Now what about Zacchaeus the tax collector? He would have been viewed by most Jews as a big traitor who had sold out to Rome and was busy grinding the very life out of the people of God. Tax collectors were fiercely hated, yet, when we read in Luke 19:1ff, we find that Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. It is sheer speculation as to why he wanted to see the Christ, but we do know that Zacchaeus was motivated to the extent that he went and climbed up a tree in order to wait for the Lord to come further along the path He was traveling.
Had I been the one who came to that scene instead of Jesus, I might have looked up, seen him, and thought to myself, "There's that rich crook. Oh, this is the opportunity I've been waiting for. I'll just turn around and make a little speech right here under this tree and act like I don't see him. I'll say, 'Now brothers and sisters, before I go back to Jerusalem there's one final word I want to leave with you. I want to talk with you about these rich, greedy, covetous, money-grabbing traitors who have sold out to Rome and how they are going to burn in hell.'" Now friends, admittedly, I'm exaggerating, but have I and others done things like this? That is not the way Jesus handled it. Jesus saw him up there in the tree and essentially said, "Zacchaeus, come down and let's get together for lunch." Jesus treated the lost as friends so He could influence them for good and lead them out of their sins. Is that how you treat lost people?
Jesus' approach sure worked better than preaching a sermon against tax collectors. Zacchaeus turned from his sinful ways and promised to do better. Jesus said in Luke 19:9 - "Today salvation has come to this house..." Jesus treated Zacchaeus as a friend, not as someone He had to rebuke or condemn. And that brings me to the second major point:
2. WHEN JESUS DEALT WITH PEOPLE, HE GENERALLY DID NOT TELL THEM HOW BAD THEY WERE.
Instead, He told them what they could become! I don't want to overlook the fact that Jesus really went after the religious leaders because of their hypocrisy (e.g., Matt. 23). But, there was a big difference between the self-righteous Pharisees (who often kept people from having a proper relationship with God) and a "sinner" who was broken in sin with a wrecked life and a cognizance that they need something better. Jesus did not spend time trying to tell these people how terrible and dreadful they were. Rather, he told them what they could become.
For example, in Matthew 4, Jesus addressed the men who would become His apostles. These men had lived pretty rough lives. I suspect that commercial fishermen were not known as being outstanding religious people and sensitive spiritual leaders in that day. So, Jesus spoke to these men who are not on "the inside," not among the rabbis and the scribes, and said:"Listen, you bunch of rascals! I want to tell you how bad you are." No! That is not what He said. He told them what they could become - "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men" (Matt. 4:19).
Have you heard of the Pygmalion effect? We've written about it before in our archives (cf. 10/28/05). Often, the expectations we communicate to others will strongly affect their behavior. If we genuinely have high expectations for someone and communicate those expectations to them, they are not as likely to let us down. If we have very poor expectations for someone and communicate such to them, they aren't likely to go above and beyond what we expect. The Pygmalion effect is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy; what we expect of others, whether much or little, is generally what we get. It's not an absolute rule, but it is generally true--even spiritually. If we think that a certain sinner cannot change or has no potential for the Lord, then we'll communicate that to them (whether we realize it or not), and chances are they won't change or show much promise for the Lord! Jesus didn't tell those fisherman who would soon become His apostles how bad some of them were. What He did do was articulate high expectations for them and then He helped equip them to achieve such. Friends, that's what we need to do today.
We'll continue this study in our next lesson.