Pursuing God

Seeking the Savior, 28 April 2019

Seeking the Savior
Series—The Quest of the Good Shepherd
Luke 19:1-10

Series Big Idea:
Love is one of the most misunderstood words in our culture, yet it is at the heart of the two greatest biblical commandments: love God, love neighbor.

Big Idea:
Lost people matter to God and He wants them found.

One of the greatest controversies among students of the Bible is whether God chooses us or we choose God. If you are a follower of Jesus today, why? Is it what God did or what you did? Did God seek you to follow Him or did you seek out God?

My short opinion—if you’re wondering—is yes!

On the one hand, we are told to seek after God, to pursue a relationship with our Creator.

Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. (Psalms 105:3)

Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. (1 Chronicles 16:11)

The Hebrew word used in both verses is
baqash. It means to seek, search, look for, inquire about.

God wants us to seek Him. But ever since sin entered the world, we naturally want to pursue our own pleasures. We want to be god, the master of our own universe. We like to be in control. This led Paul to write to the church in Rome:

As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:10-11)

Here the verb “seek” is Greek, ekzeteo, meaning “to seek out, investigate diligently, scrutinize.” It’s as if we need God to pursue us because left to our own devices, we’ll selfishly do life our way, oblivious to the wisdom of the Almighty.

A moment ago, I said my answer is yes—I believe we seek after God and God seeks after us. Who is responsible for my being married, my wife or me? Our relationship requires the participation of two parties, and I believe that’s the same for those in a relationship with God through King Jesus.

Two weeks ago, we noted again how

Lost people matter to God and He wants them found.

Luke chapter 15 tells of the pursuit of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son where God pursues.

Today we’re going to look at two spiritual seekers, people who pursued God. Both are rich men who want to follow, yet they end up with two very different outcomes.

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18)

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” (Luke 18:19-20)

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. (Luke 18:21)

When Jesus heard this, he said to him,
“You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said,
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:23-25)

This man seeks after God, but he became very sad because he was ultimately seeking money more than God.

Our text for today in the following chapter is similar.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. (Luke 19:1-2)

Zacchaeus means “righteous one,” but this man was anything but righteous. He was not just a tax collector, but a chief tax collector, hated and despised. The tax system was oppressive to the people (some things never change!). But seriously, he could charge taxes on most anything he wanted, at most any rate he wanted. The comment about his wealth is hardly necessary.

As Zach walked around town, the people saw their money…used to purchase fancy clothes and expensive food. He could raise taxes and pocket the increase. To make matters worse, if you couldn’t pay the taxes, tax collectors would loan you the money at a huge interest rate, making even more money for themselves. If that wasn’t enough, the taxes went to pay for the unwanted Roman army to occupy your village.

Zacchaeus was, no doubt, greedy and selfish. His world revolved around himself. Have you ever met someone like this? Maybe it’s your boss or a co-worker or neighbor. They’re climbing to the top and could care less about whatever is in their way, even if it’s you! They’ll beg, borrow or even steal to get what they want. Tragically—as we noted recently in our series on Ecclesiastes—they never have enough. They are never satisfied. They may seem to be beyond hope and help. But he was a masterpiece in the eyes of God.

He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. (Luke 19:3-4)

Kids love Zacchaeus. He was short like them. If you’ve ever taken a child to a parade, they usually struggle to see, not unlike Zacchaeus in this crowd. When I was little, I loved it when my dad put me on his shoulders at a parade so I could see over the tops of all of the adults. Zach takes advantage of tree to get a height advantage.

Luke is the only biblical writer who tells us about Zacchaeus, though it’s a perfect story since he had just written about the problem of riches…and an encounter with Jesus.

You might call this man a seeker. It says he ran, something unusual for a man in the culture, especially a wealthy government official. He may not have been seeking after God, but Jesus was a celebrity and perhaps he wants an autograph or even a selfie with the Messiah. That would look great on his social media account, right? Although it says he simply wanted to see who Jesus was, I believe God was at work in his heart.

God the Holy Spirit draws people to Jesus.

Only God can change a selfish, human heart, and that’s exactly what happens.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him,
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. (Luke 19:5-6)

Did Jesus just invite himself to Zacchaeus’ house? Yes he did, and Zacchaeus was happy to welcome him.

Let’s face it, there are some celebrities who can do just about anything they want. I’m not suggesting Jesus had selfish motives because he had an agenda far greater than a free meal. But if Lebron James or Julia Roberts or David Jeremiah or Taylor Swift wanted to come over to your place, you’d probably welcome them gladly, right?

Did Jesus seek after Zach or did Zach seek after Jesus? Yes! It’s a beautiful story! But then religion enters the scene.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19:7)

Zacchaeus wasn’t just any sinner. This is the man who has been stealing from them, padding his wallet with extra fees and taxes. He was a crook! I’m sure some were jealous simply because they would’ve liked Jesus to invite himself to their house. But beyond that,

Jesus was criticized for being a friend of sinners.

Tragically, many godly men and women today experience the same judgment from self-righteous religious people. Like Jonah or the older son in the Prodigal Son story, they want exclusive access to the Father, shunning the lost, the sinner, the broken…even when they come to their senses, repent, and follow God, which is exactly what Zach does here.

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)

What a statement! This is extravagant repentance. Zacchaeus doesn’t simply say, “I’m sorry everyone. I won’t let it happen again.” He makes amends. He turns and does what he can to not only pay back what he had taken, but also make fourfold restitution. Wow!

Under the Mosaic law, restitution for a theft meant returning what was stolen plus twenty percent. The greatest penalty was if what was stolen could not be restored, then a fourfold repayment was required. Zach self-imposed the harshest penalty.

The rich young ruler refused to sell his possessions, yet Zacchaeus seemingly gives away all of his cash. In Jesus, he has found something more valuable than all of the gold in the world, and he is forever transformed by his encounter with the Messiah.

Jesus said to him,
“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 the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)

Salvation comes to those who follow Jesus…with not only their heads but their hands. Faith without works is dead. Zacchaeus is a new man, a found man, a saved man, and now a truly rich man because of the gift of salvation.

God encounters are transformative.

Jesus mission was not only to die on the cross. It also included seeking the lost sheep. It involved spending time with sinners far from God. It required intentionality and action and pursuit. Jesus is the one that saves and changes us. It’s all about Jesus!

I have two questions for you today. First,

Are you a God-seeker?

Really. Would you sell everything you have if God called you to do so? Do you generously give now? I believe 10% is the starting point—not the goal—for financial stewardship, giving to your local church.

Singles, are you willing to honor God with your body and remain sexually pure?

Does your calendar reflect your pursuit of God, or are your days filled with screens and personal pursuits?

I know a lot of long-time Christians and I’ve seen spiritual newborns and there’s something exciting about a new believer. They’re hungry, eager to learn and grow. Are you? I pray we will all be God-seekers, regardless of where we are on our spiritual journey.

How can you serve God-seekers?

I believe the greatest way you can serve those pursuing God is to share Jesus, share your story, listen to their questions, guide them to the cross…and empty tomb.

This past week a research study revealed although 56% of Protestant churchgoers said they pray for opportunities to share the Gospel—or good news—with non-Christians, 55% said they haven’t engaged in an “evangelistic conversation” in at least six months. One researcher replied, “Sharing the good news that Jesus paid for our sins through His death on the cross and rose again to bring us new life is the mission of the church, but it does not appear to be the priority of churchgoers.”

Perhaps even more concerning is a recent report that 47% of Millennials agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith. We’re never supposed to shove God down anyone’s throat, but there are people all around us who are asking questions, they’re seeking meaning and purpose in life, whether or not they define their search as seeking God.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and he invites us to follow him. After all,

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

I’m so grateful for this church. For more than thirteen decades we have been seeking and saving the lost, serving Toledo and the world. We have been local and global. We’ve had people serving as missionaries in our city and the ends of the earth. I want to challenge you with three simple yet powerful ways you can help seekers in Toledo and beyond.
Pray. This is the primary work of God’s people. We are a praying church and I can’t imagine where we’d be without prayer. Transformation will not occur through great sermons and dynamic music alone. It comes through the power of God unleashed when we get on our knees and pray. Imagine what would happen if the Holy Spirit prompts people in Toledo like Zacchaeus to come and see, to pursue God through First Alliance Church. It has been exciting seeing new people join us, many simply because they saw our sign and beautiful campus. We pray that God would draw people to Himself. We pray for our city, its leaders, its churches, and ministries. We pray for spiritual awakening among the 500,000 souls in Northwest Ohio.

On a global level, you can adopt an International Worker and pray for them. There’s a list of them in each week’s
Prayer Connection which can be found both in the Information Center kiosk and in each edition of our e-newsletter, The FAC Focus. Please pray for Heather and me as we travel to Africa, not only for our health and safety but effective ministry to youth, leaders, and pastors.

Give. Today is Great Commission Sunday. We promote the Great Commission Fund regularly because it is the way we support International Workers in The Alliance. Some groups ask individuals to do months of personal fundraising. We prefer to do the work for them so they can be involved in seeking the lost, sharing Jesus, inviting people to experience abundant life. You can give today, next week, or any week. You can put the Great Commission Fund in your estate and will, ensuring your wealth will be invested in people for eternity.
This year The Alliance is sending 60 International Workers, the most we’ve ever sent in our history! We praise God for 60 people responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to go, but now we need people to respond to the call to support them financially through the Great Commission Fund.

On a related global note, thank you to those who have invested in our trip next month to Burundi, Africa. I don’t know who contributed, but I can’t wait to share stories of God’s faithfulness as we train youth, leaders, and pastors next month.
On a local level, you can also give to First Alliance Church and our Faith Missions and Home Missions partners. Our books are always open and I can assure you every dollar is spent carefully to maximize effectiveness.
…to West Virginia or the Dominican Republic or Africa. Maybe God is calling you to leave Toledo for another state or country in the future. He does that sometimes! Maybe God is calling you to go launch a new ministry or church. I’d love to talk with you about that!
You can go to your next door neighbor or co-worker or family member. Ask them where they are on their spiritual journey. Take them out for coffee and listen to their story. Show them love through random acts of kindness. Take a risk! It can be as simple as inviting them to…
Dinner Church?

I know there are some questions about Dinner Church and I want to do my best to address them now. We start with why, and it’s simply to seek and save the lost, following Jesus. He is the one who said,

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3:20)

Who is going to set the table? We are! We are creating space for sinners, seculars, and strangers to have dinner with Jesus. He said to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” What if he wasn’t speaking metaphorically?

Although I first heard about the Dinner Church movement two years ago at a conference, it’s nearly identical to the church Heather and I started in Ann Arbor twenty years ago, Frontline. We sat at round tables, met on Sunday evenings, began with dinner, and offered a non-traditional, interactive God experience for people young and old, rich and poor, religious and non-religious. I could spend hours telling stories of the transformed lives we witnessed during those fruitful years.

Dinner Church is not a soup kitchen, but a community meal for the mind, body, and soul. From 5-6 PM we’ll gather in the Fellowship Hall at round tables, eating together, extending hospitality to our guests, just hanging out with these masterpieces in need of God’s restoration, just like each of us needs.

The 6 PM hour will include music and the arts, an interactive teaching, Q&A, and prayer. Kids are welcome, though we will have child care available for those who need it. The entire evening will be kid-friendly, casual, and engaging. I’m praying God brings spiritual seekers like Zacchaeus to connect with us and with Him.

As we’ve said, this is designed for the unchurched, whether they be Christians or not. If you’re a regular on Sunday morning, we’d love for you to either serve or bring an unchurched friend. We want to make sure there’s room for God seekers.

If you have such a friend, please prayerfully invite them. You might say, “My church is doing an experiment called Dinner Church and we’d love your feedback. Would you come as my guest and tell me what you think, kind of like a mystery shopper? We’ll even treat you to dinner!”

Next Sunday, Cinco de Mayo, will be our sneak preview gathering. On May 26, we’ll begin meeting on the last Sunday of the month from 5-7 PM.

Pray. Give. Go.

What a privilege we have to join God in His work seeking and saving the lost. Amen!

One more thing

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. We have the privilege of joining him in that mission, the mission of restoring masterpieces, of making disciples, of sharing good news. And according to Matthew 24:14, this is not merely good for the sake of the lost and for the sake of God, but it will hasten the return of the King.

A New York reporter once asked Alliance founder A. B. Simpson, “Can you tell us when Jesus will return?” Simpson replied, “Yes, I will tell you, as long as you promise to print what I say word for word.” The reporter agreed, at which time Simpson quoted Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

More than 4,000 people groups have not yet had opportunity to receive and respond to Christ’s invitation to experience life with Him now and evermore. Who’s going to tell them?
VIDEO: The Kingdom Now Snapshot

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for Jesus to return, but in the meantime, we’re on a mission from God! Let’s get to work, let’s follow Christ and his mission of seeking and saving the lost.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.