What a friend we have in Jesus!

What a friend we have in Jesus!

The scandal began the moment Jesus entered Jericho. Someone in the sycamore tree immediately caught His attention. Many knew this fellow, Zacchaeus, but few liked him. As a matter of a fact, most avoided the scrawny, little creep. After all, he was the local tax collector. That didn’t stop The Lord from reaching out to him. Jesus went out on a limb and called out to Mr. Pockets. That’s when people began to talk.

I suspect you may have questions about all this. Why did they talk? What did they say? Or perhaps you’re wondering if tax collectors really grow on trees. The first question that must be answered is: Why was Jesus in Jericho? It’s important to know that He was headed for Calvary.

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem,” said He to the twelve, “And all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.” (Luke 18:31)

It was in Jerusalem where Jesus would meet His darkest hour. He would be delivered into the hands of His accusers. Those closest to Him would flee. Jesus would be whipped and beaten. Stakes would be driven through His hands and feet. Jesus knew what awaited Him in Jerusalem. And the road there led Him through Jericho.

Knowing what Jesus knew, certainly He could have benefitted from some encouragement. Reality was closing in quickly. Darkness was on the horizon. Torment was tapping on the door. That’s when people like you and me spend endless hours crying on our pillows or in our beer. Better yet, we need a shoulder to cry on. We need someone to assure us we’ll make it through. We need supporters to cheer us on.

They were there for Jesus at Jericho. The entire city surrounded Him, marveling at His presence and lifting their voices with praise. They gave Him a hero’s welcome. Jesus was the man of the hour! Why, He was the greatest thing to ever step foot in Jericho!

Certainly Jesus was touched by all the fanfare. But, there was that wee man making like a squirrel in the tree. Of all people, he was the one who caught the Lord’s eye. Jesus called out to the runt. He invited Himself over for supper. Hand-in-hand, the two left together. Jesus chose a tax collector over the ticker-tape. It didn’t go over very well. There was talk – lots of it. Many complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner!” (Luke 19:7)

It was no secret; Zacchaeus was a sinner all right. Not only was he a tax collector, he was the chief tax collector. He may as well have been called “chief crook”. Zach was the king of greed. He made a living by lining his pockets with other people’s money. There probably wasn’t a soul in all of Jericho that hadn’t fell prey to that puny little swindler.

It’s easy to imagine how the crowd must have felt once Jesus left them for him! That’s when the praises stopped and the murmurings began. In an instant, everyone turned on Jesus. They resented Him for befriending a known sinner.

The accusation was true. Jesus not only dined with crooks, He allowed harlots to anoint His head and bathe His feet. For these reasons He was called “friend of sinners”. There’s no getting around it, He received all kinds of unsavory people. On one occasion, Jesus left a crowd to pursue a scabby brute who was riddled with all kinds of evil.

That’s just how Jesus was. He cared. He cared without discrimination or limitation. He cared for the lovable and the unlovable. One thing He didn’t care about, though, was how this made Him look. If people talked, so be it. As a good shepherd, He would forsake the ninety-nine for the one that went astray.

Jesus wasn’t on a mission to be popular. He was on a mission to save. And while there was talk behind Jesus’ back, there was also discussion in the home of Zacchaeus. Through this table-talk a soul had been won. Scripture assures that Zacchaeus received Jesus “joyfully” and repented of his sin.

Like Jesus, we need to keep our eyes out for those who are up a tree. What do we do should they refuse to come down? Dare we chop the tree down? Do we shake the branches and wait for that person to fall? That wouldn’t be the best idea. Simply point them to another tree – that old rugged one on Calvary. Then you can talk about the friend of sinners and how He went out on a limb to save the most unlikely and unlikable people.

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