LEARNING FROM LUKE: TRANSFORMATIONLuke 19: 1-10
Transformation is a big concept, one that some havedemonstrated with their lives. Like the toy Transformers that change their boththeir appearance and their purpose, transformed people may look different, butthey also have a change of heart, an awakening of the mind, a new purpose inlife, or all of the above. Further, transformation is not, by definition, justa change in life because of circumstances, which might simply be calledchanging or adapting. No, transformation is something that—for the purposesdescribed in the Bible, in the lives of faithful people, and perhaps in yourlife—is a change that moves people toward God and others in new ways. Let’strace some texts, some stories, and some people today.
Last week we recalled how Jesus often uses contrastingcharacters in his parables and lets us see them through the eyes of the Kingdomof God. Last week we got a bad impression about a righteous man called a Pharisee.By contrast, last week a man despised by those in his community because he wasa sellout tax collector who collaborated with and profited from the crushingRoman Empire, was described in appreciative terms by Jesus. What made Jesus portray one person oneway and one another? It wasn’t their lot in life or their profession; it wastheir attitude and their actions. Attitudes and actions really matter;they are a good test of a transformed person. Today we visit Jericho. According to some historians,Jericho is the oldest known city on the planet. The headline-grabbing frontcover of a recent issue of the Presbyterian Outlook said 10/10/10/10,000. Translation: on October 10, 2010, estimates are thatthe city of Jericho was 10,000 years old! Imagine that when America was formedjust 234 years ago! I had heard that Jericho dated back to 3000 BCE but neverhad I heard this new figure. It is staggering to think of all that the walls ofJericho have seen. Sycamore treeshave grown there for years as well and still are there today. Jesus enteredthat city, not to stay, but to pass through. In verse two we are introduced toZacchaeus, the only man in the Bible ever identified as a “Chief TaxCollector.” Although oftendespised because they were tax men for the Romans, there was no reason to thinkthat this Tax Collector was dishonest other than from innuendo. Did peoplethink: “He has money, I wonder if he skims a little extra for himself?” Buteven honest ones would have been wealthy just from doing their job. Thequestion is, why was Zacchaeus interested in Jesus? Was he having a crisis ofconscience? Was he just curious (curious enough to climb a tree for a betterview?) Was he looking for more out of life than money? Was he searching for amore meaningful existence? All weknow is that he chose to not stay in his house or office; he risked coming out amongpossibly hostile crowds to find himself unabashedly climbing a tree to see!Jesus calls him by name not because he knows him by supernatural powers; it islikely he notice this man up a tree and asked about him. “That’s Zacchaeus, thechief tax collector around here” someone could have told him. Could Jesus havethen sized up the situation? Might he have wondered what was going on in a taxcollector’s life that he would want to see the healer and teacher Jesus? Hespots him and calls him with his famous “The Price is Right” invitation:“Zacchaeus, come on down! I’m coming to your house today!” If Jesus were a candidate in his day,he would have lost some votes over that choice. “Out of all the people in town”some murmured in verse 7, “he chooses to stay with a sinner!” Wasit the thrill of Jesus’ presence that got Zacchaeus to save less money and givemore away? Or was there a series of events leading up to that fateful day thattransformed this little unpopular man into one who became a very differentperson? We don’t know all the back story, but then again, we rarely do. All weknow is that Zacchaeus was changed after meeting Jesus. He was not the first,and he would not be the last who would be transformed by meeting Jesus.
Let’s look at some other examples of transformedlives. I don’t know exactly whatkind of man the Apostle Paul was before he saw and heard Jesus in his Damascusroad vision, but reading between the lines makes me think he was self-absorbed,handicapped in more ways than one, and obsessed with hateful actions that hethought honored God. There have been plenty of misguided organizations thathave hated and persecuted others supposedly with God’s blessing, because oftheir race, creed, or color. Paul, when he was Saul, sounded like he could havebeen in that group; he destroyed Christians. I hope you get the feeling of howawful he was. Saul, it could be said, was one who tried to curtail wrongbelievers. In our terminology, he was one trying to snuff out infidels. And yetthis anger-filled man became a transformed man! As passionate as he was about persecuting Christand his followers, once he met him, his actions and his attitudes changed. Hespent the rest of his life writing over half of our New Testament and startingchurches. What a change. Among the words he wrote, were these in his Letter tothe Romans: “The righteous shall live by faith.” Paul didn’t make those wordsup; he got them from a great Jewish prophet that he had studied: Habakkuk. As aboy, Paul, then Saul, must have read about his people being persecuted byBabylonians. He must have heard the story of Habakkuk’s question of God “How long?How long will you permit this to happen?” And as he wrestled with God inprayer, he came to the conclusion that Paul quoted: the righteous shall live byfaith. People who are right in the eyes of God do not achieve it by theirworks alone, but by their transformed lives and transformed ways of thinkingthat produces good works. Habakkukmight be surprised how quoted he became; perhaps Paul would be surprised howquoted he has become too. One man who quoted Paul and Habakkuk was MartinLuther. As a priest in the German city of Wittenberg, Luther went to the townblog of his day—the door of the Castle Church—and he posted 95 points he wishedto debate with others, particular other church people. He did that on thisdate, Halloween, in 1517. And he became a transformed man, largely from reading those words in Romans: “Therighteous shall live by faith.” Inhis study of the Bible and in his prayer life, Luther met Jesus in a way he neverhad before. And his life was transformed.
There are so many others who have been transformed byChrist over the years: John Newton was a shipper and persecutor of slavesbefore he met Jesus in his prayers and penned the words to “Amazing Grace.” Lee Strobel had a brilliantnon-believing mind before, in trying to disprove and discredit Christianity,Christ transformed his life. Jesus Christ became his passion. He is the authorof the book THE CASE FOR CHRIST being studied in one of our adult classes. Andit is my pleasure to credit Jesus Christ for giving the vision to a Methodist Bishopfrom Arkansas named Richard Wilke who created and wrote the materials for ourDISCIPLE Bible Studies. Bishop Wilke had scanned countless Bible studymaterials and chose to call his a “transformational” Bible study. It was hishope that those who went through that program would have lives transformed bythe encounter with the living God in fervent, prayerful, and relational small groupministry. We have many faithful followers of Jesus in this congregation becauseof DISCIPLE.
The list could go on of people, like Zacchaeus, whohad their lives transformed by Jesus Christ. But lists don’t change people; Jesus Christ changes people;God’s Holy Spirit changes people: people like a woman who has messed up herlife royally, or a man who is at the end of his rope; or the person you knowwho once hit rock bottom; or, perhaps Jesus Christ has changed you. Like Zacchaeus, have you already celebrated yourrelease from bondage? Others can also choose to look up and see his face; theycan choose to put their self-led life aside and to make it Christ-led. They canchoose to bump self out of the throne of their heart and put Christ there. No,lists won’t change people; but if trying to run your own life has gone on longenough; or if you have terrorized others with your actions, or if you are nowtruly sorry for the things you have done wrong in your past, then there isdifferent choice. Choose Christ; he has been watching you and waiting for youto notice him. He is right beside, and above you, and around you. All it takesis your choice, and you too can be … transformed.
Jeffrey A. SumnerOctober 31, 2010