Monday, November 1, 2010
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Then Jesus said, ‘Today salvation has happened in this house, for the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’
Some of you have heard this story before but I’m going to tell it again. My sophomore year of high school I spent Labor Day weekend with some friends at the beach. I ventured off from my group momentarily and was approached by a young man about my age. As he greeted me with his right hand I noticed the bible in his left, and circumventing any formal introduction, he asked me a question that every person from Southeast Texas is asked at least once by a complete stranger. “Are you saved?” With all the maturity of a sixteen-year-old, I began to flail around in a sarcastic panic and scream “from what?” Yea, he didn’t think that joke was funny either. He tried again. “Are you saved?” Not knowing how to respond, I assured him that I was a devout Episcopalian. Knowing exactly how to respond, he told me Episcopalians were not saved – especially the devout ones. An awkward silence followed, which the young man eventually broke by taking a different angle; have you asked Jesus into your life?
In today’s Gospel Jesus looks at Zacchaeus and says, “Today salvation has happened in this house.” Salvation. That’s the focus of tonight’s sermon and so here’s what I’d like to do. First, I want to tell you what salvation isn’t by looking at two common misconceptions. Second, I want to explore what salvation is and offer insight as to what that means for your life.
First, let’s look at what salvation is not. There are two common misconceptions floating around. First, there’s what Dallas Willard calls “bar code” salvation. For example, let’s say you go to the store and buy an apple. When you check out, how does the machine know it’s an apple? It has a sticker with a bar code on it that tells the machine “apple” whenever you scan it. But let’s say you take the bar code sticker off a watermelon and put it on that same apple? Well, when you take your apple to be scanned at check out it’s going to ring up as a watermelon, right? Bar code salvation says that when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior – when we “pray the magic prayer” – the bar code in our soul changes, but that’s it. It does not matter if we continue living as the most rotten apple in the world; to God we’re a watermelon. We prayed the prayer. We moved from unsaved to saved. We die, God scans us – which is what judgment is – and we’re either in or we’re out. Now, there’s a shade of truth here, but nothing more. There are two many flaws to name but I’ll give us two. First, in bar code salvation, we don’t have to change at all. There is no intimacy with Christ in this model. Jesus changes our status but He doesn’t change our lives. Second, this model is completely individualistic and has nothing to say about our world. We don’t have time to talk about it tonight, but salvation is cosmic. It includes the physical universe and the material world. Misconception 1 – bar code salvation.
But then there’s misconception 2 – the idea that salvation is something we do; it’s mainly about us being good. According to this view we have free will – we choose to be good or bad – but if we are good and nice we’ll go to heaven and get an ice cream cone when we die. Yea we’ll make some mistakes – who doesn’t? – but if we try to be a good person, we’ll be fine.
Two problems. One, according to Jesus, we’re not just flawed. Brace yourself – we’re “evil.” Luke 11:13; “if you then who are evil know how to give good gifts how much more does your Father in heaven.” Do you see how casually Jesus slips that in?” “You guys are evil, we all know that.” In tonight’s Gospel Jesus is even more emphatic than that. Jesus calls us “the lost” – not the misguided – the lost. The problem with misconception 2 is that we’re evil.
But there’s another problem with a view of salvation that depends on us being good. We don’t have free will. We have free choice. God’s not pulling the strings. Of course we are free to make choices, but a million different factors influence those choices – our family history, genetic makeup, the choices of other people. In other words, a lot of things we don’t choose influence what we do choose. Why is it that we wrestle with the same things over and over again? Why do we want so badly to be like this, but then we go, time and time again, and we act like that? The apostle Paul puts it like this. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want but I do the very thing that I hate.” Does that resonate with you at all? If so welcome to the club of people who can’t save themselves.
So a quick recap. Salvation isn’t tricking God. Switching the barcode. Saying a magic prayer that changes our status but not our hearts. But at the same time, we can’t save ourselves. We’re evil. “The lost.” To quote Isaiah, our “righteous” deeds appear as filthy rags before God and because of that we need salvation. And so the million dollar question – what is it and how does it happen?
Well, I’ll get the ball rolling but that’s about all I can do with the time that’s left. Let’s go back to that young man’s question – have you asked Jesus into your life? Theologically speaking that’s impossible. We never ask Jesus into our life. He always asks Himself into ours. Salvation happens when we respond to Jesus like Zacchaeus did, and I’m thinking of two things in particular. First, Zacchaeus took Jesus home – he accepted Jesus’ invitation. Second, Zacchaeus was so overjoyed that Jesus wanted to be with him that it changed his life. So let’s look at those really quickly.
First, a saving relationship with Jesus Christ never begins with a decision we make. It always begins with a decision Christ makes. Zacchaeus doesn’t invite Jesus over for dinner. Jesus invites himself over for dinner. And by the way, inviting yourself to someone’s home was just as taboo in Jesus’ day as it is in ours. My favorite verse in the Bible is Revelation 3:20 where Jesus says, “behold I stand at the door and knock, and if anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in an dwell with them.” Jesus knocks on our door, not the other way around. Do you hear Him knocking? Have you taken him home? Now, it’s a metaphor but stay with me. Jesus wants access to every room in the house – to every part of our lives. And so when it comes to our lives, where have we closed the door and said “sorry Jesus, this part of my life is private.” Or, have we let Him in all? Do we trust in some arrangement that Jesus made for us – bar code faith – or do we trust Jesus? “Zacchaeus,” he says, “I must stay at your house today.” Not visit. Not tidy it up. Not have dinner. I must stay. “I’m moving in Zacchaeus.” Jesus is knocking on our door. If he’s not in he wants in. If he’s already in he want to go deeper. Jesus is knocking on some door in your life – do you hear it?
Second, Zacchaeus was so overjoyed that Jesus wanted to be with him that it changed his life. In tonight’s Gospel Jesus says “salvation has come to this house,” but that’s a bad translation. The Greek is literally, “salvation has happened in this house.” Salvation is something that happens – it happens when our life is filled with a new and indescribable joy that begins to set us free. In other words, salvation, when complete, will give us back free will. We’ll be free, once again, to love God and to love people. Yes, it’s a gradual process. Like Peter says salvation is something we “grow into.” We will still wrestle with bad habits and bad attitudes. But, when we hear Jesus knocking, when we open that door, when we realize that we were lost but that Jesus sought us out and found us; salvation happens. We’ll be filled with a joy that changes us from the inside out. It happened to Zacchaeus. It can happen to us. Rotten apples can actually change into watermelons.
Now, we’re all at different places in our journey of faith, and we all need to open the door to Jesus in some aspect of our life. Some of us trust in an arrangement Jesus made for us to get us into heaven but we don’t trust Jesus. Some of us trust in ourselves and look to Jesus when we need a little boost. Some of us have no idea what we believe; we just know we need to be here tonight. And so here’s what I want to leave us with. Not one of us here tonight is a “seeker.” There’s only one Seeker – the Son of Man – and he came to seek out and to save the lost. The question isn’t, have you asked Jesus into your life? The question is, has he asked Himself into yours?
You are here tonight for a reason. He stands at the door and He knocks. Jesus doesn’t want to visit from time to time He wants to move in. If anyone hears His voice and opens the door Jesus will come in, your life’s going to change, and salvation is going to happen.