I PRAYED TO BE FOUND
Jesus’ statement, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost,” is music to lost sinners. I have read this many times but suddenly, this morning, I was plagued with the question, “Did I want to be found?” I knew at the age of twelve that Jesus had to find me, but I did not go looking. I even was resentful when someone tried to find me. I was angry when my mother invited the preacher into our home. I was not ready to join his found sheep that were still straying more than I was. Prayer has helped me find myself.
Jesus’ announcement regarding the lost ended Jesus’ visit to Zacchaeus the Tax Collector (Luke 19:1-10). Yes, Jesus was on his way to meet him, but Zacchaeus made every effort to be found. In fact, he made it easy and convenient for Jesus to find him. The tree he climbed by the roadside was not an Arizona or California Sycamore, but like a fig tree or a huge mulberry bush, tall enough to overlook the heads of the people. Zacchaeus also was a small person and he had no trouble climbing up and down that tree. In order to do so, the branches of the tree were close to the ground. The point is that this tax collector was prepared to meet Jesus and the meal he put on and the commitment he made to make things right, was evidence that he wanted to be found.
We are not told that Zacchaeus prayed to meet Jesus, but he certainly set an example for us that do pray and do not go out of our way to meet the Lord. In fact, we expect the Lord to come to us when Jesus’ invitation is, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). I have and still do meet people who tell me that one can meet Jesus as late as on our dead bed. They rely on Jesus promise to the thief that died on the cross during the crucifixion. The thief did four important things that we might not be able to do while we are dying. He carried his own cross to the hill, he repented of his sins, he was willing to take his punishment, he absolved Jesus of any guilt and begged (prayed) to be remembered. This man wanted to be saved while his partner did not (Luke 23:32-43).
Zacchaeus, the sinner, was the opposite to the Pharisee Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He belonged to those that we would identify as a saint. The interesting thing is that even a saint needed to meet Jesus. It was to the saint and not the sinner whom Jesus told that he had to be born again. Nicodemus knew that it was an impossible task for a saint, where then does it leave a sinner? It was impossible for Nicodemus because he belonged to the saved and then he was surprised to learn that he was not saved. He was a teacher teaching the people that God was on their side and not testing their belief whether they were on God’s side (John 3:1-15; Mark 7:9-13). This is a warning for all of us. Like Nicodemus, we can presume and take God’s grace for granted and find ourselves in need of a conversion or change. Sinners are always in transit and keep on intending to change and never quite get there because they are not going to Jesus, but trust in someone else for their salvation.
It was Jesus who warned his disciples to watch out for people that insist that they represent Him (Matthew 24:4-5). We should raise more than an eyebrow when salvation exempts us from all responsibility and Christ alone has born the cross. Unlike Zacchaeus, we no longer are required to fulfill our end of the bargain and make things right for having done what was wrong. Luke tells us that King Herod wanted to meet Jesus and when Pilate sent Jesus to him, he did nothing to amend his ways or repair his damages (Luke 9:9; 23:6-12). It was just before I went to college that I was plagued by the need to be for given. I consulted several clergy and evangelists and they all had one answer, “Pray, brother pray.” One day, a person that boarded with us took me to his Church and introduced me to a man that insisted we come home with him and have some lunch. He began very casually tell us how he found inner peace by doing what Zacchaeus did. The light lit up my life. I did not have the load Zacchaeus had, but enough pranks and irresponsible behavior that required apologies, amends, and corrections. Peace fell on me like dew from heaven and lifted me above my physical injuries. At that time, I was still having plastic surgery to my face and ears from a fire. I found peace because I went looking for it and I did not stop with prayers.
The layman that showed me the way back to Christ did not become my teacher. I did enter college, seminary, post-graduate institutions, and I adopted the orthodox and evangelical theology without question and I still do. In my final thesis on, “The Son of Man,” one examiner would not pass my work. His concern was that I represented and followed one hundred fifty experts and had no input of my own. This liberal Harvard man rocked my ego. The Oxford man and the Pontificate Institute of Rome man passed by collection of wisdom, but not this teacher. He felt that in order for me to teach ministers, I should have an opinion of my own. He drove me back to Jesus and a year later, he passed me with commendation and believed that some day I shall be heard from. Well, here I am telling you that you too must find Jesus and that no one else can take your place. In case you are physically impaired then have someone carry you. We all must appear before Jesus the Christ in person and it is in this life that we have to keep the appointment.
The Zacchaeus’ people had a tremendous impact on Luke. In was in connection with tax collectors and sinner that Jesus talked about a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son (Luke 15). Like the lost sheep, there are people that want to get back but do need help. They no longer have the mental or physical ability to free themselves from being trapped. There are also people who are set in their ways and some one has to give them a push, like Philip did to Nathanael (John 1:44-47). The lost coin represents the people that depend completely on others, like the paralytic that was taken to Jesus by four men (Mark 2:1-5). The lost son represents mostly everyone that needs to find Jesus. Everyone has to separate oneself from the past, from sin, from pigs, and from any entanglement that has marred the image of God. Even the dirty clothes, the lost son had to shed to stay home with the father. There is no such teaching in Jesus that allows us to come to him as we are. The father did not go out looking for his son, nor did he send anyone else to find him. The son had to want to come back home and leave that world of sin behind. He had to make his appeal to the father, in person, to be allowed back home. Even if the father is merciful and forgiving, he wants to hear and see us showing our intention in person.
The classic example of answered prayer comes from Isaiah 65:1, “I was found by those who seek me.” It was when Jesus was at his prime with the people that Greeks wanted to see Jesus. They approached Philip and he informed Andrew and together they told Jesus and Jesus answered, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” After some explanations, Jesus added this statement, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:20-23, 32). He began to draw them while He was on earth. There was a Greek woman born in Syrian Phoenicia who had a sick daughter. She came to Jesus and begged on her knees and Jesus had to express the attitude of the chosen people to foreigners with cruel words to test her faith, “For it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” We can only marvel at this lady’s earnestness to want Jesus in her life, “Yes Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs,” (Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28). Jesus, Himself, sent out his disciple and instructed them to go only to those who opened their doors and hearts (Matthew 10:5-15; Luke 9:1-6). Jesus gave the same instructions to seventy-two others (Luke 10:1-16). And He made this promise to us, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never be lost; for no one can pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28), provided we stay in it.