Preparing the Way: salvation

4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. 5 Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Luke casts the call of John the Baptist in the form of an Old Testament prophetic call (Luke 3:2) and extends the quotation from Isaiah found in Mark 1:3 (Isaiah 40:3) by the addition of Isaiah 40:4-5 in Luke 3:5-6. In doing so, Luke presents the theme of the universality of salvation, which he has announced earlier in the words of Simeon (2:30-32). Moreover, in describing the expectation of the people (3:15), Luke is characterizing the time of John’s preaching in the same way as he had earlier described the situation of other devout Israelites in the infancy narrative (2:25-26, 37-38). Later, in 3:7-18 Luke presents the preaching of John the Baptist who urges the crowds to reform in view of the coming wrath (Luke 3:7, 9: eschatological preaching), and who offers the crowds certain standards for reforming social conduct (Luke 3:10-14: ethical preaching), and who announces to the crowds the coming of one mightier than he (Luke 3:15-18: messianic preaching). Continue reading

When salvation comes: the lost

jesus-zacchaeus9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.

Salvation. Jesus’ words in v. 9 are literally: “Today salvation has happened to/in this house(hold), because also this one is a son of Abraham.”

What is the “salvation” that has happened? “Salvation” (soteria) is a rare word in Luke. All the other occurrences are in the Benedictus (Zechariah’s song of praise – 1:69, 71 & 77), which are in references to John the Baptist’s ministry. The related word also translated “salvation” (soterion) occurs in the Nunc Dimittis (Simeon’s cry of praise in 2:30) and in a quote from Isaiah (3:6). So outside of two songs and an OT quote, the noun “salvation” only occurs this text. (Neither of these words occur in Mt or Mk and only once in John – although we have already encountered a related verb “to heal/save” (sozo) and will again in v. 10 below. Continue reading

When salvation comes: warning

jesus-zacchaeusGrace and Discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship) at the advent of WWII wrote famously on “cheap grace.”  I include a long excerpt from his writing as someone who perhaps can be accused of being Pharisaic – yet knowing that he is writing in the shadow of Nazi Germany and the increasingly silent Christian Churches – the words make a case that there is indeed a dark side to “cheap grace.”


Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing….[45] Continue reading

When salvation comes:

jesus-zacchaeusZacchaeus’ Speech. Zacchaeus, in spite of his reputation, is an attractive person. In our brief meeting, qualities akin to those of Peter emerge. Zacchaeus is spontaneous and impetuous, given to extravagant statements. But there is a deep genuineness. Though he is a person of some importance, his position does not prevent him from climbing the sycamore tree nor from publicly admitting his guilt and professing his repentance. Jesus says this is a son of Abraham, even if he is a tax collector. He should not be ostracized because of his failings but helped to find his way back to the flock. Continue reading

When salvation comes: today

jesus-zacchaeusAt first glance we might expect this to be another parable challenging the rich. The rich have not fared well in Luke’s gospel. Jesus pronounces woes upon the rich (6:24). God called the rich farmer a fool (12:16, 20) and required his soul of him. The rich man went to Hades while Lazarus went to the bosom of Abraham, and Jesus observed how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (18:23, 25).  Zacchaeus is a “wealthy man” (19:2)

Yet, Zacchaeus is like the others in previous stories of Jesus – people faced with obstacles (18:3-4, 15, 39); he is of low social status and esteem as are the widow, the toll collector, children and a blind beggar.  Yet, like the rich ruler (18:18-30), Zacchaeus is a person of power, privilege and position – people not easily ignored.  Whereas the Rich Ruler’s self assessment is that he keeps all the commandments, Zacchaeus, according to popular opinion is a sinner. Zacchaeus is a “Son of Abraham” and yet serves the Roman Imperia to the detriment of this own people and to his financial benefit.  In a way Zacchaeus is a pivotal character whose characteristics straddle the boundaries. Then who can be saved? (18:26).  The story of Zacchaeus answer the question that has flowed in and out of the Jerusalem travel narrative (since 9:51) as Jesus asserts, Today salvation has come to this house (19:9) – all in the unmerited grace of Christ. Continue reading

When salvation comes: context

jesus-zacchaeus1 He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. 2 Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, 3 was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. 5 When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he came down quickly and received him with joy. 7 When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” 8 But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.Continue reading

Jesus and Zacchaeus – Saving What Was Lost

Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage...Luke 19:1-10. 1 He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. 2 Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, 3 was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. 5 When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he came down quickly and received him with joy. 7 When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” 8 But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.

Salvation. Jesus’ words in v. 9 are literally: “Today salvation has happened to/in this house(hold), because also this one is a son of Abraham.” Continue reading