Little Man, Big Idea

Sometimes the songs we sang in children’s church forever consigned Bible men as caricatures. Like this one:

Zacchaeus was a wee little man.
A wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
The better his Lord to see. 

So we forever think of Zacchaeus as a troll. A dwarf. A hobbit. But do you know the whole of his story? It’s anything but a silly rhyme wrapped in a catchy tune.

The gospel of Luke tells us that as Jesus entered Jerusalem, Zacchaeus climbed a tree for a better look. While he may have been short of stature, Zacchaeus was not short of standing. He was a chief tax collector, Luke tells us, and very rich. Jesus, seeing him in the tree, tells him to come down quickly because Jesus would like to spend the night at his house. Can you imagine?

That, however, is not the end of the story. After being with Jesus, his thinking having returned to solid ground, Zacchaeus told Jesus, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8). 

Zacchaeus—this wee little man—is the poster child for the disturbing fact that Jesus was known to hang out with notorious sinners. The people grumbled against the Savior when He announced His lodging plans with Zacchaeus. 

Zacchaeus, however, wasn’t merely a notorious sinner. As it turned out, he was—and showed himself to be—a repentant notorious sinner. And he did so right away by showing that his devotion to Christ would shape every area of his life, including his pocketbook and his job. He understood that Jesus wasn’t merely asking to be an invisible Lord of a tiny fraction of his life, but that He would be Lord over all that he was and all that he did.

In our increasingly secularized culture, you and I feel the pressure to isolate our faith, to keep it on the back-burner. Out of sight.

The broader culture doesn’t much care what we believe in the privacy of our own hearts, but we dare not bring our faith out in public.

C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity got to the heart of how this works out. “When the modern world says to us aloud, ‘You may be religious when you are alone,’ it adds under its breath, ‘and I will see to it that you never are alone.’” 

We are never alone. Whether we embrace it or not, the sovereign God is our constant companion. Martin Luther encouraged us to remember this truth, to grasp that He is Lord over all,  and to live our lives coram Deo, before the face of God. He did not mean that we bring our faith and our work together by making a show of our prayers or by cornering our coworkers with gospel literature. 

Luther said that a Christian shoemaker is not one who etches little crosses on shoes, but one who makes excellent shoes and deals honestly with his customers. Don’t you just love that?

The apostle Paul made much the same point, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23–24). 

And this message is for our children, too.

Work is worship and is a fulfillment of the very first command God gave to man. Our work is not merely that place where we earn a living, so we can live or so we can give. It’s that place where we fill the earth and subdue it, ruling over the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and every creeping thing that creeps upon the ground (Gen. 1:28). This is true whether we are a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, or even a tax collector.

Our work matters. And how we work matters as well. We cannot leave our faith at the shop door or office elevator. If we would be able to walk away from our love for God, it’s a good sign we never grasped it to begin with. Honesty, integrity, diligence, these are the marks our Master calls us to bring to our labors. They are the fruit of His work in us; they are His work through us.

Zacchaeus did not just do the right thing, his newfound faith blanketed his whole family. The story ends this way, “And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house’” (Luke 19:9).

Don’t you just love stories like this?


Copyright © 2017, Robert Wolgemuth

Dr. Robert Wolgemuth was an elder at FPCO for 15 years. He and his late wife, Bobbie, loved serving this place they love so much. Robert is a bestselling author and literary agent. His is father of Missy and Julie and granddaddy to five. He lives with his wife, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, in Southwest Michigan. This post is an excerpt from Robert's newest book, 'Lies Men Believe,' releasing in August, 2018.

Robert Wolgemuth