How Watching a Baptism Changed the Way I Read the Bible

Recently our church had the privilege of witnessing the baptism of a child from our kids’ ministry. It’s always a joy to see the prayers and efforts of both parents and volunteers come to fruition as children profess Jesus as Lord and Savior. What struck me was the testimony of this young girl: how the Holy Spirit used the story of Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree from Luke 19:1–10 to open her heart.

If you’ve ever read the Gospel of Luke or been in church for very long, you’re likely familiar with the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector who scrambled up a sycamore tree so he could catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passed by. (It’s okay to admit if you’re humming the children’s song right now.) It’s a story that I’ve read and heard countless times, but her testimony arrested me. She said, “Jesus said three words. ‘Zacchaeus, come down.’ And it meant a lot to me.” Watching this baptism has changed the way I read this story forever.

Zacchaeus. The call to salvation is universal. The gates of heaven are opened wide through the cross of Jesus, and the invitation to eternal life is for every nation, tribe, people, and language. He will never turn any away who seek Him; all are welcome.

Yet the story of Zacchaeus reminds us that Jesus’ invitation is also personal and intimate as well as universal. Imagine Zacchaeus’ surprise when Jesus stopped and called to him by name. Remember your own surprise when the Lord called you. At that moment when you saw Jesus as precious and worthy, Jesus was calling you by name. And why wouldn’t He know your name? He counts the very hairs on your head.

Come Down. Jesus’ first command to Zacchaeus was not to work but to rest. Tree climbing is not easy, especially for a wee little man like Zacchaeus, but at that moment, I imagine he would have raced to the top of that tree if Jesus had asked. But Jesus wasn’t interested in Zacchaeus’ work or wealth. He wanted Zacchaeus – “I must stay at your house today.” The same is true for us. Jesus is not interested in how much we can work or how much we can give. Instead, he invites us to rest and enjoy fellowship with Him.

At the end of the story, Zacchaeus pledges to give away his wealth as sign of his repentance and resolution to follow Jesus. It was not a means of buying his own salvation – that would be impossible even if he had all the riches of the world. Zacchaeus’ debt, just like our debt, was so enormous that it required a payment that only Jesus could make. So Jesus called Zacchaeus to climb down from that tree, so that Jesus could climb a far more rugged tree in his place.

It Meant A Lot to Me. Zacchaeus was forever changed by his encounter with Jesus. As are we. As was that young girl on this particular Sunday who gave her testimony in the baptismal waters. She heard the voice of the Savior calling to her in those three words. They meant a lot to her. And, little sister, they now mean a lot to me too.

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