By Jady W. Copeland
To be a success in life, one must overcome certain barriers that get in the way. In the decade of the 1930s there was an athlete named Glenn Cunningham who was badly burned in an accident. The burns were so severe that the doctors told his parents he probably would not walk again. But he did walk, and he did run. In fact, years later, he became the world’s record holder for the mile run. He had to overcome many barriers with faith, determination and work.
The Christian life is like that; there are many barriers that have to be overcome if we expect to be successful. Ultimate success is to be saved eternally. Like Joshua and Caleb in the report of the spies that went into Canaan, we must have faith. After Caleb had stilled the people he said Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it” (Num. 13:30). Our strength coming from the Lord (Phil. 4:13), we can “possess” the land.
There is a story in Luke 19 of a small man by the name of Zacchaeus that well illustrates the points we want to make in overcoming barriers. Zacchaeus was a publican and he was rich (Lk. 19:1-10). Publicans were the tax gathers; collection points for the Roman government were located in Caesarea, Capernaum, and Jericho, but Jericho was an important point of tax collection for Zacchaeus was a “chief publican.” Publicans represented the connection link between the Roman government and the people, and their reputation was not the best. In fact, they were classified with sinners (Matt. 9:9-13) and with harlots (Matt. 21:31-32). On one occasion Jesus was passing through Jericho where he lived and worked. Zacchaeus was short in physical height, but he was so determined to see Jesus as He passed that he climbed up in a tree for a better vantage point. He was determined to see Him. Taking this familiar story, let us learn some valuable lessons as we draw several analogies to the life of Christians and non-Christians.
The First Barrier: A Bad Reputation
Not being popular with the people, he had to overcome the barrier of his reputation. Perhaps there was some justification for the ill-will of the people toward the publicans, and also some prejudice on the part of the Jews from whom the taxes were collected. Nevertheless, the barrier was there. He must overcome that to see Jesus. He would not let what others think of him as a person keep him from seeing the Lord. Littleness in a person often comes out when he gives excuses for not obeying the gospel, or for not doing more in the work of the Lord. “I would do more, but I simply cannot work with Brother Know-It-All.” Or, “If that is the kind of ‘Christians’ they have in ‘that church’, then I want no part of it.” Yes, such excuses for disobedience and unfaithfulness are heard. Sometimes there may be some truth to such statements, but shall we let the sins of hypocrites keep us from 44seeing Jesus”? The attitude of our Leader presents a far different attitude. On this occasion, knowing how the Jews felt about publicans, Jesus told the little man to come down, for He wanted to go home with him. Jesus was not afraid of the Jews and what they might think; He saw the possibility of saving a person from sin. Such an attitude of fear of what others think keeps some disciples from their duty and gives them a “soft” attitude toward the gospel. Giving in to social pressure causes some to drink, curse and commit adultery. While we must guard our reputation, we must not let such pressures keep us from our duty to God and “seeing Jesus.”
The Second Barrier: Riches
One of the greatest evils of the Lord’s people today is materialism. Zacchaeus was rich, but still he was determined to see Jesus; he would not let this (as is shown in verse 8) hinder him. Yet today, we see thousands of Christians letting material things hinder them (in varying degrees). A contrast may be drawn between Zacchaeus and the rich man of Mark 10:21ff. When Jesus told this person to sell what he had and come follow Him, he went away “grieved” (NKJ) for he was rich. When Zacchaeus heard Jesus, he was willing to give half of his goods to the poor and to repay those he had overcharged fourfold.
Why are riches so hard to overcome? First, because they bind us to this life. We can see no further than this world and thus rely on the material possessions for happiness. But they soon fade. Secondly, they tempt us to gather more wealth, trusting in that rather than spending precious time in the Lord’s service. Thirdly, they are a hindrance because they promise luxury, popularity and status, all of which is so fleeting. Some brethren even think large contributions will substitute for personal service to God. Have you ever heard of people who said, “I can’t preach, but I surely can make money, and I will pay you to preach.” While this may be commendable, does it substitute for personally teaching friends and neighbors? Money (whether we have little or much) gets in our way of serving the Master.
Middle-income families want their wives to work so they can have more. The man gets two jobs so they can have a nicer home. We insist that the youngsters work to help pay the mortgage payments. So the wife working is not home when the children come home from school, and coming home to an empty house, they look around for things to do, and wind up on drugs, hooked on TV (most of which is filth), or without parental guidance, find their way to other types of promiscuity. Then when the child gets to be 15-18, the parents come to the elders or preacher and want to find out where they went wrong. While the parents were “church-goers” and “we took them to Bible school,” they neglected the most precious possession – but why? Because the wife was working, or the father was too busy to take time with the kids. Not all evil looks evil, does it?
The Third Barrier: The Crowd
Since he was little, the crowd got in his way. It is ironic that often those who also want to see Jesus get in the way of others. They don’t mean to do so, but with their careless lives and hypocrisy (like the Jews in Jesus’ day), they hinder others from seeing Jesus. This reminds us of the story of Mark 2 where the man borne by four had to be taken through the roof to get to Jesus. The crowd hindered, as they themselves were crowding around to see Him. When a man in an East Texas town was asked to attend a meeting, he asked his friend if that was not the church that Mr. So-and-So attended. When the brother answered in the affirmative, the non-Christian said, in effect, “If that is the type of people you have there, I don’t believe I want to be a member.” The person he mentioned was one of the “leaders” in the small congregation. Furthermore, many “good” people keep others from the kingdom by neglect. They simply never mention Jesus to others, and, therefore, keep them from seeing Jesus by default. They may be receptive to the gospel if taught.
The Fourth Barrier: Physical Size
Because Zacchaeus was small, he had to find a way to overcome this. He climbed up into the tree. Today many have physical handicaps, and some let them hinder, and some do not. Sometimes racial or ethnic backgrounds serve as a hindrance, but the Christian that is black, or from a different section of the world, will not let the prejudices of the whites (obviously themselves wrong) keep them from serving God. One of the finest families we have in the congregation where I preach is black, but he doesn’t let the prejudices of a few keep him from seeing Jesus. This does not excuse the white person, and they will have to answer to God for that sin, but the black person must not let such sins of others keep them from Jesus. I knew a man in my youth that preached all over our part of the country in spite of the fact he was paralyzed from his waist down. He was an able proclaimer of God’s word and led many to the truth. Many would have let this keep from service, but not this man. I also know a man who cannot speak a word due to physical condition, but he writes tracts and distributes them to good advantage.
How to Overcome Barriers
The barrier of a bad reputation can be overcome by knowing and realizing who we are. We are the children of God, and a greater privilege cannot be named. Regardless of what others think of me, I want to serve God and “see Jesus” eternally. “I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me.” If people are prejudiced against you, that is their problem. They need to realize that “God is no respector of persons” (Acts 10:34). But can I afford to quit the Lord because of what others think? Can I afford not to worship because some belittle my clothes, my speech, or my physical deformity?
The barrier of wealth can be overcome by a determination to give. This can be done when I realize that “I can’t take it with me.” We need them to read Matthew 13:22 over and over again. In the parable of the sower, the seed in the thorns represents the ones who are deceived by riches. Materialism is eating the church alive. We deceive ourselves into thinking we are giving enough. We deceive ourselves into thinking we help the poor, when we make no sacrifice at all. We deceive ourselves into thinking we have to have more, when in reality we want more and are simply selfish about it. Hundreds of appeals go unmet each year by thousands of churches because brethren don’t give as they are prospered; and they don’t give because they drive cars worth $15,000 when they could get by on cheaper ones. They live in homes worth $100,000 when a smaller one would serve as well – if pride didn’t get in the way.
The barrier of the crowd can be overcome by getting a higher viewpoint. Often we pay too much attention to the unimportant things, and leave off the weightier matters. Zacchaeus was not too dignified to climb up a tree to see Jesus. Whether the townspeople would think he was a little boy and doing a very undignified act didn’t seem to bother him. Yet today, clothing (or lack of fine clothing) and other examples of false pride get in the way of seeing Jesus. Read I John 2:15-16 again and think.
Finally, the barrier of physical disadvantage can be broken by giving thanks to God for what we are and what we have. Brother Curtis Porter was a small man physically and did not have the greatest voice in the world, and for years he lived with a blood disease that he knew would take his life. Did he let it hinder him? He was one of the greatest men and greatest preachers and debaters of our time. He had faith. He had love for God. He knew who he was, and he was thankful for what he had. We often feel sorry for ourselves. We are prone to give up if we don’t have the greatest of advantages. Be thankful for what you have, and what you are. It all starts with faith. God being our helper, let us all determine to see Jesus (in our faith now, and in eternity after death). With His help, we can overcome all hindrances, and do good in His service and finally “see” Him throughout the ages because of His goodness and mercy extended toward us.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 22, pp. 688-690
November 21, 1985