I have only two more sermons to preach at Hebron, and this is the first. It makes me remember a story.
It’s one of those stories you never learn in school: but if you had, you’d probably remember it. Thomas Jefferson is making his way across Virginia on horseback with a group of men when they come to a river that has overflowed its banks. The water level is so high that it has washed out the bridge, leaving each rider to cross the river on horseback. After several have plunged in and are making their way to the other side, a stranger asks Jefferson if he’d ferry him across on his horse. Without hesitation, Jefferson agrees, the man climbs up, and before long they are safely on the other side. When the stranger slides to the ground, one of the men asks him, “Why did you select the President to do that favor?” The man is in shock. He has no idea he has just asked the President for a ride. All he can say is, “When I looked at every other face, all I could see was, ‘No;’ but when I looked at his, all I could see was, ‘Yes.’”
For the last 10 years of his life Henri Nouwen of Harvard University left academia and went to Ontario, Canada, to take care of nursing home patients. He writes about it, “When we honestly ask ourselves which person means the most to us, we often find it’s those who, instead of giving advice…have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in a moment of grief and bereavement…and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that’s a friend who cares.”
C.S. Lewis once said, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
Have you ever thought of Jesus in terms of friendship? Unlike every other rabbi of His day, Jesus chooses His disciples, they don’t choose Him. Unlike every other rabbi, His teaching is not the focus of their discipleship, but Himself. When Jesus says, “I no longer call you servants, but friends,” His deviation from every other rabbi is complete. For the Jews knew nothing of friendship. When Jesus calls His disciples ‘friends,’ He’s using a concept that is fundamentally foreign to the Hebrew world. The closest the Jews got to friendship was saying that a man’s best friend is himself. But Jesus takes a Greek word that has its roots in the human kiss, and He applies it to His disciples. He says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life for his friends. And you are my friends.” Think of it. Jesus laid down His life for His friends twice – the incarnation and the crucifixion! And we see Him doing that throughout His ministry, especially in Luke 19.
Throughout my ministry I have, every once in a while, heard someone say, “You’re not just my pastor, you are my friend.” There’s no greater compliment, for that is exactly what Jesus is.
This Sunday, the second Sunday of Advent, we will again be looking at the story of Zacchaeus. Unlike the other times, we will be looking at how Jesus is a perfect example to us of what He’s called his church to be – a crucible of friendship, an illustration of incarnational ministry. For us there’s another reinforcement for what we see in the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. Our very name is a reminder of what God has called us to be. He’s called us to be a refuge – a place where all are welcome and free to experience the life-giving presence of Jesus Christ. Luke understood that. That’s why, on the way to the cross, He tells us the story of Zacchaeus. What a perfect picture of what the incarnation means for Jesus and for us. I hope you will join us.
In preparation for the message entitled, “The 5 ‘P’s of Presence,” you may wish to consider the following:
Read Luke 19:1-10.
1. Why do you think Luke is the only Gospel writer to tell us this story?
2. In what way is Zacchaeus unique in the Gospels?
3. How many individuals are described as rich in the Gospels?
4. What is so surprising about the setting of this story?
5. What did Joshua have to say about Jericho in Joshua 6?
6. What’s the meaning of Zacchaeus’ name?
7. Why does Jesus initiate this encounter?
8. What’s the meaning in verse 5 when He calls Zacchaeus out of the tree?
9. What does Jesus do once He enters Zacchaeus’ house?
10. How is this an exact model of what Spirit-led ministry looks like?
See you Sunday!