The history of the Israelites is rife with ups and downs. Following their release from slavery in Egypt, the people of God began their journey toward the promised land. Though it should have taken them just a few months, this journey would take some forty years and most of the lives of those who began the trek. Moses continued leading the people till they came to the east side of the Jordan. Prior to his death, Moses commissioned Joshua to assume the leadership role among the Israelites. Joshua accepted this responsibility and led the people into the Promised Land.
The first battle the Israelites faced was against the great fortified city of Jericho. With its mighty wall, Jericho stood as an impenetrable foe. And what was the strategy for conquering this stronghold? Walk around it… That’s right. The Israelites marched around the city. God had instructed them to march around the city once a day for six days. On the seventh day they were to march around seven times. After the seventh trip around on that final day, the people were to shout, trumpets were to blast, and the walls were to be destroyed. And in fact they were. The Bible says the walls fell down flat.
One interesting aspect about this first battle is that the victory was God’s. “But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord” (Joshua 6:18-19). God gives strict instructions that nothing was to be taken by the people. All the spoils of Jericho were to be placed in the treasury of the Lord. God was clearly making a statement – “This battle belongs to me.”
I’m sure it would have been easy for the Israelites to begin thinking pretty highly of themselves after destroying the great city of Jericho. A lot of times we think rather highly of ourselves, don’t we? We are often like the Recruit whose drill sergeant yelled, “All right! All you idiots fall out!” The squad quickly dispersed – except for the one lone recruit. The serge stalked up to him, stopped, and raised one eyebrow. The recruit spoke up, “There sure were a lot of ‘em huh, sir?” The great theologian, Woody Allen said, “My one regret in life is that I’m not someone else.” Our self-image is often not what it ought to be. Paul said, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:3-5). Think soberly! Being sober allows us to see clearly.
In Luke 19, Jesus has an encounter with a man who wanted to see. This encounter is one that kids learn about early in life. We sing a song about this man and his experience with Jesus.
“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 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.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ And 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.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’” (Luke 19:1-10).
A little boy was playing with his father’s wallet when he accidently swallowed a quarter. He went crying to his mom, choking on the quarter. They took him to a doctor who said that the quarter was impossible to remove without surgery. They consulted a specialist who was of the same opinion. Then came a man who said he could get the money out in a jiffy. He turned the little boy upside down and patted him with great precision on the back of neck and, sure enough, the quarter rolled out. Everyone was amazed. The father said “You must be an expert!” The man replied, “No sir, I’m just a tax collector.”
Think about the reality of tax collectors in first century Palestine. Tax collectors were despised. They were seen as thieves. They were thought of as sinners by the religious leaders. This story from Luke 19 tells us that the people grumbled over the fact that Jesus had gone into the house of this sinner…this tax collector. It is no wonder why the people were so upset? A rabbi like Jesus should never have gone into the house of such a person, spending the day with him, eating in his house. This crowd would never have willingly spent time at his house. They thought Zacchaeus was not worth the Lord’s time. They viewed him as an outcast, a hated man, a thief. They didn’t think associating with him was good for their self-image. They were only concerned with themselves.
Just prior to this story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, Luke records the experience of a blind beggar (Luke 18:35-43). Why does Luke put this story here? I am convinced there is a specific reason this story appears where is does. Jesus asks this blind beggar, “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 41). The man’s response, “Lord, I want to see.” He was physically blind, but longed to have his sight restored. This blind beggar longed to see. This is where the tree comes into the larger context. Zacchaeus simply wanted to see. This is why he ran ahead. This is why he climbed the tree. He wanted to see. When we rise above what the world says we ought to be – people who look out for #1 – we can begin to see Jesus for who He really is.
This experience of Zacchaeus takes place in a city known by the same name as that of that great fortified city, Jericho. And Jesus turns Jericho upside down. He breaks down the walls of tradition. And he wants to break down the walls that are blocking our sight of Him as well. In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas are exalted as gods by the people. Their response to this teaches us a valuable lesson. “Why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (Acts 14:15). We need to tear down those walls that are blocking our sight of Jesus. We need to see clearly who we are in light of who God is. It is time we start realizing that being a Christian is not about me. It is time we start realizing that being a Christian is all about HIM.