An Example Of Repentance
Chan Gin Kai
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
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.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
In our last article, we saw that while everyone hated Zacchaeus the tax collector like an enemy, Jesus regarded him as a friend. While no righteous lectures or rebukes worked, genuine love did the trick… Zacchaeus immediately repented.
A Response to Jesus
The people muttered about Jesus in a way that labelled Zacchaeus as a “sinner”. Instead of reacting to these people who criticised him, Zacchaeus “said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord…’”
This is what repentance is — responding to the love of Jesus and turning to God. Paul taught in Acts 26:20, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” Repentance requires us turn to God first, BEFORE we even try to change our ways or rectify our wrongs. The deeds that demonstrate our repentance is for God, and not anyone else. While our deeds can't earn us salvation, they do show if we've genuinely turned to God.
True repentance is not born out of fear of what others think of us, but a response to Jesus’ love.
Zacchaeus must have hated it when people cursed him. He might have feared for his safety too. He might even have felt guilty whenever his conscience pricked him. Hate, fear or guilt may stir us to change a little from time to time. But these negative emotions do not empower us the way love does.
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Acts 3:19)
Negative emotions may sometimes push us to do just enough to change people’s opinion of us, or to escape punishment, or to appease our conscience. This change does not last, and we won’t feel the “times of refreshing” that repentance brings. We have to turn to Jesus, and respond to his love with ours.
If love has the power to make us do “crazy” things, it has the power to help us change.
An Immediate Decision
“Here and now…” said Zacchaeus. He made his decision to change without hesitation.
It would have taken some time after that to run through his accounts to work out how much he owns and the best way to distribute his wealth to the poor. He also needed time to figure out whom he had cheated, how much he cheated them of and how to compensate all of them. The process of change would have taken weeks or even months. But his decision to change was immediate.
We may give the excuse that we shouldn’t make decisions on impulse. But we know a decision to repent is never wrong. Besides, we have to strike while the iron is hot and malleable because our hearts harden quickly and easily. How often have we felt our hearts touched by prayer, or something we’ve read or heard, but then lose our will to change because we delayed?
A Tangible Action
Zacchaeus didn’t just feel sorry or regretful. He didn’t merely respond to Jesus’ friendship with declarations of devotion. He took action, tangible ones.
Everyone has a conscience. Recent research discovers that even psychopaths feel regret.
But we often deny our conscience, drowning its cries with waves of excuses. We push it to a corner of our mind, lock it up, and throw the key away. From time to time, we hear its faint echoes, calling us to change, and still we ignore it. Or sometimes, we over-indulge our conscience; we wallow in shame and self-pity. We admit our faults, we blame ourselves, and we allow our guilt to eat us up. Neither of them glorifies God or helps us.
Like Zacchaeus, our conscience must spur us into tangible action.
Zacchaeus may not have been a model of righteousness, but he became a shining example of repentance.
Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. He serves actively in the Central Christian Church and describes himself as “just a sinner who wants to get right with God”.