This is a day of much automation and big statistics. The individual seems to be less and less important. One man said he felt like a peanut in a large baseball stadium. Another man, upon reaching his fiftieth birthday, said he’s starting to realize that he is a failure. A woman confessed, “I’m so lonely.” And then as an apologetic afterthought she said, “But what difference do I make?”
What difference do you and I make? It is in answer to this question that we want to address ourselves today. Instead of saying, “You need to believe in God,” which is a valid statement, I’m going to say, “God believes in you.”
Our text (Luke 19:1-10) contains the story of Zacchaeus. We could have chosen any one of a number of New Testament characters to illustrate the fact that God does believe in man. The New Testament is filled with illustrations of God’s faith in seemingly unlikeable people. Open its pages, and out march dishonest tax collectors, thieves, prostitutes, and robbers. I believe there is a great danger of one thinking more highly of himself than he ought to think, and the Bible forbids such an attitude. God expects His children to live a life of self denial and humility. But at the same time, God does not want individuals to give up on themselves; to lose faith and confidence in the ability He has invested in them. This is one of the reasons a lot of solid citizens and good church members many times become frustrated and defeated, and in the process of time they often are not too valuable in the work of the kingdom.
So we want to look at life from a different direction. It will be helpful to turn the coin over and take a look at the other side. And instead of talking about man’s need for faith in God, we want to think about God’s faith in man. Let us note some reasons why God believes in you.
1. God Believes in You Because He Knows You Thoroughly
Our text says that when Jesus stopped under the sycamore tree, He looked up and called Zacchaeus by name. Now that’s interesting, since we just have read that the reason Zacchaeus climbed up into the sycamore tree was because he wanted to see who Jesus was. Zacchaeus had never met Jesus. He had never heard Him. Zacchaeus had never seen Him before. But when Jesus got under that sycamore tree, He looked up into the tree and their eyes met, and He called Zacchaeus by name.
What does this mean to us? It means that God knows your name. He knows where you live. He knows where you work. He knows everything about you there is to be known. He knows what really makes you tick. Psalm 139:2 says “thou understandest my thought afar off.” Long before we can ever conceive a thought in our mind, God knows what we’re going to think about on a given day and time in history. Surely there is a great advantage of having a God like that watching over us, caring for us, and providing for us. The God who reveals Himself in the Bible is omniscient; that is, He knows all and He sees all. He knows the need of everyone reading this article. And not only does He know all, but the Bible says He is in a position to provide our every need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
The fact that God knows all there is to know about us can also be a disturbing thought. It means He knows all the bad things about us. He knows every time we think something in our heart that is impure and unholy and biased and prejudiced. He knows every time we have said some kind of word under our breath that was not to His honor and to His glory. And this can really disturb a lot of people. But we can be thankful we have a God who knows about all of our wrongdoings; about all of our shortcomings, our frustrations, and our anxieties in life. We serve a God (and know about a God through His Word) who is in a position to do something about our weaknesses and shortcomings. He has a way of getting us back on the track; of giving us direction, and sometimes it may result in chastening. “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6).
But even though God knows all the bad things about us, there is another side to that coin. We need to understand that if God knows the worst about us, He also knows the best about us. If He knows the bad things that are hidden from the views of others, He certainly knows about all the good that others never see. God knows our potential to bring honor and glory to His Name. People may misunderstand, pre-judge, and be quick to condemn, but God does not react that way. God knows we stand in need of compassion, love and pity. Psalm 103:13 says, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.” Then in verse 14 the Psalmist tells us why the Lord feels that way about us. He says, “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.”
God knows what is in each one of us. No one else in all the world is in a better position to know and supply our needs than the God of Heaven. He knows the battles that we have fought and lost. He knows the many times we have embraced some great ideal, and it has been smashed with the hammer-blows of reality. He knows there were times in life when we really purposed in heart to do our very best, to try and just pass through one day without marring the glory of God, and then we experienced a failure at the end of that day. God knows all about it.
My friend, it is not my purpose to be overly optimistic, but I am persuaded there is something wonderful and magnificent and expansive about the grace of God to one who has faith in Jesus Christ. It is so great that we in our weak finite minds are not really able to comprehend it all. God believes in you because He knows you thoroughly.
2. God Believes in You Because He Sees You Differently
Most of the people who looked up into the sycamore tree saw one object. They saw a despised tax collector who was a thief and a turncoat. When Jesus looked up in the tree, He too saw a thief and a turncoat. Christ saw one who was despised by the citizens of that community because he was working for the interest of the Roman Empire. And Zacchaeus was partly responsible for the suppression that the Jewish population was experiencing. But you know, Jesus saw the real person. He saw all that Zacchaeus was. He saw something in Zacchaeus no one else ever saw. He saw all that Zacchaeus might become. The same is true with you and me today. As people look to us, they only know a little bit about us from our conversation, our reaction, our personality, and what we do and say and think out loud. But God knows all about you and me today. He knows all that we are and He knows all that we can be. I’m convinced God Almighty, more than anyone else, is concerned about the potential for good that is in each one of us, so that we in the future might live a life that would bring more honor and glory to His precious and holy Name.
Luther Burbank, the horticulturist, used to have a slogan, and it was this: “Every weed, a potential flower.” Now this same slogan can be fitted into the gospel: “Every sinner, a potential saint,” because the gospel of Christ “is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Romans 1:16).
Jesus walked one day beside the Sea of Galilee and saw four fishermen. Two of the fishermen were casting into the water and two were mending their nets. They were people just like us. We are told that at least one of them could be very profane. Two of them were very short tempered, and were surnamed “sons of thunder.” But Jesus saw something in those men that no one else ever saw. Of course, their hands were calloused by hard labor. Their faces were bronzed by the wind and the sun. But Jesus saw in them something great for the future, and He said to the four men, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Their remarkable contribution to the history of man has been so notable that we find their names in the New Testament. We call them Peter, Andrew, James, and John—and we recognize them as men of God.
Michelangelo, the great painter and sculptor, went one day to the quarry and selected an ugly, misshapen piece of marble. Some of those who were looking on asked him why he chose that particular piece of marble. And his response was, “There is an angel inside, and I want to let him out!” And Michelangelo proceeded to work with mallet, hammer, chisel, sweat, toil and long hours. And he brought it about.
Sometimes we look at people and see only the worst. Jesus looks at people and sees not only the bad but also the good, and He seeks to bring out the best in us. No one else dared dream that the selfish, little man by the name of Zacchaeus up in the sycamore tree someday would be an open-handed and generous-hearted benefactor. But Jesus saw all of this. And when He had an opportunity in that man’s life, he brought it about. One man stated it like this: “All that I could never be, all that man ignored in me, that was I worth to God.” God believes in you because He sees you differently.
3. God Believes in You Because He Loves You Perfectly
Why did Jesus go home that day with Zacchaeus? His fame had preceded Him. All that Jesus had to do was walk through the streets of Jericho, and He could generate an impromptu parade. On that particular day, Jesus could have been the dinner-guest of any prestigious or reputable person in the city of Jericho. But instead, He chose to go home with the most despised, rejected citizen of the community. Why did He do it? There can only be one answer. Christ loved Zacchaeus with a love that exceeds human love. The love of God motivated Jesus Christ to love those who were unloveable. And if we are truly born again of the water and the Spirit, this same love can generate our hearts to love those who are unloveable.
Some people think love puts on blinders, and refuses to see the flaws and the faults of the objects of affection. But perfect love sees with a clear-eyed vision. Perfect love is painfully aware of all the flaws and faults of those whom we love most. But because of the love of God in one’s heart, we can keep loving those who sometimes are unloveable.
From childhood, many of us can remember the account which tells how Simon Peter denied the Lord. It is a tragic, but inspiring story. Jesus had predicted exactly what happened about twelve hours earlier. Jesus told Peter that before dawn he would betray the sacred bond of trust that had existed between them for three years. And when it actually happened, after the cock had crowed the third time, we believe (according to the account) that Peter was close enough to Jesus that Jesus heard the conversation between him and those who accused him of being one of Christ’s disciples. Just then Jesus turned His head toward Peter. Their eyes met. And Peter remembered. And he went out and wept bitterly. What did Peter remember? Certainly he remembered what Jesus predicted just twelve hours earlier. But also, Peter realized that if Jesus knew about his denial then, he possibly knew it twelve months before. And Peter realized now that Christ knew it three years before, at the time when Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Peter realized that Jesus knew how he would fail and deny Him (way back when Jesus called him), but nevertheless, Jesus loved Peter with an unparalleled love. They talked together, they walked together, they ate together, and they traveled many miles on foot together. And all the way, Jesus just kept tenderly caring and loving this same Peter who at a given time in his life would deny Him and curse and swear that he had never known Him. Now Peter realized that Jesus loved him. And this broke his heart.
The point is this: Do you think Christ stops loving us just because we fail? He knows about it before it happens. He knew about our failures from the beginning. Still He knocked on your door and my door. There is only one explanation for all of this. He loves us. He loves us with an unparalleled love. It seems clear that before God allows anyone to plunge into the depths of Hell, He places roadblocks between the individual and the place of eternal doom. Hopefully, that person will be aroused to sense his responsibility before God, so that he in a greater and more faithful way, will serve his Creator and His God.
To illustrate more clearly that Jesus Christ believes in us, think about this account of a football game that was played in 1929. I hesitate to use an illustration like this, but the Apostle Paul on several occasions used the Olympics (which were held in ancient Greece) as remarkable illustrations of spiritual truths intended to inspire us in our Christian walk of life.
The 1929 event was a Rose Bowl game, which was perhaps the most exciting college football game that was played throughout the year. The two teams that played on New Year’s Day in 1929 were Georgia Tech and California. During the last minutes of the second quarter, there was a jarring tackle at midfield. The football spurted up in the air and came down into the arms of a California linebacker by the name of Roy Regals. He took a firm grip on the ball, reversed his field position, zig-zagged, and headed for daylight. The extreme delight of a football player’s heart is to see daylight between him and the goalpost. And with the cheering audience, and all the excitement, Roy Regals did not realize that he was headed in the wrong direction. But just before he crossed the goal line, one of his own team mates tackled him. A few plays later, Georgia Tech got possession of the football and good field position, and went on to score and later on, win the game, eight to seven. Roy Regals was very dejected, and very humiliated. He promptly left the field and went into the locker room and hid back of the lockers. The next morning in bold print, the newspapers carried the account of the great mistake that Roy Regals made.
But there was one sports reporter in the stadium that day who noticed in Roy Regals something that nobody else ever noticed. During the second half, he played the most inspiring football of his entire career. His tackles were vicious, and his blocking was firm and crisp. The reporter found his way to Roy Regals after the game and wondered what it was that inspired him to continue playing the best football of his career. Roy Regals shared it like this:
“At the time of the mistake, I was headed for the lockers and there I sat, back of the lockers, keeping myself out of view of everyone, even thinking about taking my own life.” And then at halftime when the coach and the rest of the squad came in for the break, it wasn’t long until Clarence Price, who was the coach of the team, started calling out the starting lineup. When he got to center, he called out Roy Regals’ name. And it was at this time that Roy Regals came out from back of the lockers stuttering, “I-I-I c-c-can’t, coach.” And then the coach said to him, “But you are a very important part of this football team. We need you. The team needs you. Now you go out there and give it the very best you can.” Roy Regals said at this time, when he realized that Clarence Price still believed in him, he had no other choice but to go out and give it the very best he had.
Now my dear friend, I don’t know how often you may have fumbled the ball, and headed in the wrong direction. That’s really not the main point. The primary point is this: God is always concerned about the direction you are going to take in the future. He is concerned about how zealous and how enthused you are going to be in your Christian life. He has told us, that He is going to be with us always, even unto the end. Sometimes we believers spend too much time fretting about our past failures and neglects and frustrations, and we brood over these errors to the point that it really stifles our enthusiasm for the future. The Apostle Paul must have realized this when he said, “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
Friends, this message is shared to remind us that God has many ways in which He loves us, in spite of our neglects, and our failures, and our frustrations in life. As we think once again about how wonderful the love of God is toward us, it is my prayer that this message might become an incentive to produce in each one of us more holiness and righteousness of character.