ENCOUNTERING JESUS: Contrasting Grace  Luke 18:35-19:10

In 1968, a movie entitled “The Odd Couple” came out.  It was a movie about two unlikely friends that started to room together in an apartment.  One of them was extremely Type ‘A’ and very clean; the other was not-so-much. It was eventually made into a TV show.  It showed the way that these two opposites really came together and attracted.  We see that kind of thing happen in our lives and culture all the time, don’t we?  Two people, who are really diametrically opposed in a lot of ways, come together and make something beautiful.  My parents were like that.  On every personality profile they could take, they scored on exact opposite ends of the spectrum.  My mom was extremely artistic and free-spirited.  My dad is an engineer.  They were very, very different.

We see this all the time—things that are opposite come in contact with each other and they tend to attract or make something beautiful.  We see this in the food that we eat.  For example, chicken and waffles!  Were we just looking for an excuse to put syrup on chicken?!  I was in Mexico a few weeks ago and I saw somebody walking down the street eating a paleta, which is a fruit popsicle with chili powder on top of it!  I love that!  Let’s find a way to make anything spicy because it deserves it.  Or, a few months ago, my wife brought home this popcorn. This popcorn is a combination of caramel corn and cheddar cheese popcorn.  Caramel and cheddar.  Two things that you would think should not go together…….until you taste it!!  Then it’s like your mouth is having a party! It’s absolutely delicious!

There’s time where we don’t know what to do with Jesus because what he’s doing is taking two things that we think are opposites and bringing them together.  There’s time where he takes things that we think should never touch each other and should never come in contact with each other and he brings them together in such a way that when we allow it to touch and prick our hearts it just explodes.  That’s what we’ve seen in these two stories we heard today.  You heard two stories:  One was about a blind man, the other was about a tax collector.  Two stories that Dr. Luke records and puts right next to each other to make a point.  He wants us to sense something.  He wants us to feel something about what happens when people encounter Jesus.  He wants us to know something about the type of people that encounter Jesus.

In Luke 18:35-19:10, there’s two stories, but there’s only one point.  Luke tells you what it is at the very end of the second story:  For the Son of Man came to seek {To find out; to actively pursue and hunt down.} and to save {To make whole that which is broken; to restore that which is damaged.} the lost.   Two stories.  Two different people.  One central point.  That Jesus, the reflection of what God is like, is coming and his central purpose is to find people like you and like me and to bring them back into the fold of God.  That’s why he came.  Two stories.  One point.  That the grace of God is wide enough, big enough, strong enough to chase you down, to hunt you out, and to call you home. In these two stories, Jesus is going to take things we think, oftentimes, live on opposite ends of the spectrum and he’s going to walk into Jericho and he’s going to pull these things together in such a way that it allows his grace to shine.  That’s my prayer this morning as we dive into the Scriptures, is that God’s grace would just have a little bit more weightiness to it in our life today.  That it would shine a little bit more.  That we’d walk out of this place with our hearts captured in worship and with hope being breathed into some dead and dark spaces that we thought were too far out of his reach.

When you and I get a full realization, full recognition, a full picture of God’s grace—this grace that brings polar opposites together—it leads to a fruitful relationship with God.  Some of us are struggling in our life with God because our view of who God is, and the way that he works in our world, and the grace that he showers down, is far too small.  So, in this picture of this unlikely combination—these things that Jesus is going to bring together that we would often keep separate—we’re going to see grace just explode and God maybe call some of us home.

The passage revolves around three main characters:  Jesus, who says he’s come to seek and save the lost, and two men.  One man is blind and spends his days sitting along the road leading into Jericho.  He is desperate. He’s destitute.  His day revolves around asking the Jewish people for alms or gifts.  It was part of the Jewish ethos and their culture to give to those who were needy.  In many ways this blind man is fulfilling a role in society, but his role is one that nobody wants to choose.  He’s completely dependent on everyone around him.  He’s broken and he’s hurting and in need.

The third character in the story—-you have Jesus, the blind man—-is Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus is not just a tax collector, he’s the CHIEF tax collector.  He’s risen the ranks in tax collecting and he’s grown to be one of the more hated people in this region of Israel.  Tax collectors were hated for a number of reasons.  One, they were hated because they were sell-outs.  When Rome conquered the Israelite people, they took bids from Israelites to see who wanted to become a tax collector.  You could pay Rome a certain amount of money and have the right to set up a tax collecting booth.  Zacchaeus had paid Rome, had set up his tax collecting booth, and Rome would tell Zacchaeus, “Hey, you need to get ‘x’ amount of denarii per head. Whatever you can get on top of that, Zacchaeus, is yours.  You get to keep that.”  Zacchaeus was hated not only because he was a sell-out and he had teamed up with Rome to tax his own people, but he was hated because he was in a position of power and he was manipulating everyone around him to try to get things from them.

So you have two stories.  One about a very poor man who’s taken advantage of and who is the oppressed. Another who is an extremely rich man who is the oppressor.  And you have Jesus, who walks into Jericho.  He meets the poor man, the oppressed man, on the ground where he is.  He meets the rich man, the oppressor, where he is.  These are the things that trouble us about Jesus, aren’t they?  If we’re honest with ourselves, we love the fact that He meets the oppressed.  Something in us goes, “Yeah, that’s how it should be.  God should be FOR the people that are broken, the people that are destitute, the blind man who’s in need who has no hope. Jesus should be FOR him.”  But this passage isn’t just about Jesus being for the oppressed.  It’s also about Jesus being for the oppressor.  It’s about Jesus being not only for and His grace being over the victim, but it’s about Jesus’s grace over the victimizer.  It’s about Jesus being for the people that have zero power, zero authority, zero hope.  And it’s about Jesus being for the person that has all the power, all the authority, and is using it to manipulate and steal from all the people around him.  Jesus walks into Jericho, takes those two extremes, and brings them both under the grace of God!  It’s an extremely beautiful AND troubling story.

What we start to see is that God’s grace is incredibly beautiful and it’s shockingly offensive.  You could read it that God’s grace is for the Jewish person in the prison camp and it’s for the Nazi camp worker.  God’s grace is for both the victim and the victimizer.  I’ve developed a friendship for Dr. Jeff Brodsky, who works for Joy International, and who works against human trafficking.  He sent me a text the other day that said: 8 girls rescued. 3 of them minors. 2 traffickers arrested.  I went, “YES!!”  That’s why we took a Christmas Eve offering and gave $8500 to Joy International, because we believe in their ministry.  Then I had to take a step back and wonder if I would have been as excited if he would have written, “And those people who were the victimizers met Jesus.”  We love grace when it touches the oppressed, but what about when it gets a little bit scandalous? When it gets a little bit offensive?  When it reaches further than we would have it reach if God were taking ideas from us?  Look at the different responses of the people in the crowd.  These two stories are parallels of each other, they’re drawing out two different points, but look at the way people respond when the blind man receives sight (Luke 18:43):  And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.  They were like, “Amen! That’s what God should be about.”   Speaking of Zacchaeus and Jesus going to Zacchaeus’s house (Luke 19:7): And when they saw it, they all grumbled…  In a very short, few verses, we go from cheers to jeers. Jesus is, at one point, the hero because he’s offering grace to the oppressed, and then He’s the castoff because His grace has gone a little bit too far.  Dan Allender, the psychologist and great author, says it like this: “The Christian faith and the grace at its heart is so radical that most congregations can’t deal with it.”  It’s for the oppressed and the oppressor, the abused and the abuser, the victim and the victimizer.  Have you wrestled with the extent of God’s grace enough to where it sort of haunts you a little bit?  It’s the intention of this passage. He’s bringing both the beauty and the scandal of grace together.  Two stories.  One point.

Here’s the way the passage continues (18:38) — And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  He’s seeking, he’s longing, he’s hurting, and his heart’s on the line.  Another man climbs up.  One man cries out, one man climbs up.  Zacchaeus is seeking all the same, isn’t he?  He’s just doing it in a different way.  He wants to do it from a distance.  Luke tells us it’s a sycamore tree, because sycamore trees were a leafy tree and presumably one would be able to climb up in a sycamore tree and be able to hide, but Jesus doesn’t let him hide, does he?  The question both of these passages ask us is what does Jesus do with the person who’s seeking? How does he respond?  So if you’re in this room and you’re seeking out, if you’re seeking Jesus, this is the question that all of us, in some way, are asking, isn’t it?  What does He do when people cry out?  What does He do when people climb up?  The answer is actually better than the question.  Jesus doesn’t just respond to people who are seeking Him out.  He responds by saying, “Oh, I’ve been seeking YOU out!  You thought you were the hunter, but you’re really the hunted, blind man and Zacchaeus!  You thought you were the one who was trying to get ME in YOUR sights, but I’m the one who’s coming to Jericho with the plan to get you in MY sights.” The Son of Man came, not to be sought, but to be the seeker.  That He was on the move.  That He was hunting them down and that He was then going to call them out.

Grace…the way it works in our life, you may have noticed this, is that grace encounters us tenderly—it meets us in those deep, needy places in our soul and refuses to allow us to stay there.   Grace finds us when we’re destitute and when we’re broken, and it doesn’t just say, “I’m really sorry that you’re there,” but it takes us by the arm and it pulls us out.  It’s the way that it happens in both of these stories.  You reach this moment of truth in the story of the blind man where Jesus asks him a question.  He says to him, “Well, what do you want me to do for you?”  I’ve always thought, “Dude, Jesus, he’s blind!  News flash, Son of God, he probably wants to see!”  Sometimes we read through the Scriptures and we’ll read something like this and it doesn’t make sense, and it’s because we really don’t understand.  I think this was a legitimate question.  He has two answers he can give.  He can give the answer he’s given to every other person that day.  What do you want me to do for you?  I’d like……some money.  I’d like alms.  It’s a legitimate answer, isn’t it?  It’s an answer that meets an immediate need but leaves him in the exact same spot.  Or, he can respond by saying, “I’m going to go out on a limb here and believe that you are the Christ, that you are the Son of God, that you have all the power in heaven and on earth and I’m going to ask you to make my blind eyes see.”  But if he does that, his life changes.  If he says, “I want my sight,” do you know what he can’t do the next day?  What he’s done every other day.  He cannot go back to that same spot.  He cannot sit down and beg for alms.  He can’t be alongside of the road.  His whole entire life changes.  For the better?  Yeah!  But change nonetheless.  Before we go, “Well, that’s a ridiculous question!” how many of us respond to the King of the universe when He asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” we say, “Just help me get through the day.”  Our response when our marriage is hurting and we’re in pain and we’re going in two opposite directions….sometimes when Jesus enters in and says, “Well, what do you want me to do for you?” our response is “Just help me survive.  Help me get through the day,” instead of “Will you heal this?”  It may mean some pain that we have to walk through in order to get to this point where you do what you promise you’ll do, but, Jesus, we’re willing to walk with you on this.  Isn’t it easier sometimes to just choose what we know than to take a risk that God’s grace will meet us where we are?  So we just continue in the same patterns—-I’d like money, thank you very much.  I know it will help me and I know it will help me today. I think God wants to speak a word over some of us this morning.  He’s asking us, “What do you want from me?” Can I invite you to RISK when you tell Him what you want?  To dig a little deeper than just meeting the immediate and to get to the actual core of what’s going on in your soul.  Maybe there’s a dream that’s died and instead of just surviving, ask Him to awaken it, ask Him to breathe life into dead places.  We’re talking about the One who’s conquered death!!  You tell me what’s too big for Him.  Just ask Him!!  What do you want me to do for you?

So that’s the blind man’s moment of truth.  Here’s Zacchaeus’s moment of truth:  Zacchaeus, come down….   And Zacchaeus is probably like, “Who, me?”  Like he’s up there thinking he’s anonymous.  Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.  If you’re Zacchaeus, aren’t you like, “Hey, that’s a really great invitation.  Could we do that tomorrow?  Cause I left some stuff out that I’d like to put away.  My house isn’t exactly clean.  There’s a few people, depending on how you look at it, that I may or may not have wronged them, and, Jesus, before you come into my house, Son of God, I’d really like the chance to make some things right that I’ve done wrong.  Isn’t that what you and I would like to do?  Hey, Jesus, before you enter my life, let me get it cleaned up a little bit.  Let me take care of a few loose ends and THEN you can come in and enter my life.  {Look up at me for a second.}  It’s not the way grace works.  Grace meets us at our low or it doesn’t meet us at all!  When Jesus encounters Zacchaeus, it’s, “I’m coming to your house—not tomorrow, and not in a week, and not when you get it cleaned up, and not when you’re deserving of having me come in, but I’m coming to your house TODAY.  When you’re a total mess!  When you’re a total thief!  When you’re a CHIEF tax collector, that’s when I’m entering in, He says.  Oh man, that’s great news, isn’t it?  Here’s the thing:  We all wish we had time to prepare for Jesus, but how much time would you need to clean up our life to the extent that you could actually invite a holy God into your house to sit at your table?  Good luck!  Jesus doesn’t say, “I’m going to wait until you get things cleaned up,” he says, “I’m entering into YOUR space, by MY grace, at your lowest point and I’m going to encounter you there.”  Friends, this is the gospel.  This is the message of Jesus — coming to seek and save.  Not good Christian people.  Not people who have it all together or just a few degrees off, but people who are LOST!  People like the blind man who’s lost, and people like Zacchaeus, who’s lost.  I love the way that the great author Brennan Manning puts it when he says this: “Do you believe that the God of Jesus loves you beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity—-that he loves you in the morning sun and in the evening rain—-that he loves you when your intellect denies it, your emotions refuse it, your whole being rejects it.  Do you believe that God loves without condition or reservation and loves you this moment as you are and not as you should be?”  This is the scandalous nature of grace entering in, meeting us tenderly, and saying, “I’m coming to your house today.”   OR—What do you want me to do for you?  One thing grace refuses to do is to allow us to ride the fence.  It’s not soft, it’s STRONG!

Look at the way it works in the lives of these two people.  First, in the life of the blind man:  And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.”    If you have your Greek New Testament out, that word ‘made you well’ in the Greek is the same word we translate ‘saved.’   So, your faith has saved you, your faith has redeemed you.  Where faith is active, grace is realized.  That’s what Jesus is saving.  If you skip forward to Zacchaeus’s encounter, it says this:  And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation {same word} has come to this house.”  So, we have two men—both lost.  Both blind, in completely different ways.  One literally blind and cannot see.  One blind to the way that his power and his use of authority has absolutely ruined and torn apart his life and the life of his community.  And we see Jesus entering into both lives, showering grace down on both lives, that faith invites them to sit at Jesus’s table to receive from Him, and grace, in both instances, makes them well.  It SAVES them.

I have some baggage with the word ‘saved.’ I look back in my life and the way that I have viewed the word ‘get saved.’  I often harken back to tent revivals with an angry preacher who’s got a vein in his neck that you wonder if it’s going to survive the entire sermon.  Right?  And, typically it’s you need to get saved from hell, because hell is coming after you.  So salvation was always sort of a good news/bad news type of word, and indeed, it is. That’s true.  There is a hell.  It is real.  Without Jesus we do go there, but salvation is so much more than saving us FROM something.  Salvation is saving us FOR something.  In this passage, if you look up salvation, salvation looks like SEEING.  It looks like seeing, literally.  It looks like seeing the kingdom of God.  It looks like seeing the way of Jesus.  It looks like seeing the extent of God’s grace.  Salvation certainly saves us FROM, but it saves us FOR.  That we’re redeemed for the fullness of the humanity that Jesus died to instill in us.  That’s what it means to be saved.

This is the way grace works.  It pulls together these two things:  It finds us broken and leads us to this place of wholeness.  Restoration.  Sight.  Look at the picture.  Just zoom out for a moment.  In one instance, grace finds somebody low—in every way.  Low and destitute.  Needy.  Longing.  Dependent.  When grace finds somebody low, grace picks them up.  In another story, grace finds somebody high.  Up in a tree.  In a position of power.  In a position of authority.  Both are lost.  When grace finds you low, grace picks you up.  When grace finds you high, grace brings you down.  Because both are broken.  What grace does in the lives of believers is it makes us whole.  It restores us to the way that God intended and designed us to live.  I don’t know where you’re at this morning.  I don’t if you’re on the ground and broken and needy and grace needs to pick you up.  I also don’t know if you’re in the tree, and you’re proud and you’re arrogant, and you’ve got it all together, and all your boxes for religiosity are checked, and you think you and God are good.  Grace needs to bring you down.  Look at what grace always does:  Grace always restores people to walk with Jesus—whether it picks us up off the ground, or brings us down out of the tree.  The result is wholeness, salvation, life.  Life with Jesus…then look at it….life with others!  The blind man can no longer sit and beg.  He must now be a positive contributor to society, which everybody wants to be.  And, Zacchaeus can no longer steal.  He can’t be the thief, he can’t be the rat, he can’t be the scoundrel any more, because grace has brought him down.  Both people are restored, not only to Jesus, but also to the community around them.  Rescued people are restored people.  Redeemed people are communal people.  It’s Jesus inviting us not only to be forgiven, but then to forgive, to make things right.  This is what Zacchaeus does after encountering the grace of God.  Well, I’ve got to make things right with the people around me, because God has, by his grace, entered in and made me right with Him.

Here’s the way these two passages work out.  Here’s the way they end.  The blind man receives his sight and followed him.  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.”    He says, “I’m making things right.” Why?  Because when grace meets us it meets us at our low—empty-handed, certainly.  God gives it to us freely. Grace, while it’s given freely, demands our all.  It’s these two things coming together that we see in both of these stories — the beggar can no longer beg.  The thief can no longer steal.  Both people, because the grace of God enters into their lives, are left definitively changed.  They can’t go on living the way that they’ve always lived.  Their next day is different.  {Friends, will you just look up at me a second?}  If you’ll invite you me in your life for just a minute, I just want to press on us a little bit.  There’s time where we make grace seem, unintentionally, pretty soft.  Like, it’s just the love of God and we get to just enjoy it.  Certainly, it is meant to be enjoyed.  It’s also meant to be responded to.  Where if we’re not changed because of it, we’ve probably haven’t really tasted it.  Zacchaeus cannot go on being the same Zacchaeus he’s always been and add Jesus to his party.  He can’t do it!  Grace changed him!  Grace wrecked him!  Grace changed his next day immediately because he had met the King of kings and the Lord of lords and it had a weightiness over him.    I love the way that Isaac Watts, the great hymn writer, puts it:  “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small.  Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”  My everything.  Grace finds us empty-handed every time.  But then calls us to surrender everything we have…..to Jesus.  King of kings and Lord of lords.  Both of these men respond by calling Jesus “Lord,” and then living as though it’s true.

Has it changed your life?  Has the beauty and weight of that changed your life?  I love both of these stories, because when Jesus enters Jericho and he sees this blind man, He essentially comes to his house.  That’s where he does all of his business.  That’s where he is day after day.  And Jesus enters into his space.  When He meets Zacchaeus, He says, “Zacchaeus, I’m coming to your house, your messy house TODAY.”  I’m going to meet you on your turf, Zacchaeus.  I’m going to sit at your table, blind man.  I’m going to sit at your table, Zacchaeus.  As I sit at YOUR table, I’m going to lead you to my banquet.  Because that’s what grace does—it meets us exactly where we are.  Grace enters our life and then leads us into the life of God.  It meets us at our table and it carries us to Jesus’s banquet.

Friends, this message of the gospel has changed my life.  Both the beauty and the offense of the grace of God and the cross.  The tenderness and the call.  The brokenness and the wholeness.  The freedom, the free gift and the all-inclusive demand has absolutely changed me.  I’m convinced that the arm of God is not too short to save anyone!  The oppressed and the oppressor.  The abused and the abuser.  The victim and the victimizer. Friends, if the mission of Jesus is to seek and save the lost, the mission of Jesus’s church needs to be to seek and save the lost.  When the church lives the mission of Jesus, the church receives the power of Jesus.  Friends, my hope and my prayer, as He takes us and meets us at our table and leads us to His banquet, is that anthem and that song and that declaration would become ours as well.  When we have a full picture of grace, we have a fruitful relationship with God.

As we come to the table this morning—-HIS table, HIS life that He’s given TO us and FOR us—-may we be reminded once again, in the way that He called us—-the way that He picked us up or the way that He calls us down—-that He calls us, that He seeks and His grace is sufficient for you and for me.  As you come (to communion), would you be reminded of a God who enters your life to invite you into His.  Let’s pray.

Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords, one who comes to seek and save the lost.  That’s us.  As we come to your table this morning, would you remind us afresh that you meet us at our table in order to bring us to yours.  You enter our life, you seek us out, in order to invite us into the life of God.  Father, as we come this morning and as we taste and see that you’re good once again, may your grace just explode in our hearts and in our souls.  We pray this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.