Religious moralism and relativism is ingrained in men by nature, showing the work of the law written in their hearts. The LORD JESUS spent much of HIS ministry exposing and combating these very notions which were epitomized by the leaders among the Jews. The Pharisee’s (especially) and the Sadducees were poster children for the perception that some men are greater sinners than others and that some men are more deserving of destruction than others.
Few (if any) people are free from this concept in some measure. It is a most common trait to look upon the transgressions of others with disdain (to some degree) while justifying ourselves by a comparison of what we consider are our own lesser faults. Very few would not admit that they do have faults and even transgressions of one kind or another. Yet all are able to find some who they consider are worse than themselves. This is just indicative of the actual depravity of all men rather than the proof that some are less so than others. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)
Now there are many who will quote this scripture with a knowing conviction and a twinkle in their eye who will turn right around and grade other’s actions compared to their own and thank GOD that they are not as bad as them. We see this mindset epitomized in the prayer of the Pharisee (a most sincere prayer I might add); “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” (Luke 18:11-12) He took notice of this wicked tax collector and had regard unto his own morality compared to him, even thanking GOD for his comparative righteousness. He also mentioned his own performance of acts of devotion, as he sought to establish his own righteousness before the LORD.
The religious tradition in which I was raised placed a lot of emphasis on “tithing” and hardly any opportunity was missed to remind folks that the “tithe is the LORD’s”. Scoreboards were placed on the wall to let everyone know how much money was collected each week. I don’t suppose they had ever paid much attention to the LORD’s own words regarding such things as HE said, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: ----Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men.-------But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” (Mat 6:1-3)
All of the righteousness of men of whatever type it may be is but dung before the LORD who likened the “the righteousnesses” of Israel to “filthy rags” (i.e. menstrual cloths). If the very best that men perform is illustrated by filthy rags how must their transgressions appear. All men, without exception, are worthy of death and destruction. It is a wonder of wonders that the LORD has chosen to save any from among them. But such is the good news of the “gospel” that HE “came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17) The man who has regard to his own supposed “righteousness” is devoid of true repentance and has no grounds upon which he might consider that HE has been “called by the LORD”.
One of the most endearing accounts in the scriptures, to me as a child, was the story of Zaccheus. We even sang a little song about him as a “wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree, the Savior for to see.” While we were entertained as children by this delightful account and song, this is hardly a lesson which is to be dismissed as childish. For in the account of Zaccheus is a perfect illustration of the LORD’s dealing with and calling of HIS children. Sadly all I was taught about it was an emphasis on what Zaccheus did rather than the clear revelation of the Scriptures which presents what the SAVIOR did.
The account of Zaccheus and his ascent up the branches of a sycamore tree did not have its beginning on this day when the LORD JESUS passed through Jericho. For this tree, which evidently grew quite near to the roadside, was not a random tree. Rather this was a particular tree which was in the exact spot where it needed to be. Perhaps the LORD had sent a bird on a flight with a sycamore seed in his mouth and was directed to drop it in this exact spot, possibly before Zaccheus was ever born. However; it began to grow according to the LORD’s direction until it reached the exact size that it needed to be, for a man who “was little of stature.” (Luke 19:3) to climb up into this sycamore tree. Nobody was necessary to lift Zaccheus up into the tree.
Zaccheus had no intention of climbing this tree when he left home that morning. When he heard that this man JESUS of Nazareth was passing by this way, he probably figured he would stand with the crowd in a leisurely manner and see what all of the hubbub was about. Yet the crowd began to press upon him and he was forced to seek another vantage point where he might observe the goings on. Lo and behold a sycamore tree was in just the right spot and the branches were spaced just right for him to climb up and (as he thought) observe the parade unobstructed and unnoticed.
Imagine his surprise when all of a sudden the procession stopped and he found himself face to face with the KING of SALVATION who had stopped at this exact spot and looked up into the tree where he was perched. Imagine his further surprise, when this ONE, whom he had never met, called him by name and invited HIMSELF over to Zaccheus’ house. Now we are not told this, but likely there were other trees and perhaps others who were perched therein whom the LORD took no notice of. Yet as the LORD told the Jews, “I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:25-27)
The LORD called him by name because HE knew him from before the foundation of the world and just as HE said, “he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.” (John 10:3) HE made no request of Zaccheus but rather commanded Zaccheus to come down for HE was going to abide in his house this very day. There was no time for preparation nor was any needed for when the SAVIOR comes to dwell with a man HE brings HIS own cleaning crew.
Zaccheus made haste and came down immediately and rejoiced that the LORD was to be a guest in his home. This is illustrative of that which the LORD said about HIS sheep. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.” (Psa 110:3) This was the day of HIS power and we read of the absolute nature of HIS determination to visit Zaccheus with HIS presence, for HE said, “I must abide at thy house.” This is the same necessity which we see mentioned when HE would keep an appointment at a well in Samaria with a woman who would come there to draw water from a well and wound up drinking from a FOUNTAIN which never runs dry. “And he must needs go through Samaria.” (John 4:4) These are not random meetings but rather those arranged by HIM.
Many murmured with dissatisfaction that the LORD had gone to be a guest in a sinner’s house (see v.7) for they considered themselves far more worthy of HIS presence. Yet the LORD came into the world to save sinners and to leave the righteous (which need no repentance); alone. HE saveth such as be of a broken and contrite spirit, who know themselves to be unworthy of the least of the LORD’s mercies. Those who have any regard to their own self worth shall surely perish, while the publicans and harlots enter the kingdom of GOD. Are you satisfied with your religion and certain that you are more righteous than many others? If so you shall lay down in sorrow when HE comes to judge the quick and the dead.mam