Opportunity meets perseverance

Sun, 6 Nov 2016 Source: Gyebi, Daniel

The city of Jericho was buzzing with excitement. Many people were rushing to the roadside to catch a glimpse of one important person. The savior of the world and greatest miracle worker of their time—Jesus Christ—was coming to town. Zacchaeus, a wealthy chief tax collector, joined in the excitement. He, too, was determined to see Jesus, and nothing or no one was going to deny him the opportunity.

Jesus was passing through Jericho. He was not going to stay in Jericho. He was passing through on his way to Jerusalem to offer himself to be crucified for our sins. Zacchaeus was in Jericho doing what he liked best – collecting taxes from the people on behalf of the Roman Empire.

At that time, Israel was under the dominion of the Roman Empire, and the Jews were required to pay taxes to Rome. As chief tax collector, Zacchaeus could add and keep for himself extra amounts of tax required by the Roman Empire. He became rich through that practice, but was hated by his fellow Jews. He had no idea that the opportunity and experience of a lifetime awaited him that day. Jesus was passing through his city for the last time. Jesus would not come back there again, and so that was the only opportunity left for Zacchaeus to see Jesus, but Zacchaeus did not know that.

When Jesus passed under the tree, he saw Zacchaeus on top of the tree and called him to come down so that they would go to his home. Zacchaeus obliged and the two went to the home of Zacchaeus. Obviously, Zacchaeus knew himself. He made no pretenses at all. He knew that he was not well-liked by the people from whom he had been collecting high taxes to enrich himself. He also appeared to know that his lifestyle did not conform to the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. He needed to change. Overwhelmed by the presence of Jesus, pricked by his own guilty conscience, and without being questioned by Jesus, Zacchaeus started making concessions, or let’s say, “confessions.”

First, he promised to give half of his possessions to the poor. Second, he promised that if he had cheated anyone, he would pay the person back four times. These were enough for Our Lord. Jesus saw a changed person. Money, wealth, and material possessions were, and still are, a challenge to the ability of many people to serve God faithfully. They have become a stumbling block for many. Some who have them do not see any reason to worship God because they think they have all they need in life. Some who lack them feel bitter about their poverty and become too angry to worship God. For example, in Luke 18:18-25, a rich man went to Jesus to inquire about what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Among other things, Jesus told him to go and sell his possessions, give to the poor, and come and follow him so that he would have treasures in heaven. The man became sad, prompting Jesus to declare that it would be harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:25). And so Jesus was satisfied with what Zacchaeus had promised because he knew Zacchaeus’ heart. He knew Zacchaeus had changed. Therefore, Jesus proclaimed salvation unto the home of Zacchaeus.

Since Jesus was only passing through Jericho, if Zacchaeus had not gone to the place where Jesus was passing, it is unlikely that Jesus would have gone out of his way to search the city looking for him. Zacchaeus saw an opportunity to see Jesus and seized it. What about you? There is no better opportunity anywhere than the opportunity to accept our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as your personal savior. If you lay a strong foundation in Christ, you can build a stronger and better relationship with him and walk with him along life’s journey.

Zacchaeus had a height disadvantage. With all the people flocking to see Jesus, Zacchaeus had no chance of a getting a closer view of Jesus. However, he was determined to see Jesus, and he persevered. Therefore, he used an unconventional means. He disregarded the fact that he was an adult and rich. He threw all caution to the wind and climbed a tree for a top view. Others struggled for a front view, but he obtained a top view. He did not allow his disadvantage to stop him from seeing Jesus – as close as possible. Jesus rewarded his perseverance by inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ home to the dismay of the others who thought they were more deserving of that honor. Therefore, do not sell yourself short!

His height disadvantage aside, there were many other reasons or excuses that Zacchaeus could have given in order to avoid meeting Jesus and obtaining his salvation that day. Zacchaeus could have been busy in his work going to people’s homes to collect taxes from them. He could have gone to the place where Jesus was passing, but used the occasion to focus on collecting taxes from those in the crowd who may not have paid their taxes. He could have gone there, but returned home due to the large crowd. Or, he could have been a victim of procrastination by saying that he would not go to the place at all that day, but wait for the next time Jesus came back to Jericho.

Well, there was no next time; Jesus did not return to Jericho. Think about how many times we have been too busy to grab opportunities. For example, think about the prayer you should have said, but didn’t; the fellowship, school or training you should have attended, but didn’t; the job you should have applied for, but didn’t; the business you should have ventured into, but didn’t; the journey you should have embarked on, but didn’t; or the kind words you should have said to someone who is no longer alive. Some of these could have been life-changing opportunities for us or others.

Zacchaeus was not the only “sinner” in Jericho or among the crowd who needed salvation. And many in the crowd may have been taller, closer, and more visible to Jesus than him. Yet, it was upon him and his household that the grace and mercy of God fell that day. Don’t let your present difficult circumstances define or overcome you. Do not dwell too much on your disadvantages or disabilities. Don’t go about asking “why me?” and creating doubts about God because there will always be others taller, smarter, richer, stronger, healthier, or more beautiful or handsome than you. If we believe, as we should, that God created heaven and earth, we should know that God is able. God is able to show grace and mercy upon you, and lift you higher above any heights you can imagine. After all, Zacchaeus only wanted to see Jesus out of curiosity, but ended up with something better -- salvation for himself and his household.

How many times have we allowed opportunities to pass us by without even realizing them, or if we realize them, without seizing them? When I was younger, I used to hear the saying that opportunity comes but once. It may still be true today although I do not hear it much often these days. And so Jesus tells us that he stands at the door and knocks. If anyone opens, he will come in. Salvation is available to all who respond positively to the call of Jesus Christ. Do not miss it while we still have life! Tomorrow might be too late.

If all you can do by way of witnessing or spreading the Gospel is to invite a friend to Church or Christian fellowship, do that. Some people may accept the invitation thinking it is an opportunity to socialize etc. Do not worry about it. God is able to take it from there because the Sermon, bible reading, music, worship, and experience interacting with people may become a seed planted in that person which may germinate and grow to something big someday.

You would think that those who did not like Zacchaeus for collecting higher taxes from them, would be happy that he had repented and would not overcharge them the taxes, but no, they were angry that Jesus went to a “sinner’s” house and extended the free gift of salvation to him. After all, human wisdom would tell us that if Jesus was to go to any person’s home in Jericho, it should have been the home of the righteous religious leaders. As we know, Jesus defied conventional wisdom on many occasions and focused on saving sinners. Lesson learned: not everyone would be happy about your efforts, successes or blessings. What Jesus did was consistent with his reason for coming to this world, that is, to save sinners.

Jesus saw Zacchaeus, up on the tree, even in the midst of the crowd and the commotion. Remember that we serve a living God who sees us. One of the ancient names of God is El Roi, the God who sees me (Genesis 16:13-14). God sees us when we are up, and when we are down. He sees us when we think we are hiding in the dark, and when we are in the open in the light. He sees us when we are in trouble and sad, and when we are free and happy. It’s like we can climb, but we cannot hide!

Jesus called Zacchaeus. Jesus did not say “hey, you up there.” No, he called Zacchaeus by name. Jesus knew Zacchaeus by name even though he had not previously met him. Jesus knows us by name. Jesus knew that Zacchaeus was on top of the tree. From every indication, Zacchaeus wanted to be discreet about his action; he did not want Jesus or the people to know he was hiding up there. It was not “cool” for a rich adult to be on top of a tree. However, he realized that he could climb a tree, but he could not hide from Jesus. This encounter with Zacchaeus confirms what Jesus says that “my sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27).

Let me conclude with this. Many of us expect miracles. However, it is not apparent to many that on the day Jesus met Zacchaeus and Zacchaeus repented, a miracle occurred which brought joy to heaven. Jesus tells us in Luke 15:7 that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need repentance. Jesus in his physical lifetime on earth performed many miracles – he healed the blind, cured lepers, made the lame walk, and even raised the dead. Yet, none of those miracles brought as much joy to heaven as when a sinner like Zacchaeus repented and obtained salvation.

I pray that Christ would have mercy on all of us. Dear Jesus, do not pass us by on your way to Jerusalem – the heavenly Jerusalem. Hear our humble cry. While on others thou art calling, do not pass us by. Increase our faith, give us the desire to pray, and teach us perseverance so that if, by the grace of God, we are presented with opportunities, we would be able to recognize and seize them. In particular, help us to recognize and seize opportunities to repent or rededicate our lives to you, and become successful Christians.

Prayer is the key. May God grant us the grace to seek Him daily through our prayers.

Dr. Daniel Gyebi, Attorney-at-Law, Texas, U.S.A., and Founder, PrayerHouse Ministry, Kumasi, Ghana.

Columnist: Gyebi, Daniel