John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

"I Must"

Jesus was obviously from God. Like Nicodemus had pointed out, all you had to do was look at all the miracles he did. But Jesus hung out with people who seemed an awful lot like Zacchaeus. Still, the wee little man wasn’t sure he wanted to get too close. He wanted to see Jesus, but he also wanted to be able to keep a safe distance. That’s one reason he climbed a tree – he wanted to see without being seen.

And he probably thought his plan was going to work. Jesus came right up next to the tree, and Zach was probably thinking, “This is great. I can see him. I’m going to be able to hear every word he says.” But then Jesus stopped and actually looked up into the tree. Now, the plan had backfired. There was no escape. Jesus had the wee little man up a tree.

“Zacchaeus, come down from there.”

Notice that Jesus did not say, “Zacchaeus, don’t make me come up there!” Nor did he say, “Peter? John? Go up there and get him!”

Jesus invited Zacchaeus to come down, and then it was his choice.  Zacchaeus could have stayed up there. He could have held on for dear life, and Jesus would have probably gone away eventually. But then there would have been no healing, no restoration.

The first step is always this: Will you come out of hiding?

Until you do, there can be no real community, no real intimacy with God or others. Unless you’re willing to come out of hiding, you’ll be forever stuck up a tree.

But, if Jesus’ patience is astonishing (and it is), there’s something he’s about to say that’s even more breath-taking.

Jesus looks up into the tree and says to this man who is despised and shunned by his own people, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

Not, “Come down here so I can give you the thrashing you’ve got coming.” Not, “Come down here and apologize for what you’ve been doing to these nice people.”

“Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

Not, “I want to.” Not, “I’m going to.”

“I must.”

I read other stories, and I root for Jesus. I want him to reach out and touch the leper. I want him to heal that man who was born blind. Neither of those guys did anything to deserve their situation.

I want Jesus to explain things to Nicodemus. He seems to be a good guy with a good heart. He just has some misguided beliefs and bad theology to work through. He’s been blinded to the truth, but if someone will just explain it to him in language he can understand, I’m sure he’ll come around.

When Jesus goes out of his way to call out Zacchaeus, there’s something in me that cringes. This guy had chosen his situation. Nobody forced him to become a tax collector. He brought this upon himself. He knew the right thing, and he chose to do wrong anyway.

Still, Jesus says, “This is what I must do. My mission will be incomplete unless I go to your house today.”

This is how grace is revealed. This is how the kingdom of God breaks into our world. This is the work or God – not some kind of distraction from it.

Jesus came to show kindness to people who would never receive it elsewhere. He came to offer acceptance to people who did not deserve it. He came to bring grace and mercy to sinful little people like you and me and Zacchaeus.

Jesus says, “I must.” He must offer acceptance, community, fellowship to those on the outside – even those who have done it on purpose!

Jesus says, “I must.” And, as those who claim to follow him, we must as well. We must go and find those whose lives are in shambles through no fault of their own. We must go and find those who are mistaken in their thinking and blind to the truth. But we must also go and find those who have chosen to do wrong even though they knew better. And we must offer grace and healing to them too.

When I finally manage to grow up, I don’t intend to be the next Billy Graham or Max Lucado. I don’t need to get a job that pays gobs of money and provides me with the kind of security most people have. Those things are nice and all, but I’ve set my sights way higher than that.

As cheesy as it sounds, when I grow up I want to be like Jesus. I want to see people the way he sees them and be open for them to come see me too.