We studied the following passage at small group last night, and I felt like the Holy Spirit was speaking to me about Jahar throughout:
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, 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 on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him,“Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
— Luke 19:1-10
Zacchaeus was a rich tax collector, a chief tax collector to be specific. As a tax collector, he was a hated outcast of society categorized as a sinner. He was a Jew who worked for the Romans, collecting taxes to support the very empire that ruled his people oppressively. Not only that, tax collectors would collect more than the person owed and would keep the additional money for themselves.
Does that not sound like Jahar? On account of the terrible things he’s done, he too is a hated outcast of society categorized as a sinner.
In the passage we see Zacchaeus desperately seeking to see Jesus. Wait, what? This guy seeking Jesus? But he’s a terrible sinner!
Yet, he seeks Jesus. He wants to see Jesus so badly that when he finds he can’t see Jesus because he’s too short to see Jesus, he climbs up into a tree. We see here a man desperately seeking, desperately thirsting for something greater.
What this clearly illustrates to me is that people are seeking who we don’t necessarily assume would be. We cannot write people off as lost causes who would never want anything to do with Jesus.
I see that same seeking heart in Jahar. It seems he truly wants to know God, that he truly wants a relationship with Him. Yet, there’s a crowd standing in his way, the metaphorical crowd of the only religion he’s ever known and a family that might even disown him if he’d leave it.
How I long for him to realize that on account of that crowd, he’s unable to see the God his heart is truly longing for. How I long for him to climb up into the tree, so to speak, and open the Bible and finally be able to see Jesus there.
Yet the interesting thing we see in this passage is that while Zacchaeus was seeking Jesus, it’s even more true that Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus.
I truly believe that Jesus is seeking Jahar. I don’t think there’s any other explanation for the way Jahar miraculously survived that night on the boat and for the way God has called so many of His children into persistent prayer for this broken young man.
When the crowd sees Jesus interact with Zacchaeus and say He will stay at Zacchaeus’ house, they grumble, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
That made me think: If Jesus were here physically walking the earth today, where would He go? Who would He visit? I think Jesus would visit those in prison, even those on death row.
I said to God in my head, “You’d be visiting Jahar.” I heard the Holy Spirit respond to me, “I am visiting Jahar.” Whatever that specifically means, it’s beautiful. But the thought that it could mean Jesus has been coming to Jahar in dreams and visions like He’s done for Muslims throughout the world makes my heart want to dance with joy.
When Zacchaeus encounters Jesus, his life is changed forever. Salvation is now his, and he is a new creation.
I find it interesting that Zacchaeus doesn’t just recognize his fraud as sin. He doesn’t just apologize to those he defrauded. He doesn’t just return the extra money he took from them. He restores fourfold what he took from them. Repentance for him means righting his wrongs, giving back to those he harmed.
I couldn’t help but think about what repentance then looks like for Jahar. He’s already shown remorse for his crimes and apologized to his victims, though sadly so many of them don’t believe he was genuine. But I’d love to see more once he comes to faith in Christ and his repentance isn’t motivated by a desire to earn God’s mercy but rather motivated by a heart of gratitude for the mercy he’s been freely given by what Christ has already done. I’m not so sure what he can do for his victims because obviously he can’t undo what he did to them in the way Zacchaeus could. I’d love, however, for his heart to be overcome with love and compassion for them and for him to spend a good deal of time every day crying out to his new-found heavenly Father for them.
I noticed one thing last night that I had never been aware of before. The placement of Zacchaeus’s story in the narrative of the Gospel of Luke is rather profound, and I think it illustrates an important point.
Zacchaeus’s life-changing encounter with Jesus is located at the beginning of Luke 19. Why is this important? Look at what happened just one chapter earlier in Luke 18:18-30.
After Jesus told the rich man to give away all he owned to the poor, to which the man refused with great sadness, Jesus said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24-25).
I find it challenging to even thread a needle, but at least that’s possible. A camel going through the eye of a needle on the other hand? Clearly impossible.
Or is it?
When the crowd then asks how anyone could be saved, Jesus responds, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
And the very next chapter we see the very thing that was called impossible actually happen: a rich man is saved.
The moral of the story: No salvation is impossible for God. Nobody is beyond the reach of grace. Not Zacchaeus. Not even Jahar.
After all, as Jesus tells His new follower Zacchaeus, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of Thee.