- God is…Generous
- Luke 19:1-10
- Lyndol Loyd August 4, 2019
It starts when we are toddlers. We wrap our hands around rattles and other little toys, and when someone else tries to take our stuff, we cry out, “Mine!” By our middle school years, we hang on to bike handles, backpacks, smartphones, and a whole variety of other things. As we get just a little bit older, we find ourselves holding the hand of our newest love and not wanting to let go. Then by the time we reach the college, we hold on to things that we don’t even want to talk about in our later years. It seems that childhood and adolescence give us ample opportunity to keep our hands closed.
As we begin a career, we grab the lowest rung of the ladder of our vocational pursuit and hang on. Then, at the right moment, we reach for the second rung and then the third. For years and years we can occupy our hands with climbing ladders.
When retirement finally comes, we hang on to golf clubs, gardening tools, or playing cards. Eventually, we grip tightly to canes, walkers and the edges of wheelchairs. In the final moments of life, we might hold on to the edge of a hospital bed as we cling to this life.
For some people, the first time their grip relaxes is when they breathe their last breath. This can be the first time they really open their hands.
What a contrast between our hands and the hands of God. When God created, He formed and fashioned the cosmos and then released it with open hands. Throughout the history of the Bible, God opened His hands and lavishly provided food, protection, favor, blessing and love to His children.
When His people wandered away from Him, His arms stayed open. When they repented and returned, He offered open hands of forgiveness. When Jesus came to earth and saw the needs of the people, He opened His hands to heal, touch, feed, and free. When He was about to be hung on a cross as a sin payment for us, He did not shake His fists at His executioners but opened His hands and allowed nails to pierce them.
When Jesus rose from the dead and met Thomas, he said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Even after the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus opened His hands and poured out generous love.
Today, God’s hands are still open, inviting people to Himself. The open hands of God are merely the outward manifestation of an inner reality. God is infinitely and shockingly generous. Because God, by nature, is generous, He calls upon us to adopt His character and to live life as generous persons. If our natural disposition is to be tight-fisted, how do we make the transition to living as generous persons?
I want to suggest to you this morning that the answer to that question lies within the story of a greedy, dishonest, tax collector who was transformed into a generous, soft-hearted giver. It is the story of Zacchaeus and his life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. We find it recorded for us in Luke 19:1-10:
“Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. 2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. 3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.
5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”
6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. 7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.
8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”
9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
A little background on tax collectors in the first century might be helpful to us. Zacchaeus was not only a tax collector, but he was also Jewish. This meant he was collecting taxes for the Roman government from his fellow Jews. This would not have sat well with his neighbors. What’s more, it was commonplace for a tax collector to demand the assigned amount required by Roman law and then add on whatever he thought he could get in addition to the portion he would hand over to the Roman authorities. In other words, it was commonplace practice for tax collectors to demand more than people were required to pay and then pocket the extra. This meant that most tax collectors became very wealthy on the shoulders of their own countrymen.
By looking at the response of Zacchaeus after he met Jesus, it is clear that he had put some people in the poor house and had cheated many others.
God won’t start with your hands when He transforms your life.
- He will start with your heart.
- After that, He will change some things in your head.
- Then, and only then, will your hands open.
When a person’s heart and head are changed, hands open up naturally, and generosity flows joyfully. The story of Zacchaeus helps us see this supernatural progression in living color.
Zacchaeus was a clutcher. He spent most of his time acquiring and holding on to money. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus didn’t just have an iron grip on his own stuff, he wrenched whatever he could from the hands of other people and held on to that too.
In the ancient world, tax collectors engaged in legalized extortion. They could force people to pay their taxes and add whatever percentage they thought they could get. If someone did not pay, they went to jail.
But after Zacchaeus encountered Jesus, he went from being a clutcher to a giver. What changed? Why did his hands go from being tight-fisted to open and generous? It was a change of heart. Jesus not only entered his home but his heart as well. Salvation came, and a heart of stone became a heart of flesh. Once Jesus enters a heart, and His generous love is received, everything else is up for grabs.
Now we don’t know exactly what Jesus said to Zacchaeus while they shared dinner together, but I think we can look at the consistent teaching of Jesus and reconstruct His words with some measure of accuracy. In my mind, it could have gone something like this:
“Zacchaeus, what your heart longs for will never be satisfied by that which you are hanging on to so tightly. Your heart, you see, was meant to be in deep communion with God the Father and with other people in the family of God.
“You have walked away from that kind of communion, and you are settling for something far less – trying to meet the needs of your heart by grabbing stuff and holding on to it.
“I have come to you so that you might have life. I have come so that you don’t have to settle anymore. I’m offering you today, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. I’m going to take all that you have ever done wrong, and I’m offering you salvation in return.
“I’m giving you the gift of redemption. I’m adopting you into my family. I’m opening the doors of heaven to you.”
Wouldn’t you have loved to have been a fly on the wall and have heard the conversation? It was a thought shifting, heart-changing moment. Zacchaeus was so impacted that this one dinner with Jesus changed the whole direction of his life.
I think at a certain point in the conversation, the enormity of Jesus’ generosity melted the heart of Zacchaeus to the point where he sensed something was changing inside. I think that generous grace transformed him.
That’s what happens when we experience Jesus:
- It transforms how we share our financial resources.
- It changes how we offer words of blessing and encouragement.
- It alters how we treat people who are different than us.
- It adjusts how we use our time.
- It transforms how we see the poor and the marginalized.
- It will cause you to “Love Lubbock.”
I think it is clear by what happened after dinner that Jesus spent at least a little time addressing Zacchaeus’ thinking about money. No one in history has ever had a clearer grasp of the nature of wealth and its seductive power than Jesus. Almost half of His parables are about money and how to use it. He talked more about it than almost any other subject matter.
Jesus surely spoke to Zacchaeus about some basic truths of money. One of the most powerful Old Testament teachings on finances is found in Ecclesiastes. Solomon, one of the smartest and wealthiest men who ever lived, wrote: “Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!” Ecclesiastes 5:10.
Despite Solomon’s great success and wisdom, when push came to shove, he knew that acquiring more stuff would never satisfy. This shift in thinking needs to happen in each of our minds. Jesus knew this. Zacchaeus learned it, and so should we.
Our mindset determines the direction for most of what we do in life. The key is to allow our thinking to be formed by the amazing love and generosity of God.
As followers of Jesus, we live in relationship with a God who expresses his love for us all of the time:
- He paints a sunset and says, “I love you.”
- He answers a prayer and says, “I’m listening. I care.”
- He strengthens us when we are weak and says, “I’m always with you.”
He declares over and over again, “I love you.” When this truth is planted firmly in our minds, it impacts how we see resources, the accumulation of wealth, and sharing it with others.
The combination of Zacchaeus’ heart-melting and his head being filled with new values and truth was staggering. These inner changes had a profound impact on his hands. Zacchaeus emerged from his dinner with Jesus a new man. His tight-fisted grip on material goods was gone, and with open hands, he offered half of his wealth to the poor. To top it off, he promised to give back four times what he had taken wrongfully from others. As a tax collector, this would have been quite a list.
Can you imagine the testimony of Zacchaeus had as he went from home to home giving people back their money, plus interest? Meeting with Jesus made all of the difference in the world for Zacchaeus. How has it impacted you? How will it impact you this morning?