(this teaching can also be watched by scrolling to the bottom and clicking play)
If you had to stand before God and ask Him if heaven could be the place where you live eternally, and God says, “Why should I let you in?” What will be your defense? May I suggest to you, rather than you trying to concoct something, have Jesus defend you.
Prayer Starter: Father, I thank you so much for your eternal kindness towards us. As I receive your word today, let it be as if I were sitting at the feet of Jesus. As I’m learning and growing, teach me how to be more like the person you’ve called me to be. I pray this in Jesus’ very name. Amen.
What would Jesus say to defend you?
If you needed to be defended before others, by someone who can defend you passionately and persuasively, what would their argument be? What would be their line of reasoning?
I read a most interesting legal case back in 2009. The attorney was defending a guy being accused of murder. His defense attorney used the argument called the “fat defense.” The attorney argued that his client could not have killed his son-in-law because he was too fat to have killed him. The guy was 5’8, 300 pounds.
He said that for him to drive 21 hours from Florida all the way to New Jersey, to be able to shoot his son-in-law in the leg, run up the steps behind his son-in-law and then shoot him in the back, was simply impossible.
The attorney continued, saying, my client has all kinds of medical problems, sleep apnea and diabetes. There’s no way he could have gone to the landing of the steps and then shot him with good aim. No way.
Can you guess what happened? Unsurprisingly, he got arrested. Why? Because the defense was weak.
There’s a story in The Bible that tells us the line of argument that Jesus used when he was defending people.
In Luke 19:1-10, the Scripture reads, “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’ But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’”
Let’s go back and stand in the crowd that was flanking the road in Jericho to really understand how Jesus defended this man named Zacchaeus and won the case.
The Jordan trade route was very popular, and it allowed for a lot of commerce to take place. As a result, Jericho was considered a very popular and wealthy community. The Roman government stationed tax collectors throughout the route to make sure they would be able to get their piece of the pie, as individuals were traveling along the trans-Jordan route.
The tax collectors at the time had to wager with the government as to how much tax they’ll give the government. So if the government says the taxes are $20, the tax collector can try to get $25, $30, $35, $40 from the people, give the government $20, and pocket the rest. Because of this, tax collectors were considered to be frauds.
Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. He’s getting a piece of the pie — not only from the people but from the other tax collectors. Essentially, he became wealthy as a result of his defrauding people. He was a short man and he couldn’t see Jesus, so he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed the sycamore tree.
He’s perched in the tree like a bird, and when Jesus comes to the spot where he was, Jesus looks up and says, Zacchaeus come down immediately, I want to go to your home. In other words — I want to spend the night there, have dinner and be able to recharge myself in your company. The moment that happened, the problems started.
The crowd knew who Zacchaeus was. They thought this guy was no good. They started to mutter, just whispering out loud under their breath. They couldn’t even hold themselves back. They didn’t call his name. They just said he’s gone to be the guest of a sinner. There are two problems that arise in the text.
How could Jesus be so foolish to go and be in the home of a guy who’s just a rank, no-good sinner? He’s a defrauder! How could Jesus allow himself to get duped? Does Jesus not know that he’ll be polluted by Zacchaeus’ behavior?
How could Zacchaeus have the gall to entertain a rabbi, a teacher, a good man — Jesus, who purports to be the savior of the world? How could he entertain someone like that, knowing that he’s so base?
The crowd muttered, but something happened to Zacchaeus up in that tree. He had experienced something in the tree, but I want you to see the transformation and how Jesus defended him.
What are the charges?
Before He defends, Jesus would first ask, what are your charges Zacchaeus? What’s your crime? See, in the first century, these tax collectors were placed on the same social totem pole as harlots and sinners. Zacchaeus was charged with two crimes — the first extortion, the second a moral crime, which is being a sinner.
Extortion, because he had despised his own countrymen and his own Jewish people, being Jewish himself. He’s a sellout to the Roman government. He’s working for the oppressive government, and he’s oppressing his own people with coercive shakedowns to be able to extort money from them. How could he do something so reprehensible?
That was the accusation being leveled against Zacchaeus. The second one was that he’s “the sinner.” They didn’t even call him by his name. They just used a pronoun and adjective to describe him as, “the sinner.”
The Greek word, “amarantos,” means unfading. It’s where we get the English word “amaranth,” like the beautiful flower. Amaranth means unfading because the amaranth flower is so bright. It’s so picturesque. It’s so robust in its color that when you see the red version of the amaranth, it’s flaming red.
That was Zacchaeus’ second charge — that he is a flaming sinner. He doesn’t sin quietly and under wraps. He’s bold and audacious with his sin. He’s public with his sin. Now I don’t know about you, but before I came to Christ, I was a good sinner.
Sinner vs. Rank Sinner
Let me explain — I didn’t sin publicly. People would ask about David Ireland and they might say, he’s such a nice guy! But I sinned with finesse, I made my sin look nice and polished, with a bow and all. They didn’t know what my heart was. They didn’t know the filthiness of my mind. They didn’t know my ethics. They didn’t know any of those things. All they saw was the outward thing. I was happy to admit I was a sinner, but not a rank sinner.
If I were there, I would’ve been charged with the same moral crime as Zacchaeus — being a sinner. Paul gives us his perspective on the topic of being charged with the crime of being a sinner in Romans 3 verse 23. Paul says, “Everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence.”
See, most people don’t compare themselves in that way. We’re always comparing ourselves to someone that’s worse than us. I want you to understand the need for us to be able to recognize what it means to be a rank sinner, and that rank sinners are just as damaging as polite sinners.
The crowd thought Zacchaeus was no good. They thought he was a defrauder of people — a reckless, flaming sinner. Before Jesus could defend Zacchaeus, he must have first asked him, “What are your charges? The second question Jesus would ask is, “How do you plead?”
How do you plead?
Are you being charged with this crime of extortion? Are you guilty or not guilty, Zacchaeus? Now I understand extortion. That’s pretty easy. That’s a money issue, and he will deal with that. But the moral crime, that’s where most people don’t realize. Because again, if you stand before God, you’re gonna have to give an account.
When He says, and you have to answer His question, how do I let you into heaven? Why should I let you into heaven? You can’t use a flimsy defense because it won’t work with God — He sees everything. He knows everything. He has everything under wraps. It’s like trying to outrun a bear. You can’t outrun a bear. You can’t outswim a bear. You could swim, you could climb, you could run, but the best thing you can do is just lay down.
A sinner is someone not only whose life misses the mark but is someone who’s separated from God. When you’re separated from God, God’s not on your mind. He’s not on your radar. He’s not in your thoughts — that’s where Zacchaeus was.
So Zacchaeus had a choice. How do you plead, guilty or not guilty? Let’s be clear, Jesus knew Zacchaeus was guilty. There was no question. The idea that Jesus wanted to go and dine at Zacchaeus’ home was not a message to say that He agreed with Zacchaeus’ behavior. It wasn’t that at all. He just wanted to minister to Zacchaeus behind closed doors, in a private setting, with him and his family.
But the matter was interrupted because the crowd started muttering and making this a public issue. Now, if Zacchaeus pleaded not guilty to the crime, the moral crime of being a sinner, there’d be a huge problem.
John 1:8-9 says, “If we say we have not sinned, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth isn’t in our hearts. But if we confess our sins to God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away.“
I want you to see that anyone who thinks I’m a nice person — you may be, but you have to see yourself as a nice sinner? You sin with the best of them. It looks almost polished and choreographed your sin, but it’s still sin.
Zacchaeus did not plead not guilty. He pled just the opposite — guilty — the moment his feet hit the ground. When Jesus stood there under the tree and said, “Zacchaeus come down immediately. I must go to your home,” then the people started muttering, “He’s gone to be the guest of the sinner.” When Zacchaeus heard their words, his guilty plea filled the air.
Zacchaeus began to say out loud, look Lord, now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I’ve defrauded anyone out of anything, I’ll give them four times the amount I owe them — that was Zacchaeus’ way of showing repentance. Something had happened in his heart. The guilt and shame of Zacchaeus’ behavior were eating him up inside.
When he saw Jesus, something began to deal with his heart. The Holy Spirit began to chip away and he saw the shame of his actions, the guilt of his actions. Just like that, Zacchaeus knew he wasn’t in right relationship with God and he began to be transformed.
As Jesus approached that tree, before he could even say, “Zacchaeus come down immediately. I must come to your home,” you know his mind may have gone back to remember how Jesus had been sympathetic to other tax collectors throughout His ministry. Matthew is in the crowd; one of Jesus’s 12 who used to be a tax collector, who was guilty of defrauding people. And he’s saying this man has been changed. He’s with Jesus. He’s one of the inner circle. He’s one of Jesus’ 12 apostles. That’s Matthew, and if Jesus can change Matthew, there’s grace there for Him to change me.
You’ve been Pardoned!
I want you to know no matter how far away you are from God, what sin may have clogged up the arteries of your soul, how guilt-ridden you may be, there’s a key. Something happened in Zacchaeus’ heart because the man that was perched on that tree was dead in God. The moment his feet hit that ground, he became alive in Christ. The man that was sitting on that tree was greedy. The man standing on that ground was generous. The man who was sitting in that tree, the people saw him and they saw his behavior. Jesus saw him and saw his beliefs. I want you to know Jesus is interested in your beliefs —that you believe in Him.
Scripture says, believe in me and you shall be saved. God wants to defend you and pardon you, just like he did with Zacchaeus. The key is that Zacchaeus pled guilty when he recognized I need the Savior. There we see Zacchaeus change his heart. He saw Jesus on the ground. He knew Jesus. His repentance was there. He said, look, Lord, look Lord here. Now I give half my possessions to the poor. If I’ve cheated anybody out of anything, I’ll pay back four times the amount. Now we see clearly, what would Jesus say to defend you?
He would’ve asked Zacchaeus, what are your charges? How do you plead? Assuming Zacchaeus pled guilty (and he did with his next words), Jesus would utter that you’ve been pardoned. Hallelujah. I want you to see Zacchaeus has been pardoned. When Zacchaeus hit that ground, the people started muttering under their breath. They’re saying He’s gone to be the guest of a sinner. How could He do that? But they didn’t know because they were looking at external past behavior.
They didn’t recognize the change that Jesus did. The key? He had had a touch from the living God in the tree. So when his feet hit the ground, he was not the same man. He was alive in Christ. His heart had been changed. I want you to see the people wanted his hide, but Jesus wanted his heart.
I want you to see when you’re saved, the moment you’re saved, a transformation is clear. Your worldview changes, and the way you see yourself changes. Your sins have been pardoned. Jesus had no doubt, no question, no hesitation — Zacchaeus, I pardon you.
I want to ask you a question, “Can Jesus stand up confidently without any hesitation, can he defend you and pardon you before the throne of God?” If Jesus has to look the other way and hang his head, if he has to say, “I’m not sure if your name is written down in the Lamb’s book of life” — Jesus cannot pardon you. He pardons those who have been saved. He pardons those who’ve repented. He pardons those who’ve asked for forgiveness.
If you’ve been transformed, Jesus doesn’t want your money. He wants your heart. He doesn’t want you to be religious, He wants you to be transformed. What Jesus wants is a relationship with you. I want to ask you a question, “Are you guilty or not?” If you plead not guilty, you must save yourself. If you are guilty, Jesus stands ready.
If you want to be forgiven, pray this simple prayer: Look, Lord, I plead guilty to being a sinner. I need your pardon. Come into my heart. Lord Jesus, wash away my sins. Change me and help me to live for you every day of my life. Starting right now. I ask you this in Jesus’ name. Amen.