Costly Friendship

Scripture: Psalm 23:5b – in the presence of my enemies

(With reference to 1st Samuel 21:1-10 and Luke 19:1-9)

 

Title: Costly Friendship

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Costly friendship
  • Jesus & Zacchaeus
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

On the wall here we have some pictures

–         Darth Vader, the Wicked Witch of the West, Hannibal Lecter, the Joker,  Gordon Gecko and the pastor of Tawa Baptist Church

–         What do these characters all have in common? [Wait]

–         That’s right – they are all villains

 

Today we continue our series on Psalm 23 – a song attributed to King David

–         David was not a villain – he was hero

–         The message of Psalm 23 as a whole is: the Lord is my security.

 

So far we have covered the first four and a bit verses…

 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside still waters

He restores my soul

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil

For you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me

 

Costly friendship:

Today we continue verse 5…

 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

 

I’ve underlined the second part (…in the presence of my enemies…) because that’s what we will be focusing on today

–         But I wanted to show you the whole verse to give the context

 

What we notice with this verse is that David changes the metaphor

–         Up till the end of verse 4 the metaphor is a shepherding one – with the Lord caring for David like a shepherd caring for a sheep

–         But now (in verse 5) the metaphor changes abruptly to that of a host and his guest – clearly sheep don’t eat at tables or drink out of cups

–         The Lord is both a good shepherd and a generous host to David

 

As we learned 3 weeks ago, You prepare a table before me, refers to God taking the role of a servant and preparing a meal for David

–         Not only is it an act of hospitality it is also an act of humility & friendship

–         In short, the Lord shows great honour to David

–         But what makes this even more extraordinary is that God honours David in the presence of his enemies

–         God is willing to publicly identify with David as a friend in front of David’s enemies

 

In his book The Good Shepherd, Kenneth Bailey says (and I paraphrase a bit)…

–         The central core of what is affirmed here is: The Lord demonstrates costly love to me irrespective of who is watching.

–         People hostile to me will extend their hostility to him because of his goodness to me. He doesn’t care. He offers his love anyway [1]

 

In other words, people have a tendency to hate the friends of their enemies

–         By showing friendship to David publicly, the Lord gets offside with David’s enemies and attracts some of their hatred

 

Bailey goes on to give the example of how in the old American South a European American who invited an African American as a guest to an expensive restaurant in a white section of town would subject himself to intense hostility from the community for doing so

 

When we think of David’s experience we can understand why he would mention ‘enemies’

–         The presence of enemies was fairly constant throughout his life

–         Sometimes the enemies were outside of Israel and other times they were inside Israel – even among his own family

 

In 1st Samuel 21 David is on the run from King Saul

–         Saul is a bit like Anakin Skywalker

–         He was good in the beginning but then he turned to the dark side and became Darth Vader

–         Just as Darth Vader tried to kill Luke – so Saul was trying to kill David

 

David goes to Ahimelech, the priest in Nob, and Ahimelech gives David the sacred bread to eat, as well as Goliath’s sword

–         Here we have David literally eating from the Lord’s table

–         As it turns out one of David’s enemies, Doeg, was there and saw everything

–         So David was eating from the Lord’s table in the presence of his enemy

 

Later, after David had left, Saul turns up at Nob and when he learns how Ahimelech the priest has helped David, Saul loses the plot and orders all the priests to be killed

–         The soldiers won’t do it – so Doeg slaughters everyone, except for Ahimelech’s son who manages to escape

 

Basically, the Lord showed hospitality (or friendship) to David through his priests and David’s enemies took it out on the Lord by killing the priests

–         You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies

–         The Lord demonstrates costly love for David, irrespective of who is watching

 

Jesus shows costly friendship to Zacchaeus

Please turn with me to Luke chapter 19 – page 105 toward the back of your pew Bibles

 

Psalm 23 is really pointing to Jesus

–         Jesus is the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep of Israel

–         Jesus is also the generous host, offering himself as the bread of life

–         And in Luke 19 we see an example of Jesus demonstrating costly love & friendship in the presence of enemies

–         From Luke 19:1-10 we read…

 

Jesus went on into Jericho and was passing through. There was a chief tax collector there named Zacchaeus, who was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but he was a little man and could not see Jesus because of the crowd. So he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus, who was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to that place, he looked up and said to Zacchaeus, “Hurry down, Zacchaeus, because I must stay in your house today.”

 

Zacchaeus hurried down and welcomed him with great joy. All the people who saw it started grumbling, “This man has gone as a guest to the home of a sinner!”

 

Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Listen, sir! I will give half my belongings to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times as much.”

 

Jesus said to him, “Salvation has come to this house today, for this man, also, is a descendant of Abraham. 10 The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

 

One of my favourite stories would have to be the legend of Robin Hood

–         Robin Hood was famous for stealing from the rich to give to the poor

–         Greedy Prince John kept taxing the people more and more and so Robin used his bow and arrow to restore the balance

 

Now Prince John’s right hand man was the Sheriff of Nottingham

–         The Sheriff was the one who did John’s dirty work, harvesting the tax and making life difficult for the villagers

–         No one liked the sheriff – he was the villain

 

In the city of Jericho, Caesar was like Prince John, while Zacchaeus was sort of like the Sheriff of Nottingham

–         Zacchaeus didn’t go around hurting people physically but he did collaborate with the Romans by harvesting tax from the poor

–         If the gospels were a made up story then you would expect Jesus to be like Robin Hood – using his combat skills to steal from Zacchaeus and give back to the people

–         But the gospels aren’t made up – they are true and truth is stranger than fiction

 

In the context of Luke 19, Jesus is the hero of the hour

–         The average person thinks of him as we might think of Robin Hood

–         A military leader come to overthrow Roman oppression

–         Unfortunately the average person has got it all wrong

 

As Jesus passes through the city of Jericho, on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover, crowds of people follow him

–         According to Middle Eastern custom the people of Jericho would have decided amongst themselves who was to host Jesus for dinner

–         Naturally they would choose someone who could provide a level of hospitality that would reflect well on their city

–         The reputation of Jericho depended on making a good impression

–         But Jesus declines their offer of hospitality – how rude

–         The people of Jericho are probably a bit disappointed by that and maybe even a little offended but that’s okay – Jesus Hood is a busy man

 

Verse 3 tells us that when Zacchaeus tried to see Jesus he couldn’t because of the crowd

–         It wasn’t just that Zacchaeus was short in stature

–         It was more that the crowd wouldn’t let him through

–         If Zacchaeus had been respected the people would have made way for him – but they didn’t, they shut him out

–         Just like the people of Nottingham would have shut the sheriff out if it was in their power to do so

 

Zacchaeus is a resourceful man though and he also has no sense of shame

–         He runs ahead of the crowd and climbs a sycamore tree to get a better view of Jesus passing by

–         Now I say that Zacchaeus has no sense of shame because in the Middle East men don’t run and they certainly don’t climb trees

–         Those two activities are extremely undignified

–         But Zacchaeus does both – there is a real eagerness (or is it desperation) to see this Jesus that everyone is talking about

 

It’s interesting that Luke says it’s a ‘Sycamore’ tree

–         The thing about Sycamore trees in the Middle East is that they are easy to climb and they have large leaves – which made it ideal for Zacchaeus because he could hide in the foliage and hopefully avoid the shame and embarrassment of being seen [2]

–         Fortunately his cunning plan didn’t work

 

Verse 5 says, When Jesus came to that place, he looked up and said to Zacchaeus, “Hurry down Zacchaeus for I must stay in your house today.”

 

There’s a lot going on in this verse

–         For starters, how did Jesus know Zacchaeus’ name?

–         Well, the most likely explanation is that someone in the crowd spotted Zacchaeus and took the opportunity to call him out by name – to publicly humiliate him for being up a tree

–         There is a certain anonymity in a crowd – people can yell out nasty things and get away with it because they are essentially invisible

–         The crowd would have been delighted to catch Zacchaeus in such a vulnerable position

–         Here is this tax collector, this villain who everyone hates

–         And there is Jesus, the hero, their Robin Hood

–         What will Jesus do to Zacchaeus?

 

Well, Jesus can see this is a tense situation

–         The crowd could easily turn into a lynch mob and kill Zacchaeus

–         So Jesus takes the initiative – Jesus takes the first step

–         He goes against all expectation, against every convention, and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ place for the night

–         No one had ever done anything like that before

–         Guests in that culture don’t invite themselves to someone’s house – they wait for an invitation

–         Jesus had been given an invitation to a far more respectable home and refused it

 

To make matters worse, now he is choosing to dine with the chief tax collector

–         Jericho’s number one villain

–         That would be like Robin Hood coming to the rescue of the Sheriff of Nottingham

–         That’s not how the story is supposed to go

–         The hero is supposed to save the girl and the villain is supposed to die

–         Then the townsfolk can rejoice because they’ve been set free

–         But there is no girl in this story and the hero (Jesus) saves the villain (Zacchaeus)

–         Jesus is re-writing the script

 

The crowd are not happy

–         They start grumbling against Jesus, ‘This man has gone as a guest to the home of a sinner’

–         By this costly demonstration of friendship toward the town’s villain, Jesus attracts the hostility of the crowd

–         Jesus sacrifices his popularity with the people and embraces being misunderstood in order to help someone that everyone hates

–         Which is essentially a picture in miniature of what Jesus did on the cross

–         Costly friendship

 

By reaching out like this and inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ house, Jesus has gone 99% of the way – but he won’t force himself into Zacchaeus’ life

–         Zacchaeus has to go the last 1% – he has to choose to receive Jesus

 

And that’s exactly what he does – Zacchaeus responds positively by welcoming Jesus with great joy

 

Our salvation is always at God’s initiative

–         The Spirit of God always takes the first step

–         Jesus doesn’t just meet us half way – he goes 99% of the way

–         But the last 1% is up to us

–         We must choose to welcome Christ

 

Two or three hours pass

–         Jesus and his disciples are enjoying a feast in Zacchaeus’ home

–         By this stage in the evening Zacchaeus has had a chance to process what Jesus has done for him

–         Zacchaeus realises what it has cost Jesus – that the crowd now hate Jesus because he has shown friendship to the town’s villain

–         So Zacchaeus stands up during the meal & makes a public announcement

–         “I will give half my belongings to the poor and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much”

 

Jesus was pretty clever really

–         By helping Zacchaeus he was helping the whole city

–         Jesus has sown grace in Zacchaeus’ life and now Zacchaeus is going to pay it forward by sowing grace into other people’s lives

–         And the really cool thing here is that no one tells Zacchaeus to do this

–         He decides to be generous simply because Jesus has been generous to him

–         Grace begets grace

 

It’s interesting that Zacchaeus pays it forward – he doesn’t try to pay Jesus back

–         He doesn’t say, ‘Lord, you helped me out of an embarrassing and potentially life threatening situation back there. You showed me honour & friendship, so I’m going to give you half my possessions’

–         No. He doesn’t talk about repaying Jesus at all – he talks about giving his wealth to the poor, who can’t repay him

 

I guess Zacchaeus is smart enough to know that it would be an insult to try and pay Jesus off

–         If someone does something for you and you pay them, you are basically saying, ‘Look – we are even, the relationship is over. I don’t want anything more to do with you’

–         By not offering to repay Jesus, Zacchaeus is keeping the relationship open – he is acknowledging that he owes Jesus a debt he can never repay

–         He is also acknowledging Jesus’ goodness – that Jesus is gracious and did what he did with pure motives

 

It is only after Zacchaeus has made his big announcement to give to the poor that Jesus says…

–         “Salvation has come to this house today, for this man also is a descendant of Abraham”

 

Abraham was famous for his faith

–         To be a descendant of Abraham is to be someone who demonstrates faith

–         First Jesus showed grace to Zacchaeus

–         Then Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus

–         And then Zacchaeus demonstrated faith – the faith of repentance

–         It is at the point of faith & repentance that Jesus declares salvation

 

Jesus has the last word in verse 10 saying…

–         “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost”

–         The title, Son of Man, is Jesus’ favourite way of describing himself

–         The reference to seeking and saving the lost reminds us that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has just found Zacchaeus the lost sheep

–         And Zacchaeus has welcomed being found

 

Conclusion:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies

–         Essentially means, The Lord isn’t ashamed to publicly acknowledge us as his friends, even though we might we be uncool and make him look bad

–         But it goes both ways

 

Friendship with Jesus is costly – it’s costly for him and it’s costly for us

–         In Matthew 10 Jesus says to his disciples…

–         “Everyone will hate you because of me”

–         In other words, if we are going to publicly acknowledge that Jesus is our friend then we will attract hostility from Jesus’ enemies

–         To be a follower of Jesus is to be misunderstood as a villain sometimes

–         Jesus doesn’t ask us to do anything that he hasn’t already done himself

–         The good news is that if we declare publicly that we belong to Jesus, he will do the same for us before God in heaven

 

Let us pray…

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Kenneth Bailey, “The Good Shepherd”, page 57

[2] Refer Kenneth Bailey, ‘Jesus through Middle Easter Eyes’, page 179

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