This past Saturday I ran a Spartan race.
Spartan races vary in length and the number of obstacles you must complete. There are four different types of Spartan races: sprint, super, beast and ultra-beast. The race I participated in was a Spartan Sprint. It was 4.4 miles in thick, deep mud, with 23 obstacles to complete. The mud was an added bonus from the flooding rains that took place over most of Texas the week before the race.
It was awful. I have never in my almost 40 years been as dirty as I was after this race. My hair, caked with mud, may never be the same. The clothes I wore still have a sandy hue after washing them twice. Not to mention the fact that I had to vacuum out my washing machine afterwards. The shoes I wore were beyond saving and had to be tossed.
As I ran the race with one of my closest friends I constantly reminded her, “This is my last Spartan race. No more.” But as we finished the race and jumped over the grand finale of obstacles, a burning fire pit, there was an exhilaration that, I’m not going to lie, makes me want to sign up for the next race.
I have scraps, bruises, sore muscles and ruined clothes from the race, but there is something about running around like a ninny – and yes, I am sure I looked more like a ninny than a beast – that made this aging woman feel childlike. And I loved it.
Paul references persevering in the race of life and completing the race with our eye on the prize: eternity. Many people use Paul’s race references in sermons and devotionals, but recently I read Luke’s account of Zacchaeus. Something about Zacchaeus’ story stood out to me that I had never taken into account before, probably because I had just ran in an obstacle race. Many have heard of Zacchaeus. He was short and had to climb a tree to get a good look at Jesus. There’s a song about him that many of us sang as children in Sunday school. If you know the song you are singing it in your head right now. I’m singing it too!
Zacchaeus was a wee little man – who had a very meaningful childlike experience: he climbed a tree.
The second verse of Luke 19 gives us some background information on Zacchaeus that doesn’t always jump off the page when we read it, but back in Jesus’ day anyone who read, heard or witnessed this account knew a lot about Zacchaeus.
“He was a chief tax collector and was wealthy” (Luke 19:2b).
Chief tax collectors were horrible people. In fact, in Matthew 21:32 Jesus placed tax collectors in the same category as prostitutes. Not only was Zacchaeus a tax collector, but he was a “chief” tax collector which meant he was a high ranking tax collector. He was wealthy. Tax collectors often added a personal commission to the taxes they collected for their own financial gain. And he was short. He could have possibly had short man complex, also known as Napoleon complex. Both of these are informal terms that describe those, mostly men, who have a tendency to overcompensate by being overly-aggressive and seeking power to make up for their lack of height.
So picture a short, wealthy, disliked by many, man running through the dusty streets of Jericho and climbing a tree like a child. Not a very dignified image if you ask me.
Why would Zacchaeus, a wealthy chief tax collector, act so undignified in public? Verse 3 paints a beautiful picture for us,
“He wanted to see who Jesus was.”
Zacchaeus heard what was being said about this man named Jesus. Rumor had it Jesus was performing miracles and healing people everywhere He went. Some said Jesus told His disciples, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17). He had told a rich ruler to follow Him. To sell everything he had and give it to the poor so he would receive treasure in heaven (Luke 18:22). Jesus had also told the crowd “What is impossible with men is possible with God (Luke 18:27). And Jesus had told a story about a tax collector who prayed in the temple and left justified by God (Luke 18:10-14). A tax collector.
Who was this man named Jesus? Zacchaeus had to know. He had to get a good look at him. So all of his prestige, his title, his wealth, everything went out the window as Zacchaeus took off, like a child, running through the streets ahead of the crowd. Throwing caution to the wind and attempting whatever obstacle was ahead of him so that he could see this man Jesus face to face. And like a child, he climbed up in a sycamore tree. In that tree Zacchaeus’ life changed.
He probably thought, with a crowd surrounding Jesus, he would go unnoticed. But Jesus had this way, and He still does, of finding the most unlikely in a crowd and calling them by name. “Zacchaeaus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today (Luke 19:5b).
Zacchaeus welcomed Him gladly. He instantly welcomed Jesus to his home with joy. He didn’t make excuses like most of us would have. “My house is a good distance from here. I haven’t swept the dirt off my floors in days. My cupboards are bare. There’s nothing to eat at my house.”
Zacchaeus is known for several things, but making excuses isn’t one of them.
His life change happened so fast when he saw Jesus face to face that without being asked or prompted Zacchaeus announced he was giving half of his possessions to the poor and paying back four times the amount he had cheated anyone in the past (Luke 19:8). Jesus didn’t tell him he had to. He didn’t have to. Jesus came to seek and save what was lost. Zacchaeus was lost before his tree climbing adventure. Then he got a good look at Jesus, welcomed Him gladly, and just like that he was a changed man. The old was gone.
Zacchaeus took the fast track when it came to life change. For some of us it’s not that easy. After meeting Jesus face to face we can make excuses all day every day for days until we forget what Jesus looked like.
When I met Jesus, truly met Him face to face, I didn’t climb a tree. I knelt beside my bed. Like a child, on my knees, with puddles of tears flooding the carpet, Jesus called my name. He didn’t tell me to stop making excuses. He didn’t have to. I knew then and there my life was never going to be the same. I still looked the same, still had the same occupation, lived at the same address, but the old me was gone. Like Zacchaeus, I welcomed Jesus gladly, and took the fast track when it came to life change.
An encounter with Jesus brings change.
It’s almost been ten years for me. A decade. I have not done everything perfectly. Daily I still make a mess of things, but in ten years I have never wanted to go back to my old way of life.
So what about you? What excuses have you been making? Where were you when you first saw Jesus face to face?
Comment below, I would love to hear your story.