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3. The Search OF the Savior: Why Jesus Came, Part 1 (Luke 19:1-10)

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In this article, I am continuing my four part series on “Christmas Searches.” The first two sermons were titled “The Search for the Savior” - (1) “The Search of the Wise Men” (Matt. 2:1-12) and (2) “The Search of the Shepherds” (Luke 2:8-10). Now, in the next two sermons in this series, we move to “The Search of the Savior: Why Jesus Came” (Parts 1 and 2). The text for this sermon, “Why Jesus Came, Pt. 1” is Luke 19:1-10.

Our passage is the third of three episodes (vignettes) in a row: (1) The young ruler who was rich (Lk. 18:18-30); (2) The beggar who was blind (Lk. 18:35-43); and (3) The tax collector who was a thief (Lk. 19:1-10).

These three men paint a spiritual picture for us. The rich young ruler is proud of his religion and riches. But there is an emptiness that neither his religion nor his riches could satisfy. Specifically, he yearns for the possession of eternal life – the one possession that his money can’t buy. He sees in Jesus someone who can offer what he wants but, in the end, his riches are more important to him than eternal life. He decides to keep his possessions rather than follow Jesus. He chooses riches on earth over riches in heaven. As a result, Jesus teaches the crowd how extremely difficult it is “for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Lk. 18:24). To make his point Jesus resorts to hyperbole when he says that it’s about as hard for a rich person to enter heaven as it is for “a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (Lk. 18:25), because riches make people feel self-reliant and self-centered – they don’t think that they need God. Their riches have such a grip on their lives that they can’t give them up, not even for eternal life. In response, the people ask Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” (Lk. 18:26). And Jesus says: “The things that are impossible with men are possible with God” (Lk. 18:27).

The blind beggar, by contrast, is dirt poor and helpless, at the bottom of the social scale, a man with absolutely no power whatsoever and no social influence, other than being a nuisance perhaps. He believes that Jesus can give him back his sight and begs Jesus to “have mercy” (Lk. 18:38) on him. Nothing will keep him quiet. Recognizing his cry as an act of faith, Jesus heals him.

So, after the rich man and the poor, beggar man, we come to the thieving tax collector, Zacchaeus, in our passage (Lk. 19:1-10). Zacchaeus is an example of Jesus’ principle that “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Lk. 18:27). Indeed, the overall theme that Luke is emphasizing in these three portraits is that the purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world is to save lost people.

As a tax collector, Zacchaeus collected public taxes or tolls for the Roman Empire. Because of his position, he was a rich man, influential in society, powerful. He is rich precisely because “he was a chief tax collector” (19:2). He misused his power to collect from the people more taxes than they owed, keeping the difference for himself. Thus, he was a rich thief. Though he is powerful he is hated by the people, who were powerless to do anything about his mistreatment of them. That’s why tax collectors were the epitome of corruption in that day.

I think what Luke is trying to tell us in these three vignettes is that it doesn’t matter what your economic status is or your social standing or your religious zeal, everyone needs Jesus as Savior. The rich young ruler knew his spiritual need but wasn’t prepared to pay the price to obtain the solution. The poor, blind beggar knew his spiritual need and he had no economic barriers to hinder him pursuing and obtaining the solution. Though Zacchaeus, the thief, had no economic need, yet he seems to recognize his spiritual need. 3 He was seeking to see who Jesus was but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed into a sycamore tree to see him” (19:3-4). He is so earnest about seeing Jesus that he doesn’t care what others might think about this desperate act.

His desperate desire to see Jesus amidst the crowds reminds me of the time when my wife and lived in Ottawa, the capital of Canada. One time we went to Rideau Hall where the Governor General lives to try to catch a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II. We expected to have to jostle through crowds of people to see her, but to our surprise, hardly anyone was there. And to our delight she drove by within a few feet of us. That was my first and only time to see her, despite having been born and raised in England.

Well, to his great surprise and delight, Zacchaeus not only got to see Jesus, but Jesus stopped and spoke to him. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ 6 So, he hurried down and received Jesus joyfully” (19:5-6).

No sooner had Jesus and Zacchaeus gone to Zacchaeus’ house together, than you can almost hear the murmur go through the crowd: “He’s gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner!” (19:7). In the people’s minds, tax collectors and prostitutes were quintessential sinners, the most despised people in society. Why would anyone go to be a guest with someone like that? In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were despised because of their misuse of power and their utter corruption. Zacchaeus was known as an unscrupulous tax collector, demanding more from the people than they owed to the government, extorting money from people so that he could enrich himself.

Zacchaeus’ activity was not unlike what we might experience today. Many of us here in Canada have received scam phone calls from people pretending to be Canada Revenue Agency, demanding payment for taxes we do not owe. In fact, I know someone who, through such fear and intimidation tactics, was cheated out of $6000. What a shock, then, to find that Zacchaeus not only knew their complaint against him but actually agreed with it.

The true sign of repentance is to change your way of life. “Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold’” (19:8). Zacchaeus spontaneously offers to make recompense to those from whom he had extorted money falsely. Here, then, are the evidences of genuine repentance…

1. Confession. Notice that Zacchaeus acknowledges Jesus as “Lord.” This man, who previously did not bow to anyone, now readily submits to Jesus’ lordship over him. This man, who previously did not take orders from anyone, now willingly obeys Jesus.

2. Humility. Zacchaeus now expresses concern for “the poor.” The lowest level of society with whom he did not previously associate, now becomes his priority. The very people whom he previously despised and defrauded, now become his concern. The same people who hold a special place in Jesus’ heart, now have a place in his heart. And he pledges half of his wealth to improve their plight.

3. Restitution. He will give back his ill-gotten gains. He will not live off the avails of sinful activity nor keep what rightfully belonged to others. Anything that he had taken fraudulently he would “restore fourfold.” Effectively, he imposes on himself a fine for his previous illicit behavior.

This was unheard of from tax collectors. They didn’t submit to anyone. They had no compassion for anyone. They didn’t give to anyone, they just took away. They didn’t confess wrong-doing because they considered themselves to be above the law and everyone else.

Now we come to verse 10 which is the centre of our attention in this sermon. In response to his confession and evidence of genuine repentance, Zacchaeus hears...

I. Jesus’ Glorious Declaration That The Son Of Man Has Come

“Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham’” (19:9). Jesus gives the clear assurance of salvation. “Today!” There is no delay in Jesus’ granting forgiveness to this incorrigible sinner. Jesus did not tell Zacchaeus to do works of penance. He did not tell Zacchaeus that he would review his behavior after a certain length of time to see if he deserved salvation. No, Jesus said, “Today salvation has come this house.” Zacchaeus had already given clear and convincing proof that his heart had been changed, that his conscience had been reached, that genuine repentance had taken place.

You see, God looks right into our hearts. He knows those who are genuine seekers after him. He knows those who are genuinely repentant. He knows your heart. He sees your every action, hears every word, and knows every thought. So, when you turn to him in faith he grants instant salvation. That’s what happened to the thief on the cross. He didn’t have opportunity to do anything to earn salvation. But he called upon Jesus out of his utter need and recognition of his sinfulness, saying to the other thief, 40 Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43 And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”(Lk. 23:40-43).

“Salvation has come to this house,” Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “since he also is a son of Abraham.” What did Jesus mean by this: “He (Zacchaeus) also is a son of Abraham”? Well, in contrast to those who observed what was happening, who accused Jesus of being the “guest of a man who is a sinner” (19:7), who were children of Abraham by birth but not by faith, Zacchaeus, on the other hand, despite his previous conduct, was by birth and now by confession a man of faith, a “son of Abraham.” The old had gone and the new had come.

So, not only does Jesus give Zacchaeus a clear assurance of salvation, but also Jesus gives a clear declaration of his advent: “... for the Son of Man has come” (19:10a). The word “for” indicates Jesus’ explanation of how and why salvation could come to anyone, even a thief, even to someone as far from God as rich, powerful, and corrupt Zacchaeus. Over the course of his ministry, Jesus stated many reasons why he came into the world. He said...

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:32)

“I have come not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (Jn. 6:38)

“I have come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10)

“For this purpose (the cross) I came to this hour” (Jn. 12:27)

“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world, that I should bear witness of the truth” (Jn. 18:37)

“I have come a light into the world that whoever believes in me should not abide in darkness” (Jn. 12:46)

“I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (Jn. 12:47)

But surely this statement in Luke 19:10 of why Jesus came into the world outshines them all. “Salvation” is only possible because “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (19:10). The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world was to save lost people – that’s why “the Son of Man has come.” This is what Christmas is all about - the coming of the Son of Man, whose coming changed world history.

What, then, does this title “Son of Man” mean? “The Son of Man” is the title Jesus used most often in the gospels to refer to himself. Since its meaning is never explained, the title must have been well known and understood.

1. It’s a title that indicates Jesus’ deity. That’s why Jesus called himself “the” Son of Man (a) when He claimed the authority to forgive sins (Lk. 5:24), because only God can do that; (b) when He claimed authority over the Sabbath (Lk. 6:5), because only God is lord of the Sabbath; (c) when He claimed authority over the harvest (Matt. 13:3), because only God as creator is God of the harvest; and (d) when He spoke of the redemptive aspect of his mission in the world (Mk. 10:45), because only God can redeem sinful human beings.

2. It’s a title that identifies Jesus’ humanity. The Son of Man is the incarnate God who in his humanity identifies with the human race (a) by associating with publicans and sinners like Zacchaeus (cf. Lk. 7:34); (b) by being totally accessible by human beings; (c) by experiencing all the things we experience like sadness, weakness, suffering, disappointment, hunger, temptation, and even death.

The Son of Man is the incarnate God who in his lowly humanity demonstrated his love for sinners when He 7 emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:7-8).

3. It’s a title Jesus used to prophesy of his sufferings as in: (a) “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk. 9:22); (b) “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men” (Lk. 9:44); (c) “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Lk. 24:7); (d) “‘31 See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’” (Lk. 18:31-33).

4. It’s a title that connects Jesus to his future coming. The O.T. prophets foretold that the Son of Man was coming, and now the “Son of Man has come.” Prophecy has become reality. Not only has this prophecy about the coming of the Son of Man already been fulfilled at his first coming, but it is yet to be fulfilled at his second coming for the Son of Man is coming again. This time not in lowliness and poverty and rejection but in power and glory: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Lk. 21:27).

The Son of Man is coming again. At that time his coming will be sudden and unexpected, not to save but to judge. “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Lk. 12:40). “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all - so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. (Lk. 17:24-30).

So in Luke’s gospel Jesus is presented as the universal Savior, the Son of God and yet the highly accessible Son of Man. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is “the Son of Man” who feeds the hungry, exalts the humble, reaches out to the disadvantaged, the unlovely, the poor, the outcasts. But he is also the One who condemns the rich and powerful.

As someone else has pointed out, in Luke’s gospel, “the Son of Man” emphasizes that Jesus’ humanity was at the same time ordinary but also extraordinary; it was normal but also abnormal (Ken Carson, “The Son of Man Comes,” Grace Institute for Biblical Leadership, Spring 2008). He was born like any normal human, but his conception was highly abnormal, extraordinary. He was born as an ordinary baby to a poor family in a stable, but the birth announcement was extraordinary, made by angels to astonished but adoring shepherds. He matured like a normal boy but had extraordinary wisdom and knowledge. He was baptized like any other person, but his baptism was accompanied by the audible affirmation of God from heaven. His genealogy goes back to Adam like everyone else, but it goes through king David, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

So, from Luke 1:1 to 4:13, Luke announces the fact of the coming of this extraordinary Son of Man to earth. It is announced by angels, by prophets and prophetesses in the temple, by John the Baptist, and by God the Father himself.

Then from Luke 4:14 to 9:50, Luke describes the purpose of the coming of the Son of Man to earth. The purpose of the coming of the Son of Man was to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to give sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed and downtrodden. That is, He has come to the rejects and outcasts and despised of society, like the lepers (Lk. 5:12) and tax collectors (Lk. 5:29) and women (who figure prominently in the life of Jesus in Luke) and Samaritans (Lk. 9:51-56).

This then is his glorious declaration that “the Son of Man has come.” And then we see…

II. His Glorious Compassion In Seeking Lost Sinners

“ The Son of Man has come, to seek… the lost” (19:10b). This is why the Son of Man has come into the world – to search for lost sinners.

Who are the lost? What does it mean to be spiritually lost? Every human being comes into the world in a lost spiritual condition, with our backs turned against God in rejection of God’s love, with our wills rebelling against God in rejection of God’s law. We come into the world like the rich man – self-sufficient, independent, and self-willed. “For all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). That is our condition by nature (birth) and by practice (behavior). We are “lost” sinners. To be “lost” means to not know where you are, to not know how to return home, to not know which way to turn, to be helpless and hopeless. Perhaps there are some reading this who know you are lost spiritually. Well here’s the good news: “The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.”

That’s the essence of Christmas – the coming of Jesus to search for lost sinners. Jesus seeks “the lost,” like those in Luke 15 – the woman who tirelessly searched for the lost silver coin; the shepherd who tirelessly searched for the lost sheep; the father who tirelessly searched the horizon day after day for a sign of his lost son. Just so, the purpose of the coming of the Son of Man was to search for lost people.

He did not “come to call the righteous” (Lk. 5:32) - those who think they don’t need God; those who do not admit they are lost - but Jesus came to call “sinners to repentance” - those who acknowledge their need of him; those who confess their sins; those who know and admit they are spiritually lost.

Note that no one ever sought after Jesus unless Jesus first sought after them. He initiates the process of salvation. Those who call on the name of the Lord do so precisely because he sought them out and found them. Salvation is all because of his sovereign grace and mercy.

Here we see then Jesus’ glorious declaration that “the Son of Man has come,” his glorious compassion in searching for lost sinners. And thirdly we see…

III. His Glorious Redemption In Saving Lost Sinners

“The Son of Man has come to... save the lost” (19:10c). The Son of Man has come not only to “seek” lost sinners but the Son of Man has also come to “save” lost sinners. What good would a search party be if, upon finding a lost person, they merely informed them they were lost? No, the purpose of searching for lost people is to save them.

Having found those who are lost Jesus does not destroy their lives, but saves them (Lk. 9:56). Jesus does not cast them out, but draws them in (Jn. 6:37). Jesus does not let them perish in their sin, but brings them to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). Jesus does not expose their spiritual nakedness, but covers them with robes of righteousness (Isa. 61:10; 2 Cor. 5:21).

That’s why Jesus came – to seek and to save the lost, to bring them home to God, to reconcile them to God through faith in him, to provide a way of escape from the judgement of God. And he did that by paying the penalty for our sin through his death on the cross. God declared that the punishment for sin is death, for, He said, “the soul that sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20). And Jesus died our death, in our place, so that we could escape God’s judgement for our sin. That’s why the Son of Man has come – “to seek and save the lost.”

It all started with Jesus’ birth that ultimately led to his death. By coming into the world, Jesus showed us that He is God, dying and then rising from the dead and ascending back to heaven from where He had come. And now he is waiting for lost souls to accept his offer of mercy.

Final Remarks

That’s the substance of Christmas. That’s why Jesus came. Remember our thesis: The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world was to save lost people. “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” What a glorious declaration, glorious compassion, and glorious redemption - praise be to God!

That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. That is the essence of the Christmas message. We focus on the circumstances of his birth and we wonder at it, and rightly so. But the wonder of his birth is the precursor to the wonder of his death – the one points forward to the other. When Jesus came to earth and was born as a baby in a cattle shed he knew that his life would end by crucifixion on a cross. And he willingly endured all that so that you and I might be saved from our sins.

If you have not already repented of your sins and turned in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, will you do so today? And if you are a Christian, are you diligently following him, seeking to serve him, waiting for him to come again? May it be so for the glory of God and for your blessing.

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