Preached in Westhoume Park Chapel.
For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.Luke 19:10.
It is a lovely story, friends, that leads up to these words. Which of your hearts does not beat in sympathy with this little Zacchaeus? He has been hearing of Jesus for some time. The news of Him had spread far and wide, and this was the Lord’s last journey before the end. By that time oh! so many had heard of Him; and especially such men as Zacchaeus were roused to a desire to see Him. You know all about the class of men to which he belonged, how these tax-gatherers were looked down upon. And perhaps it was a rather ungracious thing for them to gather up the money for the Roman Empire. But the Empire was keeping order there, and the main point with regard to the publican, whoever he might be, was that he gave all fair-play. The higher, however, this man had risen, and the richer he became, of course he was the more looked down upon by the men who thought, “We are the people of God,” who thought that because they obeyed certain laws (to which they had added a good many that the Lord knew nothing about) they were on good terms with heaven. They were respectable people, they were sound orthodox Pharisees mostly; and this man was a publican—a word that they always coupled with the other word, a sinner. We shall wait till we hear his words to the Lord before we try to know just what kind of a man he was.
He was a man of energy anyhow. You often see that bodily impediment only urges men to do more. Whether it be from the desire not to be judged by the outside, it often happens that little or maimed people have an energy beyond that of big, sound men. Perhaps the best work in the world has been done by somewhat ailing men. St. Paul was one of those, and you cannot match him. Zacchaeus was urged to supplement his small stature. Seeing that the crowd about the Lord was coming, and that there was no chance of his seeing over the heads of the others, or between them—he could not probably see so high as their shoulders—he just added to his height a sycamore tree, and by that means he got high enough to have a good prospect of seeing this Man when He came near.
Why did he want to see Him so much? There is a great deal of desire to see men that other men are talking about that is worth nothing, or at least it ranks only with the inclination to gossip. There is more of that kind of thing in the present day than there has been at any time. But there was something infinitely better than that in the heart of this tax gatherer. He waited, and he saw the crowd coming nearer and nearer, and a little way off he could see the face of this Man—he could just get a glimpse of Him. It was not a very good position, because he was looking down, but He could see Him. We are not told much about Him. Everything is so short in this gospel. Oh! what a little life of Him it is! Better so, of course, or it would have been otherwise. But they must have a bigger history of Jesus up in the high country. I trust we shall gather a life story from mouth after mouth about this Man, such as he was in the world, and that it will not be forgotten. The fame of men, the praise of men, passes away like a breath, and is gone, thank God; but what Jesus did will be a rejoicing throughout the Divine ages, because He was a true Man—nay, the true Man. There never was a Man in the world but Jesus Christ. The rest are all only growing up to be men.
When Jesus came pretty near to the tree, of course Zacchaeus could not see His face much; it would be all so foreshortened under him, until at last he lost sight of Him, and could only see His headdress as He approached. But as He came near, to the speechless surprise of Zacchaeus, the whole face turned up and looked at him as he was perched in the tree. He did not expect that. What did this Man know about him? He was a Jew, and He might despise a publican, like the rest of the great people. But His whole face turned up to the little man as he sat there. Oh! how his heart must have beat to hear the words that He said positively to him out of all the crowd—to him alone, a man too small to see Him: “Zacchaeus, quick! come down, I am going to stop with you.” He dropped like a ripe fruit; down he came in utter haste, and received Him joyfully. Oh, what a thing to be recognized by that Man! He called him by his name; He knew him; He had thought about him; He was going up to Zacchaeus on the tree, and knew him. To think that He should speak just to him, recognize and honor him! And then He was going to pass the night in his house. Such a thing was inconceivable to Zacchaeus; he would not have dared to ask Him—not for lack of hospitality, but for humility, for simplicity. Naturally enough those that were round about—possibly some of His own disciples among the rest—were astonished. Oh, friends, it seems to me that those who call themselves Christians are the hardest to teach of any; they will not get on. The disciples themselves were very hard to get on sometimes. They grumbled and murmured. ”Does the Master know what He is doing? He is actually offering Himself as a guest to this man who is a sinner—think of that!—actually condemned by the rulers of the people as a sinner.” They little thought then that with what judgment they judged they were judged. Jesus takes no notice of their grumbling, but walks along with Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus, however, had heard the grumbling; his ears were open to it; and he would have known quite well that they were grumbling if he had not heard a word.
As to what happened in the passage to his house, or how far it was, we know nothing. But before they entered into it it would seem that Zacchaeus spoke. ‘They say I am a sinner” (I am thinking what he might have thought within himself. ”Well, what will He think? Does He know it?” It is almost as if he had said to himself: “He must not come into my house without knowing what I am.” He must say a word for himself; he could not bear to be misunderstood by the Lord. Oh, friends! God and His Christ love straight out speaking. Neither of them hides anything; and if a man thinks that he has something to say for himself, in God’s name let him say it. But if he is deceived, or if he lies, or if he is making a false excuse, he is doing it to One who knows and reads the very heart itself. Be sure that God Himself makes every honest excuse that can be made for any man, but not one hairsbreadth beyond. He will never accept a mean, poor, false excuse for anything. No one will speak for us like the heart of the Father, but we must pay the uttermost farthing. He will not let us off with one shadow of iniquity upon our souls. Zacchaeus, you may be sure, spoke the truth, but it is a little difficult to tell distinctly what he meant. Whatever he did mean the Lord accepted it; He was not taken in by it; it was true, and if it had not been true the Lord would not have gone in with the man. Zacchaeus says to himself, “They say I am a sinner. Well, I do not say I am not a sinner, I know I am a sinner; but I give half of my goods to the poor.” How he managed it I do not know, it was a great thing to do. I cannot be quite sure whether it means that he would do it. Literally it is, “I give.” Then he says, “If I have taken anything from any man unfairly, if I have wrongfully exacted anything, I give back fourfold.” Whether it was the presence and sight of the Lord that crowned the good tendency of the man I do not know. He was turning to the light before, or he would not have sought to see that man, and the Lord knew his heart. Whether he resolved at that moment that he would deal rightly with his money, deal with it so that this Great Rabbi would be pleased with him, or whether it was the habit of life with the man to do so, I cannot tell. No matter; he came to the point that he was ready to give the half of his goods to the poor, and if he wronged a man to make him fourfold compensation. If that was the kind of man, I, for my part, am not in the least surprised that Jesus came and said to him “Zacchaeus, come down, I want you.” Such men were rare enough in Judea, I suppose nearly as rare in proportion to the population as they are now.
The Lord answers: “To-day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.” What does the Lord mean by calling him a son of Abraham? Does He mean that though he is a publican he is a Jew? The Lord said, “Your descent is of no matter. God is able to raise up children to Abraham out of these stones, you are not children of Abraham, you are not the children of faith.” The Lord meant this: ‘This man that will give half his goods to feed the poor and restore fourfold his theft is a son of Abraham/’ Oh, the glory of setting a thing right! He is a son of Abraham, and because he is a son of Abraham, he is a true man. You call him a sinner; you say he is not respectable. He is by that made truly respectable, for he sets right that which was wrong. He is a son of Abraham, and therefore salvation is come to his place. This is the same kind of teaching that the Lord gave to the young man who came to Him, saying: ”What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Oh! the folly of thinking that faith is either the assent of the judgment or a mere matter of feeling. It is obedience, and nothing else. You believe, when you do not care an atom for anything that the Lord says from morning to night, when you never order your efforts and your actions according to what He spent His life in impressing upon men. Away with such Christianity; away with such faith! He only is a Christian who does the thing that the Lord tells him.
But then comes this question. He calls him a son of Abraham, and, as I have said, that is because he is a faithful man and has turned away from his wrong doing and is facing the light. “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” This man turned his back on his evil deeds, and came out into the light, and there was no more condemnation for him, for salvation had laid hold of him at last. How is he a son of Abraham, and how does he need salvation? Well, that depends on what you mean by salvation. Most people calling themselves Christians think that somehow or other they shall be able to scramble into heaven and keep out of hell. There is no religion in that, that is only prudential care of themselves. I do not blame it, but I do not praise it. I do not call that salvation, even if you could have it, but you could not; for if there were a place that could be got into in that fashion, where everybody else was blessed and happy, and you got into it somehow, you would just be miserable as you ought to be, and I am not quite sure that you would not leave it and try the other place. That is not salvation. What is salvation? To be delivered from everything mean, low, despicable, selfish, cringing, fearing in my whole nature, that I may stand humble yet bold and free before the Universe of God, because God knows me, and I know God. That is salvation, and nothing else will do for man or woman. You are not saved till such is the case. I am not saved. Do I not know in myself that I am not saved; but I trust in the Living One to save me. He will do it, only I must mind what He says to me. You may say that a man is saved who has fallen overboard and one of the men in the boat has caught him by the hair of the head; but the man does not feel much saved yet, he has got to get out of it altogether. And just so for you and me, as long as we are capable of unfair thought, of a mean desire, we are not saved. Thank God, I would not have that salvation. No, let Him make me clean as a diamond, then I am saved. “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” It is not the sin that I have done, it is the sin that I am. No man was ever yet condemned for the sins that he has done, he is condemned because he will not leave them. As I have quoted already, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.”
But how can you say that such a man is lost? It seems strange to you when you read that beautiful clause that “the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.” Are there many, you say, that are lost like this man, a man that had set about being right? O friends, he is lost if he does not know God; he is a good man but he is a lost sheep. We are all lost until we turn homewards, until we are in the way of doing the thing that is right. A man will cry out “lost,” and all the dogs of the Divine Shepherd round about will be yelling at him to drive him home, and he will think that miseries, discomforts, and hard words, and hunger, and all the pains of life—he will think that everything is against him, and he says, “I am lost” when he is surrounded by the very guardians of God in these things driving him home to the Father’s house. True, the Lord came to seek and to save the lost, and there were many that were much worse lost than this man, who had wandered much further into the dead, dark, cold land, much worse lost than Zacchaeus.
But then the Lord could only take those that would go. He would not go into the house of a man that did not want Him, the thing would be a mockery. He will not break open your door to walk in; He may send His winds, and storm, and lightning to beat your house about your ears, but He will not walk in then. He will come when you want Him. He has been trying all the time to get in, but He will not force His way in. “Behold I stand at the door and knock, if any man will hear My voice and open the door, I will come in and speak with him, and he with Me. I will sit down at his hearth with him, and then he will come up and sit down on My throne.” Oh, the glory of Christ in giving! There is no condescension about Christ, none; the devotion of Christ is the devotion of His Father made visible to us. He will give us everything if we will only come to Him and be His children. That is the Gospel. The Son of Man is come to seek and to save the lost. Do you call him lost? Well, he is just the sort I come to seek. That was not the time for Him to say to them: “You are far more lost than he. One day you may want Me to come and stay with you, but I prefer Zacchaeus now, for he is fitter to receive Me. He is ashamed of himself, and he gives half his goods to feed the poor, and he restores fourfold what he has taken unjustly. He is a son of Abraham, and to the sons of Abraham I come and bring salvation. I will tell him about My Father, and he shall know My Father, and that is life eternal.” To know the Father is life eternal, and nothing else is, and until we know the Father we are lost. If we are turning our hearts and our hands to obey the will of the Father we are going along out of the cold, wretched moors home to the heart of the Father; we are all little ones gathering about His knees, and then we are saved, and then all is right.
There is the Lord who has come to seek you and me, I am trying to go home, try you. Find Christ, do what He tells you, and you will find Him. Wait till you understand everything, and you will never understand anything. One thing is clear, that He tells us the right things to do. He tells us to do the things which even those who do not know Him and deny Him confess to be right. Do the thing the Lord tells you, and you immediately become His disciple; He will show you the Father, He will take you home to the Father, and then, if you were lost in the uttermost regions, you will know that you are saved, that you are found, and that all is right. Life is a glorious gift, for God is its heart, its essence, its whole circumference, and in very truth in Him we live and move and have our being.