Job 20-23; Psalm 85; Luke 19-20

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The psalmist wrote, “I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying, for he speaks peace to his people, his faithful ones. But let them not return to their foolish ways” (Ps. 85:8). These few phrases give a good blueprint for successful living. Let’s break them down and relate them to a familiar biblical character: Zacchaeus.

When we read or hear the story of Zacchaeus, some of us may find our minds going back to the children’s song: “Zacchaeus was a wee, little man and a wee, little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.” Zacchaeus did want to see the Lord, and he did indeed have to climb a tree to get a good look. But Jesus knew exactly where to look for Zacchaeus, and as He “came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. ‘Zacchaeus!’ he said. ‘Quick, come down! For I must be a guest in your home today’” (Luke 19:5).

Zacchaeus listened carefully to Jesus and obeyed immediately, climbing down quickly from the tree to take “Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy” (Luke 19:6). Zacchaeus didn’t think about reasons why it would be inconvenient to have Jesus come to his house for dinner. He didn’t question what caused Jesus to pick him out of the crowd. He didn’t weigh long-term consequences of Jesus’ request or contemplate his response. He merely obeyed quickly. And most importantly, he did so in great excitement and joy.

Zacchaeus’ life was filled with turmoil when he climbed that tree to see Jesus. His world was in an uproar because Israel, the land in which he lived, was occupied by Roman troops; he and his nation were not free. His personal life was filled with turmoil because people became angry at the mere thought of him being a tax collector, and Zacchaeus lived in the midst of those angry people. In fact, when the crowd heard that Jesus was going to Zacchaeus’ house, of all places, they “were displeased” and grumbled that Jesus had “gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner” (Luke 19:7). Zacchaeus was no slouch when it came to living a life filled with turmoil.

The psalmist assures us that the Lord “speaks peace to his people, his faithful ones.” In a world that always seems to be in turmoil and with our lives often mirroring the same, the Lord will speak peace to us, His people. Once we have experienced true turmoil, we recognize peace for the great gift that it is. But this is not a promise for the world at large. It is a promise to God’s “faithful ones,” those who desire to please God and to stand with Him. And Zacchaeus wanted to please God.

Jesus recognized this desire and spoke peace into Zacchaeus’ life. Zacchaeus responded with authentic gratitude. “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have overcharged people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” (Luke 19:8). Here was a life that was radically, miraculously, wonderfully changed by Jesus because of Zacchaeus’ willingness to listen and obey. Jesus summed it up when He said, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). In an instant, Zacchaeus had become one of God’s “faithful ones.” His old way of life was upended, and he was a new person.

But the psalmist warns, “let them not return to their foolish ways.” It is so easy to do exactly that even after experiencing the peace of God. Temptation calls to us. Life’s trials weary us. Culture, which seldom aligns with godly principles, pulls us away from God and toward those things that will not bring real peace to us. And that is exactly why it is important for us to listen carefully to God rather than to other influences.

We aren’t told the rest of Zacchaeus’ story, but it is not difficult to imagine the pressure and ridicule he probably experienced. For those who lived as Zacchaeus had before his salvation, his actions must have seemed absolutely insane. Give half—HALF—of his wealth away! And from the remaining half, pay out four times the amount of anyone he had overcharged! The nature of his job was to overcharge, so it is safe to assume that Zacchaeus went from being a very wealthy person to someone with drastically reduced assets.

It is also likely that Zacchaeus’ friends were uncomfortable with his altered status and priorities. His changed life may have left them feeling bewildered or even guilty. They may have deserted him or tried to badger him into going back to his old way of life. As Zacchaeus’ friends dropped away, did those who were already followers of Jesus trust him and embrace him as a fellow believer, or was he still a “notorious sinner” in their eyes? We don’t know the answers to these questions, but we know it is probable that Zacchaeus faced some tough trials in his new life and strong temptations to “return to foolish ways.”

Where do we fit in the psalmist’s statement? Do we “listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying” through reading the Bible and quietly reflecting on what we’ve read? Do we store Scripture in our minds, so we are guided by it during times of temptations and hardships? Have we experienced God's peace? Are we “his people, his faithful ones,” refusing to return to our foolish ways?

If so, then we understand the excitement and joy that Zacchaeus felt when he climbed down from that tree and listened carefully to Jesus. Salvation has come to our home, and we are blessed.

© 2010 Arlina Yates

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