I See You
I SEE YOU
By Mark E. Hardgrove, Ph.D.
Text: Luke 19:1-27
19:1 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house." 6 So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. 7 But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, "He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner."
8 Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold."
9 And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
Have you ever felt, invisible? When I was a kid I always fantasized about being invisible. Oh what fun I would have if I could go anywhere and do anything and nobody could see me. But the truth is that when you feel as though nobody sees you, nobody acknowledges you, or looks you in the eye, it isn't fun at all. There are people in this world who feel invisible. It's not that people can't see them, of course they can literally see them, but what is worse than people not being about to see you, is when people refuse to see you, when they act like you don't exist, or you don't matter.
You may be asking what any of this has to do with this text, but as I was praying and meditating on this text this week, something finally jumped out at me and grabbed my heart. God seemed to impress on me that there are people in our community, perhaps even in this church, who feel like Zacchaeus probably felt, who feel like they're invisible, like no one sees them.
The person in the nursing home with no family to visit them, the senior adult widow or widower with children living out of town, the middle child in a family, the child in school who is not athletic, or academic, or popular. There people who feel as though no one sees them, no one acknowledges them, people who feel as if they died tomorrow, no one would know, and no one would care, and that is a very bleak place to be.
Look at the text with me today and if that's the way you feel, I want you leave here today, knowing that Jesus sees you, He knows your name, and He wants to have a meaningful spiritual relationship with you.
I) THE LITTLE MAN
The account begins with a brief introduction to man named Zacchaeus. What does the text tell us about this man? Look at verses 2 and 3. The text tells us three important things about Zacchaeus. First, we are told that he was "a chief tax collector." Second, we are told that he was rich. And last, we are told that he was a short man. By today's standards, he must have been very short. That average height of a man in Jesus' day was about 5 foot 6 inches, so for Zacchaeus to be so short that he could not see Jesus through the crowd, may mean that he was less than 5 feet tall. For the Bible to note that he was small, so small that he had to climb a tree to even get a glimpse of Jesus, this man was really small.
All three of these things are important. First, as a tax collector, indeed, as the "chief tax collector," Zacchaeus would have been a man despised by how own people. He was a Jewish man collecting taxes for Rome, the very nation that was occupying the sacred land of Israel. In the eyes of the Jews, a Jewish tax collector was the worst kind of human being. He was betraying his own people by helping and serving their enemy.
As a tax collector Zacchaeus was the kind of person that people didn't make eye contact with. No one wanted to talk to him or nod their head to him when walking down the street. Most people would probably pass him by and act like he didn't even exist. In fact he probably had very few friends, except perhaps for other tax collectors. He was marginalized by the Jewish community in which he lived. He was despised for his occupation, and viewed by everyone as a sinner for his cooperation with the Romans. How much were tax collectors hated? Jesus words in Matthew chapter 18, verses 15 through 17 give us some insight. Talking to his disciples, Jesus said:
Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
How did they treat the heathen and the tax collector? They didn't talk to them. They avoided them. They didn't eat with them. They isolated them and left them on the margins of society. So for Jesus to use a tax collector in the same breath as a heathen as an example of how to treat someone who will not hear the church, that tells you where Zacchaeus was in the social order of the day.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector and he was rich. Most people probably assumed that he was rich because he cheated the people when he assessed their taxes, they were probably right. Remember what John the Baptist said to the tax collectors when they came to be baptized? He said, "Bring forth fruit, meet for repentance," to which the tax collectors responded, "What shall we do?" John said in Luke chapter 3, verse 13: "Collect no more than what is appointed for you."
For John to say this suggests that tax collectors were notorious for taking more than they were supposed to. Tax collectors were getting rich by cheating the system at the expense of their fellow Jews and John said to stop it. So for Zacchaeus to be a rich tax collector suggests that like other tax collectors, he was taking more in taxes than he was supposed to and pocketing the difference, which is yet another reason for people to despise the man and to treat him as though he did not exist.
Finally, Zacchaeus was a short man (probably a very short man) and most likely he had spent his entire life, up to this point, being overlooked and ignored. In fact, Zacchaeus may have developed a Napoleonic complex-also known as short man's syndrome. Sometimes people who are short, or who feel inferior to others, will overcompensate by being louder, striving to be better than others, or trying (as Zacchaeus did) to gain power over others. The reason they do this is because they feel invisible and so they do whatever they can to be noticed, to get someone, anyone, to see them. So, Zacchaeus was dealing with a lot of issues in his own hometown, among his own people.
II) THE BIG DAY
One day Zacchaeus heard that a man named Jesus was coming through his town. We don't know how much Zacchaeus knew about Jesus at this point, but Jesus was everything that Zacchaeus was not. Jesus was at least of average height, if not a bit taller than the average man. Jesus was not rich-Jesus Himself said that that He didn't have anywhere to lay His head, which means that Jesus did not own houses or land. But most of all, Jesus was popular. People loved to be around Him, loved to hear Him teach, wanted to touch Him. To the degree that Zacchaeus was unpopular and people avoided him, Jesus was popular and everyone wanted to see and touch him.
Also, because Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, it may have come to his attention that one of Jesus' disciples, Matthew by name, was chosen by Jesus to be part of His team. In fact, in Matthew's Gospel, when Matthew lists the names of the Twelve Apostles, he refers to himself as "Matthew the tax collector" (Matt. 10:3). Matthew never forgot where he was and what he was when Jesus found Him, and put His arms around him, and made him one of His own disciples, and one of the Twelve. It is unlikely that Matthew ever went back to that life. In Luke's Gospel, Matthew is referred to by the name Levi, and Luke writes in Luke 5:27-28
After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, "Follow Me." So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.
Matthew left that life, but he never forgot the rock from which he was hewn or the hole from which he was dug (Isa. 51:1). Sometimes people act like they've always been an angel; like they didn't do anything to cause God to give His only begotten Son, but Matthew never forgot. And it is very likely that Zacchaeus, the invisible man, had heard that his fellow tax collector who now a disciple of Jesus.
Zacchaeus probably heard that Jesus was performing miracles. He probably heard the stories of deliverance and healing, and so on, but as I read this and thought about the social and cultural context of this story, I get the feeling that Zacchaeus wanted to see someone who could take a nobody and make somebody out of him. He wanted to see this man named Jesus who could love the unlovable, who would call as His own disciple someone that everyone else despised and rejected.
May I suggest that this is still the reason that some people find their way to a church door? The people that come in and we avoid making eye contact with. The people that talk too much, and talk too loud, and they don't act right, and they make us uncomfortable-could it be that they came because someone, somewhere, told them that down at the Conyers Church of God they could meet a man named Jesus who says, "Come just as you are. You don't have to be big, or rich, or popular, or smart, or educated, 0or good looking, or athletic, for me to love you. I love you because you are you."
III) THE BIG MOMENT
Zacchaeus could not see Jesus because of the crowd. Sometimes the crowds are just following for the fishes and loaves and all they're doing is keeping people who really need a touch, from getting to Jesus. But like the woman with the issue of blood, Zacchaus was determined. He would not be denied. So he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed up in a tree so that when Jesus passed by, he would at least get one good look at the man who could love a tax collector. He probably didn't expect anything more than to get a look. He certainly didn't expect that Jesus would see him. But look at verse 5, "And when Jesus 'came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.'"
There are two important things to pay attention to here. First, we are told that Jesus saw Zacchaeus. Friend, you are not invisible to Jesus. You may feel invisible in your school, or at work, or even in your own home, but Jesus sees you. You may feel invisible, but you're not. He sees you.
A story that always touches me is when Hagar ran out into the wilderness in a desperate effort to get away from the harsh treatment of Sarah. Hagar was just a slave girl who was told to give herself to her master so that he could have a child. Then after she has his child, her mistress gets jealous and treats her so badly until Hagar feels that her only option is to run away. So she runs out alone into the desert with little hope of survival. She is alone, pregnant, afraid, and wondering what to do next, when the angel of the Lord shows up :
9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." 10 The angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count."
11 The angel of the LORD also said to her:
"You are now with child
and you will have a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the LORD has heard of your misery.
After the angel finished blessing her, the Bible says:
13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me." 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered. (NIV)
When I read that it touched me. She said, "You are the God who sees me." Friends, He is the God who sees you. You're not invisible to Him. His eye is on the sparrow, so I know He watches me. He said the very hairs on your head are numbered.
Second, notice that Jesus called Zacchaeus by name. Not only does He see you, He knows your name. In fact He knows all about you. He created you and took the time to make you uniquely you. There is no one else in the world just like you and He even identified you with a thumbprint that no one else in the world shares.
I love the song written by Tommy Walker that says:
He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
And hears me when I call
He sees you and He knows you. Can you imagine how it must have felt for Zacchaeus, first for Jesus to make eye contact with him, but then to call him by name was incredible. But wait, there're more. Jesus called him by name and said, "Hurry on down, because I'm coming to your house for dinner tonight!"
David, in the Old Testament was on the run from King Saul, who was trying to kill David. David had just been a shepherd for his father, but one day God called him out ahead of his brother and anointed him to be king over Israel. Well obviously the current king didn't take kindly to that and for several years he hunted David trying to kill him. During that time David ran and hid in caves, and no doubt he wondered what he ever did to be in this position. He was away from his family and forced to stay away from his wife Michal, and his best friend Jonathan, and there must have been times when David felt like no one knew who he was or where he was.
Sometimes David wrote Psalms in which he expresses the thought that God was afar off. He wrote in Psalm 10:1, "Why standest thou afar off , O LORD? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?" Have you ever felt like that? But then David wrote Psalm 139. In this Psalm David reaffirms that God knows where he is. God knows what's going on. God knows how he feels. God has not deserted Him. God will not leave Him. God is still there.
1 O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
2 You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
3 You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
5 You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me,
"Even the night shall be light about me;
12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother's womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
Can you imagine how it must have felt for Zacchaeus, first for Jesus to make eye contact with him, but then to call him by name was incredible. But wait, there're more. Jesus called him by name and said, "Hurry on down, because I'm coming to your house for dinner tonight!" Wow! Not only did Jesus see him, and call him by name, but now Jesus was willing to go to the house of this tax collector and break bread with him. Jesus sees you, He knows your name, and He stands at the door and knocks, and if we will open the door, He will come in and break bread with us, which means we can have spiritual fellowship with Jesus. Look at what Zaccaeus did.
6 So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. 7 But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, "He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner."
The religious folk standing around didn't like this. But Jesus did what He did, because He came looking for people just like Zacchaeus, invisible people, lost people. After this encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus was a changed man. He said:
8 "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold."
That Jesus recognized that Zaccheus was a changed man is evident from what Jesus says in verses 9 and 10:
9 And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
We use the word lost to refer to lost in sin, and that's a good term. Some people feel lost, invisible, unseen, and alone, but Jesus comes to the lost and says, "I see you, I know your name, and I want to come into your heart and be your guest."
My grandmother was always looking for something. She hid things from her grandkids and then couldn't find them. When something is lost, you don't see it, it is out of sight. My grandmother was always going through the house with her hands stretched out in front of her praying, "Lord, I don't know where it is, but you do. Help me put my hands on it." More often then not, she would find what she was looking for and begin to praise God.
When I stand before a congregation, I don't know who is lost. I sometimes have an idea, but sometimes people come regularly, sit on the pews, and look as saved as a savings bond, but God sees the heart. He see you where you are and He knows what is going on in your heart. So each Sunday, I'm like my grandmother with my hands out praying, "Lord, I don't know where they are, but you do. Help me to touch someone this week with your Word and lead them to Calvary."