Monday, March 23, 2009

This week's sermon: Jesus Shows us the Upside Down Kingdom

Luke 19:1-10.
We have been following Paul’s story in Acts, seeing God at work through his life and obedience. This week I want to switch gears and look back to the ministry of Jesus as we lead up to Easter. Jesus is the one who brought us this upside down kingdom. He taught us about it with his words and he lived the upside down kingdom in front of us. For the next few weeks as we approach Easter—the ultimate example of the upside down kingdom—we are going to look at how Jesus showed us the Kingdom of God in his actions. It is vital for us to understand and become acquainted with this upside down kingdom of God. It is the reason that we have the hope for the future. It is the reason that we are able to live in right relationship with God.

We certainly don’t deserve to be God’s friends. If we are thinking about the God of the Universe, the one who created everything—who could be his friend? He is Holy. That means he is completely separate, completely different from us. We are limited, he is unlimited. He is righteous, we are unrighteous. He is the perfect standard, we are imperfect by any standard. We do not deserve his attention or his love or his friendship. None of us. Even the best most moral person has failed to meet even his own moral standard. Even the most generous person has been selfish at some point—if you doubt it ask their mother or their sibling. We don’t meet the requirements—Romans says we have all fallen short of the glory of God. So what can we do? How is there hope? Why do we think we can have a relationship with God if we are so flawed?

That is the question we are going to answer this morning. Read Luke 19:1-10. I love the story of Zacchaeus. He was short, he was unattractive, he was a sleaze-bag; and Jesus invited himself over for dinner. If I ever make a movie with this story in it, I think I would cast Danny Devito as Zacchaeus, or that actor who played Vincini in The Princess Bride. That is how I picture Zacchaeus. He was a tax collector, and not just any tax collector, a chief tax collector. He was in charge of all the other tax collectors.

These guys were swindlers. You know, people in our society don’t like the IRS, but these guys really were thieves. They were allowed to charge whatever they wanted on top of the Roman taxes and pocket the difference. They were agents of the Roman government who was oppressing the people of the region. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and he was Jewish which meant that his people saw him as a traitor, serving the occupying enemy. This is the man that Jesus picked out of the crowd for special one-on-one time. This is how Jesus chose to show us in that moment the principles of the upside-down kingdom at work.

Zacchaeus heard Jesus was coming to town, he knew that he would never be able to see over the crowd. He knew no one liked him and he would not be able to work his way to the front of the crowd. He knew that he would never be able to approach Jesus without being seriously opposed by those more righteous than himself. So he climbed a tree and hoped his picked the right spot to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he walked through town. There were probably people who did this everywhere Jesus went—people who were so excited they climbed up high to watch Jesus walk by—so it is not that Zacchaeus was doing something new or original that captured Jesus’ attention. He wasn’t handsome, he wasn’t likable, he didn’t have any clout. He didn’t have anything that would make Jesus want to stop and see him for any earthly reason. But Jesus didn’t do anything for any earthly reason. He did things for heavenly reasons.

The kingdom of the world says, “Hang out with the popular and nice people who will do things for you.” Jesus picked out the one person in that crowd who had nothing to offer him, because that was the person who needed him the most. Jesus invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house because Zacchaeus was the biggest loser in the crowd. Sure he had lots of money, crooks often do, but he was despised and rejected by his people. He was so lost spiritually he didn’t know which way was up. And Jesus, the one of whom John said, "through him all things were made and without him nothing was made that has been made." This person who created the universe looked at the crowd and picked the person voted least likely to be a friend of God’s. That is who Jesus wanted to have lunch with.

Everyone in the crowd went, “What?! Oh, no he didn’t!” Everyone in that crowd was shocked. Everyone in that crowd thought that they deserved Jesus company more than Zacchaeus. “How could he go to that man’s house and not mine!?” If Jesus had gone to their house, they would have reacted with, “Oh, I’m so special! I am so holy! Jesus wants to come to my house!” But look at Zacchaeus’ response, “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.” Jesus invited himself over to Zacchaeus’s house, and he jumped out of the tree and repented.

Jesus hadn’t even gone to his house yet, and just because he noticed Zacchaeus the man repented and made public notice of his intent to give half of his wealth to the poor and make restitution to everyone he had cheated. He went from the richest man on the block to the poorest in two seconds. And he did it cheerfully. Because Jesus invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house to stay the night.

Jesus said, “I came to seek and save the lost.” He came to seek and save you and me. He knows we are far from perfect. He is not waiting for us to get our act together. He is not concerned with our failures, he is coming into our lives and his presence will fix our faults. His work in us will bring us to the place that he can call us friends. He wants to do that work in us. He will do that in us if we are willing. And he wants to do that same work in those around us. If you are already following Jesus, stop looking for perfect people to invite to the party. Start looking up in the trees on the fringe and see who needs Jesus the most. Start inviting those people to see Jesus, and start seeing him change lives in front of your very eyes. Let him change your life, then let him use you to change the lives of others.

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