Each year, I try to read the whole Bible in the calendar year (Jan. 1-Dec. 31), and for the last several years, I've succeeded. This year I did not; when that clock struck 2016, I still had nine days on my reading plan left. And you know what? Thanks to the encouraging words of a friend's blog post (read here if you want), I decided that I would just keep reading it into the new year until I had completed it. (Which I did on the 2nd, woohoo! Check one goal for the new year off already.) ;)
Anyway, one of the last things I read about in this plan was the meeting up of Jesus and Zacchaeus, and for some reason, it struck a new chord with me. I think that must be one of THE FIRST Bible stories you actually remember in Sunday school (sing the song with me, anyone?), and honestly I've probably heard a sermon or four preached on it over the years, and yet...and YET, this year, this time, this reading, I got something fresh. I honestly LOVE that about the Holy Spirit and the Bible. Sure, there is nothing new under the sun, but I'm a person, and persons can be dense, and therefore we are only revealed to in bites we can handle for that season, and then more when we're ready in future seasons. That's one of the best things about reading my Bible every year - what actually keeps me going back - there's so much packed into those 66 books that you really do read something new every time you go through it.
In John 19, Jesus is making hs way through Jericho, and there are massive crowds who have gathered to see him. Enter Zacchaeus - a rich and crooked tax collector, but he wants to see Jesus too, and he's a little guy and darn it, just can't see over the crowd. He climbs a tree to get a glimpse, and wouldn't you know it? Jesus, being awesome, spots him. And then, being even more awesome, mentions that he needs to get down because He, Jesus, was going to his house to be a guest. Ummm, sure okay Jesus, on my way! (That's me, trying to play it cool and casually scramble down the tree, but instead falling because I'm completely freaking out...)
Okay, here is what I want to point out, these Scriptures have literally been replaying in my head for the last several days, and it's John 19:6-10: "Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. "He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner," they grumbled. Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, "I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated poeple on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!" Jesus responded, "Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost."
Zacchaeus was a sinner, end of story. He was a tax collector, who cheated people. He had become very rich doing this, and was probably living a fairly comfortable life. And yet, even in his state of sin he knew he needed to see Jesus. He probably didn't know why, but something in the very core of his being said "I'm getting there, no matter what it takes." I absolutely love the part where it says he took Jesus into his house with excitement and joy. And then in his spending time with Jesus, repented of his sin and started figuring out how to change in practical ways. He knew he was in the wrong, yet he was eager to spend time with the Lord, and this time spent brought about the life change he desperately needed.
Many times we feel like we need to have everything straightened up before we "welcome Jesus in," and then when we do it's like a terse, sit-on-the-uncomfortable-couch-and-sip-tea-that-neither-of-us-likes kind of meeting. That is so not what He intends! He says "Come as you are," and considering He knows exactly how we are, I think He really means it! How much sweeter would time spent with the Lord be if we didn't care as much about the "state of things" in our life but rather welcomed Him in with joy and excitement, and welcomed the necessary adjustments in our lives that His Word demands? So. much. sweeter.
Now let's roll back the reel a bit and talk about this story from one other angle - Jesus. He knew Zacchaeus was a sinner, but he wanted to stay with him anyway. Others scoffed and mocked at how he could lower himself to dining with such a terrible individual, but Jesus didn't see the sin, he saw the heart desperate for what was really needed for change: truth in love. And although there might have been some intense conversation over his need for salvation, all we see is that His presence brought the change.
Randy Alcorn says, "When people hear truth spoken graciously, many are drawn to it because of the moral vacuum they feel. Hearts long for truth-even hearts that reject it." ("The Grace and Truth Paradox")
What gets me about this story is that I see so much of what I need to be in both parties. I want to always be desperate to meet with Jesus, regardless of how "well" I'm doing spiritually. I want to feel the conviction, not condemnation, with a heart ready for change, growth, progress. I want to always be humble enough to remember and recognize that I'm in sinner in need of a Savior, and that will never change. On the other side of the pendulum, I have to stop and wonder how often I am willing to spend time with those who others wouldn't. To put life situations aside and just fellowship with someone. The reality is I need Jesus as desperately as they do; the real question at hand is am I willing to be the vessel that brings Jesus to them? Am I bringing truth in grace that opens the door for change? Or am I bringing a fluffy religion that adds an extra lock to an already closed door? Dear lord I hope it's the first.
Moving forward into 2016, these are some of the things on my heart. I want to be desperate for my Savior, and I want to be walking with Him so closely that my life bears the results of grace and truth, and people around me see Him and learn to know Him personally as well.
I think it's going to be a pretty great year, and I hope that you'll join me in rejoicing in times to come.