"Jesus in the House"#88-01
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 6, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Luke 19:1-10
If you spent any time learning about the Bible as a kid, whether in a Sunday school classroom or a Christian school or even watching VeggieTales, you probably heard the story about Zacchaeus. You might've learned the song, too. "Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the Sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see. And as the Savior passed that way, he looked up in the tree, and said, 'Zacchaeus, you come down, for I'm going to your house today. I'm going to your house to stay.'"
And then you remember what happened? People got upset. Why did they get upset? Because apparently Zacchaeus was a real jerk. He was a tax collector. And he had gotten rich by cheating his own people out of their hard-earned money. So understandably, they were shocked. They were scandalized that Jesus would go to stay at his house, but that's what Jesus did. That's what Jesus does. And He and Zacchaeus, they barbecue, they hang out. And Zacchaeus has a change of heart. He changes his ways. He starts a new life. And before he leaves, Jesus comments on the moment. He says that this is why He came. He came to seek and to save the lost. In other words, Zacchaeus isn't just a jerk. He's a lost sheep, and Jesus came for him. That's the story of Zacchaeus. It's a memorable account about what Jesus came to do and how one unlikely individual responded to Him in faith. But there's another way to hear this story.
When I picture the story of Zacchaeus, I tend to see Zacchaeus all by himself as the lone lost sheep. But what about the other people in life? The other people in Zacchaeus' household? Well, I guess I just figured that Zacchaeus lived alone. In our time it wouldn't be too unusual for a person to live alone. In the United States, about 3 in 10 adults, roughly 30 percent of adults live alone. But this wasn't the case for most of human history. Until about 50 years ago, less than 1 in 10 people lived alone, and in Zacchaeus' time it was even less. So did Zacchaeus live alone? It's possible, but not very likely. In his time in place, very, very few people lived alone, mostly for practical reasons. So it's likely that Zacchaeus did have other people in his household. This could include perhaps a wife and children, possibly his mom and dad, his wife's parents, brothers and sisters, other relatives. They all could have lived under the same roof. And then there could be servants and co-workers, boarders, all of these people could have been part of Zacchaeus' house. Even if they all didn't live under the same roof, they still could be part of what was thought of as the "house of Zacchaeus."
In Zacchaeus' culture, that is, in the culture reflected in the writings of the Bible, they didn't have two words for this, "house" and "household," like we do in English. They just had the one word, "house." And so in their minds, the house of Zacchaeus would refer less to the structure and more to the people, the people who share everyday domestic activities together: eating and drinking, washing, and cleaning, fetching water, feeding chickens, fixing a leaky roof. All these people who shared these activities together would be part of the household, even if they all didn't live under the same roof.
Now, this is where it gets confusing for us. Because when we use the word household, we typically mean people who live under the same roof. If you live alone, we would say automatically that you're a household of one, at least as far as the IRS is concerned. But that's not how Zacchaeus' culture would have thought about it. Because the household was less about the structure and more about the people who shared life together, even if they didn't live under the same leaky roof.
Seeing it this way, even someone who lives alone could be part of a larger household. For instance, let's say you live alone. You might have one or two people who come over to your house on a regular basis, and they're a regular part of your daily domestic life. Or maybe no one comes over to your house, but you go over to their house, and you're a part of their life. In this way of thinking, you would be part of their household. Of course, this isn't the way we use the word household today. So maybe we could say that you're a part of their extended household, and that the core household is everybody who lives under the same roof, and the extended household is all the other people. And so the core household plus the extended household is the whole household. But you got to remember that in the Bible, there's just one word. It's the house. The household. It's the people who do life together.
So with that in mind, listen to the story of Zacchaeus recorded in the Bible, the Gospel of Luke 19:
Now Jesus entered Jericho, and He was passing through. And look, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but he was not able because of the crowd, since he was a man of small stature. He was short. So after he had run on ahead, he climbed up into a sycamore tree so he could see Him, since He was about to pass that way.
When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, because today it is necessary for Me to stay in your house, with your household." So he hurried and came down and received Him, welcomed Him with joy. Now, after they had seen this, they all grumbled and said, "Huh! This Man has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." But Zacchaeus, after he stood up, he said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I am giving to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone of anything, I am returning it. I am restoring it four times as much." And Jesus said to him, "Today, salvation has come to this house, to this household, because he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."
That's from the Gospel of Luke 19.
When I listened to the account of Zacchaeus now, I'm starting to imagine it differently. Maybe it's not just about Zacchaeus. Maybe it's also about the other people in Zacchaeus' life. "Salvation has come to this household." It's a different picture, isn't it, when we hear it with this biblical household frame of reference?
Let's talk more about this household way of seeing things in the Bible. Author Don Everts in his book The Spiritually Vibrant Home, identified three biblical themes relating to this view of households. Those three themes are number one: God sees households; number two: households, often rise and fall together; number three: God works through households.
Let's start with the first, God sees households. Don writes, "I have to admit that I'm so used to reading everything through an individualistic lens that I often miss this wider recognition of households. For example, think of Jacob. Jacob traveling with his 11 sons from the land of Canaan to Egypt to escape the famine. When I picture this scene in the Bible, I often imagine 12 men traveling through the desert, but that's not what the Bible actually says. Genesis chapter 46 paints a picture of a great caravan of people with wagons and little ones and livestock. It says that all the persons of the house of Jacob who came to Egypt were 70—70 persons in all. It's a pretty big house. And later in the book of Exodus, it says that each of Jacob's sons traveled with his own household.
"See, because I've grown up in an individualistic culture, I often get the wrong mental picture of what the Bible is depicting. For example, I think about how God calls someone to unique service, in some special way. And I imagine that person as an individual. Like when God called the Levites to be full-time priests, and He gave them special food that only they could eat. I tend to imagine a single Levite eating all alone. But that's not what the Bible says. God says to the Levites in Numbers 18:31, 'Only you may eat this food, you and your households.' The more I picture the Bible from this perspective, the more I notice how it's true. God sees not just individuals, but whole households."
The second biblical theme that Don mentions in his book is this: households often rise and fall together. Don writes, "While it's not a hard and fast rule that the behavior of one member of the household will affect everyone within the household, often this is the case. For example, there's a description of a wise and noble woman at the end of the book of Proverbs. Listen to how her behavior affects her whole household in Proverbs 31. It says, 'She rises while it is still night to provide food for her household. She is not afraid of snow because all her household are clothed in scarlet.' It's true. Households often rise together, and fall together.
"In the book of Numbers, we meet this man named Korah. God commanded Moses and Aaron to lead the whole house of Israel through the wilderness. And in the middle of the wilderness, this guy Korah tries to start a rebellion. And Moses and Aaron try to talk some sense into him, but Korah won't listen. And they warn him, but Korah won't listen. And so God tells them to move their tents away from the tent of Korah. And then they feel the earth start to move under their feet. And the ground cracks open underneath Korah's tent, and the earth opens up its mouth and swallows them up, with their households. The Bible says in Numbers 16:32, 'with their households.' It's true, households often rise and fall together, sometimes literally."
The third biblical theme that Don identifies in his book The Spiritually Vibrant Home, is this: God works through households. Don writes, "Again, I tend to notice when God chooses an individual and works through that individual for His grand redemptive purposes." And I agree with Don. I think about the heroes of the faith. I think of Noah. But it wasn't just Noah, was it? It was Noah and his household. And I think of Abraham, but it wasn't just Abraham, was it? It was Abraham and his household. And I remember Ruth, and it wasn't just Ruth. It was Ruth and her household. And then I think about this wee little man, Zacchaeus. And what did Jesus mean when He said, "Today, salvation has come to this household"?
Now certainly it means that Jesus came for Zacchaeus, that He came to save him as an individual—just like He came to save you as an individual. He came to die and to rise for you to send His Spirit upon you, and He will return for you. He came to call you as an individual to admit your sins, to turn away from them, to be forgiven, to trust in Him, to walk with Him and live in Him forever. He came to save you because He has a specific plan for you as a unique individual, just like he did for Zacchaeus.
But it also means that Jesus sees you not just as an individual, but as a member—or as a potential member—of a household. Jesus sees households. He values households. Remember households were His idea. Way back in the beginning, He said, "It is not good for man to be alone." Jesus cares for households. And Jesus knows that households often rise and fall together, and He doesn't want anyone to fall—not one member, not a single household. He wants all to turn and trust in Him and be saved, because Jesus wants to work through households. He wants to work through you, not just as an individual, but as a vibrant member of a spiritually vibrant home.
If you're willing, I invite you to pray with me.
Lord God, Heavenly Father, You sent Your Son Jesus to call us into Your household of faith. Forgive us when we fail to see how You value households. If we live alone, help us to see how a frequent guest might truly be a member of our household or how, as a frequent guest in someone else's home, we might be a member of their extended household. And if we do share life with others, even if it's just one other, help us see how often we rise and fall together. Help us to practice our faith together in our house so that we would grow together in faith as a spiritually vibrant home. In Jesus' Name, we pray. Amen.
Reflections for September 6, 2020
Title: Jesus in the House
Mike Zeigler: I'm visiting today with Don Everts. He is the content development manager for Lutheran Hour Ministries, also the author of around 16 or 17 books, a lot of books.
Don Everts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mike Zeigler: Including the one that I mentioned in the sermon today, The Spiritually Vibrant Home: The Power of—now what are the three? Messy ...
Don Everts: Messy prayers.
Mike Zeigler: Messy prayers.
Don Everts: Loud tables.
Mike Zeigler: Loud tables.
Don Everts: And open doors.
Mike Zeigler: And open doors. Thanks for joining us, Don.
Don Everts: Good to be with you, Mike.
Mike Zeigler: So Don, we're going to be talking about households, households of faith over the next four weeks on The Lutheran Hour. What do we mean when we say household? Is it just family, or is it something more?
Don Everts: That's a good question. So in the research your household is the people that you live with and the people who are in and out of your household on a regular basis, every month. When we're talking about households, it is that little bit broader sense of the people I live with plus, which means, say you're a single person, you're living on your own. You're probably in a few other people's households, and if you have people, even though you live alone, if you have friends who are coming over to your house, you have a household as well. So it's something that applies to everyone. And those relationships, the research tells us have an impact on our faith, and we have an impact on those people's faith.
Mike Zeigler: As you dove deeply into this topic, what were some a-ha moments for you?
Don Everts: The big a-ha moment, the biggest—so let's start with the biggest—was that when we were looking at Christian households, they have three things in common with each other. Those three things are applying spiritual disciplines, extending hospitality, and engaging in spiritual conversations. If those three things are happening within a home, the research tells us there's a great correlation with having a vibrant faith being nurtured within that home.
Mike Zeigler: So a spiritually vibrant household is a household that is practicing some kind of devotional life together, praying, and reading the Bible.
Don Everts: Yep.
Mike Zeigler: They're talking about their faith, and that last one's a little surprising. They're inviting people in. That affects—I guess it shouldn't be surprising as often as the New Testament talks about inviting people in and practicing hospitality.
Don Everts: The others make a little more sense if you're talking about your faith, if you're in the Bible or prayer with each other, but it was having those open doors, having people in and out of your house creates a more vibrant faith. So much so that the researchers found that having an insulated household or insular, like you're closed off from the world around you, is actually a risk factor for spiritual vibrancy, that actually having an open door, whether you're inviting someone in to care for them or be hospitable to them, or you're inviting someone in because you need help, you need them to help you, it didn't matter. If you were having—the more people that you had in and out of your home, that correlation with spiritual vibrancy went up. So that surprised us, but you're right. With the amount that God calls us to live lives of hospitality, it shouldn't surprise us.
Mike Zeigler: Again, let me clarify this idea of spiritual vibrancy.
Don Everts: The spiritually vibrant homes were the ones the researchers through their questioning were able to determine the faith of people there is actually being nurtured. So there's kind of movement; there's growth happening.
Mike Zeigler: Okay.
Don Everts: And even within those homes, it's not like it was perfect growth, right? It's not like these are shiny, happy people with everything figured out. It's just there's a delta. There's change going on. There's growth happening. And what we've found is that these three habits correlate with actual growth happening in the life of the Christians who live there.
Mike Zeigler: Spiritual vibrancy is what we call it, with people are responding to the Gospel and doing what Paul, for example, in the letter to the Ephesians, calls the church to present everyone fully mature ...
Don Everts: There you go.
Mike Zeigler: ... in Christ, that they're growing towards that maturity and respect.
Don Everts: Moving towards it.
Mike Zeigler: Yeah.
Don Everts: So it wasn't that they have it figured out or that their shirt's always tucked in or that their house is clean or any of those things. It was that there's movement.
Mike Zeigler: How was this personally for you? I'm sure there were some introspective moments about your own household. What was that like?
Don Everts: It kind of surprised me how exposing and emotional this was as a topic. I felt that. Because when you look in a mirror and start reflecting on what's happening in a household, I mean, does it get more personal than that? I mean, and so it made me reflect on my family of origin. There's a lot in the research about how we receive our faith or don't receive faith as children. It made me think about my family of origin, and that's always emotional to think about. It made me think about my own parenting, right? I have three kids in the home right now. And I found this was the case with the people that I've taken through this material. It gets non-theoretical really fast. It gets emotional. It gets both in a joyful kind of way because there's real freeing stuff in what the research reveals and in what the Bible calls us to. But it is exposing. There's something about looking in the mirror that can ... it gets real, really fast, and maybe it should. I mean, isn't this the most intimate of topics in a sense?
Mike Zeigler: I'm talking with Don Everts, the author of the book, The Spiritually Vibrant Home. It's a wonderful resource that might help you take a step forward in this. So Don, before we leave, would you have a word of encouragement for someone who's listening and is thinking, "I'd like to grow in this"? What would you want to say to them?
Don Everts: I think the thing I would say is we're not shooting for perfection. We're not shooting for having it all together. Kind of what the Scripture reveals, what the research confirms, is that just being attentive to your household, spending some time thinking about it, reckoning with the fact that God cares about—not just you—but your household, thinking about those things helps us—how can I take another step forward in our spiritual vibrancy as a household? You're never going to arrive. But the point is what's that next step that God has for you, and so to not try to pick it all up, not try to fix everything, not try to have a perfect household, but to just take a step as a household. That is a real hopeful, joyful, and actually really possible thing that anyone can do.
Mike Zeigler: Well, we'll talk more about this in the coming weeks. Thanks for being with us today, Don.
Don Everts: Good to be with you, Mike.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"My Soul, Now Praise Your Maker" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"My Soul, Now Praise Your Maker" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)