Following Jesus

Message Title: The Heart of Heaven (Come Close)

It’s our desire and goal that over the next few weeks you’d either connect with Jesus for the first time or you want to deepen your relationship with him over the next few weeks, get ready to be encouraged and challenged to passionately follow Jesus!

Let’s get into today’s message.

Have you ever noticed how distance changes our perspective of something?

 Our first impressions of something can be different at a distance than up close. Think of a time when you thought you saw a friend or someone you knew at a distance and you started waving but as you got closer you got embarrassed as you realized that it wasn’t your friend. Or have you thought some food looked good at a distance but lost your appetite as you got close or took the first bite.

 Our relationship with Jesus is the same. Many have a distorted view or understanding of God because for one reason or another they only observe or see Jesus from a distance.

 I want to start with a story of a man who’s view of Jesus was distorted because of distance. But, how everything changed when he allowed Jesus to come close.

Luke 19:1-10 (NIV) “1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 8 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.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

What a power packed story! This, among many of Jesus’ parables and interactions with people displays the heart of heaven.

First off, this is such an emotion packed story. Zacchaeus, was a Jew that was in partnership with the oppressive government to collect taxes and then extort additional money from the people. So, he was robbing his own people. And it said that he was very wealthy, so he was good at it and had been abusing people for personal profit.

Needless to say, he was hated by his own people.

So, when he hears that Jesus is coming into town, He assumes Jesus wouldn’t want anything to do with him. So, when he gets up into the tree it’s purely for observation not interaction with Jesus.

The sad truth is many people settle for that type of religion and Christianity. Observation without any interaction and connection. So, he assumes Jesus would keep walking, but when Jesus gets to him, He does the unthinkable, he stops, looks straight at him and says, “I’m coming staying at your house!”

Zacchaeus is shocked and responds by accepting Jesus’ invitation to come to his house. And this is where everything changes. When Jesus moves from distant rumors and stories about Jesus to having Jesus in him home and lounging for a meal. We see his life fully transformed with one encounter with Jesus. He goes from stingy and withholding to giving and generous!

This transformation happened in Zacchaeus’ life, but it also happens all throughout the Bible and history. And this theme of God not wanting to stay at a distance from us, but wanting to come close is the central theme of Scripture and the Heart of Heaven.

The big theme of the Bible and heart of heaven is: God loves you and wants to be close to you!

 This is the cry of the heart of God, to bring you and me close to him again. Have you ever talked to someone and felt like they were getting bored of the conversation or their eyes were looking past you for a better conversation? Well, here’s some good news, God has never felt that about you! Not even once. He’s not trying to get “out” of a conversation with you, He’s trying to get “into” a relationship and conversation with you.

One of the greatest examples in the Bible of this reality is when Jesus is on the cross, being crucified for the sin of the world. In all of the agony of that moment and all that he would have had on his mind and the pressure physically, there’s something that he said and something that happened that should ever solidify in your heart God’s intention to be close to you.

To set the stage, remember that when Jesus was being crucified, he was on a cross in the middle of two other criminals also being crucified at the same time. Presumably, those other two men deserved the punishment for the crimes they had committed. And right in the middle of the most agonizing moment of Jesus’ human life, one of the criminals asks him a question.

Luke 23:40-43 (NIV) “40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[a]” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

This exchange of Jesus and the man on the cross next to him is beyond comprehension. Not only does Jesus take the time to listen and respond to him, which speaks to Jesus heart for people, but when the criminal asks to be “remembered,” which feels pretty shocking that with all that he’s done and all that Jesus is right in the middle of, he has the guts to ask such a big request. But, what’s even more incredible and unthinkable is Jesus’ response to him.
Instead of saying something like, “with all you’ve done and the people you’ve hurt, how could you possibly think that I would remember you?” But, that’s not what he does. He doesn’t even say something kinder like, “well, we’ll see if there’s space after I consider all of the nice old women and small children.”

He actually says something wild, and something that speaks directly to the phrase I said earlier about the intention of heaven: Jesus says, “Today you will be WITH ME.” What?! This is unbelievable and incredible and such good news! This man on the cross provides the perfect example of what Jesus was there to do, bring humanity close again to be WITH HIM!

And then a short while later, when Jesus is about to fully die on the cross, and exchange our sin for his righteousness. Something else powerful happens right after his death.

Matthew 27:50-51(NIV) “50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

I love this! AT THAT MOMENT! I love that God didn’t waste a moment, he didn’t wait until the next “work day” to split the curtain, he did it right then. The split second after he paid the price for our sin. He split the curtain for eternity, reminding all of us of this key message, that God wanted nothing to get in-between us and him being close. That ripped curtain now meant that we could come close to him again!

If you weren’t sure before now, I need you to know that God wants you close! That’s not a cliché line or concept, its literal closeness with you that God desires.

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)

 It’s in and through Jesus that we now come close to God!!

 The sad reality is that too many settle for distance when Jesus paid everything to bring us close. For the rest of our time today, let’s look at two key things that kept Zacchaeus from Jesus and I think you’ll find they can be the same things that the enemy uses to try and keep you and me distant from Jesus.

 Why do we often stay at a distance from God?

 The first reason why I believe many people stay at a distance from Jesus is what we can see in Zacchaeus’ situation. It was how he saw himself, and that’s the first reason why most of us stay distant from Jesus.

  1. How we see ourselves often keeps us at a distance.

Zacchaeus saw himself as unworthy, and didn’t attempt to come close to Jesus. He was okay with and assumed that a distant relationship with Jesus is all he deserved. Because of his influence and wealth, he certainly could have been inclined to position himself to meet Jesus, but didn’t even attempt to do that because of his sin and brokenness.

It’s true for “Z”, and true for us that, guilt and shame cause us to hide from God. That was the first instinct of Adam and Eve in the garden when they sinned, was to run and hide from God rather than running to the only one who could heal and help them. We often slip into guilt and shame and the devil will gladly help encourage those thoughts along and add some of his own.
He’s a master at tempting us into sin by telling us it’s not that big of a deal and then once we fall for it, he’s right back there to tell us how horrible we are and unlovable we are.

And while it’s true that our sin has separated us from God, our sin never changed his heart towards us. He’s always loved and desired to bring us close to him.

Sin separates us but doesn’t change his heart towards us. 

I want to encourage you that no matter what you’ve done or where you feel like you missed the mark, don’t run and hide from God, RUN TO HIM. That thief on the cross had plenty of reasons to doubt his worth and value, but in a last ditch effort he reaches out towards Jesus, acknowledging who He is, and asks the Lord to be remembered in His kingdom. I’m thankful his shame and brokenness didn’t stop him from reaching out to Jesus.

The second thing I’d like to highlight as a main reason why people stay at a distance from Jesus is not just how they see themselves, but also how they see Jesus.

  1. Another thing that keeps us at a distance is how we see Jesus.

There’s a powerful story in the book of Luke where Jesus is talking about two sons and specifically highlights the broken journey of one of the sons who loses his way and then makes his way back to the father.

Luke 15:11-24 (NIV) “11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Here’s a key reality as you follow Jesus, how you see Jesus will affect what you receive from Jesus.

In Zacchaeus’ story and in this story of the lost son, He for sure didn’t think that Jesus would want anything to do with him because he saw God as more of a harsh, judgmental, and angry father, rather than the all powerful creator and loving father. I imagine that journey the son took when he went back home to his dad. It says that he’s rehearsing his “speech” to his Dad about how bad he is and doesn’t deserve to be his son anymore. Because He assumes he’ll be received harshly. But then as he’s getting closer to home, he sees someone running towards him. I imagine that at first he may not have known whether this person running after him was intending good or harm for him. At a distance, he saw his father as someone who would be mad or angry, but as he came closer and closer, he would have been able to see that the facial expressions from his father were of tears of joy and celebration at the return of his son. It’s so important for you to know that Jesus isn’t mad at you, he doesn’t want you to stay away, his desire is to bring you close and keep you close! He wants to spend time with you. And if you have been away and are in church maybe for the first time in a while and you’re not sure if God’s mad at you or not, remember this story, because this is a model of how your heavenly father sees you and wants you to see him. As the one who wants you close and runs to meet you where you are!

 There was a simple two question survey/interview done on one of the nation’s college campuses that would have been known to be unchurched and definitely away from God. The two questions that were asked were, “Do you believe there’s a God?” and “Do you believe that God has a plan for your life?”

Honestly, because of where the interview took place, there was an assumption that most would answer “no” to the first question and then the conversation would be over. But, shockingly, most who answered the first question said that “yes, they believed there is a God.” But, the heartbreaking thing was the answer to the second question. Even those who believed there is a God said that “No, they didn’t believe that God had a plan for them. They saw God as uninterested in them or too busy with “more important needs” then theirs, and so they stayed at a distance from him.

But, throughout scripture we see God over and over again reinforcing the truth that He loves you and wants to be close to you. I want to draw your attention to another well known verse, but one that we might too quickly pass by and not see the powerful message that Jesus is trying to get to us.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they will be with me.”

Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

 I think most of us just think of Jesus standing at the door and knocking on it, then we open the door and Jesus hands us a “salvation card that gets us out of hell” and then he waves a kind goodbye and heads off to the next home. But, you see the level of commitment by Jesus in this verse and you see the level of the heart of heaven towards us. He says that if you hear my voice, so note that Jesus is actively calling all of us to himself. And if you hear his voice and open the door, there is some personal responsibility on our part to say yes to the love and purpose of God for us.

But then instead of moving on, it says that if you open the door, I want to come in and eat with you. Just like he did with Zacchaeus. Now if you’re planning to hang out with someone but you’re not sure that you want to spend a lot of time with that person you don’t offer dinner, you might do a coffee or something short and sweet. But, when Jesus says I’ll come in and eat, that’s speaking to a long and drawn out process of eating and drinking.

That is, and always has been the desire and heart of God towards the people that He loved and created, to be with us and close to us! Don’t for a moment doubt the heart and goodness of God.