Our souls long for something only the Lord can satisfy.
Shalom. So great to be here with you. I always look forward to my chance to minister here at Cornerstone. I am just so stoked about what Pastor Terry mentioned. For 18 years, Jews for Jesus has been conducting this operation, Behold Your God, which is a commitment to have saturation outreach in every city around the world with a Jewish population of 25,000 or more. 77 cities. We’ve been doing this for a while and saved the best and most challenging for last. We were in Jerusalem for the entire month of May, with over 70 staff and volunteers reaching out. There’s a picture of us, most of us there at the final lunch that we had at the end of this outreach. We were so excited just to be alive there. We didn’t know what kind of opposition we would be facing. The challenges were great, but the openness and opportunities were astounding.
We had a chance during that month to reach out and share individually with over 5000 Israelis the good news of Messiah Jesus. Over 1700 of them gave us their names and addresses, wanting more literature and follow-up. That follow-up is going on right now. We prayed with 63 Israelis to receive Jesus as their Messiah and Lord. Isn’t that awesome? Praise the Lord. As a result, Jews for Jesus now have a permanent presence in the city of Jerusalem. It’s about time. I had so much fun. I had the opportunity to go around and be with different teams. We had 10 different teams; people who were reaching out to the ultra-Orthodox men and women. We had an art team, a sports team, and a university team. In fact, once I was with the people reaching out at a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It was a really hot day. They had closed down a lot of the streets of Jerusalem because the Italian bike racing team was doing a race through the city.
It was hot so we decided we would give out bottles of water to people. We were there giving out water and just talking to people who would stop and talk to us. One guy came up and said, “Man, I really like your hat.” I was wearing a San Francisco Giants hat. “I love the Giants. I wish I had a hat like that.” I said, “Really? Well, you can have mine.” He said, “Really? You’ll give your hat?” I said, “Yeah, I got more at home.” He said, “Well, why are you doing this?” Of course, that led to a wonderful opportunity to explain why I was doing that. He’s one of those 1700. He gave me his name and address. During the following weeks in the month of May, we went four times to open up the scriptures and talk.
Michael is on a journey. In fact, he’s on a journey right now because he said, “I’m going to be coming to the United States. My old college buddy is in San Francisco. If I come out, you want to go to a game together?” We’ve been in touch on Facebook, and he’s coming. So, pray for Michael and pray for all of the things that God is doing. Talk about a spark. This has been the most exciting ministry experience of my life. I’m so glad to be able to share some of it with you because I’m one of the people that Cornerstone supports. I’m your missionary with Jews for Jesus in Jerusalem and all around the place. So, thanks for your prayers. When Pastor Terry asked me to wrap up this section of the summer series, the Sparks series, my mind immediately went to one of my favorite Bible stories, which is found in Luke chapter 19 about Zacchaeus.
I really relate to Zacchaeus. I called this message, ‘Jesus, Zack, and Us.’ This is a story that actually had a very real practical application for me because as I was thinking about it and starting to read the scripture, I went down to LA to visit my family. One morning I was cooking breakfast for my six-year-old granddaughter, Nora, making her oatmeal. She pulled out the silver box from her bedroom and opened it up. There’s a stack of money, $5 bills, $1 bills. She starts counting it with a great deal of intensity. I said, “Nora, where did you get all that money?” She said, “People, the tooth fairy, my birthday,” and she’s counting it. All of a sudden, she comes out with this, “When I grow up, I want to be really rich.” I said, “Okay, this is going to be a teachable moment.”
I said, “You know, Nora? Money isn’t everything.” She’s still counting that money. Finally, I said, “Nora, can I read you a Bible story?” She stopped and said, “Yes.” I went and got her Jesus Bible Storybook. It’s not exactly a translation, but I think they get it pretty right. It’s in your handout, and you have to imagine me reading this to Nora. I hope that it means as much to you as it meant to me, and now to Nora. It’s called The Man Who Didn’t Have Any Friends (None). “There once was a man who didn’t have any friends. None. Do you have any friends? Well, of course, you do, but not Zacchaeus. Poor Zacchaeus didn’t have any. You’re probably wondering why. Was it because he was so short? That’s not a reason not to like someone.
Was it because he had a name that was hard to say? Well, neither is that. Even though he was short and he did have a funny name, that wasn’t it. No. People didn’t like Zacchaeus because he stole their money. Zacchaeus collected taxes. Taxes were what people had to pay the king. But, Zacchaeus took more than he was supposed to and kept the extra money for himself, and made himself rich. Everyone knew what he was up to, and it made them crass and grumpy. They didn’t like Zacchaeus one bit, so they made sure he knew it by doing things like avoiding him, and walking on the opposite side of the street and pretending not to see him, and whispering things like “There’s that nobody who thinks he’s a somebody,” loud enough so he could hear.
One day, a huge crowd gathered by the road. Jesus was coming to their town and everyone wanted to see him. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus too, but everyone was too tall. He tried jumping up and down, but that didn’t work. He couldn’t see a thing. Luckily, Zacchaeus had a good idea. “I’ll climb that Sycamore tree,” he said. So, he did. He was surprisingly good at climbing trees for a man who was so unusually short that he had to take a flying leap just to get into his chair in the morning. From the tree, Zacchaeus had the perfect view all the way down the road. Another minute and, suddenly, Jesus was at the tree. He stopped and looked up. Zacchaeus saw Jesus, and Jesus saw Zacchaeus. “Zacchaeus,” Jesus said. “I’d like to come over to your house.” Zacchaeus almost fell out of the tree.
Come over to his house? No one ever wanted to come anywhere near his house, let alone inside it. The people saw this and needless to say it made them even crasser and grumpier than usual. They mumbled and murmured and muttered. “Why is Jesus being kind to that big sinner? Doesn’t Jesus know about him?” Zacchaeus scrambled down and took Jesus to his house. He was in a big hurry because he didn’t want Jesus to change his mind. Perhaps, Jesus hadn’t heard about him. Perhaps, Jesus didn’t know about how he had been stealing and how no one liked him, and how he didn’t have any friends. But, Jesus knew. He knew all about Zacchaeus and the stealing and everything. And he still loved him.
Zacchaeus was ashamed. “Lord,” he said, turning pale. “What I’ve done is wrong, but now I want to do the right thing. I will give the money back to everyone four times what I stole.” And that’s just what he did. Jesus smiled. “My friend,” he said. “Today, God has rescued you.” Jesus loved Zacchaeus when nobody else did. He was Zacchaeus’ friend even when no one else was because Jesus was showing people what God’s love was like. His wonderful, never-stopping, never-giving-up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”
Isn’t that a great story? I love that story, and now Nora loves that story, and we share it between us. In fact, there’s a little ditty that, if you grew up in Sunday school, maybe you learned it. I was able to teach it to Nora. “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a Sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. And as the Savior passed that way, he looked up in the tree, and he said, “Zacchaeus, you come down for I’m going to your house today.”
I can’t think of this story, and I encourage you to read the story in Luke 19, but it’s a bond. It was a teachable moment because it was the Bible story that Nora and I love. We read it every time we’re together. There are sparks in the story that transformed Zacchaeus’ life. I want to look at three of them because I think that they transformed my life and I think they can transform all of our lives. There’s a spark of regret. There’s a spark of opportunity, and a spark of welcome. Let’s think about these three. Zacchaeus, as we learned from this story, was a tax collector. In fact, we know where it was. It’s not mentioned in that version, but in the Luke 19 Bible story, you’ll see that he came from Jericho.
Jericho, you can still go and visit today. You can see its proximity to Jerusalem. It was down in the valley, the Jordan river valley, and it was a border town. It was actually a very well-to-do town in Jesus’ day because that’s what people would come through, that city, on the way up to Jerusalem. They would come to bring their offerings and their tithes. In Jericho, that’s where they got taxed. Coming across a border, you get taxed by customs. Zacchaeus, the short guy, was probably under five feet tall. At the time, that was what constituted as short in Israel. But, he was not just the tax collector. He was the chief tax collector. In other words, he had tax collectors collecting tax for him. There was a lot of money that came into his coffers. He became very rich.
What you need to understand is that Zacchaeus was not collecting taxes for the Israeli government, the Jewish government. He was collecting taxes for the Roman government. At this point, Israel was under the thumb of Roman domination, and it was a very heavy tax burden that they placed on the Jewish people. Zacchaeus was colluding with the enemy. We hear about Russian collusion. This is Roman collusion. He was colluding with the enemy and made that choice because he wanted to be rich. That was a way to become very rich in Jesus’ day, but he had to pay the price. He became a social pariah, an outcast. He experienced in his own life the consequences of that choice to collude with the Romans and to steal money from people in order to advance his own purposes. That certainly caused regret. A regret that he lived with each and every day as he was the social outcast in the community.
Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” Zacchaeus ignored that good advice, and chose the great riches, and lost the good name. But then, he had an opportunity, because Jesus was coming to town. In Luke 18, in the previous chapter, we find out that when Jesus was on his way into Jericho, he healed a blind man. This is not something that happens every day, so the crowds would have been huge. Zacchaeus, because of his regret and ostracized lifestyle, couldn’t just squeeze in next to people. He was an outcast. He couldn’t see because he was short. So, he takes this opportunity to climb the Sycamore tree.
In Jericho today, you can see what they call the Zacchaeus tree. It is a Sycamore tree. Let’s see if we can get it up on the screen. You’ll notice that it’s a big tree but I can assure you that was not the tree that Zacchaeus climbed. 2000-year-old tree, no, that’s not one of those. You can see that it’s a great tree to climb. If you were a kid who liked climbing trees, that’s a cool tree to get up in. Of course, the branches are so big and spacious that you can have a good view. That was the opportunity. He could see a blind man had been healed just on the other side of town. Now, a man, who was blind from his own ambition, was going to get a chance to see as Jesus came by. There’s that moment where the crowd, I’m sure there’s this huge crowd, everybody’s pressing around, and Jesus comes under that tree, looks up, and says, “Zacchaeus.”
He had never met Zacchaeus before. How did he know his name? Because he’s Jesus, and Jesus knows everybody by name. “Zacchaeus.” The outcast was all of a sudden the center of attention. “Come on down, because I’m going to your house today.” It was not typical in those times and probably not today either to invite yourself to somebody else’s home. Right? But again, this is Jesus. His invitation, self-inviting, was for Zacchaeus a game-changer. “Man, why did he do that? Doesn’t Jesus know who this guy is?” Jesus, his whole life and ministry, was showing people that God loves others who other people have given up on. That was Jesus’ ministry. Zacchaeus had to say yes, didn’t he? He got the spark of regret that led to a spark of opportunity. Jesus said, “I want to come to your house.” Zacchaeus could have said no, but he said yes. He welcomed Jesus in.
That welcome transformed his life and changed the dynamic of his relationships in the community because God had convicted him of what he had done wrong. Zacchaeus decided he wasn’t going to continue in that same way. He said, “Jesus, I know I’ve done wrong. I’m going to give the money back four times and give half of my wealth away,” which he did. Although we don’t hear about his story after this, no doubt, every single person he paid back four times what he had taken, probably became pretty good friends with Zacchaeus. It most likely transformed his life. That’s what the welcome does. Finally, the spark of regret, the spark of opportunity, and then the spark of welcome, and faith comes alive as it did for Zacchaeus. The Bible passage ends in Jesus saying, “Today, salvation has come to this house for this truly is a son of Abraham.”
Up until then, they were saying, “You’re not even part of the tribe anymore.” He knows he’s a son of Abraham “for the son of man has come to seek and save that which is lost.” That’s what Jesus is all about. I’ve experienced a ‘spark’ in my own life. A little bit of my background, I grew up in a family that was loving and full of faith. What a great heritage it was for me. Except, I turned my back on it when I got into high school. There were two things that I was really into, partying and music. In fact, music was my God. I was so focused on that music that nothing else mattered to me. In fact, for the partying part, I found myself partying alone often. When I finally graduated from high school, I didn’t even go. I didn’t care. Proverbs says that “he who isolates himself seeks his own will.” I was isolated like Zacchaeus.
I got a scholarship to go to Boston University. I’m a trumpet player and wanted to succeed. That was what meant everything to me. I went to Boston University School of Music. In the first month, one of the most important things to get you on the trajectory is an audition to get into a performance group. For most freshmen, it wasn’t a guarantee. If you were decent, you got into the concert band. If you’re really good, you might get into the concert orchestra, but that usually was reserved for older students, like juniors or seniors. Then, there’s this symphony orchestra, which nobody gets into unless they’re really good or they’re graduate student level.
I did not want to be in the band. I wanted to be in the orchestra. So, just before the audition, I prayed for the first time in a long time. I said, “God, if you get me into the concert orchestra, I’ll think about serving you.” Now, that is what they call chutzpah, ‘Nerve.’ But, I did. I prayed that prayer. I went in and did the audition, thought I did great, came back the next week when they posted the results. Looking at the concert band, looking at the concert orchestra, my name’s not there. I’m devastated. I go to the dean of the school of music and I say, “Hey, I know I played a good audition. What happened?” He said, “What’s your name?” “David Brickner.” He says, “Just a second.” He went and looked. He says, “David, you got into the symphony orchestra.” He says, “Don’t worry, they’re in China right now on tour. They’ll be back in a few months. Just relax and you’ll play with them when they get back.” Do you know what I said? “I am so good. I’ve made it. All right.”
That very next hour, I was to have my first lesson with the first trumpet of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I got myself all warmed up and went into a studio, and he said, “Play something.” So, I had this Etude, I knew I could play it. I sat down, picked up the trumpet, and nothing. I almost heard the music of the Twilight Zone. What was going on? He says, “Oh, David, we’re going to have to change your embouchure.” Which, for a trumpet player, is like major surgery. It means taking the mouthpiece and moving it to a different part of your lips. It puts you out of commission for six weeks, and I’m saying, “No, no. Mr. Schmedbig, don’t. There’s something, I don’t know what it is.”
He says, “Well, are you worried about how you’re going to be in the performance? Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. Did you get into one?” I said, “Yeah, I got into the symphony orchestra.” He said, “No.” I said, “No, I did.” So, he calls the dean. He says, “David Brickner. Did he get into the Symphony? Really?” “Well, we’re still going to have to change that embouchure.” I walked out of that studio just devastated. I mean, talk about regret. All the things that I had sacrificed, all the things that I had worked for, and all of the kind of self-serving attitude had led me to this point, and then this. I’m trudging down Commonwealth Avenue Downtown Boston towards the Student Union, and all of a sudden, I remembered my prayer.
I looked up, and 50 feet from me were two people with Jews for Jesus t-shirts on handing out tracks. It was like I got stuck in one of those heavenly chorus spotlights shining down, the Rubik’s cube coming together. I don’t know how this happened. I think, “Whoa.” This was a divine appointment. It was miraculous because of the sequence, the timing, and everything. I knew it, nobody else had to see that miracle, but I knew it was God. That was my opportunity, and I took it. I went up to those people from Jews for Jesus and introduced myself. They invited me to a Bible study and I went. Do you want to talk about welcome? I can still remember to this very day, walking into that home. There were about a dozen young college-aged kids sitting on the floor with Bibles. It was just the sense of love and acceptance. You could feel it.
Jeremiah says to Israel, “I’ve loved you with an everlasting love. Yes, with loving kindness, I’ve drawn you to myself.” That’s my story about how regret, opportunity, and welcome changed my life. It did. I still love music. I had a chance to play all over the world, record seven different albums of music, but I’ve done it in the service of God who called me to Himself. He showed me that He is much more valuable than any of the things that I wanted for myself. He’s the most valuable and He loves me. So, I don’t know where you are coming from today. As you walked in here, there’s a little bit of a background we all carry that’s different. Everybody’s on a journey. But, I think that the same God has the same love for you.
I want you to think about these three sparks. The spark of regret. Is there anything, when I said that, that came to your mind then or now? Some people say, “Oh, I live my life with no regret,” and I know what they mean. You don’t want to keep looking back. You’ve got to look forward in life. But, all of us have gotten it wrong at different times. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve had things happen to us, broken relationships that are still raw. Things that we wish we had done that we didn’t, things that we did that we wish we’d hadn’t. It doesn’t even have to be a career choice like Zacchaeus, that kind of boxed us in. It could be something very simple. A missed opportunity, that road less taken that we didn’t take, and now we realize that we’ve put ourselves in a situation where can we get it back? Can we change the trajectory of our lives?
Well, that’s what grace does for us. That’s what the love of God does for us. That’s what Jesus does for us. He gives our life prospectus, that past performance does not have to determine future results. That’s the grace of God. Whatever the regret is that you walked in here with, you don’t need to carry it. In fact, you’re walking in here today may be the very opportunity that God is giving for this regret to be lifted, for the trajectory of your life to be changed, for the choices that you’ve made that you wish you could have back to be resolved in a wonderful new way that God intends for you. It’s okay to have regrets. It’s okay to have lots of regrets. If you look for the opportunity to bring it to Jesus, there’s a Sycamore tree in every one of our lives. You have to climb into the tree, look for it, and watch for it. What’s that tree?
It could just be coming here today. As Pastor Terry said, you got up and made a decision to come to the house of the Lord. God honors that by giving the opportunity to see Jesus. He’s here and He knows your name. We can’t hide. There’s no tree that’s high enough to keep us from His sight. He knows everything about us, the good, the bad, and the ugly. He loves us. So, wherever that journey takes us, the opportunity that God affords us, it doesn’t even have to be some sort of an aha moment. It can just be, “Oh yeah, I see where the trajectory of my life has led me to this point, where I can say, ‘All right, I’m going to respond. I’m going to welcome Jesus.'”
I love the way that Jesus invites Himself. Because, when we welcome Jesus, He welcomes us. There’s a double welcome that leads to transformation. The welcome of Jesus brings transformation that we cannot do on our own. We’ve tried to do this. It’s like dieting. You keep trying, and then you fail. All the things that we try to do in life. It’s because we’re trying to do them in our own strength, but Jesus has the power to change our lives. All He asks us is to welcome Him because He’s welcoming us.
There’s that wonderful verse in the book of Revelation, 30:20. Jesus says to each and every one of us, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him, and he with me.” You’ve got an engraved invitation from the master culinary artist of life to dine, to eat of the riches, the treasure, and the goodness of God. We all have that. Once we eat and drink the food and beverage that Jesus brings into the home when we welcome Him is life-transforming. We don’t have to hunger and thirst as Pastor John taught about the woman at the well. You drink this water, you won’t thirst anymore. You eat this food that He brings in when you welcome Him, you’re not hungry because there’s an ongoing spark of faith.
If you’re here today and you’ve not had that spark of faith to say, “Jesus, I welcome you in,” this is your opportunity. You can do it. We’re going to pray in just a moment. I want to invite you to meet God and say yes to Jesus. But, that spark of faith continues for us who follow the Lord. We need that spark. We need faith to be strengthened. Whatever it is, whatever regret, whatever challenges that we’re facing in life, the finger of God wants to touch that sore point right now because He loves us. That unbreakable, unending, ever-ready love of God that He has as He calls our name. Let’s pray. This is a holy moment that God can spark life and faith in each one of us as we bring whatever regrets we have, whatever concerns that only He can meet and transform.
Lord, we don’t want to miss the opportunity that you give us right here and now. Any of the opportunities, later on, this day, this week, Lord, we want to seize every one of them to allow you to do your work in our lives. So, right now, Lord Jesus, we welcome you in. We hear your knock. We hear your voice. We know there are places in our lives that we haven’t welcomed you in, where we’ve kept you at a distance, oh Lord, and we’ve suffered the consequences of that. Now, we want to say, please come, Lord. Come in, Jesus. Come into that sore point in my life, come into that regretful moment, come into that brokenness, and bring life. You came to seek and save that which is lost, and we, Lord, often lose our way. Would you come and dine with us, Lord? Transform our lives and make us again, as you say we are, your children. In Jesus’ name, amen.
The Lord has a plan for our future that can give us hope for today.
Guest speaker Jeff Louie compels us to make changes through the power of Christ.