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Climb That Tree
by Michael Wogoman
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Climb That Tree

Luke 19:1-10

(v1) And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.
(v2) And, behold, there was a man named Zaccheus, which was the chief among the
publicans, and he was rich.
(v3) And he sought to see Jesus Who He was, and could not for the press, for he was little
of stature.
(v4) And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was to pass
that way.
(v5) And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up, and saw him, and said unto Him,
Zaccheus, make haste, and come down, for today I must abide at thy house.
(v6) And he made haste, and came down, and received Him joyfully.
(v7) And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a
man that is a sinner.
(v8) And Zaccheus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give
to the poor, and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him
(v9) And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, for so much as he also is a son of Abraham.
(v10)For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

We are told in verse 4 that Zaccheus climbed a sycamore tree, in order that he might get a view of Jesus. It is interesting, to say the least, that a rich man, especially one who was despised, would humble and debase himself to the point of ridicule to climb a tree. He could have hired a kid to do it for him. Or he could have muttered to himself, “Forget it, I’ll just go home. It’s not worth my time or trouble.” The fact this man was willing to climb that tree and the results that followed bring home a powerful point, and here it is:

If You Want To Meet Jesus At Your Point Of Need, You’ve Got To Climb Your Own Tree

In other words, you’ve got to seek the Lord, and you’ve got to exercise your own faith. You can’t expect other people to do your praying for you, while you hardly pray yourself. It’s going to take effort on your part. No, I am not talking about doing it in your own strength. But it is going to require laying down some things like pride, self will, your own agenda, and so forth. I don’t think Zaccheus climbed that tree like a monkey. I also don’t believe that a Divine wind blew him up that tree and placed him on the limb where he needed to be. I’m going to go out on a limb- figuratively speaking- and say that he probably broke a sweat. He may have broken many a sweat that day, especially if he was out of shape- like most of us. The thought of climbing a tree, any tree, does not set well with me. If Jesus were to walk down the main street of my town, and I was not able to see Him, would I be willing to climb the nearest tree? I would rather sit on someone’s shoulders, all 6'4" and 270+ pounds of me. Hold still, Mom, Jesus is getting closer. Quit complaining, you’re causing a scene. You carried me for nine months, you ought to be able to carry me on your shoulders for a few minutes.

Zaccheus did not have any shoulders to sit on because nobody liked him. So try to picture him climbing that tree. Picture him as he reaches upward to that lowest limb. Picture him as he uses his muscles, muscles that may not have been used in a long time, to pull himself up. Picture him as he tries to get a foothold on the tree. Picture him as beads of sweat form on his face. Picture him as he positions himself on the limb, inching himself forward ever so precariously. Picture the blisters forming on his hands, hands that were only used to holding large sacks of silver. Picture his nice expensive robe being torn. Try to imagine the thoughts that may have raced across his mind. Is this worth it? I’ll bet people are looking and laughing at me. I’ll never make it, it’s too hard. What was I thinking?

Despite the odds against him, what kept Zaccheus going? Why would he risk ridicule, humiliation, blood, sweat, and splinters? It was because he wanted to see Jesus. His desire to see the Lord was what motivated him to climb that tree. It motivated him to shake off any complacency and any attitude that would suggest, “I wish I could see Jesus, but I guess it’s not for me.” It motivated him to physically exert himself. It motivated him to be laughed at on his way to accomplishing that goal. And in the end he found that it was well worth it. “Zaccheus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

Are we motivated to see Jesus? Not just when we get to Heaven, although this is something we all should strive for, but are we motivated to do our part in order to meet Jesus at our point of need? Are we motivated to do some climbing, if necessary? Just as Zaccheus had to stretch to reach that lowest limb, are we willing, or motivated to stretch our faith to grab hold of His promises? At some point, while he was climbing that tree, Zaccheus had to realize that he could not let go, or he would fall. With that in mind, are we clinging to Christ? Are we saying with our attitudes, our actions, our faith, “Lord, You’re all I’ve got to hold onto. Your Word is all I have to keep me from falling. Your cross is all I want” ?

Friend, are you willing to do some climbing? Are you willing to climb from the bottom of discouragement? Are you willing to climb upward from hopelessness? Are you willing to stretch your faith? Are you willing to let your “religious clothes”get torn? What are “religious clothes”? Religious clothes are what characterizes you on the outward. It is how you want people to see you in their minds- always in a positive way. You see, we wear clothing for different reasons. One reason is to protect ourselves from the elements- wind, rain, freezing temperatures, and so forth. Another reason is to cover ourselves, to hide a scar or wound. We also dress to impress; we want people to have a favorable opinion of our clothing style. And we dress to attract. Men dress to attract women, and women dress to attract men.

We wear religious clothing for much the same reasons. I am not speaking of the nice set of clothing we wear on Sunday mornings. I am speaking of the image with which we try to project ourselves to others. We are either trying to protect ourselves from being hurt; or we are trying to cover up old wounds; or we are trying to impress others and draw attention to the incredible amount of faith we seem to have (we know how to use all the right words). For example, a man with a bravado attitude uses that as a buffer against rejection and humiliation. It seems that nothing bothers him. He is actually wearing religious clothing. At home, out of sight of everyone, he sits alone, lonely and confused, hoping that someone will pick up the phone and give him a call. A lady who always acts happy and carefree is trying to hide a lifetime of hurts. That is religious clothing. A young married couple attends church regularly. At every service he manages to slip his arm around his wife while they listen to the sermon. Often they hear compliments such as, “You two make a lovely couple.” But what the people don’t know, and what the young couple is trying to hide is that there are serious problems at home. We’re talking about religious clothing.

These examples are not meant to denigrate anybody. Each one of us has been guilty of wearing religious clothes at times. At church we put our best foot forward. We don’t like to expose our vulnerability. We know how to interject a hearty “Amen!” or “Hallelujah!” while we are miserable inside. We can sing with the rest of the congregation, “I’m So Glad I’m A Part Of The Family Of God” while being jealous of that brother or sister who is being blessed. We can excuse ourselves and pull our clothing around us tighter. “That’s just the way I am.” But if you’re going to climb, you might tear your clothes. Your vulnerability might show through. People might realize that you actually don’t have it all together. Some of your family or friends might think that you’re going a little too far. “It’s OK if you want to go to church, but once a week is enough. What’s the idea of going to the Bible studies and prayer meetings?”

I think that Peter is a good example of someone whose religious clothes were torn. When he began to sink in the Sea of Galilee, it didn’t concern him that he was a man that had faith. He didn’t consider himself the most spiritual disciple at that moment. I think some fear was showing through his clothes. “Lord, save me!” Wait a minute, Peter, don’t lose control. Have you forgotten that the other disciples are in the ship watching you? What might his response have been? I don’t care what they think! I need Jesus or I’m going to drown! I seriously doubt that of all the thoughts that may have bombarded his mind at that horrific moment, Gee, I wonder if my hands are folded reverently enough was among them.

If his religious clothes were torn that day, they were certainly ripped to shreds on that night he discovered he could not stand for Jesus. Earlier he had stood with his thumbs in his spiritual lapels and announced, “Lord, even if all men deny You, I’ll stand with You, even if it means death.” Instead he found himself broken, weeping bitterly because he had failed in that in which he had boasted he would do.

Do I downgrade Peter? Not at all; I’ve been where Peter was. “Did you hear what so-and-so did ? I would never do that.” While there are sins and crimes that are especially heinous, we must always guard against having a judgmental, self righteous attitude.

Did Zaccheus worry about dirtying or tearing his clothes? Personally, I don’t think so. I would not be surprised if the very first thing he did was to “gird up his loins”. If there was a long distance to run, the runner would tuck his robe between his legs and then tighten it around his waist like a belt. This would enable his legs to have free mobility. I think the same would be true for climbing a tree.

Zaccheus wanted to see Jesus, but there were at least four things he was not expecting. Considering that there may have been other trees in the vicinity, 1.) He did not expect Jesus to stop at his tree, but He did. We are told that Zaccheus climbed a sycamore tree, not the sycamore tree. Of all the trees Jesus could have stopped at, He stopped at the one Zaccheus climbed. Coincidence? There are a lot of things that happen in our lives that seem like coincidence, but are actually the hand of a Sovereign, loving Heavenly Father. The Bible says that Jesus came to “the place”. As far as Zaccheus was concerned, it was just “a tree”, but as far as Jesus was concerned it was “the place.” Never confuse “a tree” with “the place”. Never underestimate the places God will lead you on your journey of destiny. You may think of your employment as simply “a job”. But to the Lord it might be “the place” where He wants to use you to minister to others, or teach you to love people with His kind of love. When they crucified Christ, to them it was just “a tree” to nail Him upon. But in the Father’s order, it was “the place” of eternal redemption for all who will believe in Jesus’ sacrifice as the only cure for sin.

Considering the people Jesus may have already met and ministered to on His way through Jericho, 2.) Zaccheus did not expect Him to know him by name, but He did. In Bible times names meant something. Your name not only identified you, it also defined you. “Is not he rightly named Jacob? For he hath supplanted me these two times?” (Genesis 27:35) The name Jacob meant “supplanter” or “deceiver”. “Thou shalt call His Name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) So what does the name Zaccheus mean? Believe it or not, it comes from a Hebrew word which means “pure”. Taken further, it means, “to be transparent or clean” [Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; Hebrew #2140, #2141] Zaccheus pure? Transparent? Clean? The tax collector who swindled people? It can be safely said that he was not living up to his name. So when Jesus called to him, who was He referring to? I know this sounds like a dumb question, of course He was calling to Zaccheus- the only Zaccheus sitting up in a tree. To better rephrase the question, which Zaccheus was He calling to? Was He calling to the swindler/tax collector? Or was He calling to the one whose name meant “transparent and clean”?

Now we would say, “Of course He was calling to the crooked tax collector.” But let me remind you that Jesus does not see others the same way we do. He does not see us the same way we see ourselves. We see ourselves the way we are, flawed, imperfect, in need of repair. Or we see ourselves through vaunted eyes. We see others often with a biased eye, especially when their reputation precedes them. But whether it’s us or others, Jesus always sees the finished product. He sees a person that He shed His blood for and died and rose again to redeem from everlasting destruction. He sees a person that He has purchased for Himself. In other words, His view of us is not limited to what we are or where we are at this moment. (Now be sure if there is anything to be corrected, He will not hesitate to point it out. He is not overlooking where we are now.) He sees the end product, what He created us to be. Yes, he saw Jacob, the deceiver and manipulator. But He also looked ahead and saw Israel, the mighty prince.

Therefore, in the case of Zaccheus, He saw the crooked tax collector. But I also believe that He looked beyond that and saw the Zaccheus He created him to be, transparent and clean. And Zaccheus proved this when he later told Jesus, “Lord, I’ll give half of my money to the poor, and if I have defrauded anybody by any means, I will restore that person fourfold.” That’s being transparent and clean.

So if you are climbing your tree, don’t be surprised if He calls you by name. And don’t worry, He is looking ahead to the finished product, and not just seeing the work in progress.

Considering the places Jesus could have gone, 3.) Zaccheus did not expect Him to go to his house, but He did. It was not that Jesus just happened to stop at that sycamore tree, and just happened to look up, and by a stretch of coincidence just happened to call out the right name. It was all in Divine order, not an order that simply makes the best out of an awkward situation. But it was an order firmly set in place even before the worlds were created. Remember that Jesus came to the place. What Zaccheus did not know was that he was merely keeping an appointment made eons before.

As you climb your tree, remember that Almighty God has already made the appointment to meet you. He has already designated “the place”. It could be the place of repentance. It could be the place of humility. It could be the place of broken-ness. It could be the place of tears. Whatever or wherever the place, it will be where God wants to meet you. It won’t be of your choosing. But it will be there where He will meet you at your point of need. And it will be there where He will show Himself strong on your behalf.

Considering all the results that could have happened when Zaccheus met Jesus, 4.) He did not expect salvation to come to his household, but it did. I don’t believe that while he was making his way up that tree Zaccheus was saying to himself, “If I could just make it up this tree to see Jesus, He will see me, come to my house, and everybody in my household will get saved.” I doubt that he was even thinking of his own spiritual well-being. His motive was simply to see Jesus.

As for ourselves, we have all been guilty of trying to manipulate our unsaved loved ones to the altar. We have used all manner of methods, from preaching at them their damnable, worldly ways, to making sure our Gospel music was playing louder when they were around, to putting Scripture verses in their lunch for work, those verses that pertained to Salvation and Hell and getting right with God before it was too late. Now I am not disparaging the sincerity of these efforts, and others like them. But did we forget about walking in love, having a meek and quiet spirit, and just simply living a godly life before them? What Zaccheus did- and he didn’t realize it- was to demonstrate that if we will seek for Jesus with all our hearts, He in turn will take care of our families, providing them with what we in and of ourselves could never provide; namely, a one-on-one relationship with God; forgiveness of sins; peace of heart and mind; freedom from sin and its tyranny; and health and healing for the body.

And so all these things that Zaccheus did not expect reveals another powerful point that deserves mentioning:

If We Will Put Forth The Effort To Climb Our Tree, Not Only Will Jesus Do What We Expect Him To, He Will Also Do What We Are Not Expecting.

He is a God of surprises. We look for Him to answer our prayers through the front door, but instead He comes through the back door, or through a window, or down the chimney.

We have talked much about Zaccheus, and now I would like to turn a corner and focus for a little while on the tree itself. There are some facts about this tree that I hope you will find interesting.

First of all, it had to be the right type of tree, to accommodate this little man. It could not be too high to climb, like a palm tree. It could not be too small, like a sapling. It could not be covered with thorns, or poison ivy, or poison oak, or poison sumac. It could not be a tree made hollow by rot and disease, with limbs that might break under his weight.

Let me ask you, are you climbing the right kind of tree? I’m not talking about the trees growing in your backyard. Have you invested all your faith and hope in the Cross of Christ? In the Finished Work He did there? Or have you been trying to climb that “palm tree” of lofty ideals and good intentions? You know that you’ll never get there, yet every time you fall down, you get back up and try again. A good sentiment, maybe, but how many times will you have to fall out of that tree before you come to your senses? Are you trying to climb the “sapling” of your plans for your life? God created you for great and good things, and the weight of your potential will never be held by your own agenda. Have you been snared by the thorns and poison of sin, with no hope of ever being free? Listen, my friend, the Man called Jesus was wounded for your transgressions; He was bruised for your iniquities. He paid the price for sin with His own blood. He became your Substitute and thereby forever guaranteed that salvation- deliverance for the total man, spirit, soul. mind, and body- would be available to you, regardless of your race or station in life. All you have to do is place your faith in the Atoning Work Christ has done on your behalf.

Secondly, this tree had to be in the right place, where Jesus was to pass by. What good would it have done if that tree were one-hundred yards away?

Friend, is your heart in the right place? You’re not going to see Jesus if your heart is still in the world. Is your faith in the right place? If your faith is in yourself you will be “far off” when Jesus passes by. And it is not up to Him to travel down your pathway; you need to get over to His.

Thirdly, it was a common, ordinary tree. Perhaps Zaccheus had passed by it every day and never gave it a second thought. Because our human minds are finite, we think that, in order for the Lord to perform a miracle on our behalf, He must use miraculous ways and methods. Yet the Scriptures are loaded with events where the opposite was the case. When the advancing Egyptian army was closing in on the Israelites, God did not defeat them with thunderings and lightning bolts thrown from above; He did it with a common, ordinary shepherd’s staff. When a giant threatened and intimidated, and took the morale out of an entire group of fighting men, God did not use another giant to defeat him, but a common, ordinary shepherd boy with a common, ordinary stone. When mankind was under the grip and the dominion of sin, God did not set him free with armies and guns and tanks and battalions, but He started with a common, ordinary Baby, born in a common, ordinary manger. I say a common, ordinary Baby, not to belittle Who He was, God incarnate, born of a virgin, but only to show that God’s ways are truly higher than our ways. In our human minds we would think, “How can a baby save humanity?”

Fourthly, this tree did not magically grow out of the ground as Zaccheus was frantically searching for a way to see Jesus. The seed had been planted many years before. It began as a sapling and had to endure storms and heat just like any other sapling. Someone took care to water it, fertilize around it, weed it, and prune it. At exactly the time when it was needed, it was there, strong and sturdy enough for a man to climb on.

Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, are you planting seeds of faith, hope, and love in your youngsters? Are you instilling those values that will benefit them as they grow up? The ability to make the right choices in life will not magically appear, just like that tree did not magically appear for Zaccheus. That ability comes as we are rooted and grounded in Christ. Parents and grandparents, are you living Jesus before your young people? Do they know you to be people of faith and prayer? Are you people of integrity? Can you honestly say that you would be pleased and proud for your young people to follow your example? Are you talking about Jesus to them? If so, what are you telling them? Are you telling them that He loves them so much He went to the Cross and died for them, shedding His blood, and rose from the dead on the third day? Are you telling them that He is the best Friend a boy or girl could ever have? Are you telling them that He cares and cries along with them when they scrape their knee? When other kids laugh at them? When they have a hard test at school? When they find their first pimple? Or when Mommy and Daddy don’t love each other anymore, and they think it’s their fault? What are you teaching them about Jesus? Do you tell them that the days of miracles have long since passed away, that if you want to succeed you must look to yourself, and just do the best you can do?

Yes there is much to glean from this simple tree. But there is an even greater message that I believe the Lord has shown me about this. I see mankind, too small to “see” God, too small to reach out and touch Him. When I say “small”, I’m not speaking of physical height or lack thereof. I’m speaking of mankind shortened and stymied by sin. And because of the sin problem all he can see is his own wretchedness and evil, his total unworthiness to even have a glimmer of hope of ever becoming right with the Creator of the Universe. Man tried all he knew how to do. He tried keeping the commandments, but found that, although he excelled in one area, he was sadly wanting in other areas, thus making him a failure of the total package. He tried being a good humanitarian, but found out that his good deeds were not good enough to heal the void in his soul. He even tried living for himself, indulging in unhealthy and ungodly pleasures. But when things could not get any more hopeless, there was a tree provided and mankind was told, “If, by faith, you will climb this tree, you will be able to see God, and your life will be forever changed.”

That tree, of course, is the Cross of Christ. There was no hope for mankind prior to the Cross. Mankind was totally unable and inept to make himself right with God, just as Zaccheus was unable to see Jesus on his own. The message of the Cross was preached by men of God like Isaiah, who foresaw the Suffering Servant, by Whose bloody stripes we would be healed. And when I speak of “climbing” the Cross, I’m not speaking of having one hand on the Cross and another hand on our good efforts. I’m speaking of wrapping our faith totally in what Christ did there on our behalf.

Before I go any further, I see a parallel between Zaccheus’ tree and Jesus Himself that I would like to share. I believe the Holy Spirit has opened to me some nuggets of truth. Shortly before, I made the observation that this tree did not just magically appear out of the ground, but was planted just like any other tree, and had to weather all the obstacles that any tree would encounter. The Bible says of Him, For He shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground (Isaiah 53:2a). [He] was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15b). Jesus endured all the stuff that everyday life brings, and it was heaped on Him even more. The one exception-and this is huge-was that He never sinned.

Someone can remark, “Yes, but He was not born with the sin germ.” This is true, but bear in mind that when He was tempted (and He was tempted more often than just the 40 days on the mountain), the devil was not tempting God Incarnate, the Word made flesh, he was tempting Jesus the Man, the One Who hungered and thirsted, and got angry, and got tired. If He had given in to Satan one iota, He would not have been able to offer Himself on the Cross as the spotless Lamb. It would have been just like you or I hanging on the cross- one sinner dying for the rest of the sinners. But He lived a sinless life while here on earth and was able to offer Himself up as the Perfect Sacrifice.

I spoke of Zaccheus’ tree as being there at just the right time, sturdy and strong enough to hold his weight.. The Bible tells us in Galatians 4:4, But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law. The Old Testament saints had looked forward to a coming Redeemer; the prophets had prophesied of His coming. At just the right time in history He was born of a virgin, and because He lived a sinless life, He was able to bear the weight of sin upon Himself

Well, there it is. A little man- little in stature as well as in the estimation of the townspeople- climbed an ordinary tree so that he could get a better glimpse of the Carpenter passing his way. And yet the results were extraordinary and far exceeded this little man’s expectations. Sinner friend, do you want to see this Man? If so, wrap your faith totally in what He has done for you on the Cross. Stop looking to yourself, your good deeds to make you right with God. Child of God, do you want to see Him at your point of need? If so, wrap your faith totally in what He has done for you on the Cross. Stop looking to yourself, your good deeds to make you more right with God.

So start climbing this Tree. The Lord Jesus Christ has made the appointment to meet you there. Don’t miss Him.

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