Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Today, Salvation has come this house.” What does that mean? How can there be salvation before Jesus died on the cross? This sermon reframes the Zacchaeus story in a missional imagination.
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Salvation. That’s a really churchy word that we use a lot.
To be saved.
It begs a question. Saved from what?
When I was growing up there was only one answer to that question. You were saved from Hell. Adam and Eve’s sin condemned all of humanity to Hell forever. The only way to save us was for Jesus to come to Earth and die in our place, trick the Devil, and conquer death by rising from the dead.
From that point on, if you want to be saved, you have to confess that you are a sinner, accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, ask him to come into your heart, and then you can be assured that you are saved from Hell when you die.
It didn’t really have much to do with this life. We pretty much waited around until we died or Jesus returned and tried to get as many other people saved as possible before its too late.
Then I started reading the Bible a little closer.
What do you do with stories like we encounter today in Luke 19. Jesus looked up at Zacchaues and said, “Today, salvation has come to this house.”
Wait, Jesus, you haven’t even died yet. How can Zacchaeus be saved?
Perhaps salvation is something much bigger.
What if Salvation has something to do with the ability to see.
I want to dive into our text for today. Open your Bibles to Luke 18:31. There are three little stories in a row in today’s reading, and they all have something to do with salvation and with seeing.
The first story is a conversation between Jesus and his disciples in Luke 18:31-34. What did Salvation mean to the disciples? They wanted to be saved from the Romans. They hoped Jesus was going to Jerusalem to lead a revolution and set up a new Kingdom.
Jesus reminds them, yet again, that he is going to Jerusalem to die, and on then rise from the dead.
They don’t get it. They are blind to what Jesus is doing.
Then, in Luke 18:35-43, we encounter a blind man who recognizes Jesus and says, “Lord, let me see again.”
Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you.” You see, faith has better vision than logic. Isn’t it ironic that the blind man could see, but the disciples were blind?
Then we come to the third story. Zacchaues wants to see Jesus.
Let’s zoom in on this story.
Jesus has been traveling toward Jerusalem since chapter 9. This is his last stop, in the city of Jericho.
There is a man named Zacchaeus. He is a chief tax collector and he is rich. Cue the ominous music.
We’ve been watching Jesus for a few weeks now and listening to how he talks about rich people. What do you expect to happen here? Not goo
Many of you know that for the first 10 years of my adult life I was a caricature artist amusement parks and on the Las Vegas Strip. After I became a pastor I continued to draw caricatures at private parties and conventions to supplement my income.
That was an interesting dynamic. When the party started, I was just a caricature artist. I was sub-human in most of the guests eyes. People would gather around and watch me draw, but it was almost like they forgot that a real person was sitting there. I was quite entertaining to be a fly on the wall and listen to their conversations behind me. The more they drank, the more interesting they got.
Inevitably, someone would acknowledge my humanity and ask a question. “Is this what you do for a living?” My response depended on the mood I was in. If I was feeling a little feisty, I would say, “Actually, I’m a pastor.”
Record scratch, stop.
It was so fun to see how the climate of the room would change. People started apologizing for the things they had been saying. They would stumble over their words and try to make escuses for why they hadn’t been to church. They’d start confessing to me.
It was wild.
One minute I’m sub-human because I’m a caricature artist. The next minute they don’t know how to act around me because I’m a pastor.
In both cases they were responding to the label, and had no idea who I was as a human being.
I wonder if that is what’s going on in this story.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector. The Jews hated tax collectors. They worked for the Roman and were dirty, rotten, back-stabbing sinners.
They boxed Zach out and forced him to climb a tree in order to see Jesus.
Then, with no explanation, Jesus comes up to Zacchaeus and says,
“Zacchaeus, I must stay in your house today!”
The crowd is appalled. Now they slap a label on Jesus and say that he is “the guest of a sinner.”
Look at what Zacchaeus says to Jesus.
The NRSV translates it this way,
“Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back for times as much.”
That’s probably the way you’ve always heard it. It is the future tense. It makes it sound like Zach has always been the dirty, rotten sinner that the townsfolk think he is, and, now that he has met Jesus, he is repenting and cleaning up his act.
Yet, the original Greek is not in the future tense.
The ESV translates it more accurately. It says,
“behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
Read this way, it makes it sound like Zach is defending himself against their accusations. He uses his wealth and resources to help the poor. And, yes, it is a corrupt system, so when anyone gets inadvertently hurt by the system, he makes up for it fourfold. He uses his wealth and power to seek justice.
Yet, all they townspeople can see is a sinner, because he’s a tax collector.
Then Jesus says it.
Salvation has come to this house today!
Saved from what? Jesus hasn’t died yet.
What if Zacchaeus is the only one in Jericho who is actually living according to the way Jesus has been teaching all along?
Then Jesus says, “This man is a son of Abraham.”
“for the son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
What if the salvation in this story is the salvation of the townspeople from being blinded by their labels. What if the salvation for Zacchaeus is that he is restored to the community.
Let me tell you why I think this might be the case.
I made a discovery this week that I was so excited about.
You remember that we have been tracking the journey of Jesus through Lent that started at the end of chapter 9, when Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.
The very first story of this Travel Narrative is when Jesus sent out the seventy two disciples into all the places that he intended to go. He told them to find a house where someone returned their peace. When they found this person of peace, they were to remain there and healing would take place in the village.
Then, they would declare that the Kingdom of God has come near.
Then, from chapter 10 through chapter 19, we see Jesus traveling through these same towns and actually doing this work.
What if the Zacchaeus story is the culmination of this whole section. Jesus walks into the city of Jericho and finds Zacchaeus, a person of peace. A person who uses his resources to help the poor and seek justice in society.
That is why he must stay in his house.
The people see Zach for who he really is. Relationships are restored. Healing and peace happen.
That’s why Jesus can declare, “Today, Salvation has come to this house.”
As we come to the conclusion of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, I think Jesus challenges us with a vision of the mission that he sends us on every day.
I think we are called to believe that God is present and at work in unlikely places, even in the life of a tax collector.
Our job is to find out what God is doing and where God is doing it.
Then we are called to join God in the Kingdom Life. This is our salvation.