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 Scripture:  Luke 19:1-10

Sermon:   Conversion: Zacchaeus Meets Jesus

Today we continue in the Easter season with our series on Starting Over:  Conversion.  

Up front we have a new canvas – remember the last few weeks we have had a blank canvas up here.  Today, something is different.  There is something on the canvas.  A caterpillar.

I asked Danielle if she would help us by painting a visual of conversion – and what better visual is there than a caterpillar – showing the slow process of transformation as it changes from egg to larva to chrysalis to butterfly – so over the next few weeks we will watch as conversion happens right before our eyes up front here.

So we are going to look at the lives of various characters from Scripture as models of conversion.

The first Sunday was Easter Sunday – the resurrection of Jesus – literally from death to life- a story of radical conversion.  

Then we had Teen Challenge join us – compelling stories of conversion – dying to the old and coming to life of the new.

Then last week it was GEMS Sunday and we heard the story of Jacob wrestling with God – I didn’t say anything about conversion in the message, but of course Jacob’s story is all about conversion – as he goes from Jacob – the grasper and deceiver – to Israel – one who has wrestled with God and man and overcome.  Jacob lived a life of conversion, as God repeatedly entered his life and forced him to change.

So that was Jacob.  

And now today – Zacchaeus.

Read Luke 19:1-10

Lots of conversion going on here, isn’t there? 

When Zacchaeus meets Jesus, he begins a complete turn-around in his life – a radical change of heart and behaviour – as he finds salvation  - or rather as salvation finds him.

Zacchaeus was a tax collector.  Actually – he was more than that – he was a chief tax collector.  That means that not only was he working for the Romans – not only was he collecting the Roman tax and adding his own hefty percentages – he was also getting a piece of the action from all the other tax collectors in his region.  Every time money changed hands, a bit of extra was added on for the big guy.  And that big guy was Zacchaeus.

Except he wasn’t a big guy at all.  He was short.  As powerful as he was – as rich as he was – as slimy as he was - nothing could change the fact that he was short.  

Now there’s nothing wrong with being short – unless you want to see what’s going on and you’re in a big crowd.  Which is what was going on that day when Jesus came to town.

Luke tells us in verse 3 that Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man, he could not, because of the crowd. (more on that later)

But that didn’t stop him.  He ran ahead, and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus.

To get a sense of what is going on here, pay attention to the prepositions in the story.  It is all about the prepositions. (define)

Verse 3 – Zacchaeus could not see over the crowd.  Preposition is ‘over’

Verse 4 – Zacchaeus climbedupa sycamore tree

Verse 5 – Jesus looked up – and said –Zacchaeus, comedownimmediately

Verse 6 – He camedownat once

Verse 7 – all the people mutter – he has gone to be the guest of a sinner – no preposition, but they are clearly putting Zacchaeus down

verse 8  But Zaccaeus stood up and said to Jesus, “Look, Lord, I now give half of my possessions to the poor.”

Up – down – up – down – up down 

On the one hand, you can see these ups and downs as pride and humility – 

Zacchaeus needs to be brought downby Jesus – 

he needs to come downfrom his high position – his arrogance – his riches – in order to actually meet Jesus.  

“Zacchaeus, come downimmediately.  I must stay at your house today!”

The entire story points to the huge change necessary for Zacchaeus to receive the gift of salvation from Jesus.

But the prepositions are also descriptive of what the crowd is doing here.  After all of Zacchaeus’ ups and downs, it is the crowd that gives him the final kick.  

“What – Jesus is going to the home of a sinner???”

In a very real way, the crowd has been in Zacchaeus’ way from the start.

And that is true to life, isn’t it?

There are always people who seem to want to get in the way of us seeing Jesus. Especially when you live in a small community.  

I was talking to someone the other day – (he wasn’t from our church so don’t try to guess who he was – 

but he has lived all his life in this community – and he knew everyone from around here – and he had lots to say about this person and that person and the other person (all people I didn’t know) – 

And that can easily happen in a small community. Or a small church.  We all know each other too well – know too much about each other – and can easily be guilty of small talk and dragging up the past and well – you know-  getting in the way of seeing Jesus – 

But Jesus breaks through all of that – “Today, salvation has come to this house, because this man too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.

Yes – Zacchaeus was a sinner.  Yes you are a sinner.  Yes, I am a sinner.  That’s why Jesus came- to seek and save what was lost.  

Which brings us back to conversion. When Zacchaeus met Jesus, his life was radically transformed. 

It was like he was driving in Halifax down a one-way street – the wrong way – and he saw the headlights coming right at him – and he realized he was going the wrong way – and he slammed on the brakes and jammed the car into reverse and backed into a driveway and quickly pulled back into traffic – with traffic – the right way.  

Conversion. Doing a 180.

We all need to do this.  At some point in our lives, we all need to face the truth and do that 180.  Sometimes it happens quickly.  Sometimes it happens gradually over the course of weeks or months or even years.  But we all need to do this.  No exceptions.

Neil Plantinga, in his book “A Sure Thing” explains why this is.  He says it is basically because we are born in sin.  All of us.  No exception. No matter how cute a newborn baby is – he or she is born in sin.  You don’t need to teach a small child how to be selfish.  It comes naturally.  You don’t have to teach a toddler how to hit another toddler – they just do it.  

And we don’t just grow out of that.  We all have this tendency to do wrong.  To lie.  To cheat.  To envy.  To think more of ourselves and less of our neighbours than we ought.  To always take the easy way out.  To avoid hard work.  To be selfish.  I’m not trying to be negative.  Just calling it like it is.  It all comes very naturally to us.

Plantinga says it’s like being in a small fishing boat drifting along downstream, towards a ruinous waterfall.  Our tendency is to just go with the flow – coast along- let the current carry us – 

and while it seems pleasant enough at first – 

the waters become more and more choppy -  the current speeds up to dangerous levels – 

and by then it’s almost too late  - 

the only thing to do is crank the motor in reverse and go backwards upstream until the water calms down a bit and then we can turn the prow and reverse the direction and get going back up stream.

I like that description – 

because it describes conversion well – but it also suggests that the whole process can be tricky – dangerous – and that in order for it to happen, we need to be in a stable, loving community - surrounded by people who can help steady the boat – people who are encouragers, prayers, supporters – teachers – people who have also experienced life and difficulty and can humbly and carefully stabilize the boat while we try to turn things around. 

Zacchaeus was surrounded by people who were only too ready to put him down – to remind him of his past.  And to hold him there.

But Jesus saw something different in Zacchaeus. He saw him as a true son of Abraham –and it wasn’t about his genetics – Jesus saw Zacchaeus as a true son of Abraham because of his willingness to obedience – his willingness to change- his willingness to repay those whom he had cheated and to give half of his wealth to the poor – and finally his willingness to host Jesus in his home – in his heart.

For Zacchaeus, this was his radical U-Turn.  This was his aha moment – I’m heading right for the water falls, and I need to turn this boat around.  

Not sure how many of you have seen Niagara Falls, but our family used to go quite regularly. Whenever we would get visitors from Holland, we would take a trip to the falls.

I have clear memories of carefully leaning out over the railing watching the millions of gallons of water hurtling over the edge of the cliff – the power of that water had a kind of a draw to it – as if it was pulling on me to take the leap and go over the falls.

We also used to go to an annual Christian Conference - it was at one of these conferences that I first met Susan – that conference was held on the Niagara River – about 15 km’s above the falls. 

There was this high railway bridge that went over the river – and we were teenagers – and we would jump off that railway bridge into the middle of the river – and then we would have to swim as hard as we could directly for the bank – 

the current was so strong at that point that it would drag you downstream a few hundred yards before you could make it to shore.

It was a bit of a scary thing- but we were teenagers and of course had to show how brave we were – 

But I can still feel the strong tug of the current – the moment of panic when you realize that if you don’t turn things around quickly, you are going over. 

That’s a bit what conversion looks like.  That point in life when you realize that if you keep going the way you are going, there will be devastating consequences. 

I can look back on my life and recognize some of those critical turning points.  Moments of conversion.  Some were gradual.  Some were sudden.  

I can look back and recognize moments when I knew I was in the wrong crowd – trying so hard to fit in – especially in those formative teenage years –taken along by the current – going with the flow – finally realizing that I didn’t fit in – that I actually fit with my church community– my youth group – and others who took an interest in who I was.

That’s how I was able to see Jesus.  And that’s how I was able to keep the boat somewhat stable during my turbulent teens.  

It was all about conversion and community.

There is no exact formula for it.  We all experience conversion differently.  But the key elements are the same for everyone. 

1.    We must meet Jesus.

There is a certain urgency to that.  To meeting Jesus.  Zacchaeus, come down immediately – I must stay at your house today.  Urgency. Immediately!  Today!

The time is now – because time is ticking.  Jesus came for you – he died for your sins. He took your place so that you can be healed and forgiven.  And today he comes and says – come down immediately.  

Come down from your lofty perch.  Come down from your wrong-headed ideas.  Come down from your independence and stubbornness and attitudes of “I can do this on my own.”  You can’t do it without Jesus.

So first – we must meet Jesus.

And second, we must make that U-Turn.   The 180.  The jam the boat in reverse and turn it around.  

Third, we must die to the old and come to life tothe new.  That involves a whole new way of living.  New priorities.  New habits.  New character. 

For Zacchaues it was immediate and visible – repaying those whom he had ripped off- giving half of his possessions to the poor.  

And finally, I just want to reiterate the importance of doing all of this as part of a supportive community - a group of people who are willing to nurture us, pray for us and with us, challenge us, and generally hold the boat steady as we navigate through life.

So – some questions to leave you with.

1.    Can you point to a time in your life when Jesus showed up – a time that you had to do this 180 degree turn.

2.   What does repenting look like for you?  A slow steady change or a sudden, about-face?

3.   How are you supported by those around you?  And how are you supporting those around you?  

We all have a lot to offer – and we all have much to receive.  Let’s pray.