Winter Came, and I Almost Missed It!

I already miss not blogging on a daily basis, but duty calls. Today would have featured glistening pics from the all-too-brief dusting we had this morning in south central PA. It was stunning, yet I almost missed it! I got up at 5:15 a.m. but didn’t discover until around 8:30 a.m. that it had snowed. So much for my powers of observation. By the time church was finished, we were just walking around outside in a slushy mess as the temperatures went above freezing and it started to drizzle. All the more reason to make it a hot chocolatey kind of night. 

Instead of pics, I’ll share a vivid piece I came across while studying for today’s message. It’s Frederick Buechner’s description of Zacchaeus and his encounter with Jesus. It was originally published in his Peculiar Treasures, the second book of his popular lexical trilogy, where he profiles more than 125 of the Bible’s most holy and profane people—and one whale. It contains lively and witty prose, and the other volumes are going on my wish list pronto!


ZACCHAEUS APPEARS JUST once in the New Testament, and his story is brief (Luke 19:1-10). It is also one of the few places in the Gospels where we’re given any visual detail. Maybe that is part of what makes it stand out. 

We’re told that Zacchaeus was a runt, for one thing. That is why when Jesus was reported to be en route into Jericho and the crowds gathered to see what they could see, Zacchaeus had to climb a tree to get a look himself. Luke says the tree he climbed was a sycamore tree. 

We’re also told that Zacchaeus was a crook—a Jewish legman for the Roman IRS who, following the practice of the day, raked in as much more than the going tax as he could get and pocketed the difference. When people saw Zacchaeus oiling down the street, they crossed to the other side.  

The story goes like this. The sawed-off shyster is perched in the sycamore tree. Jesus opens his mouth to speak. All Jericho hugs itself in anticipation of hearing him give the man Holy Hell. Woe unto you! Repent! Wise up! is the least of what they expect. What Jesus says is, “Come down on the double. I’m staying at your house.” The mob points out that the man he’s talking to is a public disaster. Jesus’ silence is deafening. 

It is not reported how Zacchaeus got out of the sycamore, but the chances are good that he fell out in pure astonishment. He said, “I’m giving everything back. In spades.” Maybe he even meant it. Jesus said, “Three cheers for the Irish!”

The unflagging lunacy of God. The unending seaminess of man. The meeting between them that is always a matter of life or death and usually both. The story of Zacchaeus is the Gospel in sycamore. It is the best and oldest joke in the world. 


Buechner’s description reminded me of a bit from George Target, as quoted in And Jesus Will Be Born. It highlights the ridiculousness of the “mutterers” in Luke 19:7—those religious up-tights who were against all the right things, but you somehow knew they were missing out on the abundant life that Jesus had promised.


They don’t smoke, but neither do they breathe fresh air very deeply;
They don’t drink wine, but neither do they enjoy lemonade;
They don’t swear, but neither do they glory in any magnificent words, neither poetry nor prayer.
They don’t gamble, but neither do they take much chance on God.
They don’t look at women and girls with lust in their hearts, but neither do they roll breathless with love and laughter, naked under the sun of high summer.
It’s all rather pale and round-shouldered, the great Prince lying in prison.


Jesus was the key to Zacchaeus’ prison door, but he wasn’t the only person in Luke 19 who needed to be sprung from his cell.

Be blessed in the beauty that is winter!

Image Credit: pixels.com.

Radiate, Part 1: The Priority of One (Luke 19:1-10)

If you knew you had only two weeks to live, what would you do? Where would you go? How would you spend your time? With whom would you spend it? What would be the final experience you give yourself before exiting this life and entering the next? Most people (believers included) would spin out scenarios that focus on their own interests, desires, or pleasures. It’s a natural and understandable impulse. By the time Jesus encounters Zacchaeus in Luke 19, he has less than two weeks to live before dying on the cross, and he knows it. But what do we see him doing? We see him focusing his time on “the priority of one.” And the one that Jesus focuses on is the chief tax collector of Jericho! No one was more despised or vilified than the wealthy Zacchaeus. Matthew was a garden variety tax collector, but Zacchaeus was his boss. He cheated the cheaters! 

So, this famous story isn’t just about a mafia thug, it’s about a mafia don—the godfather of the first century. In fact, the rabbis in that day said, “A tax collector could never be saved. It would take a lifetime of lifetimes for him to repent of all his sins.” Jesus didn’t agree with them on that point, so he invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house, causing everybody to “mutter” (Luke 19:7). But it was an encounter that changed Zacchaeus’ life. Indeed, Zacchaeus received Jesus into his home, and somewhere during the visit, he received Jesus into his heart, too. The story is rich with insights about: (1) the gospel message (i.e., how the lost can be found); and (2) the gospel mission (i.e., how the found can impact the lost). It’s a story that teaches not only that God can save anybody, but also that God—and the godly—are on the lookout for the lost.

Quite significantly, in the previous chapter, a rich young ruler comes to Jesus, wanting to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. The man doesn’t like Jesus’ answer, so he goes away dejected. His wealth had become an idol to him, and Jesus tells him to smash his idol and follow him. The man won’t do it. So, Jesus declares as the man is walking away, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). But those who heard him say it asked, “Who then can be saved?” (Luke 18:26). Hear the panic in their question! The rich young ruler was a man of status and wealth, so he was assumed by most people to have been unusually blessed by God. If he can’t be saved, then who can be? The shocking truth is that Zacchaeus can be saved. In fact, Zacchaeus is the camel that Jesus got through the eye of the needle! “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). Listeners are therefore challenged at the beginning of this new year to pray:

Lord, lay some soul upon my heart,
And love that soul through me;
And may I bravely do my part
To win that soul for Thee.

Sermon Resources

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.