Contend Earnestly: Zaccheus was a Real Dude

Monday, April 06, 2009

Zaccheus was a Real Dude

I was leading a study with some of the youth this past Sunday and we were reading through Luke 19 and the story of Zaccheus. Naturally, those who grew up in church started singing the song like a bunch of Pavlov's dogs. Surprisingly, one of the youth, who is a Senior in high school admitted that he didn't know that the story of Zaccheus was real. He thought it was some made up song.

A lot of people get on liberal theology because they don't believe in the literal stories of the Old Testament, but they aren't the whole problem, conservative Christians that believe in the infallible, inerrant word of God are as well. How so? Some preachers and teachers teach the Bible as though Jesus isn't present in the stories. Like Christ is some after thought and not central to the story. This is very dangerous and leads to a senior in high school clueless on the story of Zaccheus. I know what you are thinking..."I would never do that, I would never make a story in the Bible sound like a fable." Are you sure? The question comes in how you decide to teach the Old Testament and New Testament to your children and to those around you.

Take a look at this song about Zaccheus:

Zaccheus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see
And as the Savior passed that way
He looked up in that tree
And He said, “Zaccheus, you come down!
For I’m going to your house today
For I’m going to your house to stay”

What a stupid song. What's the point? What is interesting is what this song leaves out of the conversion story of Zaccheus and how Christ and His salvation to sinners is the center of the story. Look at the rest of Luke 19 that isn't included in the song:

And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Luke 19:6-10

Amazing that this is left out of this (I am trying hard not to use "inappropriate" language here) stupid song that retards the salvific work of Christ. It robs Jesus as the center.

The question must come: How do you teach the Bible? When you come to stories like Jonah, David and Goliath, The Red Sea, Elijah, Joshua, Creation, etc. is Jesus at the center of the story or is he left out?

I always tell people: If a Jew can teach your same lesson with conviction, you aren't teaching Christianity and Christ crucified.

With those above stories who is the hero of them? Is Jonah the hero? Is David the hero? Moses? Elijah? Joshua? Who? If it isn't Jesus and the story of redemption, you aren't teaching the true stories of Christ, but you are telling fairy tales that don't matter. I have seen some bad teachings on this. I have seen where in the story of Daniel and Nebechudnezzar, that it was never about Jesus, but about how not to be like Nebuchadnezzar. I have seen how in Jonah, the theme of "Obey God" was the center. Obey God? That's fine, but what happens when the children find out that this is impossible to perfect? What then? 80% leave the church after high school...that's "what then".

I have had this conversation recently with others and they try and defend why they just merely teach the stories without the fullness of Christ. They have said, "Kids remember stories."

Kids remember stories? Who cares? I want my kids to remember Jesus and the redemption that he promised because of the cross. I am not a Jew and refuse to teach like one. When we merely teach stories, kids grow up not realizing that Zaccheus was real, was converted, sold his possessions, paid back 4 times what he stole and Christ said that he came to seek and to save that which was lost. The story of Zaccheus was a real redemption story that shows what happens when someone "receives Christ gladly."

If you merely teach a story, you need to repent because you are aiding children to believe in either a legalistic mentality of following mere men and their works or you are teaching them that these are just mere stories without you even realizing it.

Thomas Schreiner in his book, The Law and Its Fulfillment has this to say:

This explains, says Sanders, the emphasis in rabbinic literature on the fulfillment of commandments. Sanders' thesis on why the covenant is unmentioned may be granted in one sense. Presumably the rabbis did assume that God's covenantal mercies were the basis of all their behavior, and one must recall the nature of the literature found in the Mishnah and Gemara. Nevertheless, when one combines the failure to mention the covenant with the emphasis on obeying the detailed prescriptions of the law, one has a recipe for legalism. Such theology may not be legalistic in theory; it can always appeal to the covenant as the basis of all behavior. Theology, however, is not measured only by formal statements but also by what it stresses. Any theology that claims to stress God's grace but rarely mentions it and that elaborates human responsibility in detail inevitably becomes legalistic in practice, if not theory. This principle applies to rabbinic Judaism and to Christian churches. A church outwardly lauding grace as primary and fundamental may practice the most virulent legalism.
Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment, p. 117

Here are some quick steps to follow when teaching:

1. What is the context of the story?

2. What is the practical lesson to be received? i.e. don't murder, lie, look at porn, etc.

3. Where is Christ at in the story? How is he pictured or pointed to in the story or passage?

4. In what ways can we train in righteousness and see Christ as the center of redemption because of this story?

These are just some quick things to think about as we teach, not just children, but adults. Without Christ as center, how are we different than a Jew or a story teller at the local library?

Make Jesus the center or you are helping others become Jewish or liberal in theology.


Anonymous said...

"Kids remember stories."

Been thinking about this one myself lately after an octagenarian member of my local church remarked that she's only recently, after reading books like the Ariel series and 'The Fisherman's Testament', begun seeing seen the likes of Paul, Peter, etc as real people with real lives. In her own words, 'They've been Sunday school stories for her up till now'.

Aye kids remember stories. Don't we all. One of the great things about stories as teaching is that there are so many different ways to come at a story. That's, IMHO, the genius of the gospels/acts/genesis/etc. They are stories.

Just because they are stories doesn't mean they are not true. Biographies are stories, histories are stories. Stories are good!

Imagine trying to preach if we weren't preaching from stories, Same old sermon week in week out - it'd be like constant re-readings of legal documents or instruction manuals for putting together Ikea furniture.

Kid's learn from stories, adults learn from stories. But there's no point in telling the stories unless you also teach people how to interpret the stories, how to find the myriad of nuances of meaning, the unsaid back story, the counter story that prompted the story you read, how to get to know the main characters (in the case of the scriptures doesn't pretty much every story develop the revelation of the character of God in some way?). Without teaching, even kids, how to gain knowledge of the writer/s and the characters it's all just entertainment. Without that, as you say, what is the difference between a christian teacher and a library storyteller?

The questions I use for my bible studies/preaching are:

1. What does this story tell us about God?
2. What does the story tell us about us?
3. What, if anything, do you think we could do, with God and with others, after hearing this story?

Works with kids and adults.


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