Dr. Ray Pritchard

Author, Speaker, President of Keep Believing Ministries

Zacchaeus: No Hopeless Cases

“All who saw it began to complain, ‘He’s gone to lodge with a sinful man!’” (Luke 19:7)

Zacchaeus never won the “Most Popular Man in Jericho” award.

He had three strikes against him. Strike one: He took money from hardworking people. That was bad enough. Strike two: He worked for the Romans, which made him suspect to every patriotic Jew. Strike three: He skimmed off some of the money for himself.

So he’s a tax collector working for Rome and lining his own pockets. No wonder people hated him.

Then along comes Jesus who not only calls him down from the tree, but invites himself over for a meal at Zacchaeus’ house. If you had taken a poll that day and asked, “Name the most hated man in Jericho,” Zacchaeus would have been named on 99% of the ballots. Virtually everybody would have said, “This is the worst man in town.” And then you’d ask the second question, “Who is the least likely person to want to see Jesus?” Zacchaeus would once again have been at the top of the list. People had written off this crooked tax collector long ago.

Sometimes we get discouraged when we share the gospel. We think our friends and loved ones are never going to listen. We try to share Christ at work. We try to share Christ with our friends and our neighbors. We try to build bridges. We try to get to know people who don’t know the Lord. We get discouraged when they don’t respond quickly. Sometimes they go months and years without responding at all. We look at them and conclude that they are hardened to God. Zacchaeus reminds us not to jump to hasty conclusions. If you had looked on the outside, you would have written him off because society had written him off. But all along the Holy Spirit was working, waiting for the day when Jesus would pass through Jericho.

Thank God, there are hungry hearts everywhere. Just because you don’t see the signs on the outside doesn’t mean that on the inside your friends and loved ones haven’t climbed up in a tree to see Jesus as he passes by. On the outside it may not look like anything is happening, but on the inside God is at work.

Evidently Jesus stayed at his home. No wonder people got upset. Religious types often get offended at the people Jesus chooses to be his followers. Isn’t it true, then as now, that some people are offended by the fact that our Lord loved to be with the worst of sinners?

There are no hopeless cases with Jesus. He’s not ashamed to hang out with drunkards and prostitutes and crooked tax collectors. Here’s a real shocker: He’ll even spend time with religious people if they want to spend time with him.

I’m glad Jesus hung out with Zacchaeus. If there’s hope for him, there’s hope for me too. We all get to heaven the same way: the free grace of God.

You never know when Jesus may find another Zacchaeus up a tree.

Thank you, Lord, for amazing grace that saved a wretch like me. Help me to keep believing for those who don’t know you yet. Amen.

You can reach the author at [email protected]. Click here to sign up for the free email sermon.

Caiaphas: Unconscious Prophecy

“It is to your advantage that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation” (John 11:50-51).

Raising the dead is risky business.
You never know how people will respond.

You would think that everyone would be delighted to have Lazarus back again. Certainly his friends and neighbors were glad to see him, and Mary and Martha rejoiced in their brother’s return from the grave. As word spread that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, thousands flocked to him.

And why not?

No one ever came back from the dead. You lived, you died, and that was the end of the story. But then Jesus came along and rewrote the ending. Suddenly life came forth from death.

But not everyone was happy. The Jewish leaders hated the news because they couldn’t handle a big “Jesus movement” in Israel. Apparently no one questioned the miracle itself. No one claimed that Lazarus had never died or that somehow they swapped the body or faked his return from the dead. As the Jewish leaders admitted in John 11:47, Jesus had done many signs that proved his divine origin. The problem became partly political. How could they manage this “Jesus movement” so it didn’t upset the Romans whose main interest was not religious but practical. They wanted to keep the peace so that taxes would continue flowing to Rome.

Enter Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest. He suggested killing Jesus in order to keep the peace. Better one man die than the whole nation perish. It reminds me of Mr. Spock’s famous remark in one of the Star Trek movies, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Caiaphas is willing to have Jesus murdered in order to keep the peace so that Rome didn’t get upset.

But here’s the fascinating point. When John records the story, he adds the comment that Caiaphas was actually predicting the substitutionary atonement of Christ. The Jewish leaders thought by killing Jesus, they were saving the nation from the wrath of Rome. So they killed him, and in A.D. 70 the thing they feared happened anyway when the Roman army burned Jerusalem and destroyed the.

It turns out Caiaphas was right, but not in the way he thought. Through his death, Christ brought salvation not only to Israel but to the whole world.

John Piper offers this comment:

In the mind of Caiaphas, the substitution was this: We kill Jesus so the Romans won’t kill us. We substitute Jesus for ourselves. In the mind of God, the substitution was this: I will kill my Son so I don’t have to kill you. God substitutes Jesus for his enemies.

This event took place about a week before the crucifixion. Sooner than he knows, Caiaphas will come face to face with Jesus. Little does he know that his words predict the true meaning of Christ’s death on the cross.

But God knew!

As we continue this Lenten journey, each day will bring us a little closer to the cross. But in these early days, let’s remember that though wicked men put our Lord to death for sinful reasons, God overruled it all to accomplish his great plan of salvation. He used Caiaphas’ unconscious prophecy to let us know that the hand of God was at work. Out of man’s greatest evil, God wrought the greatest good. We are saved by what bad men did to the Son.

There is no greater proof of Romans 8:28 than the bloody cross of Christ.

Lord God, you are amazing! Even the wrath of man must praise you. What men meant for evil, you meant for good. Tattoo this truth on my heart today. Amen.

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Lazarus Must Die!

“The chief priests decided to kill Lazarus also because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus” (John 12:10-11).

He was back from the dead.

No one could deny that fact. In the first place, Bethany was a small village where everyone knew everyone, so no one could deny that Lazarus had died. It happened like this: He got sick, he died, and they buried him.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

It’s what happened next that made headlines. Jesus came along and raised him from the dead. That was startling enough. But no one could deny any part of it because it happened publicly.

Lazarus was dead.
Then he was alive again.

You could argue about how it happened, but the basic facts were there for all to see. The Jewish leaders had a problem on their hands. You can’t have dead men coming back to life. It upsets the normal order of things. If word spreads that this man Jesus can raise the dead, people will flock to him by the thousands. They will come from everywhere to see this man whose word defeats death. Pretty soon word would spread to the Romans who didn’t like local uprisings. They frowned on charismatic leaders who attracted great crowds. If the Romans got involved, it would mean nothing but trouble for the Jewish leaders.

But that was only part of the problem. Lazarus was Exhibit A of Jesus’ awesome power. If you let a man like Lazarus run around telling his story, pretty soon everyone ends up believing in Jesus. Suddenly the whole Jewish system is in jeopardy. So they decided on a simple solution.

Lazarus must die!

Miracles are always a double-edged sword. Religious people feel threatened because Jesus doesn’t fit into their manmade boxes. Better to destroy the evidence than to admit a miracle took place.

The same thing happens today. If you take your stand for Jesus, someone won’t be happy. You may get in trouble. In some parts of the world, you may pay with your life for being a Christian.

We don’t know if the Jewish leaders actually killed Lazarus. Maybe they didn’t have to because they ended up killing Jesus a few days later.

But he wouldn’t stay dead either!

Let’s take away two lessons today. First, don’t be surprised when some people reject you because of your Christian testimony. Jesus said this would happen. Second, remember that the worst our enemies can do is kill us. We go to heaven when we die, and our bodies are raised when Jesus comes again. If we lose, we win!

So go ahead and stand strong, be bold, live for Christ, endure hardship, stand up for what you believe. The worst that can happen is the best that can happen. Our future is secure because it doesn’t rest on us; it rests on the faithfulness of God who raised Jesus from the dead.

Make me bold, Lord Jesus, to bear witness for you today. I pray that my testimony will lead many people to believe in you. Amen. 

You can reach the author at [email protected]. Click here to sign up for the free email sermon.

Bartimaeus: A Blind Beggar Meets Jesus

"Many people told him to keep quiet, but he was crying out all the more, 'Have mercy on me, Son of David!'" (Mark 10:48).

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Almost no one paid him any attention. He had been blind for as long as anyone could remember. And he had been in the same place, on the road outside of Jericho, sitting, waiting, hoping that someone would see him beg and would be moved with pity or guilt to toss a few pennies his way. Motive didn’t matter, money was money, and in this case, quite literally, beggars could not be choosers.

No one puts “Blind Beggar” on their list of career choices. Outside of being a leper, it was the lowest rank in Jewish society. The blind had to beg unless they had a family that could care for them. This man apparently had no one so day after day he sat there, eating the dust kicked up by the passing parade of people and animals on a hurry to get to Jericho to do business.

One day Jesus showed up, and his life changed forever.

Give Bartimaeus the credit he deserves. When he heard that Jesus was passing by, he saw his chance and cried out for mercy. He even called him by his Messianic title, “Son of David.”

He saw his need.
He cried out for help.
He would not be deterred by those who tried to shush him.
He knew what he wanted Jesus to do for him.
He asked for what he needed.
He received his miracle.
He immediately began to follow Jesus.

Repeatedly in the gospel of Mark, Jesus exposes the moral blindness of his disciples. They thought they knew him better than they did. But here is a poor blind beggar who sees better than they do, even though he was blind when he met Jesus. Having received his miracle, he follows Jesus down the road, not knowing that it would lead to a Roman cross.

George Beverly Shea loved to sing a song called Then Jesus Came that begins this way:

One sat alone beside the highway begging,
His eyes were blind, the light he could not see;
He clutched his rags and shivered in the shadows,
Then Jesus came and bade his darkness flee.

When Jesus comes the tempter’s pow’r is broken;
When Jesus comes the tears are wiped away.
He takes the gloom and fills the life with glory,
For all is changed when Jesus comes to stay.

Today we begin our Lenten journey called “Faces Around the Cross.” Each day between now and Easter Sunday, we’ll look at the people who met Jesus during his final days. We begin with Bartimaeus because he stands for all of us. Whether we know it or not, we are hopeless and helpless until Jesus passes by.

Have you met him?
Do you know him?

And the greatest question of all: Will you follow him wherever he goes, even when the road leads to a cross? Bartimaeus couldn’t have known what was ahead, but he knew enough to follow the One who had given sight to his blind eyes.

Follow Jesus.
That’s where our journey must begin.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes today and help us to see you clearly. Give us gritty determination to follow wherever you lead. Amen. 

You can reach the author at [email protected]. Click here to sign up for the free email sermon.

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