ZACCHAEUS & THE RICH RULER
DO WE PREACH GRACE OR LAW?
Two linked Bible stories reveal the differences between the effect of The Law and the effect of Grace.
(Lk 18:18) A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”……. (Lk 19:2) A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was………
It is not by coincidence that these two stories almost directly follow each other in The Scriptures!
1) WHY DID JESUS PREACH RELIGIOUS LAW TO SOME AND GRACE TO OTHERS?
God gives The Law to the Self-Righteous while to the humble and lost He shows Grace.
Jesus understood that The Law was given to expose Self-Righteousness and for bringing people to an end of themselves. This is the only reason Jesus preached The Law, he never preached The Law to condemn people. The Jewish Teachers of Jesus’ day had totally misunderstood the purpose of The Law of Moses (The ten commandments+). They used it for the exact opposite purpose for which it was intended. They taught that people could be saved and holy by obeying The Law.
In contrast Jesus preached The Law to show that no one could ever be saved by keeping The Law and that all fall short, all have sinned and all need a Saviour and Grace. Jesus never preached the Ten Commandments as an external moral code for man to live by or a way of obtaining Righteousness. Jesus knew that these things could only come about through a heart transformed by Grace.
Let’s be honest, we all would like to keep the Ten Commandments, but the truth is that we all blow it, no matter how hard we try.
The good news is that under The New Covenant, our role is to recognize that we fall short of God’s holiness standard, we therefore rely on God’s Grace and find rest in Christ from The Law. The Law just brings us terrible condemnation and death (2Cor.3:7-9) so we need to get free from it.
It is only from position of Grace that we are able to live in the way God desires: a loving, generous, holy life full of the fruit of the Spirit. Right living flows from a heart that is full of Grace, it can never come about by trying to obey The Law.
Traditionally we have been taught that Jesus preached Laws for believers to aspire to and live by. However we have missed the truth that both Jesus and Paul used The Law in a different way, in the way for which it was originally intended i.e. to expose the sin of Self-Righteousness, pride and the sin of unbelief. Moral sin flows out of unbelief, moral sin is the fruit of man’s pride and independence from God.
This misunderstanding of the purpose of The Law has led to confusion in the Church and has resulted in an erroneous deadly mixture of Law and Grace that has produced terrible fruit in many Christian lives.
Looking at the two parables of the Rich Ruler and Zacchaeus help us understand how Jesus correctly applied Law and Grace with amazingly different results.
2) THE RICH RULER & THE LAW (Lk.18:18-24).
This parable typifies the Principle that to the Self-Righteous Jesus always preached The Law.
Luke 18:18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”19 Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!
The key context
Luke 18:9 Jesus spoke this parable to men who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.
Firstly, To enable us to fully understand what issue is actually being addressed it is very important to establish and interpret scripture in its context. A scripture taken out of context can be a con.
The context of these two stories is that Jesus was exposing the primary sin of pride and self-righteousness and was starting to reveal Grace to Israel.
Jesus knew that exposure of Self Righteousness is crucial, as the Self Righteousness deny the need for salvation…. after all who needs to be saved if they are righteous (in right standing with God) through their own efforts. Self-Righteousness is the ultimate manifestation of man’s pride, man’s self sufficiency and the Fallen nature of Mankind.
The issue of Righteousness by self effort or Righteous by Grace is in fact the key theme of Scripture, it is crux of the Cross and is one of the keys to fully understanding the Kingdom and the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Rom.14:17).
Points from the story of the Rich Ruler.
Jesus’ intent in this encounter was not to give us another impossible Law to obey “You must sell everything and give all your money to the poor”. Jesus was actually exposing Self-Righteousness and the bondage to money from which self-sufficiency and self-righteousness often flows.
Jesus was responding to a very specific question (v18) from a self-sufficient and rich Ruler who asked: “What must I do to inherit Eternal Life?”.
The Rich Ruler’s question reveals the foundations of Self-Righteousness i.e. Self Effort. This trait happens to be particularly pertinent to the Rich because they are self- sufficient, able and “Doers” based on:-
- The erroneous and arrogant belief that we are able “ to do” things that make us worthy, holy and sufficiently qualified to spend eternity with God.
- The assumption that we are good and don’t need a Saviour and God’s Grace.
- The belief that we can obey laws and keep The Law to the perfect degree that God’s Holy Law demands.
Jesus’ usual response to people wanting to ‘do things’ to get saved was to preach The Law in an extreme form. In this case it was “Go and sell everything, give it to the poor and follow me“. Jesus knew that the Rich Ruler believed he was good, able and righteous. Jesus also knew that he was obsessed with money. Despite his claim of having kept The Law since childhood, through his money making he had actually repeatedly broken the Law “Thou shalt not covet”. Sadly the Rich Ruler was blind to this fact.
If this Rich Ruler was ever to repent and be saved In response Jesus had to first reveal the Rich Rulers Self-Righteousness, spiritual blindness and bondage to money.
What is interesting is the actual affect the preaching of Law actually had on the Rich Ruler. Did he repent? No! Instead he hardened his heart and turned away from Jesus because he realised he could not DO what The Law required. In a way it seems like a strange story. No one was saved, no one repented and no one followed Jesus. However it needs to be said that firstly, the Rich Ruler missed the point of Jesus’ teaching. Secondly, not everyone is saved and The Lord gives us freewill to turn away if we choose. Thirdly, the sermon was not wasted as the listening crowd understood what was being taught and responded in the right way to Jesus’ teaching. The response Jesus was looking for was actually for people to understand their precarious position and cry out for Grace.
Lk 18:26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
Lessons from the Rich Ruler
- Self-Righteousness is a strong bondage which spiritually blinds people.
- The religious-rich are particularly prone to Self-Righteousness.
- No one can save themselves by keeping The Law.
- Law preaching results in condemnation and turning away from Jesus.
- Law preaching just reinforces how much we fall short and fail.
- Preaching The Law doesn’t get people saved.
- Preaching The Law does not lead to repentance.
Thankfully Jesus also didn’t leave us with just this story as He desired to teach us what happens when we preach The Law and what happens when we share Grace. The teaching continues and He reveals the way of Grace in the very next chapter. And thank God the results are astoundingly different!
3) THE RICH TAX COLLECTOR AND GRACE
Luke 19:2 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.”
The rich man in this story is called Zacchaeus which means “an Israelite”. He was a Jew just like the Rich Ruler and as such he was also under the Law of Moses. Zacchaeus was a very rich Jewish Tax collector who worked for the Romans. These tax collectors exploited and defrauded the Jewish people and they were intensely hated. The Jews considered him to be a traitor, a sinner and unclean (v7) -no one would associate with him.
Points from the story of Zacchaeus
What is crucial in this story is for us to see that Zacchaeus was desperate to encounter Jesus. This desperation for Jesus is what determines Jesus’ actions and response to Zacchaeus. Unlike the Rich Ruler, Zacchaeus’ focus was not on ‘what he should do’ but on who Jesus was. This rich man humbled himself and climbed a tree just so he could see Jesus. This must have been quite a sight and quite an effort for this short man. Jesus’ response to the rotten and corrupt Zacchaeus was pure love and Grace.
(v5) “ Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
This was amazing as Jesus knew that Zacchaeus was despised and a “sinner”. Jesus also knew that his offer to go to Zacchaeus’ house would offend people as Zacchaeus was a Jew, under the Law and clearly a Law breaker. However in stark contrast to Jesus’ response to the Rich Ruler:-
- Jesus never preached The Law to Zacchaeus.
- Jesus never once pointed out his sin or that Zacchaeus lacked anything.
- Jesus never indicated that He required Zacchaeus to do anything.
- He never condemned Zacchaeus in any way.
- Jesus simply showed him Grace and acceptance – by coming to his house to eat.
The affect of Jesus’ Grace and acceptance is nothing short of miraculous and is in stark contrast to the Rich Ruler who turned away from Jesus:-
- Zacchaeus is overwhelmed by Jesus’ Grace
- He welcomed Jesus and was full of joy (v6).
- He received salvation through Jesus (v9&10).
- The kindness of Jesus causes him to repent of his sinful way of life (v8).
- He was contrite and humble of heart and confessed his sin.
- Without being told what to do, his heart led him to do what was right (eous).
- He was set free from his bondage to money.
- He showed a heart for the poor and needy.
- He set out to make right the affects of his past sins.
It must be clearly understood that it is not his actions of giving away his money that gained him salvation and righteousness. Giving his money away was the result of his meeting Jesus, experiencing Grace and receiving salvation. True salvation and Grace always results in a transformed character and Godly good works that are from the heart.
Lessons from Zacchaeus.
- When people seek Jesus He responds in Grace. Jesus is Grace!
- Jesus shows Grace to those who are humble and not Self-Righteous.
- When we share Grace, unconditional love and acceptance, people will be saved.
- It’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance, not the Law.
- People don’t need the Law to know that they are sinners and fall short in some way.
- Repentance is a change of mind, a change of belief which results in a change of actions.
- True ‘good works’ come from a heart transformed by Grace.
- A heart touched by Grace will show concern for the oppressed and needy.
Preaching Religious Laws exposes peoples short coming but it doesn’t bring people to salvation.
There is a better way than preaching Law- it’s the way of revealing God’s love and Grace through Jesus Christ!
Not only does the Grace of Christ bring people to salvation but it transforms people’s characters and enables them to live Righteously.