The Next Step
It is my sincere prayer today that our response to this message could be completely corporate, that everyone could take a next step toward Jesus after hearing what He has asked me to share today.
Luke 19:1-10 (NIV) 1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.'” 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
Let’s take a minute and identify what we can learn about Zacchaeus from these verses.
He was short. (verse 3)
He was a “chief tax collector.” (verse 2)
He was wealthy. (verse 2)
He wasn’t well-liked or well thought of. (verse 7) tells us that when the crowd saw Jesus interacting with him they accused Jesus of hanging out with low-life kind of people, with “sinners.”
Alright, allow me some commentary for our understanding. Unlike many, Zacchaeus wasn’t seeking Jesus because of some need. Many who sought an audience with Jesus or who wanted to follow after Him needed healing. For them, Jesus was relief. He was an answer to an earthly problem. The text doesn’t tell us that Zacchaeus was struggling in his physical body in any way. Zacchaeus also wasn’t following Jesus because he needed him to take care of him or provide for his physical needs. Zacchaeus was wealthy, so from an earthly standpoint, he was good to go. He could take care of himself.
One thing I want to point out is what many, if not most of us think we know about Zacchaeus, but we cannot prove. I would suggest that based on what we learned in Sunday School and based on how we hate having to pay taxes and based on what we know about tax collectors in biblical history, we assume that Zacchaeus was also a crook, that he took more than he was supposed to. However, the text doesn’t tell us that. In fact, the text suggests that Zacchaeus was an honest tax collector. He said in verse 8, “If I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Notice, he didn’t say, “I will pay back four times the amount to anyone I have cheated.” No, he said, “If I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will make it right.” As I read the text, it seems to me that it wasn’t Zacchaeus’s intent to do anything but his job, to do anything but what was right, that he wasn’t the kind of person who was intentionally trying to take what he shouldn’t. As he reviewed his conscience, his actions, no one was coming to mind that he would have to repay, but IF such had taken place, he was willing to make it right.
For our purposes today, I want to make one general big point about Zacchaeus, and it is this:
Zacchaeus wanted to see what he had not yet seen. That is what verse 3 says. It says he wanted to see who Jesus was. He hadn’t ever seen Jesus. I assume he had heard of Him. Perhaps he had heard that He was an amazing teacher. Maybe he had caught wind of some of Jesus’ miracles. He wanted to check Him out. I’m not sure what you can tell from a person just by their appearance or just by being in their presence for a few minutes, but to Zacchaeus, it was worth a look, so he took a step.
I guess you could say Zacchaeus took a step out of mere curiosity. Nothing wrong with that. We are all born with a curious nature. Babies become adventurous explorers as soon as they can reach and crawl. Curiosity leads us down all kinds of paths and results in many life lessons, both good and bad. Ecclesiastes 3:10 says that God has set eternity in the hearts of men which means we are curious to find God, curious to understand what awaits us in the next life. We are born with a preoccupation to wonder why we are here and how we can fulfill our purpose.
Some people, I suppose, are good at suppressing their spiritual curiosity or at least minimizing it by distracting themselves with busyness, their own pursuits or with a preoccupation of the things of the world, but that doesn’t change the fact that underneath it all, worldly success or worldly preoccupations can’t satisfy the curiosity about spiritual matters. If it could satisfy our spiritual thirst, our spiritual pursuits, Zacchaeus would have been content to simply be a rich, honest tax collector. His life, however, shows us that our spiritual curiosity is only satisfied by taking a step toward investigating this Jesus person.
Maybe we try to squelch our curiosity because we are afraid of what will happen if we get too close to Jesus. Maybe we are afraid He will call us to sell all of our possessions, leave all that we know and move to Africa and live in a hut for the rest of our lives. I suppose anything is possible. We know that at least 12 disciples did uproot their lives to follow Jesus. But something interesting to me about Zacchaeus is that he was a tax collector before he met Jesus and he was still a tax collector after. He simply went about being a tax collector with a different heart, a Jesus’ heart, a salvation heart. He wanted to do what he did with the right heart which is indicated by his desire to make sure he was never cheating anyone. Maybe he had always been a good man, but from that moment on he simply wanted to be God’s man. Perhaps it wouldn’t look so different to anyone else on the outside, but it was different for Zacchaeus, and it all began with one step.
He wanted to see what he had not seen, so he didn’t let a physical limitation like being short keep him from taking a step to see Jesus. He wanted to see what he had not seen, so he didn’t let the opinion of others who considered him to be a sinner or an outcast or a dishonest person just because of his profession, keep him from taking a step. In fact, he even took a second step when he came out of the tree at Jesus’ request. That meant his curiosity was now public. He took a step in front of the crow, and of course a third step was to allow Jesus to invite Himself over to Zacchaeus’s home. He went from curiosity to committed pretty quickly, but it started with a step.
Don’t let a physical or earthly limitation keep you from taking a step. Don’t let the opinions of others keep you from taking a step. Don’t let your ability to provide for your own earthly needs keep you from taking a step. Allow your curiosity to cause you to take a step toward Jesus.
The second person I want to highlight is someone who took a step toward Jesus in a very private meeting. His name is Nicodemus. We read his story in John chapter 3.
John 3:1-10 1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” 3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” 4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” 5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” 9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?
Here is what we know about Nicodemus. He had also excelled in his career. Jesus even called him “Israel’s teacher” in verse 10. Nicodemus was no ordinary religious leader. He was a member of the ruling counsel known as the Sanhedrin. He was respected. He talked and people listened. He knew his stuff, at least when it came to the Law of Moses and the history of Judaism, but he couldn’t quite figure out how Jesus fit into all of it. That is why Jesus said to him in verse 3, “You can’t figure this all out Nicodemus. It isn’t about more knowledge. You can’t see what is supposed to be seen with spiritual eyes, unless you are born again, born anew.” Nicodemus had taken an intellectual approach to religion and God, and Jesus’s talk about a new birth, an experience, an internal happening, separate from merely adding religious knowledge was difficult to understand.
Oh Zacchaeus had come to Jesus with curiosity, but I would say Nicodemus came to Jesus with knowledge. I make that claim because he began his conversation with Jesus by telling him how much he knew and what he knew. In verse 2 he called Jesus a Rabbi. There was an element of respect there. You get the sense that Nicodemus saw Jesus as a peer, as a colleague. He went on in verse 2 to say, “We know you come from God.” Obviously, Jesus had been the subject of many discussions the religious leaders had been having. Nicodemus then acknowledged that Jesus was a miracle worker and that He could only be accomplishing the miracles He had been performing through God’s power.
Nicodemus, you see, had some knowledge and some religious grounding, but there were some things he couldn’t quite grasp. He needed to take a step to know what he didn’t yet know. Nicodemus only knew about rules and performance in accordance with the Laws. He didn’t understand what Jesus went on to explain in the second part of John 3, about how the Spirit of God gets involved inside of a person to change the way they want to think and respond and act.
It is interesting to me that Nicodemus took a private step, a quiet step as he went to see Jesus after dark. Not everyone is comfortable coming down out of the tree in a crowd to have the spotlight on them. Some people need to work through things of faith on their own, at least at first.
Nicodemus was obviously convinced about the new birth Jesus described. When we read on in John’s Gospel in chapter 7, we see that Nicodemus stood up for Jesus when no one else would. The other members of the religious ruling group were ready to condemn Jesus. It was Nicodemus who said in John 7:51 that no decision should be made without personally hearing from Jesus. It had been that step toward a personal encounter with Jesus that had made the difference for Nicodemus. Hearing from Jesus is far different than hearing about Him. Nicodemus had heard directly from Jesus.
Perhaps it isn’t so important that the encounter was private, but it is of utmost importance that it was personal. Nicodemus took a step to talk to Jesus personally and to understand what difference Jesus could make in his own personal life. Now, because of taking a step to know what he had not known, Nicodemus had become someone who was taking up for Jesus.
The final mention of Nicodemus is in John 19 where we read that he bought and brought burial spices to prepare Jesus’s body for burial. He, along with Joseph of Arimathea, prepared Jesus body and wrapped it in strips of linen. Talk about a public act of devotion. When most of the disciples had scattered and abandoned Jesus, Nicodemus was there for Him. What began as a quiet conversation in the dark led to a very public demonstration of love and devotion in the light of day, and it all began with one step to seek to know what earthly knowledge hadn’t been able to teach him. He needed spiritual knowledge that isn’t acquired through an intellectual or academic pursuit. It wasn’t until that personal encounter with Jesus that Nicodemus could learn to know what he had never known. Salvation doesn’t come through knowledge or performance but through surrender and a new birth.
I fear a lot of people will miss heaven because of their confidence in their own intellect or knowledge. They think they can read enough, reason enough, or add enough enlightenment to their spiritual selves through information and knowledge. It can’t be done. Nicodemus thought he knew it all until he met Jesus. Until we meet Jesus personally, we can’t know what we don’t know and will be tempted to “lean on our own understanding” and miss it all.
Nicodemus risked a lot to pursue Jesus. His religious friends would have warned him that it was political suicide and a career-ending move to side with Jesus or to be suspected to be one of His followers. Nicodemus didn’t let any of that keep him from taking that step.
Don’t let earthly wisdom, powerful people, mystical ideas, intellectual pursuits, and even religious knowledge keep you from a heart-changing, life-giving relationship with Jesus. Take a step toward Him, to reach out in a personal way. Like Nicodemus, you may find yourself walking out of the shadows and into the bold daylight of the crucifixion before long.
Finally, I want us to look at the response of the crowd on the Day of Pentecost after Peter preached his incredible sermon about the resurrection. Look at Acts 2:37-41:
Acts 2:37-41 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
When the Word of God was preached with the power of the Holy Spirit, it was the people in the crowd who asked Peter for the next steps they should take. They took a step to do what they had not done. They knew they had to do something. They were “cut to the heart.” There was conviction in their hearts, but they weren’t sure what the next step was, so they asked. I suppose just asking the question was even an appropriate next step. Sometimes we have a sense or leading that we need to do something in response to what God is saying to us, but we aren’t sure what it is. Even taking a step to ask someone who seems to be in tune with the Holy Spirit is a great step to take.
Maybe you are here today with a stirring in your heart. Perhaps you know God has more for you than you have yet pursued, and it is time to take that next step to seek out just what God has planned by asking for some spiritual counsel as the people did on the Day of Pentecost.
In addition to that, when Peter told them what the next steps were, they took them. In fact, 3000 people took the next steps in response to Peter’s answer to their question. That is pretty incredible. There was repentance. There was baptism. There was Holy Spirit-infilling. Did that mean they had being a Christian down pat? Did that mean there would be no more steps to take? No. It means that they took the very next appropriate steps in response to what they had heard and to what was going on in their hearts.
Zacchaeus was curious, and he took a step toward Jesus. Nicodemus was knowledgeable, but he wanted more. He wanted more than knowledge. He wanted understanding, so he took a step toward Jesus. And the people in the crowd on the Day of Pentecost? They actually had an experience with the Holy Spirit. They were moved in their hearts. They were ready to take some big, bold steps toward Jesus, and when they were counseled about the appropriate steps, they took them.
What if today could be a “next step” day for ALL of us like it was for so many on the Day of Pentecost? What if we would open our hearts to the Holy Spirit and ask, “What is next for me, Lord?” Some of you here today need to step toward Jesus because of curiosity. You need to see what you haven’t seen. Some of you here today need to step toward Jesus in an effort to know what you have never known. If you seek Jesus personally, He will teach you what you need to know. Some of you have been convicted by the Holy Spirit that a big next step awaits, but you have been slow to respond. Here is what I know about next steps: The time to take the next step is the moment you become aware you need to.
Maybe a next step for you is to buy a study Bible. Perhaps a next step is to start praying for five minutes a day. Could it be that a next step for you is to get help for a life-controlling issue or to jump into a Sunday School class, a small group or our Wednesday night encounter? Quite possibly the next step for you is to ask Jesus to become your personal Lord and Savior and to surrender your life to learning what He wants for your life.
I sometimes hear people say they don’t believe in God, that they don’t hear his voice, that they don’t see evidence of His power, that they cannot place their trust in personal God who is Sovereign over the universe. Could it be because they haven’t taken a step toward Him? The Bible tells us God is a rewarder or revealer of Himself to those who earnestly seek Him. I’m not asking you to buy the whole message of the Gospel in this moment. I’m asking you to take a step. Take a step and see what God will do in response to your curiosity, in response to your desire to know more, in response to become and do more than you have ever known.
Don’t worry about the entire journey. Jesus is just asking you to make one step today. If you will, you can see what you have never seen, you will know what you have never known, and you will do what you have never done. In all three cases, the people who took a step were blessed in supernatural ways.