happened in the life of Jesus. “He looked up and said to him, Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house.” And that, my friends, is the invitation to the power lunch. He invited Himself over to Zacchaeus’ house and He took the initiative, Jesus did. It is easier to build walls that it is to build bridges. It is easy once we accept Jesus Christ to increase our circle of Christian friends, of believers, and while we increase our circle of believers we are decreasing our circle of seekers. We must learn, and we must build bridges of integrity to those people who don’t know Christ. We must base our relationship with the seeker in areas that don’t cause us to compromise. In other words, you wouldn’t say, “I am building a relationship with a seeker as I go to this strip joint.” No, that is not it. “I’m building a relationship with this seeker as we travel to Las Vegas and spend about $8,000 gambling.” No, you missed it. I am talking about building relationships of integrity with those people who don’t know Christ. We shouldn’t look with assaulting eyes. I have seen some people who think that sharing Christ with others or inviting others to attend, especially seekers, will win them special commendation. And as they are inviting you to attend, they are back there making a notch in their Bible. Oh, I’ve got another one, he was going to hell and I am going to keep him from hell. Come this way. Well, there is another one. Come over here. I am not talking about that. I am talking about looks of love. Jesus met Zacchaeus where he was. He invited Himself over to his house. Tthe relationship started and then He shared with him. He looked up and he said Zacchaeus come down immediately, I must stay at your house. “So he came down at once and welcomed Him gladly.” This term gladly in the Greek is the word that accompanies salvation. It is used nine times here in the Book of Luke. Every time someone is saved, they experience charion (?), in the Greek, it means joy, it is rendered here, gladly. When I see someone and they tell me, rather sadly, “Yeah, uh huh, I am a believer, I have received Christ into my life and, you know, I am really a man of God.” I kind of begin to wonder, do they really know the same Jesus that I know? You see, Christianity is joy, Christianity is excitement, Christianity is a life of adventure. It is not easy. But it is packed with joy. And if you are not having the joy, if you are not really experiencing it, maybe you will understand this third question that Jesus would ask. He is talking to believers now. “When was the last time you looked for a seeker in your life?” When was the last time you looked for a seeker in your life? Look at the last part of verse 7 in Luke 19. The people began to mutter as Jesus and Zacchaeus walked to his house. The people began to mummer, the religious intelligentsia said, well he’s gone to be the guest of a sinner. Oh, my goodness gracious alive, he has gone to be the guest of a sinner. Man. Isn’t that the worst thing in the world?
I have the opportunity to speak to seminaries now and then and usually when I talk to a seminary class I ask them this question. It is kind of a trick question, but it should be an easy question. I ask them this. Name the characteristics of Jesus. And they will give me a long list, I write it on the board: love, grace, power, strength, forgiveness, the Messiah, on and on and on it goes, and I will say, yes, you are right. Yes, you are right. Yes, you are right but you are forgetting one of the main labels, one of the top characteristics He was known by, he was a friend of sinners. Jesus was a friend of sinners. And that is what I want to be. I want to be a friend of sinners, not compromising, but to show them that I love them. Why do I love them? Because I have the author of love in my life and He gives me this love for them. And He should give you that love. And I am going to rattle your spiritual cages today, Christians. If you are not praying for at least five people right now who don’t know Jesus Christ, if you are not at least building bridges to them, then your spiritual life is dry. You see I know about this because the first fourteen years of my Christian life I didn’t share, I didn’t think about those who were seeking, I didn’t think about the Zacchaeuses of the world. I just kind of soaked, I was like a hugh sponge, just soaking it in, soaking the Word in, soaking everything in, and I got to be big and water-logged spiritually. I really did. And I thought I was something else. But then that sponge began to get kind of dry for some unknown reason and I began to study the life of Jesus, talk to men and women of God I really respected and they said, “Ed, how many people are you building relationships with who don’t know Christ?” I started doing that and I’ll tell you how I started doing it, I just prayed. I said, “God, You sent your Son to be a friend of sinners and help me to be such a friend and You bring someone into my life who doesn’t know You.” That week it happened. And that week for the first time I invited a person to the church I was attending in Florida and we sat down and I had a seeker, I’m talking about a quintessential Zacchaeus-type seeker on my elbow and he watched this service. But guess what happened. The church I was attending in Tallahassee, Florida, they played music on a 400 year old instrument, and this guy was listening to Mick Jagger. The preacher used terms my friend couldn’t connect with; substitutionary atonement, sanctification, justification.
Great terms if you know the meanings of them, but terms this guy had no clue about. They talked about money the whole time and then they said this, if you are visiting with us, visitors you stand and members you greet the visitors. I began to look at church through this person’s eyes and I thought, wait a minute, so much of this stuff is just man-made, is traditional, is not biblical. I want to be about a church that removes all barriers so that a person can hear a dangerous message in a safe environment. We will begin to have four weekend services starting in August, a Saturday service and three Sunday morning services. And people are saying, praise God, isn’t this incredible, this church has grown from 150 people four years ago to over 2,200 on the weekends. Man, it is amazing what He is doing. Aren’t we great. Alright, yeah, great, OK man we are there, we got it. But that is not even scratching the surface. If we did half of what we are supposed to do as far as building relationships with those people who don’t know Christ, we would have 34 weekend services. That is what I want to challenge you to today, Christians. You want to see joy, excitement, power, you invite that seeker, the Zacchaeus-type person, that person who has the bad vocabulary, that person who does things illegal at work, invite them to this church or to another church that maybe God is leading you to. I don’t know. And you watch it come alive. So the third question, when was the last time you looked for a seeker in your life?
Let’s go down to the fourth question. Luke 19:8-10. And here is Zacchaeus again, this sinner…”But Zacchaeus stood up (they probably thought he was sitting down) Zacchaeus stood up (that means publicly, he stood before the people) and said to the Lord…” Oh,oh, did you see that, did you catch that, wait a minute) but Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, there it was again, Lord, early on it was Jesus now it is Lord. Something has happened during that power lunch, Zacchaeus has had a power encounter, he has met Jesus. That is the personal relationship, He is Lord, He is number one in Zacchaeus’ life. And because of salvation, what happens? “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.” And here is the final question Jesus would ask us. “What changes have you made personally and publicly because of Me.” What changes have you made, personally and publicly, because of me. Zacchaeus made a personal change but also the changes effected his public life and he stood publicly and he showed people he had dealt with his sin, he had turned from the mistakes he had made and he was following Jesus. That is why it is so sad when you hear about someone and this person tells you that they go to church, that they know Jesus Christ, and you go what? You mean you are a Christian? Have you done that before? Like whoa, I didn’t know you go to church. That is why it is so sad when that occurs. Because, you see, if I know Christ and if He has changed my life personally then publicly people will be able to see it. I am not talking about running around with a spiritual chip on you shoulder, those assaulting eyes, but they will see the love, they will see the vitality, they will see the vibrancy, they will see the clay feet, they will see the flaws but they should see Jesus and they should see it publicly. So if people are surprised when they find out you are a Christian then you had better check out everything.
This is also why we have an invitation at the end of our services. We are not trying to measure a good service, if we have thirty people join, great if we do, but if we don’t, fine. But at the end of this service, after I conclude this message I always will say if you want to become a part of this Fellowship, you stand publicly and walk forward. It is not easy. We could easily sit back and say, if you want to join the church fill out the card and that is cool. But we purposely say and we purposely make it a little difficult, to stand and walk forward, to stand and walk forward and say I am receiving Jesus Christ. Now we are not going to talk about your name, address, telephone number and your IQ when you get down front. When you stand down front here we will let you stand for a couple of minutes and then we will escort you out to our welcoming center, but we do the invitation because every time Jesus asked someone to follow Him they did it in front of their peers, publicly shining for Jesus.
Man, if I could shake, again, every one of you, not in a mean way, but in a shake of love and tell you to get into this, to build those relationships, to invite those people, your lives would come alive like they have never been alive before. When was the last time, or when is the next time, you are going to have a power lunch with the sole purpose of winning a friend to Jesus and influencing them for the glory of God?