Pursuing the Clarity of the Gospel: Part OneWednesday, July 11, 2012
Jesus is Seeking and Saving the Lost
Every building is clearly identifiable as a building. And there's only one reason why. Every building has a structure. If it's not a building it's probably either a tent or a shanty. But even then tents are identifiable for one reason: they have a structure. The structure of each makes it clear as to what that structure actually is. Clarity therefore, is based on structure. Without structure, no one knows what something is.
The gospel is clear because it has a structure. That structure has been built in the last two series: Pursuing the Humility of the Gospel, and Pursuing the Simplicity of the Gospel. It will be built afresh in this series, and then again in additional series: Pursuing the Ecstasy, Liberty, & Charity of the Gospel; Pursuing the Unity of the Gospel; and Pursuing the Integrity of the Gospel. Essentially, each series could simply be viewed as a fresh description of the gospel, or also as a different part of the overall structure of the gospel. The gospel is simple, as Paul outlined it in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, and Jesus intended it this way. These "Pursuing" series are not intended to complicate that simple gospel, but they are intended to shine lights of various degrees on its simplicity.
Simply put, the gospel is the good news that Jesus came to seek and save the lost...and that He is still doing so today through His bride and body, the church. The story of Zaccheus in Luke 19 provides one of the most excellent and clear pictures of this in the New Testament. In verses 1 and 2 we find three facets of this clarity which make the gospel shine bright.
1. Jesus came seeking sinners in cursed cities.
"He entered Jericho… " (v. 1).
The city was close to the river banks of the Jordan river, on the most lush plain of Palestine,overflowing with the choicest produce, especially balsam. During Zaccheus’ day it was a perfect spot for an superior ranking tax collecting officer to preside over the collection of revenues and tolls for those passing through. It was a large town about eight miles west of the Jordan, and about 19 miles northeast from Jerusalem.
In OT days, Joshua led the Israelite’s across the Jordan river into the promised land, entering Jericho first (Josh. 3:16). It was the first city Joshua took, and we read in Joshua 6:20-21 and verse 26 that he destroyed it down to the foundation, and then pronounced a curse on anyone who tried to rebuild it. This curse was literally fulfilled in the days of Ahab, nearly 500 years later (1 Kings 16:34).
Later on it became the place where the school of prophets under Elijah and Elisha met (2Kings 2:5). And it was here that Elisha worked his first miracle by ministering to the town and turning their bitter waters into sweet and healthy water (2 Kings 2:21). It was a city second only in size to Jerusalem, sometimes called the city of palm-trees, from the fact that there were many palms in the vicinity. I love what Matthew Henry noted on this text. He wrote,
“This city was build under a curse,yet Christ honoured it with his presence, for the gospel takes away the curse. Though it ought not to have been built, yet it was not therefore a sin to live in it when it was built.”Friends, this is how our Savior sets out to seek and save the lost, and it’s how we are to follow in His example. Jericho was cursed by Joshua, and every city on earth has been cursed by sin. But Jesus went into each one of them to seek and save the lost. Our local churches should be no different. Regardless of how that curse reflects itself in a particular city – abortion, drunkenness, idolatry, persecution – ours is a clear mission: to enter it and seek and save the lost.
And as we’re going into those cities, fulfilling the mandate of the Great Commission to go into them, we are to seek and save the lost and make disciples of them all along the way. This brings us to the second reflection of our mission in the text.
2. Jesus came to seek and save sinners everywhere He went.
“…and was passing through” (v. 1).
Jesus is on a particular mission to go to a particular place. But He stops to seek out and save a lost person in the city of Jericho. He Himself exemplified His mandate to go into all nations, and as we’re going to make disciples of all nations. The task is to be heading somewhere, and as you’re heading there, making disciples of everyone else you can along the way.
So many think that God is disinterested in them! Including his own children! They think that God has better things to do…more important things to attend to than them. But when you look at this simple little phrase you see that although Jesus was simply passing through Jericho, the Father had work for Him there.
A harmony of the gospels reveals that Jesus was actually headed to Bethany to do something incredible, something miraculous and something very personal for Him. This event is so significant despite its absence in Luke’s account here. It’s powerful because Jesus is on His way to raise his best friend Lazarus from the dead! And Jesus is simply passing through Jericho to get to Lazarus.
So plug that into what happened here in the text! Zaccheus was not a detour or a hurdle to be jumped on the mission of Jesus. Zaccheus was sovereignly included into Jesus' mission by the Father, which makes Zaccheus part of the mission. Jesus showed this bygoing to Zaccheus house for the day. And look at the words Jesus used.
“I must stay at your house today.”
Let me ask you this question. If you had lost some money, and you went out looking for it and found additional money you had lost, would leave that money behind and only keep your attention on the money you were originally looking for? Of course not!
You are more precious to God than your money is to you. His mission is to seek and save the lost! And if you are lost and you know you are lost, then saving you IS His mission.
If you are saved, then this is what you must communicate to the lost if you are a part of a local church. Youmust keep the clarity of the gospel in front of them which is God’ s mission. They are not an inconvenience to God’s mission. They ARE God’s mission. They are not getting in the way or taking up His time or bugging Him in any way whatsoever. If this phrase shows us anything it is that Jesus intends intends to seek and save the lost wherever they are.
c. Jesus came seeking greedy, wealthy businessmen
"And there was a man named Zaccheus.
He was a chief tax collector and was rich" (v.2).
You'll recall in our first sermon in our vision series on Pursuing the Humility of the Gospel that I introduced you to the publican, or the tax collector in Luke 18, just one chapter previous to the one we’re looking at now. Luke introduces the tax collector there for a very specific reason. What is more, Luke follows that story with the one of the rich man who wanted to know what he had to do to inherit eternal life.
You’ll recall there that at the end of that story the man went away very sad because, as the NLT translates it, he was "extremely wealthy.” The man was filthy rich and he couldn’t let go of it all in order to obtain eternal life. So Luke introduces us to the tax collector, followed immediately by the rich young ruler because he intends to introduce us to Zaccheus in the next chapter…a man of both worlds. He was a tax collector and a very wealthy man. And it seems that part of Luke’s purpose is to contrast the rich young ruler’s rejection of Jesus with Zaccheus joyful reception of Jesus.
Zaccheus was a chief tax collector, which means he probably ran his own publicani small business. He was the one, you’ ll recall, who would have had the enormous amount of money required to bid on and pay the regional toll taxes up front. On top of that, he had enough money left over to hire and pay employees who would go out and collect the toll taxes for him. So this guy was a very wealthy small business owner.
But he was also hated. As a tax collector the Jews saw him as “sinner,” a despicable fellow who took advantage of his position of authority and exploited people. He was corrupt. And corruption gains wealth. In addition, his job was connected to the Roman empire because he was collecting taxes for them. So he had a “double whammy” on his life everywhere he went. But evidently it didn’t phase him enough to make him stop. He had evidently worked in that line of work for long time.
Friends! Jesus came to seek and save people like that! He came to save despicable, greedy, thieving, corrupt business men! He came to seek and save the lost. He didn’t come to those who thought they were righteous. He didn’t come to seek and save those who didn’t think they needing saving. He came to seek and save those who were lost…and knew it.
Zaccheus was an example of that publican Luke talked about in the previous chapter who drew near to the temple, wouldn’t lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his chest and cried out about his despicable, sinful condition. And if Jesus saved a man like this, He can save you. And He can save someone you know like Zaccheus. And He can save someone worse than Zaccheus. He can save anyone!
“He does not disdain the mansions of the rich any more than he does the dwelling-places of the poor, provided there be a humble heart; and he did not suppose there was 'less' need of his presence in order to save in the house of the rich man than among the poor. He set an example to all his ministers,and was not afraid or ashamed to proclaim his gospel amid wealth. He was not awed by external splendor or grandeur” (Barnes).
Do you believe that? If so, that is the kind of belief that saves you.
In the next post, we will discover that when Jesus sets out to seek and save the lost, He will find them, and He will call them.
About the Author: Rob is a entrepreneur in Statesboro, GA, where he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 18 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.