Embracing the Uncertainty of Surrender

Embracing the Uncertainty of Surrender

We have officially entered the Holy Week with today being Palm Sunday. On this day, Christians celebrate the event of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey, a place that Jesus choose to announce that He is indeed the long-awaited Messiah. A time chosen when all of Israel would be gathered to celebrate the Passover celebration (one of God’s required festivals when all of the Israelites would come together from every nation to celebrate the Israelites freedom from slavery in Egypt 1480 years earlier.)

By the time Jesus enters Jerusalem, He is well known. Most coming to Jerusalem for the Passover festival had heard of Him, and for a time, everyone was favorable toward Him. As Jesus entered the city, the people lined the road, praising God, waving palm branches, and throwing their cloaks in front of the colt as it passed before them, like a red-carpet entrance.

“Long live the King” was the meaning behind their joyful shouts because they knew that Jesus was intentionally fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, “Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey’s colt.”

The people went wild. They were sure their liberation from the Romans’ oppression was at hand. But the very people who were praising God for giving them a king had the wrong idea about Jesus. They expected Him to be a national leader who would restore their nation to its former glory. Therefore, they were deaf to the words of their prophets and blind to Jesus’ real mission. When it became apparent that Jesus was not going to fulfill their hopes, many people turned against Him.

And worst of all, the Jewish leaders, who should have known before anyone else who Jesus is, the very people who studied the scriptures and knew them inside and out, knew they were waiting for a Messiah to come, knew the prophesies of His coming, yet refused God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ when they were visited by God Himself. The good news is there were some who did get it. Who did realize and know for sure who Jesus is and chose a different path.

Since the start of Lent, we have been working through six stories that occurred just before Jesus entered into Jerusalem where He would be crucified. These stories are like mile markers leading us to the cross of Jesus showing us that we can be certain of who Jesus is and of the hope that His resurrections gives us.

The idea is to get a different perspective on the things we feel uncertain about like faith, our security, forgiveness, and our mortality. Today, we’re going to look at the uncertainty of surrendering to Jesus. I believe that’s what happened to so many people that cheered for Jesus on the first Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem. They wanted a king. They wanted to have the Messiah there among them, but the problem was that they did not want to surrender themselves to Him. They didn’t want to see Jesus as the divine King, and therefore have to give up their lifestyles of sin and shame. So when Jesus didn’t do what they wanted Him to do, they abandoned Him.

However, if we look at the stories leading up to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, we see people who got it, who truly understood who Jesus is and chose to surrender their lives to Him.

One is Zacchaeus. As a child, you may have sung about Zacchaeus as the “wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see.” And what did he see? Jesus. Now let’s pause for a moment on our childhood memories and ask a basic question. What exactly was Zacchaeus thinking when he climbed up that tree?

Luke 19:1-10
Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. 2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. 3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.

5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”

6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. 7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.

8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

What exactly was Zacchaeus thinking when he climbed up that tree? Truth is, we don’t really know, even though we do learn a lot about Zacchaeus in just few short verses. Luke is pretty generous in his details that we do know the man’s name, which is more than we can say for a lot of the people Jesus encountered. We also know his occupation, and therefore we know his reputation. As a tax collector for Rome, he not only made a living making a ton of money, but he did it on the backs of the poor Jewish people who were oppressed by the Romans. His profession no doubt made him a very unpopular person.

And of course, we know that Zacchaeus was short. There’s no real reason we need to know that, except to explain why he needed to get a leg up on the crowd in order to see Jesus. But with all that we know about Zacchaeus, what we don’t know is why exactly he wanted to see Jesus?

We can speculate of course. It’s okay to do so. Whenever there is a narrative gap like this in the scriptures, it’s often the Spirit’s way of inviting us to insert our own lives into the story, to fill in the gap with reasons why any of us would want to see Jesus.

Maybe Zacchaeus was searching for meaning and purpose in life, just like many of us do. Or maybe he was overcome with guilt and shame for his past choices, like many of us are. Or maybe he was just curious to get a glimpse of the man he had heard so much about, just like all of us who live in such a celebrity-obsessed culture do.

We can’t know for sure his reasons, but I think Luke gives us a great hint. To see it, we have to consider the story just before this one in Luke 18.

Luke 18:35-43
35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind beggar was sitting beside the road. 36 When he heard the noise of a crowd going past, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him that Jesus the Nazarene was going by. 38 So he began shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 “Be quiet!” the people in front yelled at him. But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40 When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. As the man came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord,” he said, “I want to see!”

42 And Jesus said, “All right, receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.” 43 Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus, praising God. And all who saw it praised God, too.

The man didn’t just want to see, He wanted to see Jesus. He knew who Jesus was and what He could do. He believed, which is what healed him. Because of His faith Jesus healed him.

Just like in Zacchaeus’ story, Jesus was simply passing by, walking down the road. The two Greek verbs for “passing through” used in these stories is not quite the same, but the meaning is very similar. Which by the way, the verb for “passing through” in the story of Zacchaeus occurs ten times in the Gospel of Luke, more than in Matthew, Mark and John combined. Clearly, the Jesus in Luke’s Gospel is always on the move, and it’s up to those He encounters to take notice and to seek Him.

Unfortunately for both the blind man and Zacchaeus, there was a physical impairment to actually seeing Jesus. One was blind and the other was short. A blind man overcame his barrier by screaming loudly, twice. And Zacchaeus overcame his barrier by scampering up a tree. Both men needed to conquer crowds because both men wanted to see.

Now consider this. Blindness is often the Bible’s way of describing a person’s spiritual condition. Jesus once described people’s inability to understand the deeper meaning of the parable by saying, “although they see, they don’t really see” (Matthew 13:13).

Paul described those who don’t believe in Jesus as blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:3-4). Even Paul’s own conversion was marked by a bright light that enabled him to see the resurrected Jesus (Acts 9:1-19), and then blinded him till he came to his senses. Biblically speaking, sight is not just about having use of one of our physical senses. The Greek verb for “to see” means perceiving, knowing, and understanding.

So if you’re blind, you’re not perceiving, knowing, and understanding. But if you want to see, you want to perceive, know, and understand.

The desire to know Jesus, to understand Jesus, and to become connected to Jesus was Zacchaeus’ real desire deep down inside. And we know that based on how the story ends. He didn’t just want to get a glimpse of Him. He didn’t just want a favor from Him. He wanted to know who this man was, and he was going to do anything he could to search for Him, seek Him out, and find Him.

I brought up the apostle Paul, so let’s just bring him up again because Paul also longed to know Jesus intimately. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (Phil. 3:10-11)

These words are amazing. Remember, this is Paul. If there was ever such a thing as a Discipleship Hall of Fame, his image would be one of the first ones there and probably one of the biggest. Yet, here he was saying that he didn’t know Jesus the way he wanted to. That may seem unthinkable, but it is also quite liberating.

Maybe Paul, just like the blind man and Zacchaeus, actually gives us permission to acknowledge the uncertainty and apprehension we feel when it comes to knowing and following Jesus. Maybe the key to faith is not being certain, but instead allowing faith to begin where certainty ends. In other words, maybe it’s okay to embrace the uncertain to say like Paul did, “I want to know Christ. I want to know Him more.”
As soon as Zacchaeus got up in the tree, he immediately realized something that had to surprise him and catch him off guard. As he was clinging to the tree truck, digging his heals into the bark, flexing his forearms to hold on, he noticed that just as he was straining to catch a glimpse of Jesus…Jesus was already looking at him.

Another similarity between Zacchaeus and the blind man. Despite all the shouting and tree climbing, and despite all the efforts they each made to seek Jesus out, Jesus was already returning the favor. He said to the blind man, “What can I do for you?” He said to Zacchaeus, “Come down at once, I must stay in your home today.”

It was the very thing both of them desired. In both cases, it was like Jesus saying, “Look friends, let’s get right down to business. Let’s skip the pleasantries and move beyond the fact that you’ve been looking for me because I have had my eyes on you, and I am here to help.”

John Wesley was so taken with this idea that God is the one who searches us out, rather than the other way around, that he developed an important contribution to the theology of Methodism called prevenient grace. It’s the grace that goes before us, before we are even aware or able to recognize it or understand it, which has been at work in our lives since the moment we were born. It’s never static, always on the move, always luring us, wooing us, searching for us, and drawing near to us.

In other words, like the theme in Luke’s Gospel, it’s the grace of God that is constantly passing through our lives. You may be surprised to discover that even though we long to see Christ and have an intimate relationship with the God who created us, God has actually been searching us out the whole time! God stands there, in the midst of the crowd, looking us square in the face, and asks, “What do you want me to do for you? Here I am.”

And as we’re pulling, straining, climbing our way up toward God’s attention and favor, God is standing there the whole time saying, “Alright my child, stop climbing. You’re only going to hurt yourself. Get down. I’ve come for you. Let’s enjoy some dinner.”

We often like to skip ahead to where Zacchaeus sells his good and gives the proceeds to the people he cheated. That’s certainly the fruit of the encounter. But before any of this happened, let’s not miss the fact that Jesus not only noticed him, but drew near to him and took the initiative to develop a relationship.

Zacchaeus may have wanted to see Jesus, but the power of this story is that he was seen by Jesus. He wanted to know Jesus, and found that he was already known by Jesus. Jesus already knew his name and everything about him. What Jesus saw in Zacchaeus was a man ready to be changed. Zacchaeus had been struggling with his burdens for so long that as soon as Jesus saw him, he was prepared to do whatever it took to be anything other than what he was.

When Jesus looked at him with kindness and compassion, Zacchaeus knew that the time for repentance and transformation had arrived. There would be no more delay. No more reason to wait. There certainly was no indication that things would get any better next week than they were last week, unless he responded to Jesus’ invitation.

Get down out of the tree, Zacchaeus. Your time has come.

Even before Jesus arrived at his house, Zacchaeus became a changed man. As soon as Zacchaeus and Jesus’ eyes locked, he was a changed man. He discovered that it was possible by the power of God revealed in Jesus to reverse the course of his wayward life, to undo his cheating ways, to make restitution for his wrongs, and to become a benefactor rather and a crook.

For Zacchaeus, seeing Jesus and being seen by Jesus, was a chance at a fresh new start. Just like it can be for you. We just need to surrender too. Jesus is calling you out of your tree. Are you going to get out and surrender your wayward life, your selfish ways, so you can make restitution for your wrongs, and be a benefactor rather than sitting on the couch doing nothing?

An even better example that we have of surrender is found through Jesus. In fact, He got up in the tree for us. Just looking at His entrance into Jerusalem was a form of surrender. He knew full well what would happen there, what He was going there to do. He knew He would die a criminal’s death, even though He was completely innocent. He knew He was going there to take the punishment for US, to eliminate OUR sins so that WE could be reconciled back to God.

Listen to how He enters the city, and particularly listen for how He feels about it.

Luke 19:36-42
36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

41 But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 42 “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.

Jesus’ surrender and death on the cross gives us an invitation. It’s an invitation for you to say “Yes” to Him, for you to surrender, for you to allow Him into your home, into your life, to live for Him because of the great grace He has already given you, let alone the fact that He knows what’s best for you and a life with Him cannot be matched.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds surrounded and cheered for Him, but they did not comprehend what Christ was really doing, that His death would usher in His Kingdom and that forgiveness from sin is greater than liberation from Rome. Only a few got it. Blind beggars, a short, rich tax collector. Only the true children of Abraham respond to Jesus in faith and invest all in His Kingdom while many others reject their own Messiah. John 1:11, “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.”

I hope that’s not going to be your story. I pray that you will seek Him, open your eyes and surrender to His beautiful gift of grace.