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The Decision in a Tree



[Pinocchio] started on his way toward the field that was to make him a rich man. He walked on, not knowing where he was going, for it was dark, so dark that not a thing was visible.

Carlo Collodi

It’s late afternoon.


A lazy sun slips beneath a line of roofs, its warm fingers splintering the trees and resting on your cheeks. Conversations and banter dot a growing crowd—dozens have turned into hundreds—but you're quiet, your mind lost in curiosity and expectation.

Minutes come and go.

People now press against your shoulders, their warm bodies like an unneeded blanket. You maneuver awkwardly down the side of the street. You're after a better position, a spot where you can fully see...


At length, there's a small clearing just beneath a tree.

You stop.

You wait.

And then...

Finally! Here he comes!

You join the crowd in shifting your head—left, right, left—seeking to see the man in the road, the one surrounded by an entourage.

Some shout.

Some whisper.

Many go silent.


It’s about this time that specks of tree bark and dirt shower your shoulders and the earth near your feet.

You twitch, move, and transfer your weight from one leg to another, but nothing tears your attention away from the road. After all, you’ve waited for months to see him. You’ve heard countless rumors. You’ve been told of his messages and miracles, his power and presence, his charisma and character—such things, when considered collectively, you've concluded could hardly be true of one person. But that is why you’ve gathered along the street on this particular day with the rest of the city: you want to know if the rumors surrounding him are true.


More tree shavings and dirt.


“What is this?” you finally ask, wiping the dust off your body and hoping your annoyance is palpable, but no one appears to notice.


You look up.


You’re taken aback by the sight of a man slithering across branches of the tree like a sloth. He scoots farther and farther out onto a limb.


“Come on then,” you mumble to yourself. “What is he doing?”


You watch in wonder.

You shake your head.


The man in the tree is clearly wealthy and an established citizen; he’s dressed as only a successful businessman can afford. Nevertheless, his dress doesn't match his demeanor. He looks like a man wanting and waiting, a lost soul who’s desperate in darkness.

He's a man who's searching, you tell yourself.


Then it hits you. You know the man in the tree!


Ah, yes. It’s Zacchaeus!


“How wonderfully pitiful,” you say quietly, nearly beside yourself and thinking how foolish you would look up in that tree, let alone how foolish he looks.


But while you know the man in the tree, what you don’t know is that the man in the road is about to forever change the man in the tree.

You're about to find out just how true the rumors really are, while Zacchaeus is about to have a transformed life.


And what you’ll eventually discover, at a different tree outside a different city, is that we're all like Zacchaeus and that the same kind of transformation is in store for anyone who doesn’t reject Jesus miserably, but who receives Jesus joyfully.


So many know the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), the “wee little man” who “climbed up in that sycamore tree” for the "Lord he wanted to see."


Zacchaeus could be described as prestigious, powerful, and overwhelmingly rich. He was a Chief Tax Collector for one of the greatest, most expansive and dominant organizations the world has ever known: the Roman Empire. Think of his career like a successful financial broker who had been permitted by the government to “take a little off the top for himself,” or to “cheat the system,” or to “bend the laws to his advantage,” despite the effects of such practices on the “common man” and that man’s pocketbook. Think of Zacchaeus as making millions at the expense of the "common man's" pennies. Consequently, Zacchaeus had everything he could desire. He could buy anything, go anywhere, and do anything.

He possessed the world.

Yet, as all people inevitably discover, the world is nothing without Jesus.


Despite possessing the world, Zacchaeus was a man found wanting and waiting for something, anything. He was walking through life, "not knowing where he was going, for it was dark, so dark that not a thing was visible." Thus, he was a man desperate in darkness, a lost man who was searching.

There’s no doubt that Zacchaeus came to ask himself this question: “What good is it for a man to [possess] the whole world, yet forfeit his soul” (Matthew 16:26)? Meaning, what good is the world…without Jesus?

Meanwhile, if anyone ever had a moment where they could use the excuses of “I don’t have time” or “I have too much going on” as justifiable reasons to not engage someone in a conversation about the truth, it would have been Jesus at that moment on that road.


Jesus’ journey through Jericho was leading him to Jerusalem. His soul’s gaze was fixed on his cross—his tree—which loomed like a dark cloud on the horizon. The world—in a way, quite literally—weighed heavy on Jesus’ shoulders, pressing down on his heart, mind, and soul with a stronger force than that of the crowd around him.


Yet, what did Jesus do, when passing by Zacchaues' tree?


He stopped.

He looked up.


Jesus took his eyes off his road—his tree—to look at Zacchaeus’ road—Zacchaeus' tree—if you will.


From there, looking intently into the eyes of the man in the tree, Jesus called Zacchaeus by name and extended to him an invitation. And that invitation, which was to come to Jesus, would forever change Zacchaeus.


Ultimately, Jesus inserted himself into Zacchaeus’ life so as to radically transform Zacchaeus’ life. That is, while Zacchaeus was seeking Jesus, it was actually Jesus seeking Zacchaeus. Like a shepherd who seeks a lost sheep, or like a woman who seeks a lost coin, or like a father who seeks a lost child—Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus, a lost soul. 


Zacchaeus responded to Jesus' invitation unlike so many in the crowd. Instead of rejecting Jesus miserably, as countless people would do, Zacchaeus received Jesus joyfully.

He no longer gripped the world. He surrendered the world.

As a result of his reception to Jesus, Zacchaeus walked away with salvation, with transformation. He was lost but now found. In darkness, but now in light. A rebel, but now a child. Dead, but now alive.


Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus mirrors his encounter with all humanity.

We were all, in a way, like Zacchaeus in that tree. We were found wanting and waiting, desperate in darkness, searching for something, anything. We were on our way toward fields that we believed were to make us rich and give us everything we ever desired. However, we were walking along, not knowing where we were going, for it was dark, so dark that not a thing was visible.

But then...there came a light.

Jesus, so to speak, looked up.

Jesus proved that while we were seeking him, it was actually Jesus who was seeking us. As John said, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

In and through the person of Jesus, God inserted himself into our lives so as to transform our lives. The Light stepped down into darkness. The Word took on flesh. Deity took on the nature of humanity. Why? Because he came to seek and save the lost, sinners—us.

Jesus inserted himself into our lives so as to radically transform our lives. He came to take us from lost to found, darkness to light, rebel to child, death to life.

A question remains, however, as we "sit in our trees."

What is our response to his invitation?


Only a few days before Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, Luke tells us that Jesus had another encounter with a “Rich Young Ruler” (Luke 18:18-30). That man had nearly everything in common with Zacchaeus, except for his response to Jesus. That man rejected Jesus miserably, choosing to keep his hand gripped on the world. Therefore, that man walked away without salvation, without transformation, and without a name forever written in God’s book, while Zacchaeus walked away with salvation, with transformation, and with a name forever written in God's book.

In other words, because of their response to Jesus, the Luke 18 Rich Man remained a nobody, while the Luke 19 Rich Man became a somebody.

But what about us?

What is our response to Jesus' invitation?

Will we receive Jesus joyfully? Or, will we reject Jesus miserably?


Our response to Him is of the greatest importance. It can mean the difference between found and lost, light and darkness, salvation and rejection, life and death.



Jesus is looking up at us in the tree.

He knows we're lost, in darkness, in sin, in death.

He's calling us by name to come to him, to forever change our lives.

So, then...

What’s our decision?



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