Every Sunday we take a couple minutes and encourage you to say hi to the folks around you. How many of you love this time? You can hardly wait to make a new friend! How many of you hate this time? It’s pure social torture! How many of you were afraid to vote?
Why in the world would we torture so many of you week after week? Here’s why, and I’m going to use a sports analogy. When I was playing basketball in high school and college, our coaches made us run lines every practice. You get on the end line, run to the first free throw line and back, then to half court and back, then to the far free throw line and back, then to the other end line and back—as fast as you can. You’d finish one, and a couple seconds later, before you could catch your breath, he’d blow his whistle, and off you’d go again. They are called “suicide drills.” We’d run until our lungs burned and legs ached. We’d run until we felt like puking—or actually puked. Why would he do that to us? He was getting us in game shape. We were sucking wind in practice so we wouldn’t in games.
So why am I torturing you? I’m getting you in game shape. I’m letting you practice an important skill in a safe environment. Move toward people. Take the first step. If you can’t move toward people here, stick your hand out, introduce yourself and ask a couple questions, how will ever do it out there? So…(blow whistle)…get on the line. Let’s stand up, and I want you to meet at least two new people! Go!
This is week 5 of our series, Befriend. The Big Idea for this series is that God has moved toward us when we were His enemies and made us His friends, and now He calls us to do the same with others. Move toward the other. Move toward the person who is different and befriend them.
Today, we’re going to talk about moving toward the lost and lonely, and we’re going to read a terrific story—the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. Here it is:
1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
I’m going to unpack this story with you.
Jesus is passing through Jericho. He is on His way to Jerusalem where He will give His life for us. Do you think Jesus had a lot on His mind? He had the weight of the world on His shoulders—literally. And yet, as He entered Jericho, He made time to stop and heal a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. When Bart heard that Jesus was passing by, he started hollering, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowd tried to shush him. “Shut up, Bart!” But he only yelled louder, “Over here, Jesus! Have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped—two of my favorite words in the gospels. On His way to the cross, on His way to do the most important thing ever done, Jesus stopped. For who? A blind beggar. A nobody. And Jesus healed him. Don’t you love that? Don’t ever think that Jesus doesn’t hear your cry. Don’t ever think that Jesus is too busy for you, or that you are not that important to Him.
After healing Bartimaeus, Jesus continues into Jericho. A man named Zacchaeus lived there. Zac was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. Israel was under Roman occupation, and the Romans financed the occupation by collecting taxes. As you can imagine, the Jews hated the Romans and hated paying their taxes. Those taxes were collected by Jews who collaborated with the Romans—these tax collectors were hated as traitors, and doubly hated because they got rich off their treachery. Jericho was located on a strategic trade route, meaning lots of taxes were collected there. Zac was the chief tax collector—a big shot, and was very wealthy. All this means that he was probably the most hated man in town.
When Zac hears that Jesus is in town, he wants to see him. He might have been a big shot, but he was a small man. Zac was vertically challenged. He couldn’t see over the crowds—and you can bet that no one was going to cut him a break. So Zac climbed a tree to get a look at Jesus.
And for the second time that day in Jericho, Jesus stopped. On His way to the cross, on His way to do the most important thing ever done, Jesus stopped. For who? A tax collector. The most hated man in town. Don’t ever thing that you’re too far gone for Jesus. Don’t ever think that He’d pass you by.
Jesus stopped for Zac, and called him by name. “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” This little word “must” is very interesting. It is the Greek word dei, and it means “it is necessary.” Luke uses it most often of “divine necessity”—in other words, Jesus is doing this because it is what the Father wants. He must do it to obey His Father. So this wasn’t “I must stay with you because Motel 6 is full.” This is divine necessity: “I must stay with you because that’s what God wants.” Jesus was on mission.
So with a sense of divine leading, Jesus goes to Zac’s house. And how do the townspeople respond? “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner!’” You can hear them: “Of all people! Zac? There are lots of good people he could have stayed with—and He chose the biggest jerk in town!” Jesus was on mission—a search and rescue mission.
Jesus invited Himself to stay at Zac’s house! (Generally, I don’t recommend this strategy—inviting yourself over—but it worked for Jesus.) The townspeople were appalled, but Zac was overjoyed. I love this. Good stuff happens when we invite people over and sit down for a meal together. We saw the video two weeks ago about the high school students who started a club, We Dine Together, to make sure no student eats lunch alone. Friendships form over shared meals.
ILL: I read about two US Senators, Tim Scott of South Carolina, and James Lankford of Oklahoma, who have started a movement called, “Solution Sundays.” It started with a simple question they asked people: “Have you ever had someone of a different race to your home for a meal?” Most people had not. They knew that good things happen when people open their homes and eat together. When homes open, hearts open and friends are made. They are encouraging their constituents to open their heart and home and invite someone of a different race to Sunday dinner. And they’re hearing great results.
There is a reason Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock, and if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20) Table fellowship (sharing a meal) was—and is—one of the marks of real friendship. Jesus wants to be your friend. Jesus is knocking, moving toward you, wanting to be invited in. He wants to eat with you—a metaphor for friendship.
So Jesus invites Himself to Zac’s house to stay the night and share a meal. He moved toward Zac. And it worked. Zac repented and became a changed man. How could you tell? He promised to repay anyone he had cheated and to give away half his wealth to the poor! This dude got saved! He got saved all the way down to his wallet! When you meet Jesus and begin to follow Him, you become a new person. Every part of you starts changing—including how you think about and handle money. Zac is converted and becomes a generous and honest man. Money is a heart issue. Jesus said that where your treasure is, there your heart will be. Zac’s heart got changed, and his money followed. This is a good time for the offering!
Final volunteer appeal.
Jesus finishes by saying:
“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came on a search and rescue mission. Here’s:
The Big Idea: Jesus moved towards Zacchaeus—a man who was lost and lonely—and it changed Zac’s life. Go and do the same.
Move toward the lost.
Zacchaeus was lost. I think it is fair to deduce that from Jesus’ concluding statement. He came to seek and save the lost—He did that with Zac. What did Jesus mean when He spoke of people being lost? I think Jesus used it much the same way you do. How many of you have lost your keys? How many of you have lost your phone? Panic! How many of you have lost your mind? Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most! How many of you have ever been lost? You are not where you should be and have no idea where you are. My friend Rick gets lost in malls.
In Luke 15, Jesus was criticized for hanging out with irreligious people. He responded with three lost stories.
The first story was about a lost sheep. The shepherd left the other sheep safe in the pen and went looking for the lost one. And when he found it, he brought it home and threw a party.
The second story was about a lost coin. A woman had 10 coins and lost one. She went on a deep cleaning frenzy in her home until she found that lost coin. Then she too threw a party to celebrate.
The third story was about two lost sons. One left home, moved far away, lost his bearings, and wasted his inheritance in wild living. But when he came to his senses, he headed home and his father saw him coming, ran to him and threw a party to celebrate. “This son of mine was lost, and is found.” The other son was lost at home—living in the same house with his father, but far from his father’s heart. Josh did an excellent job with this story last Sunday.
A person is lost when they are not where they should be; a person is lost when they are far from the God who loves them. When we say a person is lost, we’re not saying they are some kind of hideous person; we’re saying they are not where they should be: they are not with God. Who do you know who is lost? Move toward the lost.
Jesus came to seek the lost. He said that, and He showed that in the Zacchaeus story. Zac was far from God—in fact, if you had asked the residents of Jericho who was the most lost person in town, who was farthest from God, I’ll bet most of them would have pointed to Zac. And Jesus moved toward him. Jesus sought him out. Do the same.
Who do you know who is lost? Far from God? So here’s a wild idea: what if you not only invited them to church for Easter next weekend, but what if you invited them for a meal too? Make it fun! Come to church Friday or Saturday night and go out to dinner or dessert afterwards. Or come to church Sunday and go out to brunch afterwards. Or better yet, go to brunch first, and then come to the 1 PM service! Make it fun and make a friend!
When I was lost, my 8th grade buddy, Don Lang, moved toward me—literally. He came to my house on a Saturday morning and invited me to a youth rally at his church. I didn’t want to go church! But I also didn’t want to disappoint my friend, so I said yes. I went that night and got ambushed by Jesus! One 8th grade boy moved toward another very lost 8th grade boy—and that invitation changed my life forever! Who do you know who is lost? Watch this:
Thank you Syrina for sharing your story. And thank you Josh for making the invitation—it changed Syrina’s life. Who might be one invitation away from a changed life? I want you to take 30 seconds right now and write down a couple names. Pray. Move toward the lost.
Move toward the lonely.
Zacchaeus was not only lost; he was lonely. He was a social outcast, the man everyone hated and avoided. There is a reason he had to climb a tree to see Jesus. When Zac tried to push through the crowd to see Jesus, those who saw him closed ranks. “You’re not getting through here. Take a hike, Zac!” And when Jesus went to Zac’s house, everyone was upset. They wouldn’t socialize with Zacchaeus; why would Jesus? Zacchaeus was not only the most lost man in town; I’m guessing he was also the loneliest.
And Jesus moved towards him. Jesus befriended him. And what was Zac’s response? He welcomed Jesus gladly, joyfully. He was happy to have a friend!
Millions of people are lonely, and hungry for friendship, for genuine community. A recent study done by Brigham Young University suggests that we are on the verge of a loneliness epidemic. More people are living alone now than ever in human history. Loneliness kills. Loneliness impairs immune function, boosts inflammation and increases your mortality risk comparable to that of smoking, and double that of obesity! We need each other! We need friends. Move toward the lonely.
Lonely people come in all sizes and shapes. Zacchaeus was very successful financially—the wealthiest man in town—and very lonely. You can be successful and lonely. You might think that successful people, wealthy people would have lots of friends. Not Zacchaeus. You might look at someone and think, “He/she has it all,” and that person might be desperately lonely. Who do you know that is lonely? Who do you know that needs a friend? Move toward the lonely.
ILL: My senior year in high school, I often rode the bus to school. There was a boy on my bus, Ron, who always sat by himself and rarely spoke. Even though he was in my class, I didn’t know him. Ron was a loner. I decided to befriend Ron and see what would happen. I started by simply sitting next to him and asking questions. Before long, he started opening up, and over the next few months, our bus rides to school resulted in a warm friendship. Eventually, I invited him to our youth group at church, and Ron started coming and made a couple other friends. Before the year was out, Ron had become a follower of Jesus.
Ron, like many others, was lonely and just needed a friend. And that friendship became the path to finding Jesus. The gospel moves along relational lines, person to person. Who do you know that is lonely, that may be one friendship away from meeting Jesus? But what if I befriend someone and they never come to Jesus? Befriend them anyway. We love people with no strings attached. We don’t say, “I’ll love you if you come to Jesus.” We just love everyone always. The more you love people, the more will come to Jesus, because love is winsome. People are lonely and need friends—befriend them.
ILL: In their book Next Door As It Is in Heaven, authors Lance Ford and Brad Briscoe discuss the profound loneliness that many people experience in our world—and the subsequent sense that they have very little value at all. Sadly, many of us unintentionally contribute to this loneliness and lack of self-worth as we move throughout our day by failing to look at people and offer a simple greeting.
Ford and Briscoe contrast our relational aloofness with the daily practice of the tribes of northern Natal in South Africa. The most common greeting, equivalent to “hello” in English, is the expression: Sawu bona. It literally means, “I see you.” If you are a member of the tribe, you might reply by saying Sikhona, “I am here.” The order of the exchange is important: until you see me, I do not exist. It’s as if, when you see me, you bring me into existence.
Ford and Briscoe write, ”A deep truth resides in this cultural practice. When we merely move throughout our days without seeing people as people, then as far as it matters to us in that moment, they really don’t exist.”
How many lonely people feel like no one sees them, like they don’t even exist? I see you. I am here. Let’s try it.
Move toward the lonely and befriend them. Look for the lonely in every setting—work, school, church—and move towards them. Someone might be one friend away from a changed eternity—and you might be that friend.
You are on a search and rescue mission.
Jesus finishes by saying,
10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Jesus came on a search and rescue mission. He came to seek and save the lost. Now He sends us on that same mission.
John 20:21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Jesus is sending you on His mission, a search and rescue mission, to seek and save the lost.
ILL: Scott Sauls, in his wonderful book, Befriend, tells this amazing story.
Once my wife Patti and I were in a small prayer gathering with some friends. Just before we began praying together, in came a husband and a wife that we had never met. They had been invited by someone else in the group. The man’s name was Matthew, and he was drunk. His wife had a desperate somebody-please-help-me-because-I’m-dying-inside look on her face.
As we prayed together, Matthew decided to chime in. His was a drunk prayer that went on for over ten minutes. He prayed some of the strangest things. God, protect us from the Klingons. God, I really want a Jolly Rancher right now, will you bring us some Jolly Ranchers? God, please move my bananas to the doghouse.
After the “Amen,” everyone looked at me. What will the pastor do? Thankfully, I didn’t need to do anything, because a woman from the group, full of love and wisdom, moved toward Matthew and offered him a cookie. As the woman was giving him a cookie and engaging conversation about Klingons and Jolly Ranchers, five or six others went over to his wife and begged for insight on how they could help.
Where did this woman learn such a gracious way of befriending Matthew? From Jesus. From the One who moved toward lost and lonely Zacchaeus.
That little interaction at the prayer meeting became one of the most transformative experiences I have ever witnessed. The kindhearted offer of a cookie led to… (our group) coming around the couple and their two young boys, which led to a month of rehab, which led to sobriety, which led to a restored home and marriage, which led to Matthew becoming a follower of Jesus, which led to him later becoming an elder in our church.
Matthew’s life was changed because someone invited him to a prayer meeting. And Matthew’s life was changed because when he showed up drunk at that prayer meeting, someone else moved toward him with kindness and befriended him. Both the inviter and the befriender understood that they shared the mission of Jesus. You are on a search and rescue mission with Jesus. Go befriend people.
Lance Ford & Brad Briscoe, Next Door As It Is In Heaven (NavPress, 2016), page 76; submitted by Brian Lowery, Avon, Indiana.