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“But he was sad at this word and went away mournful….” Mark 10:22

“From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”  John 6:66

Encounters with Jesus, the Son of God had many, vastly different outcomes. In some cases miraculous healings transpired.  In some cases mighty leaders were made to look foolish.  At other times little children left having received a great blessing.  Thousands were fed in at least two encounters with the seemingly the meagerest of provisions.  And finally, nearly the final encounter, all of our sins were sacrificed for and thus forgiven as Jesus died on the cross for us and our salvation.

Yet we sadly see in scripture and perhaps even in our own experience with others who are close in our lives or maybe, in our darkest times, with us; that just an encounter with Jesus Christ does not guarantee redemption or salvation.  More is required……..on our part.

Let’s take the passages above.  The first passage is an ending of a very familiar encounter.  A rich man encounters Jesus.  Is as so often the case in scripture, the rich man, like beggars and the lame, the blind, the downtrodden, sought Jesus out.  This man comes to Jesus with a vitally important, for all eternity question:  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus takes the time to answer him, in fact answering him twice.  Also, in fact, in the passage from Mark, where this passage is taken, it says that Jesus looked at him and loved him.  However, I don ‘t want to focus on Jesus answer but I want to focus on the rich man’s reaction to the encounter.  He turned away.  Let that sink in; he turned away! The rich man had encountered the One True, Son of God.  He had asked the Son of God a question.  The Son of God, Jesus, answered him; in fact answered him in love.  The Son of God invited this man, asked him to join Jesus and follow him.  And let me repeat again; the rich man turned away and left.

In the second passage above, it was not just a man, it was a group.  Also this was not a group that had happened to one day briefly stumble upon Jesus and give him a brief moment of their time.  No this was a group of His disciples.  Scripture doesn’t give us a specific number or specific amount of time they had been with Jesus, but to called disciples meant there was a significant amount of time and effort involved in their following Jesus.  They had listened to Jesus, agreed with Jesus, gladly followed Jesus; then Jesus went too far and the wheels came off the wagon.  For Jesus spoke of being the bread of life.  If that was not enigmatic enough, Jesus went on to say that only people who truly believed in Him, would eat His flesh and drink His blood and have eternal life!  Jesus had gone too far.  As scripture puts it, the disciples complained that it was a hard saying which could not be understood.  So they turned and walked away.  These disciples who had seen Jesus miraculously heal, they had been there when Jesus fed the 5,000.  They had been in the presence of the True Son of Almighty God.  They encountered Jesus and they walked away.

Why did they walk away?  Why was the encounter with the One Christ, why was that encounter not enough to convince them to stay?  Well in the first case, giving up the world in terms of his rich possessions was too much.  In the second case, the words of Jesus were too hard to understand, too out of the ordinary to comprehend, too vastly different to commit to.  Truth in fact, in both cases, the man and the group, did not see Jesus as the Christ.  A good man? Sure. A wise man, even a prophet from God? Probably.  But the One and Only, Perfect Son of God Almighty……naah.

However, some stayed.  The twelve stayed.  Martha and Mary stayed.  Nicodemus, who had come to Jesus at night and Joseph of Arimathea stayed and some more as well.  Why did they stay?  Out of the words of the disciples themselves:  To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  Martha says later, Yes, Lord I believe You are the Christ, the Son of God.

You see Dear Sisters and Brothers, it is like so many of the blind and lame that he healed, when He would first ask them:  Do you believe that I can do this for you?  It was the reason that He could do so little in his own home town.  When the people first believed in Him, truly believed in Him as the Son of God, the Christ; then, and only then could they truly follow Him.  Understand, that didn’t mean they completely understood Him; no, far from it.  But their faith allowed the power of Christ to come into to them.  Their faith allowed the power of Christ to defeat the power and wisdom of the world.  Their faith that He is the one true Son of God, King of Kings, Christ the Savior, allowed them to pick up their cross and follow Him.

So first we must ask ourselves:  Have we had an encounter with Jesus Christ?  And if we have, and this is as vital as having the encounter itself; having had that encounter; who do we believe Jesus Christ is?  If He is only a good man, only a very wise human, only an extremely enlightened, spiritual man, we might as well turn away and follow another.  For all those thoughts about Him will bring us no blessings, find us no peace, will not deliver us from our sins.  We must believe that Jesus is the Christ, Holy Spirit conceived, virgin born, all powerful, all knowledgable, perfect, without sin, dying for our sins and our salvation and rising again on the third day.  Now He sits in the greatest place of power; the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty.

It is not just the encounter but the faith that comes from it that makes all the difference.  Yet even here, we are not left simply to our own devices.  For we can call upon Christ and the Holy Spirit to help us to strengthen our faith and have mercy on our weakness.  Please, for your soul’s sake, do not let an encounter be all you have with Your Savior, Jesus Christ.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we proclaim with all our being that Jesus Christ is Your Only Begotten Son, whom You sent to earth to be our Savior.  Pour out Your Spirit upon us that each and every day our faith would be strengthened in Jesus Christ, allowing an ever greater relationship to be had with You through Him.  Forgive us when we are tempted to turn from that encounter with Christ to the enticements and ease of the world.  Have Mercy upon us, allowing us to see and receive Christ as our Savior and then partaking in the joy, peace and blessings You, through Your Grace pour out upon us.  That in living into the faith of Jesus Christ as our Savior, we might show and testify to the world concerning the Words of Life of Jesus Christ which bring glory and honor to Your Most Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we faithfully pray.  Amen

“But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich”  Luke 18:23

“Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord……..I give half my goods to the poor and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore it fourfold.”  Luke 19:8

The tales of two men and their encounters with Jesus.  I am no scholar but I don’t think it is a coincidence that they are so very close together in the Gospel of Luke.  Less than a chapter separate these two encounters.

These two men have some similarities.  The gospel tells us they are both rich.  These men also actively seek Jesus out.  Jesus interacts with both of them.  However, that is where the similarities end.  And, I believe, we have much to learn from their enteractions with Jesus and the ultimate outcomes of those interactions.  Both of these encounters are well known and often thought of and spoken about in Christian gatherings and church services.  Zacchaues’ encounter even has a children’s Christian song written about it.  Yet let’s take a moment to look at these together instead of two separate, unrelated incidents.

In both incidents, the men seek out Jesus.  In the first, the rich young man (we never know his name) seeks Jesus out as a good teacher.  Either through actually listening to Him, or through His reputation, the rich man sees Jesus as one who, not only has knowledge, but also, and maybe because He has knowledge, also has virtue.  The rich man seeks Jesus out because he has a specific question.  Zacchaues desire is different.  The scripture tells us, Zacchaues is not only a rich man but has come by his riches by being a chief tax collector.  A person filling this position would not have been known for being very religious or even generally upstanding.  Jesus is passing through town and Zacchaues had obviously heard about this man.  He was not actually seeking an audience with Jesus but just wanted to literally see him, catch a visual glimpse.  He is curious.  He is also very short.  Zacchaues can’t see over the crowd and doesn’t try to push his way to the front of the crowd.  No, Zacchaues decides to fulfill his curiosity by climbing a tree where he can get an unobscured view of Jesus.  That’s all he wanted was to see Jesus.  It would seem after seeing him, Zacchaues would go back to being the person he was.

Jesus, decides to interact with both men.  He starts out by correcting the first man, but still carries on a conversation.  The man asks his question about receiving eternal life.  Jesus answers Him.  The man makes a statement in response and Jesus decides to clarify the man’s statement and then makes and incredible offer.  In the case with Zacchaues, the interaction starts very differently.  Remember, Zacchaues was not planning to actually interact with Jesus at all.  He just wanted to see him.  It was Jesus who saw Zacchaues up in the tree and reached out to him.  Jesus tells Zacchaues to come down for Jesus must stay at his home.  Here is where the two men start to diverge greatly.  The first man, after Jesus’ initial question, gave no sense of appreciation for Jesus talking with him, there is no sense of joy in being in Jesus presence.  Seemingly the first man has a desire for justification and perhaps even equality with Jesus, the “good teacher.”  When Jesus tells him that he needs to keep the commandments and the rich man says that he has kept them from his youth, he is expecting for Jesus to tell him that he is good and has obtained eternal life.  In Zacchaues case, his reaction to Jesus is initially quite different.  Zacchaues discovers that he is going to have an uninvited house guest; and most probably more than just one.  There is going to be a need for food and meal preparation, where is he going to put all these guests and what about the plans he already had for the evening.  Zacchaues might have been rather put off or upset about this intrustion into his life.  But scripture tells us that Zacchaues came down from the tree in haste and received Him joyfully.  In Zacchaues mind, Jesus was someone to be honored and Jesus was honoring and blessing him by choosing his house as one to spend time in.

Yet as different as the meetings were, it was the further interaction of the men with Jesus where the true and stark differences appear.  Remember, in the first rich man’s case, the man had come with a question.  Jesus is very plain in His answer.  Jesus doesn’t argue with whether the man has actually kept the commandments or not, He completely, thoroughly answers the question and then gives an incredible invitation.  The man lacked only one thing!  Jesus tells him what that one thing is and then invites him to come with Him and be His follower.  The first man had his answer.  The first man was also being asked by God Almighty, the Author of the eternal life he was seeking, to follow Him.  But the first man didn’t see Jesus as anything more than a man.  A man who had just shattered his hopes and dreams with his answer.  We don’t have a record of what was discussed in Zacchaues’s house; but, by the outcome we know it was transformingly powerful.

And the differences in the final outcomes for the men couldn’t be more opposite.  The first rich man, becomes sorrowful, rejects Jesus invitation, turns and walks away.  That first man was in the presence of the Salvation he was so desperately searching for and did not see it.  Jesus then offers His so oft repeated statement about the difficulty of the rich to enter the kingdom.  Zacchaues, on the other hand, knows that this is not just a man, even a good man who is in his house today.  Even in his joy, Zacchaues is convicted in his heart and knows he must change.  Note, when Zacchaues stands and addresses Jesus, loud enough for all to hear, he starts out by calling Jesus, Lord.  Zacchaues then goes on to proclaim how he has been changed by being in the presence of Jesus.   He will give away half of his riches and give back fourfold to anyone he had cheated.  In Jesus response, it might be interesting to note that He doesn’t tell Zacchaues that giving away only half of his riches is not good enough.   No, Jesus proclaims that today salvation has come to Zacchaues’ house.  Zacchaues had gotten the message.

Brothers and sisters, whether rich or not, we must look at ourselves as we seek an encounter with Jesus Christ.  First, when we come into His presence, are we filled with Joy at just being there?  When we ask our questions, bring our petitions to Him, are we open to and yearning for His answer whatever it may be?  Or are we only hoping that we will hear an affirmation of what we really think should happen?  Are we prepared to go forth, after out encounter, in the way Jesus Christ has called us to go?  Or are we going to turn away and search somewhere else for the answer we will accept?  One thing Zacchaues does show, while difficult a rich man can come to salvation.  I think if we were able to ask him, Zacchaues would say that he was immeasurably richer after meeting Jesus, no matter what the world would measure, than before.  May we find it in ourselves to have a Zacchaues kind of encounter with Jesus Christ.

Our Most Gracious and Merciful Savior, Jesus Christ, we long to have an encounter with You.  Bless us with Your presence we pray Dear Lord and give us peace and understanding.  Help us, Dear Jesus, to be joyful in You and long to hear Your answers and plans for our lives whatever they may be.  Give us the spirit of determination to carry out what You would have us do, that in so doing we might live a life that Glorifies the name of Our Heavenly Father.  In Your Most Precious Name we pray.  Amen


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