November 26, 2022

Transformed Witnesses 30-10-2022

30th October 2022 (Pentecost 21 & Reformation Sunday) 

Title: Transformed Witnesses

(Scripture Readings: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 & Luke 19:1-10)

                                                                              By Heeyoung Lim 

In 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12, a community has been praised for its steadfastness in the face of persecution. Paul expressed his gratitude for the connection between the faith growth and the community’s growing love. God’s love is made visible in many ways, through a transformed life, the love of an individual, and the change of perceptions and growing intimacy of a community. We find an inner strength and shared feeling when we recognize and give thanks for how individual and collective beings witness God’s abundant grace every day. May we consider the many ways God’s love is made visible in our days, in our communities and the world.

In verses 1-4, Paul greets the congregation at Thessalonica with love and gratitude. He notes that their increasing faith and love and spiritual maturity are growing stronger and steadier. Their maturity and growth are considered as an example of Christian stability for other communities. In verses 11–12, Paul assures that he, Silvanus, and Timothy will continue to pray for them. He believes that God may continue to empower them, help to fulfill their calling, lead to the glory of their Lord Jesus.

We need growth and maturity to be strong as a witness of Christ in the midst of changing times and a challenging world. Paul boasts of the faith of the Thessalonians and highlights their growth. He focuses on their improvements and commends not only their performance but their effort. Paul’s applause for the Thessalonians should today be understood as affirming their love for God and love for people and churches that seek to be a community of faith.

The writer notes with gratitude that “the love of every one of you for one another is increasing” (v. 3). The faith community has been bound together by faith and love, even in its suffering. Their mutual love and their regard for one another has been increased even under the pain of persecution. God will not forget such steadfastness. 

In verses 11 & 12, God is the one who through His own power and grace makes people worthy of God’s call so that the name of Jesus is glorified in the world, and they are glorified in Jesus. These are the points of their prayers. After praying that the Thessalonians would experience God’s grace and peace, Paul offered thanksgiving for those believers because they continued to develop in faith and love. Although experiencing hardship, this church was an example to other churches because of their community life and love. This requires change and growth, and the story of a changed witness is found in the Gospel of Luke 19. 

In Luke 19:1-4, Jesus continued his journey up the dangerous hills toward Jerusalem. A tax collector was determined to see Jesus. As an administrator for the Roman government’s tax office, Zacchaeus had great wealth. He may overcharge the Jewish people and take a cut from the taxes gathered by other tax collectors whose work he administered. However, his wealth could not provide the one thing he wanted more than anything else. He was not able to see over or get through the massive crowd swarming around Jesus, Zacchaeus ran ahead, found a tree, and climbed up into its branches.

In 19:5, the clever tax collector did get a view of Jesus, and Jesus spotted him up in the tree. Jesus even invited himself to dinner at his house. Jesus said it was necessary for him to visit Zacchaeus. A necessity initiated by God to show one more time Jesus’ mission on earth. In 19:6-7, he overjoyed at this unexpected privilege, the short man rushed down the tree. 

The big crowd or his short height does not prevent Jesus from coming to Zacchaeus’s tree, making eye contact with him, calling him down, and inviting himself into the tax collector’s home and life. Jesus is going to eat with a sinful man, and the crowd must have complained. In going to dinner with Zacchaeus, Jesus showed his love and dedication to seeking and saving the lost rather than catering to the proud. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, not to fulfill religious demands.

We are sometimes hindered from seeing and experiencing the grace of God. Our sinful condition or worldly wind eclipses the light of God from shining into our lives from time to time. However, when God gives light into our hearts, He leads us to the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

As in verse 8, after meeting Jesus, the tax collector was no longer the same person. He would enter the kingdom of God, but not as a wealthy man. God’s house is a place of prayer, not of business. He would take half of what he owned and give it to the poor. He would find the people he had overcharged on their tax bill and refund four times as much as he had cheated them. 

Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem to face his death when he encounters this man whom we might rightly expect him to rebuke. However, Jesus stops and gives Zacchaeus the honour of staying at his house that night. He responds to this with great joy. When the crowd grumble that Jesus is staying with a sinner, Zacchaeus stands up on his little feet, stretches up as tall as he can, and declares that he will give half his possessions to the poor and repay any deception fourfold. This goes far beyond what Jewish law demands. Jesus declares that “salvation has come to this house” (v. 9).

Zacchaeus seems to have accepted the penalty of the law and applied it to himself more than demands. Acceptance by Jesus made money insignificant. Repentance came in the form of action. Salvation brings repentance and change of lifestyle. He had a new lifestyle because he had a new Lord. He is a transformed witness. This story tells us that the gospel is about commitment to God, but it is also about joy and looking for Jesus. May we take a step toward Jesus as Jesus walks to find us time and again.

Jesus dedicated his earthly ministry to finding people who were lost and showed them God’s way of salvation. His purpose was to bring salvation to lost people. The mission of his followers is to seek and save the lost. Jesus is the one who came in the name of the Lord to bring peace and salvation. May we search for lost people and tell them about the Saviour. 

In today’s text, Jesus seeks not only the lost in general but Zacchaeus in particular. This is one of heavenly initiated divine calls. In the Bible, Jesus sometimes selects individuals from crowds and extends personal invitations to them to become followers. When God calls us, we respond with faith and obedience. May we spread Lord’s salvation and love to our family, friends, and the lost.

Do we need to renew our commitment to the Saviour? May we prepare ourselves in faithfulness and prayer to be ready when the Saviour returns. I hope we can confess Jesus as king of our lives and of the universe. Turning from our sins and confessing Him as our Saviour and Lord bring our lifestyle changes. Zacchaeus is a transformed witness as a new creation. He goes from being a distant observer of Jesus to being a faithful disciple of Christ. 

May we also respond to the Lord through the maturity of our faith and changes in our lives on this Reformation Sunday. I also hope that our faith community will grow in love and faith for each other and become a more beautiful community where we can boast of each other in the Lord.

Thanks be to God! Amen.
(Ref. Bible, commentaries, theological books, UCA materials)