A pastor phoned the home of some recent visitors to the church. A voice on the other end of the phone answered with a whispered “Hello.”
The pastor asked, “Who is this?.”
The whispered voice said, “Jimmy.”
The pastor asked, “How old are you, Jimmy?”
The voice said, “Four.”
The pastor then asked, “Jimmy, can I please speak to your mom?”
Jimmy answered, “She’s busy.”
“Then can I please speak to your dad?”
“He’s busy.”
“Are there any other adults in your home?”
“The police.”
“Then let me speak to one of the police officers.”
“They’re busy.”
“Jimmy, who else is there?”
“Well, can you put one of the firemen on the phone?”
“They’re busy.”
“Jimmy, what are they all busy doing?”
“They’re all busy looking for me!”
Just like Jimmy, a lot of people are hiding. They’re hiding from parents and police; they’re hiding from bosses and spouses; they’re hiding from teachers and coaches. And sometimes, maybe even most of the time, they’re hiding from God. But why do we hide in life, especially from God?
One of the major reasons we hide is because we’ve done something wrong. A few months ago, I was driving on a main thoroughfare not far from where I live when I got pulled over for speeding. As I waited for the officer to approach my car, I dutiful got out my license, registration and proof of insurance, but what I really wanted to do was floor the accelerator, get away and hide! I think my emotional response was pretty natural because that’s what human beings have been doing since the dawn of time, especially with God. We’ve been trying to get away — trying to hide from Him because we know that we’ve done something wrong.
In the Garden of Eden, everything was originally perfect, and Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. There was full knowing, full disclosure and complete intimacy. There was absolutely no concept of “Hiding”! But with the entrance of sin, that all changed. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, He came looking for them and called out to them: “Where are you?” And Adam whispered “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid, and so I hid.”
Sin and hiding are inseparable — they’re the fraternal twins of the Fall of humanity. That’s my story and that’s your story. At some point in life we’ve all run away from God and tried to hide from Him because we know that we’ve sinned. But God does not want us to continue hiding from Him because of our sin. Although we may be on the run He’s on the chase. And while we may be hiding He is seeking us out. One of the greatest examples of this in the entire Bible comes in the story of Jesus and His encounter with a fascinating little man named Zacchaeus in Luke 19.
I. Jesus has come to find us (Luke 19:1-5)
Luke tells us that as Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem He was passing through the city of Jericho. And as He does so, a very rich tax-collector who lived there named Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was (Luke 19:1-2).
Now working for the IRS may not be the most admired job in our society — especially at tax time — but in ancient Israel tax-collecting was the lowest rung on the occupational ladder. Tax-collectors were the scum of their society for two reasons. First, they worked for the occupying power of Rome and were, therefore, considered traitors to Israel. Second, they were almost always greedy and dishonest, men who economically raped their own people. The idea of a ‘good’ tax collector was something of an oxymoron, In fact, it was so rare that one Roman writer told of a town that encountered an honest tax-collector and erected a statute in his honor. Luke’s point is that Zacchaeus was a bad man and that local people hated and despised him.
We’re not told much more about him other than the fact that he was rich and that he was, from our perspective, vertically challenged. But when he hears that Jesus, who had a reputation for being friendly with tax-collectors, prostitutes and the other ragged and unruly elements of society, was coming through town he wants to see Him (Luke 19:3-4). So he tries but because he’s short — and I suspect also because of the hostility of the crowd towards him — he can’t, so he climbs a tree to see Jesus. And please note that Luke describes this as a sycamore fig tree. That is a very important little detail in this story. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible says this about the sycamore fig tree: “Because the branches of the sycamore-fig are strong and wide-spreading, and because it produces many lateral branches, it was an easy tree for Zacchaeus to climb, and in which he could easily be hidden.”1
He’s curious and wants to see who Jesus is but he doesn’t want Jesus to see him!
But then comes the surprise. Jesus walks down he street, looks up in the tree and says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because I’m coming over for lunch!” (Luke 19:5). Zacchaeus had been running but Jesus had chased him. Zacchaeus had been hiding but now Jesus found him. Jesus wasn’t so concerned with Zacchaeus’ occupation or reputation, but was deeply concerned for his salvation because He loved him.
In a marvelous book entitled Love Beyond Reason, John Ortberg tells the story of his sister Barbie, and her favorite doll, Pandy: “When Pandy was young and a looker, Barbie loved her. She loved her with a love that was too strong for Pandy’s own good. When Barbie went to bed at night, Pandy lay next to her. When Barbie had lunch, Pandy ate beside her at the table. When Barbie could get away with it, Pandy took a bath with her. Barbie’s love for that doll was, from Pandy’s point of view, pretty nearly a fatal attraction.
“By the time I knew Pandy, she was not a particularly attractive doll. In fact, to tell the truth she was a mess. She was no longer a very valuable doll; I’m not sure we could have given her away. But for reasons that no one could ever quite figure out, in the way that kids sometimes do, my sister Barbie loved that little rag doll still. She loved her as strongly in the days of Pandy’s raggedness as she ever had in her days of great beauty. Other dolls came and went. Pandy was family. Love Barbie, love her rag doll. It was a package deal.
“Once we took a vacation from our home in Rockford, Illinois, to Canada. We had returned almost all the way home when we realized at the Illinois border that Pandy had not come back with us. She had remained behind at the hotel in Canada. No other option was thinkable! My father turned the car around and we drove from Illinois all the way back to Canada. We were a devoted family. Not a particularly bright family, perhaps, but devoted.
“We rushed into the hotel and checked with the desk clerk in the lobby — no Pandy. We ran back up to our room — no Pandy. We ran downstairs and found the laundry room — Pandy was there, wrapped up in the sheets, about to be washed to death. The measure of my sister’s love for that doll was that she would travel all the way to a distant country to save her.”2
That’s exactly what Jesus did for us. He traveled all the way from that distant country called heaven to find us and save us from destruction. Perhaps, as some of us hear this story about Zacchaeus we realize that instead of him, we’re the one hiding up in that tree. But what we must also realize is that Jesus is seeking us out because He loves us! He wants to initiate a relationship with us or make our current relationship even more intimate. Therefore, we have to do the same thing that Zacchaeus did — quit hiding, come down out of the tree and let Jesus come into our lives.
Do you know why it’s absolutely crucial to quit hiding and invite Jesus over? It’s because He’s the only One Who can cure us of the cause of our hiding which is our sin!
II Jesus came to forgive us, to die for us and our sinfulness (Luke 19:6-7)
Zacchaeus hustles down out of that tree and receives Christ gladly but all the people grumble because Jesus has gone home with such a notorious sinner (Luke 19:6-7). That wasn’t news to Zacchaeus. He knew he was sinful, but I think he also knew, perhaps at some deep, intuitive level, that he had finally met the one person who could forgive his sinfulness and help him deal with all the brokenness that his sin had caused in his life and in the lives of others.
What was true for Zacchaeus is equally true for us. Our sin — every aspect of it and every sin we’ve ever committed — needs to be brought out of the tree of hiding and into the light of forgiveness. And the only One who can forgive our sin and heal us of our brokenness is Jesus. In fact, just a few short days after Jesus encountered Zacchaeus, He went to a hill called Calvary outside Jerusalem and there died on the cross for the sinfulness of Zacchaeus, the sinfulness of everyone in that crowd in Jericho and the sinfulness of you and me. And just a few years after that cosmic event, the apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans that ‘God demonstrated His love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’
I used to have a friend named Debbie Johnson. She was a bright and beautiful mom to two young kids and a great wife to her husband, Dave, who was a pastor in Denver. In late 1993, Dave and Debbie got a call to serve a church in Minnesota so they packed up their belongings and made the long trek in mid-winter to their new ministry and new home. About six months after they arrived, Debbie was diagnosed with cancer and less than a year later she died. But she didn’t have to die! They caught the cancer in time and with the proper treatment she could have been cured. But two months before she was diagnosed, she discovered that she was pregnant with their third child and in order for the child to live, she had to refuse the chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She struggled desperately over the next seven months and finally gave birth to that baby and then, not too long afterwards, she went to be with the Lord. But she died so that her child could live!
That’s exactly what Jesus did for us! He died so that we might live! Not only has He come to Find us but He also came to Forgive us! And there’s not a person alive who doesn’t need the saving, sacrificial, for-giving love of Jesus in their life. The reason why is because our sin gets us all tangled up. It binds us and holds us and eventually drags us down to destruction.
In Victor Hugo’s fascinating novel The Toilers of the Sea there’s an evil character named Claubert who wants to rob a shipload of passengers who are far out at sea. So, he runs the ship aground on a sandbar and then, pretending to be a hero, convinces all the people to disembark into life rafts while he stays behind to try to save the ship. But after everyone has left the ship, he goes into the stateroom, breaks into the safe and steals all the money, gold, and jewels which had been stored there for safe-keeping. He puts everything into a large pack which fits over his shoulders and then jumps overboard, planning to swim to a nearby island where ships come by regularly, thinking that he’ll eventually be rescued. But after he jumps into the ocean and hits the bottom, he pushes off towards the surface, only to be grabbed around the ankle by an icy tentacle. It’s the tentacle of an octopus and as he shakes free from one, another grabs him around the shoulder and then another around the waist and before he realizes it, he’s being dragged to the bottom where he drowns.
That’s exactly what sin does to us. It grabs us and binds us and drags us down and if it’s not dealt with, it can destroy us. And only Jesus can set us free from the powerful tentacles of sin! That’s what He did for Zacchaeus.
III. Jesus came to free us (Luke 19:8-10)
After having Jesus over to lunch, Zacchaeus makes this incredible claim — he’s going to give one-half of his possessions to me poor and if he has defrauded anyone, he’ll pay back 4 times as much (Luke 19:8). This was an incredibly generous act which was not required by the Old Testament law. So, why does he do this? Jesus’ response in Luke 19:9-10 provides the answer: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
Zacchaeus had been lost but now he was found. He had been in sin but now he has been saved. And ultimately, in its fullest sense, that’s what salvation is: it’s freedom from the power of sin. It appears that the major sin that Zacchaeus was trapped in was materialism. He was hiding in the pursuit of wealth, perhaps out of a legitimate desire for significance and security but it had so controlled his life that it caused him to hurt others and himself. But when he’s found by Jesus and knows that he’s been forgiven, he’s finally set free from of the power of Mammon in his life.
In his great novel The Robe, Lloyd Douglas uses the story of Zacchaeus to describe the liberating impact which Jesus makes on us. After Zacchaeus promises to give away all this money, Douglas has Jesus ask, “Zacchaeus, what led you to do that?” And Zacchaeus answered, “Master, when I looked into Your eyes, I saw mirrored there the Zacchaeus I was intended to be.” That’s exactly what salvation does for us: it sets us free to be the people whom God originally intended us to be.
Let me ask you: What are you hiding in today? What’s keeping you from becoming the person that God wants you to be?
Is it the pursuit of great amounts of money? Is it the pursuit of illicit sexuality? Or is it the pursuit of something far more “culturally respectable” – maybe achievements or accomplishments or higher education? Or maybe, just maybe, you’re stuck in guilt. Something went wrong in the past, you messed up, but you’re still there, unable to get free, and hiding from God and others.
There’s only one power in the universe that can liberate us from the power of sin and that’s Jesus of Nazareth. He has come to find us, to forgive us, and to free us, just like He did with Zacchaeus.
In the mid-nineteenth century, major portions of the United States were infected with slavery. The story is told that on one occasion when he heard about a slave auction nearby, a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln went to observe what transpired at those events. When he arrived, he saw black Americans chained like cattle, auctioned off to the highest bidder. Eventually, a young woman was brought to the block and the bidding started. Lincoln put in a bid which was countered by another. He bid higher and was countered again. Finally, he outbid all the others and the auctioneer proclaimed: “Sold!” Then the slave traders brought the young woman off the block and set her at Lincoln’s feet. He reached down, unlocked her chains and said, “Now you’re free.” She looked up at him with a quizzical look and asked, “What does it mean to be free?” And Lincoln responded, “It means that you can think anything you want, you can say anything you want, you can go wherever you want.” The reality of her newfound freedom began to sink in and, with tears streaming down her cheeks, she said, “Then I will go with you.”
That’s what Jesus wants to do with us. He has come to find us, to forgive us and to free us from the power of sin. Are we willing to let Him do that? And having let Him do that, are we then willing to go with Him wherever He wants us to go?
1 W. E. Shewell-Cooper, “Sycamore” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 5. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975), p. 549.
2 John Ortberg, Love Beyond Reason, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), p. 11-12.

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