be just like Zacchaeus!
Love for God is central to the identity of what it means to be a Christian. In Deuteronomy the followers of God proclaimed regularly a part of scripture called the Shema. It comes from Deuteronomy 6.4-9: ———————— 4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. ———————— The name for this important piece of scripture is called the Shema. The word shema is a Hebrew word which means, ‘hear.’ Shema, Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad. Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. It was a proclamation of truth so that everyone could hear it, so that they could remember what was true about God. Back in those days, people didn’t write things down. Rather, they relied on verbal communication and storytelling. The Shema was scripture to God’s people. If we look deeper at the Shema we see what sort of things were most important to God. First, that God is the only God. He is sovereign, and in control. Shortly after that is an equally important command – love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength. Our love for God is first among priorities in our lives. We are called to love God. That is what we are commissioned as Christians to do in the world. Through our commissioning to love God, the second commandment will follow. We will love our neighbors, because our love for God cannot stay in our hearts. It will spill over into our actions, words and deeds. Thus, we love our neighbors with our actions, words and deeds. What comes first is our love for God. If loving God is the single most important command in scripture, how do we do it? In today’s devotion I’d like to uncover a simple story from the Gospel of Luke to see how we can love God in every single thing we do. It’s the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19.1-10: ———————— 19 Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. 2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. 3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” 6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. 7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. 8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” 9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” ———————— Zacchaeus a tax collector, which in that time meant he would take money for the government, but then skim some off the top for himself. By any cultural definition, he was a man who was far from God. But there was one thing different about Zacchaeus. He loved God and he wanted to get close to him. He knew there was something more to this world than the money and status he had accumulated. So when Jesus came to town, he knew this was his chance. Climbing on a sycamore tree, Jesus calls him down and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house. I think we can learn something from Zacchaeus’ story today about what it means to love God. Zacchaeus has the desire to demonstrate love to God in such a way that his monetary wealth doesn’t keep him from Jesus. In fact, the opposite. Zacchaeus says to Jesus that he will give back half of his possessions and repay four times as much to those he has taken from. What we can learn from Zacchaeus is that loving God requires obedience. We must be willing to give up those things which are keeping us from following God. Friends, this does not just mean our possessions. It means everything. The Bible says not to cheat, so stop cheating. It says not to gossip, so don’t gossip. It says not to lie, so don’t lie. When we give our first and our best, we put God first. We put down our disobedience not because of obligation, but because we love God. Obedience is a natural expression that flows out of our love for God. In other words, because we love God we no longer desire to follow those things that are sinful. Instead, we set our eyes on Jesus as he perfects our faith and makes us more and more obedient. Maybe we feel a bit like we are the lost today. Maybe we feel like we haven’t really been showing any love to God. There’s good news for us. Remember that Zacchaeus’ story starts when he steps out and climbs that sycamore tree just to glimpse at Jesus. He had a past, and probably not a good one. That didn’t matter. Jesus isn’t concerned with the things of the past. He’s concerned with the things of the heart. Do you desire to love God? It’s as simple as Zacchaeus’ decision that he wasn’t going to hold back. He was going to lay everything before Jesus in obedience.