Let’s face it. There are a lot of folks around who have made it big financially. According to Forbes.com, in 2005 there were 691 billionaires on planet Earth, with a collective worth of more than $2 trillion. Just so you’ll know: none of them is a member of our church!
As of last year, Bill Gates, at age 49 (that’s my age, by the way), had a net worth of 46.5 billion dollars, making him the richest person on Earth. Gates is not a Christian. Closer to home, Ted Turner’s net worth is 2 billion dollars, ranking him 321st among billionaires in the world. Because of the way Turner degrades the Christian Faith it’s hard to deem him a believer – even if he did underwrite the movie Gods and Generals.
Think about the Top 100 Celebrities. During one recent year, Brittany Spears, the teen queen musician, was ranked number one. She earned 39.2 million dollars. Madonna, another music woman, was number four. She earned 43 million dollars. Jennifer Anniston, star of Friends, was number 28 and made $24 million. Howard Stern, the radio host whose vulgarity is beyond vulgar, was number 45 and made 31 million dollars — and that was before his huge deal with Sirus radio. And number 100 was Ben Curtis. You remember Ben don’t you? He’s the guy that says, “Hey dude you’re getting a Dell.” A student at New York University, he made half a million dollars doing those Dell Computer commercials.
Supposedly these people have made it. Practically all of them have websites and have appeared on the cover of major magazines. They have wealth. They have power. They have influence. They have everything there is to have, it would seem. While they seemingly have made it, are we sure they have what it takes to really make it?
With some celebrities it’s clear there is no relationship with Jesus, and with many others we really don’t know if they have an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ, do we? Often there just doesn’t seem to be much evidence of a relationship with Christ.
Many of them do good things, certainly. I know that Bill and Melinda Gates do a lot of good things regarding health issues in third world countries – especially battling the AIDS epidemic in Africa through their foundation. They probably fund a lot more good things than many Christians. But simply because they are doing those good things, it doesn’t mean they are followers of Jesus Christ.
All of these names are representative of countless persons who’ve made it. Maybe in your life, you know some people who have made it — maybe not in the Bill Gates league, but they are successful, affluent, financially secure. How do you witness to people like that? How does anybody move beyond the hesitancy to speak a word about Jesus Christ with the rich and famous — with those who’ve made it?
Like with every other situation, this is not a new problem. Go all the way back to Jesus’ ministry and you’ll observe that He dealt with people who had made it. One in particular was a guy named Zacchaeus. His story is told here inLuke 19:1-10.
Most of us are familiar with this story, having learned it in Sunday School when we were but children. Remember the little ditty we sang?
Zacchaeus was a wee little man; a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree,
For the Lord he wanted to see, for the Lord he wanted to see.
And Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, come down!
For I’m going to your house today. For I’m going to your house today.”
Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and passed through the city of Jericho. It was, and still is, a resort town located slightly to the northwest of the Dead Sea, a few miles west of the Jordan River, and about 20 miles east of Jerusalem. It served as the winter capital for King Herod. A very important city, Jericho was the gateway for Judea’s eastern trade. It was also the hub of an extraordinarily bountiful agricultural region, well-known for its palm and balsam groves. All of this imparted plentiful opportunities for whomever the “chief tax collector” was to enrich himself.
Enter a “wee little man” who lived there. Zacchaeus, whose name meant the “righteous one” or “pure one,” wasn’t so righteous and pure. He had sold out to the Romans by becoming a tax collector – tax collecting being the most despised profession of the day, making tax collectors the most unloved people. And Zacchaeus was that “chief tax collector,” supervising the other IRS agents in the district. And he certainly enriched himself as the text indicates. In all likelihood he owned the finest home in the city.
Here’s a guy in the first century who had made it. He had money, position, and power. He might have been included in Herod’s list of “The 400 Richest and Most Influential People in Judea.” So why was this not so righteous and not so pure one up in a tree? I realize those who’ve made it can do whatever they want to do – even be weird if they so choose. If you don’t believe that then watch the Academy Awards on March 5.
It’s obvious in reading this text that Zacchaeus was shut out and lonely. Being a short fellow, he had to climb up in a tree to see anything of significance – especially a parade. Like everybody else, he had heard of Jesus and certainly he wanted to see Him. But why? Why would a guy who’s made it – Luke emphatically points out that he “was rich” (Luke 19:2) – want to see Jesus, a guy who hadn’t made it in the eyes of the world? Maybe Zacchaeus was up in that tree so he could glance at salvation because he knew deep down that he was going through life with nothing – absolutely nothing. He knew that even though he had made it, he really hadn’t made it.
One of the things you and I are to remember when it comes to moving beyond the hesitancy to witness is that everybody is human. Everybody is alike. Bill Gates gets the flu just like you and I. Brittany Spears probably gets cold sores or fever blisters on her lower lip or a big zit on her nose just like most people do from time to time. Those who’ve made it get shut out and find themselves lonely at times, if not all the time. Luke makes a very simple observation, but one that grabbed me. “A man was there named Zacchaeus…” (Luke 19:2). Did you hear it? “A man.” He’s flesh and blood. He has a mind. He has emotions. We are all alike. The only thing that makes us different is the adjectives used to describe us.
That’s an important lesson when it comes to witnessing to those who’ve made it — or anybody for that matter. We are all human beings. And all human beings have some innate desire for something beyond themselves. Zacchaeus was hungry for more – more than all the stuff he had. According to Luke all he wanted was to “see who Jesus was” (Luke 19:3). His burning desire was merely to see Him.
There are many folks out in the world whose sole, burning desire is to have it all. Maybe you’re one of them. I know I’ve certainly been tempted to want it all. These folks have convinced themselves that if they just have enough power, prestige, and the right position, they’ll be successful. They want the big homes in the right neighborhoods. They want the most expensive Mercedes or BMW. They want to fly first class everywhere – forget about Air Tran and Southwest. Some of these folks do have it all. Yet, something is missing because there is that innate desire for something beyond themselves.
Monday afternoon I went into Borders, as I normally do, only this time to observe all the people. Do you know where the most people were? They were in the Religion/Spirituality and Self-help Sections. Very few were in the Christianity Section. People are searching and many of them are not turning to Jesus and some of them may be turning away from Jesus. I have a hunch it is because the church has been hesitant in seeking to reach out to those who’ve made it when, in reality, they really haven’t made it.
Nobody reached out to Zacchaeus. “He’s one of them – you know, one of those tax collectors,” some may have said. “He’s a traitor. Besides, he has everything he needs. To Hell with him.” Nobody seemed to express an interest in a guy who had made it. That’s why all he wanted was to see who Jesus was. And did he ever see Him. He saw Jesus; but more than that, Jesus saw him. He even heard his name called by Jesus: “Zacchaeus” (Luke 19:5).
It’s as if Christ was saying, “Zack, get out of that tree. Come down here. Nobody else is interested in you, but I am. I’ve heard about you and your kind. Everybody around here thinks you’ve made it and by their standards, maybe you have. But you and I know better. You haven’t. Something is missing, Zacchaeus. So let’s go to your house and let’s work on making you into that which will cause you to really live up to your name. Before you know it you really will be the Righteous One and the Pure One.”
I don’t know what Jesus said, but whatever it was, it was affirming, for Jesus observed the potential of Zacchaeus. That prompted the wee little man to commit to giving half of his wealth “to the poor” (Luke 19:8). He even said if he had cheated anybody he would pay them back with quadruple interest. Talk about a conversion!
Look at what happened as a result of Jesus’ approach. Zacchaeus got saved. “Salvation has come to this house…” (Luke 19:9). Luke wasn’t interested in recording the entirety of the conversation Jesus and Zack had. He doesn’t mention anything about Zack saying the Sinner’s Prayer or hearing the plan of salvation from Four Spiritual Laws or some other tract. He didn’t have to because the Plan of Salvation was right there in Person and Zacchaeus knew it. He also knew that he was a sinner. Jesus showed interest and because He did, salvation came.
There’s a late tradition about Zacchaeus; it’s more legend than anything. It says that later on, Zacchaeus became Bishop of the church in Caesarea. Whether that’s fact or fiction, one thing is certain. The wee little man found Salvation and thus discovered the key to really making it. I believe that he spent the rest of his life going beyond the hesitancy to witness to others about Jesus – with those who had made it and those who hadn’t.
So there is hope for those who’ve made it. It’s up to you and me to get that word out. Let’s move beyond the hesitancy to witness to anyone that needs Christ – including those who’ve made it. Remember everybody is human and humans need other humans to take an interest in them, call them by name, and have their potential pointed out. As a result, maybe they’ll really make it because they will get saved. They need to hear you and me say, “Hurry! Come down out of that tree!”
I have one last thing. Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Oprah, Brittany Spears, Madonna, Howard Stern, even Ben Curtis are, indeed, representative of a lot of people. Perhaps, to a lesser degree, they are representative of you and me, because we’ve made it too. Oh, we may not be a household name throughout the nation and world, and we may never appear on the cover of Newsweek, Time, or People magazine. We’ll probably never be millionaires, let alone billionaires, and have the fame so many have, but we’ve made it in our own right, haven’t we?
We’re human. We need others to take an interest in us. We need others to call us by name. We need to have our potential pointed out. If you are feeling lonely and shut out, believing that you’ve made it in your own right, the Good News is for you too. Let me invite you to move beyond the hesitancy to listen. Don’t be afraid to listen for you just might hear somebody saying to you, “Hurry! Come down out of that tree!”
The One speaking is really Jesus. Oh, it may be my voice or someone else’s. But the One speaking really is Jesus. He came to seek out and to save the lost so the lost could make it – make it for an eternity with Him. So are you one who has made it – made it with Jesus? You can be. It’s up to you to come down out of that tree.
Jimmy Gentry is Pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Carrollton, GA.