The interesting thing about broken faith is that it may appear to be successful. In a moment we’re going to talk about two men with broken faith. They’re not much different than many in our world today. Persons of influence and wealth that seem to have it all. Prosperous businessmen whose faith is not placed in God but in self. Sure, they see themselves as religious folks but their real idols are self, money, and influence. They have more in common with Nebuchadnezzar than with Abraham. Sound familiar? Regardless of how much money or stuff someone has, misplaced faith is broken faith until Jesus enters the picture.
Luke records two encounters between Jesus and men whose idols were self, money, and influence. The first is found in Luke 18:18-27. We aren’t given a name, just the description of “rich young ruler.” Let’s call him Chad.
By all accounts, Chad was a good man. He kept the commandments and probably worshipped regularly. When Jesus quizzed him on obedience and Chad reported that he had kept the commandments from his childhood. Jesus did not rebuke him.
Luke next reports, “When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.” (Luke 18:22–23, NLT)
Jesus knew where Chad’s faith was broken. He may have done all the right things and kept from doing all the wrong things. Many probably saw his wealth as a sign of God’s blessing. But Jesus knows the heart. He knew that God wasn’t seated on the throne of Chad’s heart. Jesus told him the way forward, but for Chad, it was a sacrifice too far.
The second encounter happens just a few short verses later in Luke 19:1-10. Luke reports that Jesus, traveling toward Jerusalem, passed through Jericho. This time though the man has a name, Zacchaeus. For the sake of this article let’s just call him Zach.
Now, Zach was also wealthy. He was the chief tax collector for the area. While IRS folks today are civil servants, in Jesus’ time they were independent contractors. The Roman’s had a kind of franchise system for collecting taxes. They’d sell the rights to whomever. That person could keep whatever they collected over and above what they were required to send to Rome. Aren’t you glad we don’t have that system today?
While Zach was wealthy and powerful he was a rejected outcast by his Jewish community. Before we get feeling too sorry about Zach it is important to remember that his faith was broken in the same way as Chad’s. God wasn’t on the throne of Zach’s life.
I’ve heard since childhood about Zach climbing the tree to see Jesus. I even remember the Sunday School song about it. Maybe you do too. It was commendable that Zach would go to such extremes to see Jesus, but the key to the story is Jesus’ urgency to meet with Zach.
Luke records, “When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” (Luke 19:5, NLT) Jesus’ words of “quick” and “I must” and “today” are filled with immediacy.
Almost as abruptly Zach does what Chad couldn’t do. Luke records, “Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” (Luke 19:8, NLT) In response, Jesus calls Zach a son of Abraham. Paul would later write, “The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God.” (Galatians 3:7, NLT) Zach removed the idols of self, money, and influence and placed his faith in God that day.
It’s easy to think that these examples don’t apply to us. Most of us aren’t rich, powerful, and influential. Our misplaced faith may not be in those things but something completely different. Our idols could be our past, our scars, or our hopes. Our idols could be self, tradition, or even our family, or our country. Any time our faith is placed in anyone or anything other than Jesus it is broken faith. Sorry, this does apply to all of us.
Like Zach, many of us have climbed up the proverbial tree to get a better look at Jesus. But Jesus wants to meet with us, to come into our home and eat with us. To have table fellowship with us. To share life. While Chad wanted confirmation and Zach wanted knowledge, Jesus offered a relationship to both if they would only smash the idols that were crowding their hearts. Jesus offers the same to you and I. Maybe your idols aren’t money and power. They could be just about anything. Whatever gets in the way of following Jesus, that is your idol. Will you be like Chad or like Zach? The choice is yours.