Just over ten years ago I preached my very first message at a small church in my hometown. Boy was that a disaster! I was so green...literally. Not only was I a complete novice (and still consider myself to be one) but I was also wearing a green shirt with a green tie. I looked like a red-headed Kermit the Frog. Nervous, shaking, sweaty hands, and full of personal doubt I staggered my way through the message I had prepared. My text which I preached from was out of Luke 19:1-10 and dealt with Jesus' encounter with a man named Zacchaeus.
In the passage we find out some interesting things about Zacchaeus and his reputation among the people. He was a tax collector working for the Roman empire who were helping fund their government affairs by placing heavy taxes on controlled nations and regions. The Jewish people at that time were extremely opposed to this form of exploitation because they felt forced to support a secular government which worshiped pagan gods. Any Jew who chose to work for the Romans were considered traitors and of all occupations, tax collectors were hated most severely because it was common knowledge they gouged their own people to stuff their greedy pockets. Undoubtedly a dishonest and dirty tactic by Zacchaeus and others in his line of work.
The beginning of the story always stands out to me because as much as we see the sinful acts of Zacchaeus we also see his apparent desire to hear and meet Jesus. He was captivated by our Lord to the point he was willing to make a special attempt to see Jesus. The Bible tells us Zacchaeus climbed up a tree in order to get a better look, but also to avoid the crowd around Jesus. This tells us a lot about this short, insecure, and curious man. You see, we all have a little bit of Zacchaeus in us because much like this tax collector we too make excuses as to why we won't pursue Christ with full faith.
The thing about excuses is that they paralyze us spiritually. They keep us locked in a certain position and drive our desire for Jesus into a stationary position. Zacchaeus had no intention of coming down from that tree because his excuses were keeping him from genuinely following Christ. His excuses are all too common and ones we all face. They are the excuses of culture, insecurities, and past sins. We fight against them, try to distance ourselves from them, and do our best to block them out of our minds but they are tactics the enemy uses to blind us to the Truth and keep us from Jesus.
Zacchaeus used the excuse of culture to let the crowd's stereotype of him keep him from being among the people gathered around Jesus. We do the same when we let others dictate our pursuit of Jesus because we're afraid not of the open arms of Christ, but the opinions and perceptions of our peers. Too often the assumed behavior or speech of others manipulates our relationship with the Savior and it does nothing more than make the devil happy and our soul depleted.
Zacchaeus' second excuse came in the form of his insecurities. The Bible points out the detail of Zacchaeus' height, or more accurately the lack thereof. Obviously this played such an important role in his life he felt inadequate and insecure. Zacchaeus knew he couldn't see over the others in the crowd to get a glimpse of Jesus so he climbed up a tree for a better view. Instead of pressing through the multitude he chooses to let his height dictate his nearness to Christ. Sadly, many still feel the same inadequate emotions Zacchaeus did and choose to let their insecurities dominate their relationship with Jesus. They lean on this excuse as a crutch instead of understanding the unconditional love of the Lord. Far too often we cave in to the excuse of personal insecurities and bow down to a shallow, superficial encounter with the King of Kings.
The third and final excuse we see Zacchaeus use is his past sins. There's no more overwhelming excuse than seeing our existence as nothing more than an accumulation of all our sins. Yes, conviction of sin is a necessity for understanding the Gospel and seeing our need for a Savior, but continually living in the shadow of our sin is not living in the freedom and liberty of the salvation Jesus offers. No one knows us as well as Christ and yet, He calls us to come to Him with all of our sin and offers grace and mercy in return. Zacchaeus' climb up the tree is symbolic of the fact he saw himself separate from Jesus (which he certainly was), but we also see the love of God as Christ calls Zacchaeus down from the tree and desires to commune with him in his own home. Only Jesus would break the barriers of past sin and begin a relationship with Zacchaeus, leading to this greedy tax collector's complete turn around and conversion. What a beautiful picture of the Gospel message and the power of the grace of God for all those who place excuses on their lack of faith in Christ.
What excuses are you using? What keeps you from a deeper, more devout relationship with our Savior? Trust me, it's imperative we not only count the cost of following Jesus, but we must equally count the cost of NOT following Him as well. What a tragedy to forfeit communion with Christ because of petty, unrealistic excuses. Let's not allow that to be the epitaph of our spiritual lives and instead climb down out of the tree of excuses and make Jesus our heart's one and only desire.