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Christmas According to Jesus

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(12/8) Part 2: To Seek and To Save the Lost

I. The Stories of Rescue Everyone loves a good story. Many of our stories are about people who have been captured and held prisoner, or kidnapped and held for ransom, and how a gallant hero or special ops. team put together a plan and then rescue the princess or the captives and bring them home safely. Remember 20 years ago when Scott OíGrady was shot down over Bosnia and eluded capture for several days and was rescued by our Marines; or how Shosana Johnson and 6 others, or Jessica Lynch were rescued in the war in Iraq. The world rejoiced when the Chilean Miners were finally brought out to safety a few years ago. And we grieved when 12 out of 13 miners died a in a mine collapse in Sago W. Va, or the 25 that died in the mine explosion in Massey, W.Va. in 2010, because we want to hear of rescue, of people being saved.

July 4th, 1976 was a special day in History. Besides being my 25th birthday, it was the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. But that 4th of July marked another significant event as it was the day of one of the greatest rescue operations of recent times.

On June 27th, 1976 Air France flight 139 with 248 passengers and 12 crew, traveling from Ben Gurion airport in Israel to Paris by way of Athens was hijacked by members of the PLO. Armed with guns and grenades the plane was taken to Libya for refueling and then to Entebbe, Uganda. The hijackers wanted a total of 53 imprisoned terrorist to be released from jail or they would begin executing the passengers. After some negotiations most or 157 non Israeli passengers were released leaving 103 Jewish hostages and Air France crew that refused to leave. July 3rd was to be the deadline for the demands to be met.

The Israeli Defense Force or IDF began to put together a plan for a surprise rescue operation. On July 4th, 100 Israeli commandoes flying in several cargo and other planes with the equipment needed and to transport the freed hostages, they flew a long route over Africa and landed at about 11:00 at night and in less than an hour killed all seven hijackers, 45 Ugandan soldiers, and destroyed 11 Ugandan MIG-17 fighter jets, loaded everybody onto the planes and were on their way back to Israel, stopping only to refuel in Nairobi, Kenya. 3 of the 103 hostages were also killed, and 10 were wounded, a 4th had been taken to a hospital before the raid and was later murdered by Idi Amin. Of the 100 commandoes that took part, 5 were wounded and 1 was killed, Lt. Col. Yoni Netanyahu one of the leaders and brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That was an incredible rescue operation.

But as incredible as that was, there was an even greater rescue operation, and this one also had a casualty. There was no code name, although you can read about it in John 3:16. Consider also the words of Paul in I Tim. 1:15. "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." Note the word, Ďsaveí is a word that means to rescue from danger or harm. Christ Jesus came into the world to Rescue sinners. Paul may have been the chief, but we were all, without exception in the same boat. We were sinners and needed to be rescued. That was the purpose for Jesusí mission. Our Words in Red for today come from Luke 19:10, "For the Son of man has come to seek and to save the lost." His was a search and rescue operation; a special ops. Mission from Heaven.

II. The Search for Sinners began long ago in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, overcome with the odd sense of guilt, tried to hide by camouflaging themselves with leaves, but the Creator came looking for them. Genesis 3:9 says, "Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, "Where are you." Sometimes like Francis Thompsonís Hound of Heaven, He pursues us directly and speaks to our hearts until we stop and cry out to Him for His grace. Sometimes He uses Shepherds to look and rescue us. Sometimes He uses sheep to lead us to His flock. But He searches for Hearts that he can settle down and be at home with.

Though I know that you know this stuff, I want to remind you, that many people donít know they are lost and many more donít want to be or donít think they need to be rescued.

A. The Word Save means to Rescue from danger or harm.

1. The ultimate danger or harm that every person faces is an eternal future separated from God and His love and peace forever, because or our sins. That is the supreme meaning of John 3:16. There literally is hell to pay for our sinfulness and we all deserve to pay it.

2. He came to rescue us from a life that is void of meaning and purpose. There is a better life than just existing or just surviving, or just living for pleasure. The life he wants us to have is abundant, overflowing with a purpose. It is full of His fruit and it has meaning.

3. He came to rescue us from a nature that is bent on selfishness and self-centeredness, to give us a life of service and blessing as we learn to give of ourselves to others.

B. The Reason we need to be rescued is because:

1. Of our sin nature Ė Romans 5:12. Our Lord reminds us in John 8 just as Paul does in Romans 6 that we are enslaved to that sin nature. And we need to be set free.

2. Of the Enemy of our souls. 2 Cor. 4:3-4, "3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. Matthew 13:19 tells us that Satan snatches the word away from those who have hard hearts so they canít comprehend the Gospel. And the whole world is following in one way or another this demonic Prince of the Power of the air as Paul describes him in Ephesians 2, just as the old Philip Bliss Hymn called, The Light of the World is Jesus, says in the opening line, "The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin."

But into this darkness, God came. In the flesh of a baby, formed in the womb of young Jewish woman, probably no older than these girls, God came to be one of us in order to seek us out and to rescue us. You may think and say, that you found God, but the truth is God found you. He had been searching for you, pursuing you and He chose to rescue you. Jesus would tell the 11 in John 15:16, (Judas was gone to do his betrayal) that they didnít chose Him, He chose them, just as He chose to seek and rescue you. His very name Jesus means the Lord is Salvation or Jehovah Saves. The angel instructed Joseph and Mary to name Him that because He would save His people from their sins (Matt. 21).

III. The Scandal of Rescue. Our text today takes place just days before Jesusís final Passover when He will be betrayed and condemned and executed as he had just told His followers. He had blessed the children. Spoken with the rich young ruler, dealt with His cousins and Aunt Salome and told the 12 that true greatness is in becoming servants and meeting the needs of each other and in the world just as He did.

His journey takes Him to Jericho. (Luke 18:35-19:10) The home of Rahab, and the first city conquered in the days of Joshua and the conquest of the Promised Land. As He approaches the city, Matthew tells us that there were two blind beggars. Mark and Luke record only one. Only identifies him as Bartimaeus, or the son of Timaeus, probably because would become a well-known Christ-follower. Upon learning that it is Jesus who is approaching the men began to cry out for mercy. Like with the children, they were told to be quiet, perhaps to stop pestering the Master. But Jesus loves to help the helpless and He calls them to Himself and heals their blindness. (Luke 18:35-43) and Bartimaeus becomes a follower of Jesus

In the Jordan valley, Jericho was an area rich in dates, balsam, palm honey, and more and thus became a major export area and for the Roman government a lush source of tax revenue. As you know Tax collectors were not Romans, they were Jews who collected for the Romans and they usually falsified the tax records to collect more than they were required and they would keep the extra. Tax collectors or publicans were despised by their own people, considered traitors and lower than dirt. The only friends of tax collectors were other tax collectors or other despised sinners who were shunned by society. While they gained wealth, they lost self - respect, and any true friendship. Such was probably Shortieís life. Shortie was a little man that was probably picked on most of his life and been the brunt of jokes but had risen to become a wealthy man collecting taxes. 19:2 says he was rich. He had become one of the chief tax collectors, meaning that he had at least 10 guys under him. But his position and possessions, could not give him peace, or real happiness or take away the loneliness he felt inside.

Maybe he had heard that Matthew had given it all up to follow this Rabbi named Jesus. Maybe he heard of how Jesus ate and drank with a lot of tax collectors and other assorted misfits at Matthewís home. Maybe he just heard that Jesus had given this beggar Bartimaeus his sight. Whatever the reason, he wanted to see this man but the crowds surrounding Jesus after Bartimaeus was healed made it impossible. So he ran ahead and found a tree that he could climb to see Jesus. Imagine that. A wealthy man with jewelry and fine clothes climbing a tree to see a poor preacher. But even more remarkable was that Jesus singled him out and bestowed on him the honor of dining in His home (vv. 1-6).

Jesus knew the emptiness of this manís heart, and looked past the sins to the loneliness of his heartache and gave him the opportunity to get to know him on his own turf. He must have felt 10 feet tall. We donít know what happened between the lines. We donít know what the conversation was before or over dinner. We donít know if Zacchaeus asked questions. What we do know is that a miracle happened that day. Remember just a few weeks ago, we looked at a rich young ruler who went away from Jesus because he couldnít walk away from his stuff and Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved. But with God this is possible. Well, a camel just passed through the eye of a needle. Salvation came to Zacchaeusí home.

Now notice verse 7. Here is the Scandal of Salvation. Somewhere or somehow we have come to the conclusion that for lost people to be found they have to come to us. And that is possible, many of us came to Christ because we came to church or Sunday School, or youth group with family or friends, and many of us have seen Billy Graham crusades and the multitudes pouring to the alter who came with family and friends. And there is validity to that. In the book, The Unchurched Next Door, Thom Ranier, a researcher and author said that over 80% of the unchurched said they would consider attending a church if invited by friends who would take or meet them there. Christmas, Easter and Motherís Day are excellent times to invite and keep inviting people to come hear the big fisherman.

But Jesus didnít invite people to come to the synagogue. He went to them. He went in to the bar-rooms, and into the homes of renowned sinners to show them grace. He went to the restaurants, sports bars, and clubs to be where the lost were, so he could show and tell them of Godís grace. How many lonely, and lost people go to bars all the time? How many join sportsmenís clubs, gyms, and ball teams, in order to make friends and have some camaraderie. This is one reason why we want to keep church simple and not flood people with more Bible studies. We would like everyone to be part 3 things; Sunday Worship, a small discipleship group and one area of ministry, and then connect with a lost world. Notice the people were shocked, because He went into a sinnerís domain. If you decide to make reaching the lost as did a part of your life, expect that religious people will criticize your methods and your searching technics. But you must be willing to go where lost people are. Obviously, if you have trouble with an addiction or lifestyle and being in that environment may trigger a wrong response, then you must stay away. But also, remember that when you do go, you go with a purpose of showing grace and not being influenced. Years ago, I remember a man offering a pastor a beer, and the pastor responded with a "No, Thank you," and then said, "But that was very kind of you to offer." He didnít say, "Oh no, you know that us Christians donít drink."

Jesus went into Zacchaeusí turf and ate at his table and shared grace and the miracle occurred.

IV. The Sign of True Repentance

That Zacchaeus was truly repentant and a changed man, He did what the rich young ruler was not willing to do and he did it without any known prompting from Jesus. He gave Ĺ of all His possessions to the poor and promised to repay all those he defrauded with a 400% refund. I wonder if Dickens had Zacchaeus in mind as a model of Scrooge. Remember how wonderfully generous he became after dealing with his past, present, and the future that he was destined to if he didnít change.

Listen carefully, It doesnít matter if someone prays a prayer, or is baptized, christened, confirmed, or takes communion, Salvation has not occurred if there is no change in the character and conduct of the person. John the Baptist said to the people, that being Abrahamís descendants wouldnít cut it. God is looking for repentant people. Repentant people would be recognized by the fruit of their repentance. Repentance would be seen by how a person opens up their closet, pantry, or wallet. Look back at Luke 3:7-14, "Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Not exactly a seeker sensitive sermon, is it?) 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ĎWe have Abraham as our father.í For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 9 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

10 So the people asked him, saying, "What shall we do then?"

11 He answered and said to them, "He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise."

12 Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"

13 And he said to them, "Collect no more than what is appointed for you."

14 Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, "And what shall we do?"

So he said to them, "Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages."

Saved people want to help and save people. They want honesty and righteousness, and they want to help others. Again, I remind you that this was the total mindset of the first church in Acts 2:41ff. and 4:32ff. They shared what they had so that no one would be hungry or without what they needed. They gave what they had and liquidated their assets to give to those in need.

V. The Salvation of Sinners Ė Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, Paul considered himself the chief of sinners. Peter told the Lord to go away from him because he was a sinful man (Luke 5). The woman at the well in Samaria was a hurt and perhaps hard hearted woman who had been with no less than 6 men. The demoniac in the country of the Gerasenes was chained and lived in the grave yard and tormented. But Jesus sought them out and wonderfully saved them. But He did had a dual purpose for saving them.

1.) The first was to rescue them, set them free, and give them real, abundant and eternal life.

2.) The second was to use them to search out and rescue others, so they can be free, and have real, abundant and eternal life. Look at 1 Timothy 1:12ff. "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.

VI. The Search Continues.

This is the same reason that He sought you and me. He rescued you from your past, present, and future so that you in turn would seek and show people how to be rescued. Let me close with some suggestions:

1. Know the Gospel Ė Romans road, the wordless book, the colored beads, The Way of the Master,

2. Consider that every person in this world who has not been saved is lost, regardless of whether they go church or not. All are going to be separated from God in Hell- Rev. 20:15-20

3. Develop relationships with lost people. Jesus was a friend of sinners. Join a club. Or go where your lost friends go.

4. Go to their houses or invite them to yours.

5. Invite them to church, but donít stop there, if they come, or donít come, ask them if they understand Jesusí primary mission and gospel, if they donít- ask them if you can you tell them.

6. Think of ministries that show and tell Godís gospel. Crisis pregnancy centers, (start one), addictions recovery, jail ministry, nursing home ministry, Mops, etc. Bible clubs for children, neighborhood bible study, Homeless shelters. As you minister to peopleís physical and emotional needs, you can minister to their spiritual needs and they will listen.

7. Fund a ministry or missionary.

8. Consider giving up some vacation to go to Mexico with us or some other short term mission trip.

9. Consider dedicating your life to full time ministry as a missionary.

10. Pray for the lost in your families and friends and community and ask God to show you how to reach them with the Gospel of Jesus.

God did not save us so we could gather once a week and feel insured. He saved us so we could be about His business of seeking and saving the lost.

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman