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Truth in Palmyra

By Wally Fry

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Bible

Zacchaeus-The Wee Little Man Revisited.

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Luke 19:3

And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.

Zacchaeus was little of stature. In our kid’s song from earlier, he was a wee little man. Other Bible translations refer to him as short.

Was there significance to the fact that Zacchaeus was short, or was this simply a literary description of him? I really had never thought about the issue at all. Given Luke’s status as a historian, I just thought of it as a descriptive thing. The short guy, the big guy, the skinny guy, and so on. As happens sometimes, however, readers have made me think. Here are some comments:

Tom

“Wally, it’s amazing that wee Zacchaeus didn’t develop a “Little Caesar” complex. Hmmm. Or did he?”

Anita

“I can’t help but wonder if the detail that he was a “wee little man” is significant…as if it is part of his identity or something? Little Man Syndrome? lol Just a guess!” Any thoughts?

Isn’t that interesting? It made me think for sure, so let’s just poke around a bit shall we? Did the fact that Zacchaeus was short mean anything besides that he was short? I really don’t know, but something interesting did come to mind. Feel free later to add any thoughts you might have.

It was pointed out by Anita that, as far as she knew, we never got such a specific physical description of anyone Jesus interacted with. I really couldn’t find such either. There were sick people, disabled people, and other things; but never really just what a person looked like.

One other case in the Bible where a person’s physical characteristics were clearly described, and seemingly described as part of their character follows here:

1 Samuel 9:2

And he had a son, whose name was Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.

Saul: Handsome, tall, and outstanding in every respect. From an important family from the Tribe of Benjamin. But all accounts, the future King Saul was a “good” man.

Fascinating, really.

A good man, picked by a rebellious people to be their king. God never wanted that; he wanted to be their King. The people picked a good man, a fine physical specimen; the people applied their own standards of “good,” and “not good,” to determine who would lead them.

Everybody remember how that all worked out? Like the people who picked him Saul decided he knew better than God, rebelled, and was rejected by God. His walk of faith ended in a shambles and in tatters.

Good man, bad man. Does that sound familiar? Tall man, short man.

Anyway, let’s get back to Zacchaeus. Did Zacchaeus being short affect who he is? Probably, yes. Then, as now, for a man to be significantly smaller than his peers can influence how one looks at life. As Tom said, did he want to be a “Little Caesar?” Could that have driven his career choice? Who knows, right?

What does all this have to do with anything? I am going to step out on a limb here. Saul, and the rich young ruler were both good, acceptable, important men. Both rejected God. Our tax collector was a bad man, accepted by nobody.

God accepted him; God loves and accepts all. Good, bad, tall, or short. God is no respecter of persons.

God extends his arms to us all, and the only thing questionable is how we will respond.

Zacchaeus -Jesus Meets a Rich Young Ruler.

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Before we really dig much more into our actual story here of Zacchaeus, we are going to briefly discuss some of the background of the story. We are also going to go backwards to another story.

Jesus, at some point  before his encounter with Zacchaeus, had begun his final journey to Jerusalem. He, of course, knew why he was going there. It was on this final journey that Jesus began to attempt to teach his disciples about what was to happen to Him while He was there for the final time.

If readers are interested in the actual geography of this final journey, a really good map is included below.

Some of the events which occurred previously in the journey are key to later events, so let’s recap them really quickly if we may. Our actual story has it’s roots in the events recounted in the ending section of Luke Chapter 9, when the Samaritans refused to receive Jesus, and he and His entourage then turned East, left Galilee, and began the southward trip to Jerusalem. Here we see in

Matthew 19:1

And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan;

It was while Jesus was in that area beyond the Jordan, that he had the encounter that provides such critical background to our actual story of Zacchaeus, and that is His encounter with the rich young ruler.

For today’s post, I am simply going to include both accounts from Scripture, for reading and study. Just read…think. I hope some things about these two stories will jump right out as quite evident. If not, don’t worry, because we will go there next.

Luke 18:18-26

And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.

Luke 19:1-10

And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of little stature.And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Here we have two stories, clearly linked by time and geography. We have two very different men. We have to very different results. Just a casual look at the ending of each of these stories might seem ….odd.

The rich young ruler, the “good” man, went away sad

Zacchaeus, the “bad” man, rejoiced.

Isn’t that interesting?

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Zacchaeus-Zacch the Weasel

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Luke 19:2

And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.

So, who was this man Zacchaus, really? Was he the wee little, warm fuzzy fellow we saw from the children’s song in the previous post? Well, it seems fairly certain that that depiction does not really capture the essence of just who Zacchaeus really was. Not only that, but understanding some about who he was, and what his nature likely was, does a great deal to help us understand what was really happening in this passage.

To help us understand a bit about Zacchaeus, it helps to understand a some about exactly how he earned his living. Zacchaeus was a publican. As I try to describe this, I am piecing it together from various things I read, so I may not get all the particulars exactly correct, but the point will be made.

The Romans were quite efficient in their rule of the areas which they had conquered an place under their rule; one way they often did this was to utilize the indigenous peoples of an are to basically rule and administrate on behalf of them, under their authority of course. In this case, Publicans would have been Jews appointed by the Roman to fulfill certain roles. Often Publicans would oversee certain types of public works projects, such as various infrastructure projects. One very important role, especially in the days of Jesus, was the role of tax collector for the Roman Empire.

Tax collection then was different than what we think of now. The Romans didn’t establish tax levies and then wait expectantly for those who owed to file tax returns. What we see is what I have seen referred to as “tax farming.” The Romans would establish a certain level of income they expected from a particular area, and solicit bids from certain men, those interested in being tax collectors. Upon acceptance of a bid, the bidder would prepay the agreed upon income to the Romans, and then the “fun” would begin.

If any collector retained failed to collect his already paid levy to the government, he went broke. If he only collected what was required, he simply broke even. I hope we can see here, how this all shapes up now. The Romans did not care how much a publican collected from the ones who paid; they only cared about their predetermined levy. How did publicans make money? Obviously by collecting above and beyond the required levy. Zacchaeus would have been no more then the Jewish Mafia of the day. Protection rackets are NOT a recent development!

Maybe I read too much into the nature of this man, but I really don’t think so. I think understanding just who he was will help us to better understand later events as we move through this passage.

So, who was he? Zacchaeus was likely are hard, tough, ruthless man with no qualms concerning what he had to do or say to accomplish his goals. He must have been very good at what he did, as he was the “chief.” He certainly did not rise to the top of the particular heap by being a nice guy. Publicans in general were hated by fellow Jews, as they were considered traitorous lackeys of the Romans, on an equal level with prostitutes. It seem likely Zacchaeus didn’t care even a little about all of that.

So, rather than a happy, wee little fellow, what me most likely see here is a man who was selfish, greedy, ruthless, and only out for himself.

Why does this matter? Stay tune to find out!

Zacchaeus-The Wee Little Man?

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Let’s be honest here; what do we think of when we think of the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus? I can’t speak for everybody, but I suspect I speak for many when I say that the first thing that comes to mind when Zacchaeus is mentioned is the kid’s song most people have heard for years. Many have grown up hearing this catchy little ditty on Zacchaeus, the “Wee Little Man.”

 

The Zacchaeus Song

Zaccheus was a wee, little man

And a wee, little man was he

He climbed up in a sycamore tree

For the Lord he wanted to see

 

And as the Savior came that way

He looked up in the tree

And he said,

“Zaccheus, you come down from there”

For I’m going to your house today

For I’m going to your house today

We do that song with cool hand gestures and little moves that are pretty catchy to be honest, and kids really seem to love this song.

So, what do we end up with here? We have a cute little song about a cute, wee little fellow scampering up a tree and sitting in the branches to see Jesus.

Is that the real Zacchaeus? Is there more to the story than just a happy little guy having lunch with Jesus? Well, of course there is, and we are going to take a look at all of that as we move along.

Next: Who was Zacchaeus really?

Zacchaeus-An Introduction

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We have concluded our study of the Book of James, and now it is time to move onward.

A while back, the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector, as related in Luke 19:1-10 was the subject of our Evening Sunday School lesson at church, and I was honored with the chance to teach it. Honestly I had not really given much thought to the entire narrative, even though I had read it a lot of times. What I found was that this story has much more depth to it than we sometimes give it. Unfortunately, we have less than a half hour for our Sunday evening Bible lesson, and I didn’t get to cover it like I would have preferred.

So, for the next little bit, we are going to take up this story and poke around it a little bit and see what we can glean from this story in God’s Word.

Luke 19:1-10

And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich . And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

That’s all for today. Homework. Read our passage, and pray and meditate on it. Tomorrow we will begin unpacking it and exploring.

Faith In Action-Righteous Prayers

faith in action

James 5:15-20

And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.


Read all of James Chapter 5 here

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Here things seemingly get complicated. What does sin, faith, and Elijah all have to do with any of this? Well, here go my thoughts for what they are worth.

Why are they praying about this man’s sin? Maybe he is sick because he sinned. I don’t know. Even if this man’s sin had not made him sick, we all know one important thing: sin is an impediment to our prayers to God. Even if our malady is not caused by sin, it is simply a good practice to seek forgiveness for our sins before talking to God. Even though we may be forgiven the penalty for our sin, the presence of unresolved sins in our lives still hinders our fellowship with God.

It is important that we pray with the full faith that God will, in fact, answer our prayer. If we pray without granting God ultimate power to accomplish anything He wants to, we should not expect answers.

We have to pray in God’ will. This may be an illustration again of the presence of the Elders in the life of this ailing person. How do we learn God’s will? A knowledge of God’s will is a learned thing. We come to understand it through prayer, study, and meditation. Certainly a case could be made that the prayers of the Elders, while not necessarily more effective than the prayers of other believers, might be grounded in a better understanding of what God’s will might be in a situation.

If there was ever a many tuned into the will of God, Elijah would have been one. I can only imagine this great man of God, praying for the rain with great faith and great understanding of what God was trying to accomplish. Elijah prayed that a drought be ended and the rains given, and it happened! Clearly, Elijah was both fervent and effectual in his prayer, and his prayer was answered.


Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

Finally, James closes his Epistle in a way we would certainly expect. The entire theme of James’ writing has been about the demonstration of true, saving faith. James has attempted to teach us that while what we do never saves us, what we do certainly provides the evidence and reality of our salvation. Who is the warning in the last few verses intended for? Given the overall tone of James’ writing, I think this is a warning to those who may be backsliding into a life of sin. He has spent an entire book warning what true faith looks like, so this seems to fit.

We certainly have a responsibility to an erring brother or sister, and it may be as important as our responsibility to win the lost.

Blessings and hope that you have enjoyed our trip through the Book of James.

Faith In Action-Who’s Doing the Healing? And What’s With the Oil?

faith in action

James 5:14-16

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.


Read all of James Chapter 5 here

Given the likely timing of this Epistle, it is very possible that the gifts of healing were still widespread and common at the time of its writing. That would make it possible that the Elders were to be called for the simple reason that they had been gifted with special powers to heal on The Lord’s behalf. Given that the sign gifts were primarily designed to establish the authority of the representatives of Jesus on the Earth and not simply for the sheer sake of healing itself, I don’t see that to be the case here; however, I certainly don’t dismiss it either.

Let is have a look at some issues and questions. Is this person sick because they don’t have enough faith for their prayers to have an effect? I would disagree totally with that and further say the telling anyone they are not healed because of their lack of faith is quite damaging. Is the healing discussed because of the extraordinary faith of the elders? I say no on that one as well.

We discussed earlier the fact that God has never stopped being God. He can do anything, at anytime, and that would include things which might be considered miracles to us. But the key point is: Who did it? Well, God of course. That has always been the case, and is the case even if He uses a representative to do it. It has always been, and always will be, God doing the healing and not man.

So, what is with the oil anyway? Some things to quickly note here. The anointing is being done in the ailing person’s home, and not with the congregation. So James is not trying to teach us that anointing with oil is some rite or ritual we are to practice. Really, its seems far simpler than all of that. Applying oil to the sick was simply part of what was, at the time, modern medical treatment. It is more or less what we should do today if we are sick: see a doctor and pray for God to heal!

Thoughts anyone?

Faith In Action-Sick? Call for Help

faith in action

James 5:14

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:


Read all of James Chapter 5 here

Have you ever noticed that your pastor is a very busy man? Most are. Have you ever seen or heard a situation where a person got their feelings hurt because they felt ignored when a need presented itself?

We don’t necessarily see just why the person in this passage is sick. As with most of this passage, there is more than substantial discussion about it. He may be simply sick. It may be that the trials and persecutions discussed previously have worn the person down to the point that they have become sick. They may even be sick as a result of sin.

They whys of the sickness don’t really matter as much as the reaction. Note here one very important thought, and the answer to this question: Who called for the elders? Correct, the person suffering the illness called. Why does that matter?

It matters because our Pastors, Elders/Deacons, cannot be all places at all times, nor are they all knowing. We certainly bear some responsibility to communicate our needs to our brothers and sisters in Christ. What a shame to be suffering from some great need and it not be met simply because nobody knew

Additionally, look at the reaction once a summons is made. The elders come; they respond to this expressed need. People gather to meet the need once it has been expressed.

This may not be the primary point of this passage, but it is certainly one we can make. We are to be there for each other. We should communicate our needs to those who can help us. If we are not the suffering ones, we should pray for, assist, and uplift those among us who are in need, whether physical or emotional.

Faith In Action-Ups and Downs

faith in action

James 5:13

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.


Read all of James Chapter 5 here

During most of James Chapter 5 we have been dealing with some issues involving how we deal with and react in particular situations. We have discussed how we react to being rich and how we react to being poor. We have discussed reaction in terms of patience when confronted with the various trials and tribulations we may face to include interpersonal conflicts.

Even though there is some discussion about illness, faith, anointing and prayer in the section that follows I have, after substantial study and reflection, come to the opinion that this section is probably not about healing per se, but guidance on practical ways to deal with the issues of life. I am not saying healing does not occur, just that I don’t think that is what is being covered here as the main point. Overall, I think this fits with the practical nature of James’ Epistle.

Actually, the word affliction as used here has nothing to do with physical sickness at all, but more along the lines of. “suffering in difficult circumstances, ” or “in trouble.”  This ties our verse in quite nicely with the passages before and in my thoughts, ties it in with the ones to follow as well.

This seems to be a clear lesson. God wants to communicate with us; specifically,  He wants us to communicate with Him! Life will have its ups and downs; sometimes things will go our way, and sometimes we will be troubled, or afflicted. When we are in trouble God wants us to turn to Him in prayer. When life is great, God wants us to thank Him for it.

Do we do that? Is God our first resort when things head in a direction we don’t like or is He our last resort after we have exhausted all or our human resources? When life is great, who gets the credit? Do we pat ourselves in the back for a job well done or do we thank the true source of our many blessings?

David Jeremiah captures the essence of this well by saying, “We have a God for all seasons “(from What To Do When You Don’t Know What to Do) He then goes on to quote the following from his own readings (from Alec Motyer, The Message of James.)

“Both in periods of suffering and trouble, and in times of joy, prayer and praise alike acknowledge that He is sufficient. To pray to Him is to acknowledge His sovereign power in appointing our circumstances. Whether as the source of supply in need, or the source of gladness or our joy, God is our sufficiency.”

And finally, the chorus from a favorite song of mine really captures the essence very well. From the song, God On the Mountain.

For the God on the mountain, is the God in the valley.
When things go wrong, He’ll make them right.
And the God of the good times
is still God in the bad times.
The God of the day is still God in the night.

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