You and I know people who have become very different people from what they used to be.
One of the joys of a long-term pastorate (I have been pastor of the same church for 27 years) is getting to see life-change taking place. I know of people who moved from rebellious, selfish, and angry to generous, kind, and gentle. They have become Christ like people. How does that happen?
Of course, I can’t presume to tell why a person can change so drastically. Only the work of God’s Spirit in the life of a person can produce change, but we can look at people and begin to see what seems to have precipitated change.
The Gospel of Luke (19:1-10) tells us of a man named Zacchaeus, a tax collector in Israel for the Roman government.
In the days of Jesus, tax collectors were generally known as traitors and cheats. Traitors because they facilitated the occupation of the Roman army and cheats because no one knew what the taxes were. The tax collectors could charge whatever the market could bear and apparently most did.
When Jesus came through Jericho, Zacchaeus was ready to see Jesus. The Spirit of God must have already been moving in his life.
After the encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus pledged to give half of his goods to the poor and to make restitution to anyone he had defrauded.
You can’t argue with that kind of change.
What brought it about?
Two areas seem apparent: 1) the fellowship with followers of Christ, and 2) the person of Jesus.
I have often said: “I know plenty of people who don’t like church or pastors, but I have never met anyone who examined the life of Jesus who didn’t like Him.” Zacchaeus fit that description. After spending time in the fellowship of those who followed Jesus (Jesus had been traveling with a large crowd) and especially with the Lord Himself, Zacchaeus demonstrated genuine repentance. He became a true follower of Christ.
The fact that Luke used the name may have meant that many people knew Zacchaeus and the power of Christ in his life.
We miss the significance of two parts of our faith.
First, we miss the significance of Christian fellowship. The church is special. When we live with a genuine desire to be like Christ, we will help others to know Him as well.
Second, we miss the significance of the person of Jesus. The church must place Christ above all else. The church is not a nice group of people who mean well; it is the very body of Christ. Luke and the other Gospel writers wrote to show that Jesus is the Son of God who came in power. He died for our sins, and God raised Him from the dead.
We too often miss the significance of proclaiming Christ and the blessing of welcoming people into His body.
When we live in genuine love and fellowship and show who Jesus is, we will see lives changed.