The Idolatry of Money-Luke 19:1-10

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Luke 19:1-10
Key Verse: 19:5

“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’”

Last week we heard a message on Genesis 22 entitled, “Your Heart’s Greatest Desire.”  In the Bible, Abraham is regarded as the father of faith. He was a great man of God. But even such a great man can become an idol worshipper, who grieves God. Abraham could have lost his heart to his heart’s greatest desire—his son, his only son Isaac (Ge 22:2), born to him in his old age. God knows the grave danger of our desire, so, out of love, God may ask you, “Can you live without your heart’s greatest desire?” If we realize that we cannot, then we must humbly cry out to God that our heart’s greatest desire may not become an idol in our hearts. This is so important, because once we have an idol, we break the 1st of the 10 commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3). None of us ever really imagines that getting our heart's deepest desires might be the worst thing that can ever happen to us. Also, none of us, not even father Abraham, can overcome our heart’s greatest desires by our own efforts. We need a greater godly affection by personally realizing how holy God is, & how loving he is at the same time. We must know how much our holy God hates our sin of idolatry, & how much our loving God is willing to forgive us by destroying his one & only Son Jesus Christ instead of us.


Today, we want to examine the idolatry of money. Andrew Carnegie, a philanthropist & one of the richest men in the world of his time, said, “Man must have an idol and the amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry! No idol is more debasing than the worship of money.” Carnegie understood 2 things correctly about human nature: 1) that man naturally & effortlessly craves for an idol, & 2) that money is one of the worst forms of idolatry in life. (I’ll get back to him later as we examine how his life turned out.) Whether we realize it or not, in the Bible, Jesus warns people far more often about greed & money than about sex. Yet interestingly almost no one in the world really thinks that they are greedy or money hungry. But we know that married couples argue most about money, which, along with infidelity, are the commonest reasons for divorce. Today, let’s see what the Bible says about money as we look at the story of a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus in Luke 19. There are 3 parts: the seductive power of money (1,2); grace is the way of liberation (3-7); how grace changes an idolater to a worshipper of God (8-10).

1st, the seductive power of money (1,2). The Bible says that covetousness or greed is idolatry (Col 3:5; Eph 5:5). An idol always has some kind of controlling power over us. Just as a sensual woman has a kind of power over a man who likes her, money has a kind of seductive power over those who love money. Let’s see how this seductive power of money may have affected Zacchaeus. Read verses 1,2. “He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.” This verses tell us that Zacchaeus, a Jew, was a tax collector, who were among the richest people in Israel at that time, together with their Roman oppressors. The salaries the Romans offered tax collectors were almost irresistible. Back with military force, the tax collector were allowed to demand much more money from their fellow Jew than he had to pay the Roman Government. Today we call this extortion. So tax collectors were the wealthiest people and most hated. And Zacchaeus being “a chief tax collector,” was surely Israel‘s public enemy number one. Zacchaeus knew that If he was pursue a career as tax collector he would be betraying his own people. So why did he do it? We may speculate on many reasons, but perhaps the most obvious would be his strong uncontrollable desire to make lots of money. We see such people today who are preoccupied with their desire for money even when they go to church & pray. The Bible says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving (for money) that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Ti 6:10). People suffer so much because of money. Richer people suffer because they have to take care of the money that they have: What do I do with it? What should I buy? How should I invest it? On the other hand, poorer people suffer because they’re so upset that they are poorer than the rich people, & that the rich people don’t help them out. Why can’t Bill Gates give me a million dollars. What’s one million dollars to him? The idolatry of money affects both the rich & the poor.

What does Jesus say about the seductive power of money? A few chapters earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness (all kinds of greed), for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (12:15). Why does Jesus warn us so strongly to guard ourselves against the seductive power of money? It’s because an idol always causes us to do 3 things with our idols: 1) we love them; 2) we trust them; 3) we obey them. In other words, we become a slave to money. Lovers of money are those who find themselves daydreaming and fantasizing about how to make more money. Not too long ago, someone wrote a best seller called “Multiple Streams of Income,” which promises many ways to make money, such as the stock market, real estate, starting a business, owning a franchise, etc.  Lovers of money are those who always think about possessions to buy, and looking with jealousy on those who have more than they do. So they lavish their paycheck and max out their credit cards on material things. Now with advance communications, you can pretty much get what you want with just a click of mouse. So lovers of money spend many hours online, even at their work place, looking for things to buy.
Very likely, Zacchaeus, in his obsession to make money, was so enslaved by his love of money that he didn’t care that he became a most despised & hated tax collector. How then can we overcome the seductive, captivating power of money?

2nd, grace gives us freedom (3-7). Read verse 3. “And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature.” Likely Zacchaeus realized that getting all the money he wanted didn’t really satisfy him. Also, Zacchaeus was hated by everyone, & had no true friends. But he heard that Jesus welcomed sinners, & that Jesus is a friend of sinners. So, perhaps almost as a last resort, Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. But because he was short he could not see Jesus, and obviously, the crowd would not give way to him. What could Zacchaeus do? Verse 4 says, “ So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.” Zacchaeus did a surprising thing. He climbed a tree. Today, to climb a tree is a big deal. Off course, as long you are able to climb a tree and hurt yourself or others, and not climbing a tree on someone else’s property. We value freedom & rights, so that anyone can freely do whatever he wishes as long as it doesn’t impose on or hurt others. But it was not like that in Zacchaeus time. Back then, it was all about etiquette, honor & dignity. So for someone like Zacchaeus to climb a tree was not cool at all, but quite shameful & degrading. But Zaccaheus didn’t care about what people thought about him. Almost to the point of desperation, he wanted to see Jesus no matter what.

What happened next? Read verses 5-7. “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’” In these verses, we can catch a glimpse of grace. What is grace? Grace is always something we never deserve & can never earn (Eph 2:8,9; Tit 3:5). How did Jesus show what grace is, not only to Zacchaeus, but even to the entire crowd? In verse 5, Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” To invite himself to stay at Zacchaeus’ house & to eat with him meant friendship. And who did Jesus show special favor & friendship to? Jesus extended favor, & grace, & friendship to the one everyone regarded as the worst one—the chief tax collector. That’s why the entire crowd was quite offended & they grumbled, saying, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner” (7).

From this account, we learn that grace is always God’s initiative, & never man’s initiative. Yes, Zacchaeus did humble himself to climb a tree in order to see Jesus. But ultimately, it was not Zacchaeus who asked Jesus into his life, but Jesus who asked Zacchaeus into his. It’s almost as though Jesus was joyfully laughing & saying, “Zacchaeus! Yes, you! I don’t want to go to the houses of others, but I want to go to your house today!”

Grace always confuses many people especially the religious ones. Many think that we receive  grace because of something we did, especially for doing good things. Zacchaeus knew without a doubt that he was clearly the one who was the worst one, even among tax collectors. Yet, Jesus choose him. In this way, Zacchaeus began to understand that salvation was only by grace, & not by moral achievement or performance.

Grace is such a beautiful and comforting word. Grace can touch and reach the worst kind of person. Grace can lift up the weak and heal the broken.  If I tell you all the sins I’ve committed, some would probably say, “Why is this person giving a Sunday message?” It is only by grace that we are here in this room for worship and call Jesus our Lord and Savior.

3rd, how grace changes an idolater into a worshipper of God (8-10). How did grace change Zacchaeus? Read verse 8. “And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’” What happened to Zacchaeus? All of a sudden he became generous.

From Zacchaeus response to Jesus’ grace, we can say that there is no powerful force in the world than grace.  He went from accruing wealth at the expense of people around him to serving others at the expense of his wealth. Zacchaeus could never ever let go of his money, even if he was dying. According to verse 8, Zacchaeus gave away 50% of his earnings, & he promised to pay back 4 times what he had cheated others. When Zacchaeus tasted the grace of Jesus, money no longer had control over him. When grace ruled Zacchaeus’ heart, he gave 50%, instead of 10% according to the law. When grace ruled Zacchaeus’ heart, he paid back 4 times, which would amount to 300% interest, instead of paying back with 20% interest as required by the law. In other words, when Zacchaeus tasted the grace of Jesus, he did more, not less; he gave more not less.

One who knows grace is no longer under law. One who knows grace knows that Jesus has already given him everything. One who knows grace knows that no matter how much he gives, it is still too little compared to what Jesus has already given to him. One who knows grace is so happy like Zacchaeus to not only give his money, but to give his life to Christ who is everything to him (1 Cor 15:10; Php 3:8).

How did Jesus respond? Jesus said to Zacchaeus in verses 9,10, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” In these verses we learn the nature of salvation. Salvation didn’t come to Zacchaeus because of what he did, or because of how much money he gave away, or because of how his life had changed. Rather, because salvation had come to Zacchaeus, his life changed.

Here we learn how money can begin to loose its power grip on our hearts & lives? Salvation must come to us through Jesus Christ, as it did to Zacchaeus. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Jesus the God-Man had infinite wealth, but if he held on to it, we would have died  in our spiritual poverty.
But Jesus became poor, giving up his treasure in heaven(Php 2:5-8), so that we might become rich.  He gave up everything so that he could make us his treasure as a treasured people(1 Peter 2:9-10). When we are reminded of the generosity of Christ in the gospel, we don’t have to worry about money, our security or envy someone else’s wealth.  To break the power of money over is the deepen our understanding of the salvation of Christ and what we have in him.

Earlier, we introduced Carnegie, a rich philanthropist who acknowledged that money is the worst form of idolatry. To overcome the seductive power of money Carnegie said at age 33: “To continue much longer overwhelmed by business cares and with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make more money in the shortest time, must degrade me beyond hope of permanent recovery. I will resign business at 35.” Carnegie knew that the desire to make money would overwhelm & degrade him & make him a worse human being. So he decided to give most of his money away to charity, & to retire at age 35 in 2 years. But though he succeeded in giving most of his money away, he didn’t retire until age 66, 31 years longer than he had said. Though Carnegie wanted to overcome the harmful idolatry of money by giving much of it away, he couldn’t stop working for more & more money. An idol cannot be removed. It can only be replaced. It can only be replaced by the one who, though rich, became poor, so that we might truly be rich. Like Carnegie, & like Zacchaeus, we only need to know the grace of Jesus that is greater than all our sins, & greater than all of the idols in our hearts. May God bless you to know the grace of Jesus in 2010.

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