Dismembering an Idol (The Story of Zacchaeus)

by Adam Maarschalk (December 7, 2010)

A few months ago I began receiving monthly ministry updates from Desiring God Ministries (DGM), a ministry under the oversight of Pastor John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church here in Minneapolis. I thought the write-up in November was especially good and valuable, and I’d like to share it here. It was written by Jon Bloom, the Executive Director of DGM. Bloom tells the story of Zacchaeus’ change of heart and fruit-bearing repentance in captivating form:

In Luke 19, Zacchaeus the tax collector was converted. He vowed to give back fourfold to anyone he had defrauded. Imagine a conversation he might have had when returning the money.

*          *          *

“Dad, there’s a man at the door. He said his name is Zacchaeus.”

“Zacchaeus!” Judah’s face flushed with sudden anger. “What does he want?” Under his breath he muttered, “The little vermin.” His young daughter didn’t need to hear that.

“I don’t know.”

Judah moved brusquely past his daughter, clenching his jaw. If the little weasel even hints at more money, I swear… a thunderstorm of violent thoughts broke in his mind.

When he saw Zacchaeus he exploded, “WHAT?” Zacchaeus reeled slightly from the verbal blow.

“I’m here to return something to you, Judah.”

“What do you mean?” The words sounded more like “Get out of my sight!”

Zacchaeus held out a small moneybag. Judah was suspiciously confused. This man had robbed half of Jericho collecting taxes for Tiberius. No one was more conniving and slippery with words. Fearing some kind of set-up, Judah didn’t move.

“What are you doing, Zacchaeus?” The cynicism hissed through Judah’s teeth.

“I’m dismembering my idol.”

Judah’s fiery glare turned to stony bewilderment. “What are you talking about?”

“Judah, I know how strange this must sound. And you have every reason not to trust me. I’m here because I’ve defrauded you. I’ve charged you more taxes than Rome required and kept them for my wicked little self. I know that you and everyone else knows that. But now I’ve come to ask your forgiveness for sinning against you like that, and to make restitution. That’s what’s in this bag.”

Zacchaeus held it out again. This time Judah tentatively took it. He looked inside. “There’s a lot in here. It’s got to be more than you overcharged me.”

“Yes. It’s four times what I overcharged you. I’ve got all the records, you know.” Zacchaeus smiled.

“Why are you giving me four times what you owe me?” Judah’s distrust was not dispelled.

“I’m keeping a vow. I promised Jesus that I would repay everyone I defrauded fourfold.”

“You mean the Rabbi Jesus? You know him?”

“I do now. He’s in town, as you know. And the other day I wanted to get a glimpse of him. But being, ah, short-legged, I figured the only way I’d see him was from a tree! Wouldn’t you know, as Jesus passes by he stops, looks up at silly me in the sycamore and says, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.'”

Judah gave him a puzzled look.

Zacchaeus said, “I know, I know! I was as shocked as anyone! How did he know my name, right? So Jesus and his disciples come to my house and in a matter of minutes my world falls apart and comes together.”

“Falls apart and comes together.”

“Judah, when I was a boy I was in awe of what I thought money did for people. It seemed to open all the doors to power and pleasure. So I vowed to myself that whatever it took I was going to be rich. And I kept that vow. Back then I had no idea how empty being rich would be. But up till two days ago, I figured it was still better than the alternative.

“But as I sat in my home with Jesus and his disciples, who have nothing, nothing but God—Judah, I’ve never seen happier people in my life! And as Jesus spoke, it was like his words were alive. My heart burned with a longing for God I had never felt before! And a deep shame that I traded him for money.

“Then it hit me like a cedar beam: I’m poor, not rich! They had God; I had a dead idol: money. They were rich; I was no more than a beggar. They were free. But the only doors money ever opened for me led to dungeons. My world, as I had known it, fell apart.

“And there sat Jesus, looking at me as if he could read me like a scroll. Everything in me just wanted to follow him. I wanted the forgiveness and salvation he’s been preaching about. For the first time in my life I wanted God more than… anything! Suddenly, it was like life never made more sense. Before I knew it I was on my feet vowing in front of everyone that, well, that I would dismember my idol.”

“Give away your money.”

“Right. Well, some of it is your money.”

This time Judah smiled.

Later, Judah’s wife found him staring at a small moneybag on the table.

“What’s that?”

“A tax refund.”

“A what?

“I think we need to go hear Rabbi Jesus.”

“Rabbi Jesus? Why?”

“I think we’re poor.”

*          *          *

Some of our idols need to be dismembered for us to be free of them. Jesus knows what they are and how to help us see them. It may feel like we are losing our world to lose them. That’s okay. Jesus said, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose” (Jim Elliot, October 28, 1949).

Source: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/dismembering-an-idol

Reading this, I’m also reminded of Jesus’ sobering and hard-hitting words to the Church in Laodicea:

For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,’ not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:17-19).

[For some historical background on this passage, feel free to see our study of Revelation 3 here, and scroll down about halfway to the section on Laodicia.] To one degree or another, we are all in need of being able to spiritually see more clearly. May pride and self-righteousness not stand in the way and give us the distorted idea that we are in need of nothing. May we also recognize and welcome His discipline, for it’s a mark of His love toward us. Here you can watch and listen to a group of youth (from the Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Beaverton, Oregon) singing the classic song “The Blind Man”:

I also appreciate this version of the same song sung by an Indian brother living in the UK:

In the mail-out version of Jon Bloom’s letter, he appropriately closed with these words:

“Our featured sermon for November is titled, ‘The Radical Cost of Following Jesus.’ In it John Piper says, ‘Jesus knows everyone’s idol. Jesus knows perfectly what is competing in your heart with affection for Him.’ This is really good news. Because when Jesus asks us to dismember our idols, He’s really offering us fullness of joy and pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11).

Psalm 33:12 and God’s Chosen Nation

Psalm 33:12 and God’s Chosen Nation

by Adam Maarschalk (December 3, 2010)

Psalm 33:12 is a familiar verse to many people. In the United States, it’s often cited in patriotic sermons or at political events along with a declaration that the US is a Christian nation. This is how the verse reads (see here for its context):

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom He has chosen as His heritage!”

When studying Scripture, it’s important to consider the original intent of the author—as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit—and who was in his original audience (a study method known as “exegesis”). It’s also good to then consider the meaning and application of a given text to one’s own life and time (known as “hermeneutics”). With this in mind, and given your overall knowledge of Scripture, which of these combinations do you believe to be correct for Psalm 33:12?

Ancient Israel The modern-day nation of Israel and/or the Jewish people
Ancient Israel The nation of Israel, in the future
Ancient Israel The United States of America, at least ideally
Ancient Israel The Church, the body of Christ

I will assume that there is no disagreement regarding the original audience of this Psalm of David, but if there is please do feel free to express your understanding in the Comments section below. Were you surprised to see option #2 listed above? I was certainly surprised the other day when I saw that a fairly well-known pastor and author proposed this as the primary meaning of Psalm 33:12. This is what prompted me to write this post actually. This assertion was made by Pastor Happy Caldwell, founder of Agape Church, a mega church in Little Rock, Arkansas. Caldwell is also an Executive Board Member with Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the influential pro-Israel organization founded by John Hagee. Caldwell wrote the following in the November 23, 2010 CUFI Weekly Update:

The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord: And the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance”.

In this Scripture we see the “future” of the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people.  God calls those things that be not as though they were.  He speaks the end results from the beginning. (Job 42:12) (Ecclesiastes 7:8) (Isaiah 46:9, 10)

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not evil, to give you an expected end”.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

As we pray for Israel today, let us remember God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Let us stand together with the Nation of Israel and thank God for the “expected end” . . . which is total peace, prosperity and victory.

The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations.”

In other words, according to Caldwell, this passage (Psalm 33:11-12), which was written roughly 3000 years ago, is not presently being fulfilled, but it will be fulfilled one day for the geopolitical nation of Israel. To be fair, it’s not clear whether or not Caldwell believes this was once fulfilled in ancient Israel prior to the destruction of that nation in 70 AD. Caldwell also asserts that “God’s chosen people” is made up of the citizens of the nation of Israel (In his mind, does this include the Palestinians, since out of Israel’s population of about 7.6 million people nearly 2 million are non-Jewish?). It’s also clear that Caldwell makes a direct association between the modern nation of Israel and God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We’ll discuss shortly why all these assertions are highly problematic.

The “biblecc” website is one I’ve found to be helpful in that it provides parallel commentaries for any given Scripture passage (as well as parallel translations). Their entry for Psalm 33:12 includes commentary from Albert Barnes (1834), Adam Clarke (1831), John Gill (1746-63), Charles Spurgeon – The Treasury of David (1869-85), the Geneva Study Bible, and Matthew Henry. The comments at the end of Albert Barnes’ entry are notable (emphasis added):

“And the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance – Chosen to be “His;” or, His portion. The primary reference here is undoubtedly to the Hebrew people, called his “inheritance:” Deuteronomy 4:20Deuteronomy 9:26Deuteronomy 32:9Psalm 74:2Psalm 78:62Psalm 78:71; or “heritage,” Psalm 94:5Jeremiah 12:7,Jeremiah 12:9; but what is here affirmed of that people is true also of all other people who worship the true God.”

Barnes points to nine Old Testament passages where the term “inheritance” or “heritage” is used as a reference to the ancient nation of Israel. Is he correct in saying that “what is here affirmed of that people is true also of all other people who worship the true God”? Does the New Testament bear this out?

It certainly does. God’s major announcement in Exodus 19 regarding His chosen people finds its New Testament equivalent in I Peter 2, and a comparison of these two passages is very revealing. The following is an excerpt from a post I wrote in September titled, “Who Are God’s Chosen People and Why Are They Chosen?”

God has only ever had one chosen people, and no one (regardless of race) is part of God’s chosen people if they are outside of Christ. God’s chosen people in Old Testament times were chosen for the same purpose as God’s chosen people at this time. Compare what was spoken by Moses to “the people of Israel” (Exodus 19:3) to what has been spoken to the Church through Peter. The parallel language is unmistakable, and I have letter-coded the parallels (A, B, and C):

[1] To ancient national Israel: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be [A]MY TREASURED POSSESSION among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to Me [B] A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS and a [C] HOLY NATION…” (Exodus 19:5-6).

[2] To the Church: “But you are a chosen race, [B] A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a [C] HOLY NATION, a people [A] FOR HIS OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people…” (I Peter 2:9-10).

Can there be any question that the Church is chosen for the same purpose that the nation of Israel was once chosen? …Israel has never ceased to exist. The body of Christ today IS Israel in every true sense (see, for example, Romans 9:6-8 and Galatians 6:16). Outside of Christ there is no Israel (as God’s people), despite the fact that a secular, political nation in the Middle East happens to bear that name today. Romans 9:6-8 is most profound on this point (parenthetical notes are mine): “…For not all who are descended from [natural] Israel belong to [spiritual] Israel, and not all are [spiritual] children of Abraham because they are his [physical] offspring…it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” See this article for an excellent explanation of Galatians 6:16’s use of the phrase “the Israel of God” to refer to the Church: http://www.bible-researcher.com/gal6-16.html. Furthermore, we who are in Christ are spiritual Jews, so to speak: “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter…” (Romans 2:28-29; see also Philippians 3:3).

Galatians 3:16 further points out that all the promises were made to Abraham and his offspring, “referring to One, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.” In the same chapter, Paul says, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29). Does Paul leave any room for those who are outside of Christ to be heirs of the promises? No, he doesn’t, not even for unbelieving Jews. Nor did Jesus (see, for example, John 8:31-47), nor does the New Testament in any place.

Today many teach that the Jews (meaning all ethnic Jews) are God’s chosen people. I believe this is classic false teaching. I Peter 2:9-10, already quoted here, makes it explicitly clear why God’s chosen people, the body of Christ (believing Jews and Gentiles), are chosen. His people have been called out of darkness and now have the privilege of proclaiming His excellencies to those who are still in darkness. Unbelieving Jews remain in darkness, and cannot possibly carry out any such calling. For those who teach that all ethnic Jews are God’s chosen people, the question remains: What are they (allegedly) chosen for at this present time?

It’s for these same reasons that America cannot qualify as God’s chosen heritage, the nation spoken of in Psalm 33:12. The majority of people in America remain in darkness, just like the majority of Jews, and they don’t know the excellencies of Christ’s salvation, let alone have the ability to proclaim them. This calling belongs exclusively to those who are in Christ. Why do we look elsewhere, whether to America or to the nation of Israel, to find some group to fulfill it? Likewise, for Happy Caldwell to speak of Psalm 33:12 as awaiting a future fulfillment for a geopolitical nation is for him to effectively deny that God has had a chosen people for the last 2000 years walking in holiness as His special possession and proclaiming the gospel to those walking in darkness.

CUFI ornament depicting Israeli and US flag


In another excerpt from the Sept. 2010 post on God’s chosen people, we saw a quick rundown on what the New Testament has to say about God’s chosen people and why they are chosen:

[1] “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14; see verses 1-13 for context).

[2] “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you” (John 15:16).

[3] “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19).

[4] “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him…” (Ephesians 1:3-4; see also verses 5-14 for an even fuller description of what belongs to God’s chosen people).

[5] See also Ephesians 2:11-22 [The word “chosen” is not used, but this passage speaks of God bringing those who were far off (Gentiles) “near by the blood of Christ,” creating “one new man”, “one body,” and breaking down the wall of hostility that separated them (us) from the “the commonwealth of Israel” and “the covenants of promise.”]

[6] “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” (Colossians 3:11-12).

[7] “As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (I Peter 2:4-10).

Clearly God’s chosen people, according to these passages, are strictly those who belong to Christ. It’s all about bearing spiritual fruit, not being of this world, having every single spiritual blessing, being holy and blameless, being God’s own special possession, proclaiming His excellencies to those who are in darkness, receiving mercy, etc.

Again, these things aren’t true and can’t be true for unbelieving Jews, unbelieving Americans, unbelievers in any location, or for any geopolitical nation as a whole. Yet they are true for the Church. For those who are in Christ, let us rejoice that we are blessed to be part of that nation whose God is the Lord, and the people whom He has chosen as His heritage.


All posts on the subject of Christian Zionism can be found here.