1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.
2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.
3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.
4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.
A fitness center once offered a $1,000 to anyone who could demonstrate that they were stronger than the owner of the place. Here is how it worked. The owner, who was a well-known muscle man, would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass, and then hand the lemon to the challenger. Anyone who could squeeze just one more drop would win the money. Many people tried to claim the prize—other weightlifters, construction workers, even professional wrestlers—but nobody could do it. One day a short, skinny guy came in and signed up for the contest. After the laughter died down, the owner grabbed a lemon and squeezed away. Then he handed the wrinkled remains to the little man. The crowd’s laughter turned to silence as the man clenched his fist around the lemon and six drops fell into the glass. As the crowd cheered, the manager paid out the winning prize and asked the short guy what he did for a living. “Are you a lumberjack, a weightlifter, or what?” The man replied, “I work for the IRS.”
It is November and you are probably not thinking taxes yet, but people who do this sort of thing for a living say you ought to be. In fact, if you wait until after December 31, you have waited too late. All you can do at that point is fill out the forms. But most people wait as late as possible. I have done that. I have mailed in my taxes as late as April 14, but that is not as bad as some folks I heard about who were driving around shortly before midnight on April 15 looking for an open post office. They found one by the way and mailed in their taxes before the deadline.
It is tough to be honest during tax time, isn’t it? Here’s an actual letter received by the IRS a few years ago: “Enclosed you will find a check for $150. I cheated on my income tax return last year and have not been able to sleep ever since. If I still have trouble sleeping I will send you the rest.”
the Gospel of Luke 19 describes a “publican,” that is a tax-collector, who had figured out a way to skim some money off the top and squeeze the last drop from people’s wallets. His name in Hebrew means, “pure and righteous,” but he was neither pure nor righteous. As a tax collector, he worked for Rome and was considered a traitor by the Jews. The fact that he worked for the Roman IRS indicated to others that he was more interested in money than anything else.
Zacchaeus was more than just an IRS agent. He was the “chief” publican in Jericho. He was in charge of all the agents and was able to take a “cut” from those who collected taxes for him. He stood on top of the collection pyramid, stuffing his pockets with shekels before he sent the required taxes to Rome. If Rome charged a 10% tax, Zacchaeus could collected 12% from the people, and keep the overpayment, and this was legal. The Romans did not care what Zacchaeus kept for himself as long as they got their money.
Jericho was a great place for a tax-collector because many people passed through the city on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. Also, Jericho was the center of a trade network that extended from Damascus to Egypt. Thus, Zacchaeus had a cush job. Not surprisingly, the last part of verse 2 tells us that he was wealthy.
Tax collectors were not new to Jesus. Luke 5 tells us that Jesus called a tax collector named Levi to be one of his disciples, and then he went to a party given by Levi, and apparently most of the people at the party were also tax collectors. Jesus liked parties. That is news to some Christians who do not seem to think it is appropriate for Christians to have fun. And it was not surprising that most of the people at that party would be “publicans” because that is what Levi was. That did not bother Jesus at all, but it bothered the Pharisees a lot. They accused him of eating and drinking with “tax collectors and sinners.” These two terms were almost synonymous to the Pharisees. To be a tax collector was, in their eyes, to be a sinner.
In verse 3 we notice that while Zacchaeus is wealthy and successful by the world’s standards, he knew something was missing. Even most people today will admit that there is more to life than just trying to make money and obtain possessions.
Notice that it does not say that Zacchaeus just wanted to see Jesus. It says “he sought to see Jesus who he was.” He knew Jesus was different. There was something about this Jesus. Zacchaeus wanted to find out what it was. According to Chapter 18, Jesus had healed a blind begger as he approached Jericho. Perhaps Zachaeus has heard of this miracle, and now this healer was walking through town. Zacchaeus may not have fully understood why he did what he did, but he felt a desperate need to get to Jesus, to see who Jesus was. Perhaps you have felt that way. You are drawn to Jesus. You are intrigued by who He is and you want to know more about Him.
Zacchaeus had at least two problems that day. The first was that he was a short man. The KJV says, “he was little of stature.” I picture him bouncing up and down on his toes, trying to see Jesus—sort of like Tigger. You may remember from A. A. Milne's story about Winnie the Pooh that Tigger the tiger was always bobbing up and down, and Tigger said, "Bouncing is what Tiggers do best." I imagine Zacchaeus bouncing up and down, trying to see above the taller people in front of him. With all the crowd pressing in, there was no way for him to get close to Jesus. In a large crowd like this perhaps some unhappy taxpayers took out their frustrations by giving Zacchaeus an accidental elbow or a shove and pushing him toward the back.
His second problem was spiritual. His sins were keeping him from Jesus. Isaiah 59:2 say that “our iniquities have separated us from God.” Not only was Zacchaeus a short guy, he, like us, was not able to measure up to God’s standards. He was short on integrity and tall on sin.
I love verse 4: “And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.” This picture is comical. First of all, it was undignified for a rich man to run. Secondly, it seems funny to me that this wealthy little man would shimmy up a tree like a squirrel. But Zacchaeus did not care. He was determined to see Jesus, and he did not care what others thought of his sprinting or his climbing.
Zacchaeus did not allow anything, not the crowd nor his dignity, to stand between him and Jesus. What about you? Do you care enough about your soul to pay whatever price is necessary to see Jesus.
In verse 5 we read, “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.” Now here is a question for you. A whole mob of people surround Jesus, a huge crowd. Why did Jesus pick out this one person for special attention? Jesus stopped. Jesus looked up at him. He called him by name. He said, “Get down here. I want to go to your house.” Why Zacchaeus? Because no one else was in that tree. No one else was as desperate to see Jesus as Zacchaeus. And Jesus knew that and had compassion upon him.
So Zacchaeus made the first move. He ran ahead of the crowd, he climbed the tree. He is searching for something. Jesus responds to that.
He then gives Zacchaeus a two-fold command: Come down immediately. Get out of the tree, Zacchaeus. Right now. Here we see the urgency of the gospel. If we are going to follow Jesus, we need to do it now.
Then Jesus gives the second part of the command: “for today I must abide at thy house.” Why did Jesus express the necessity of going to the house of Zacchaeus? Jesus said, “I must.” Why? The Pharisees and religious leaders would say that because Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector he was a “sinner.” You should never go to the home of such a person. Everything about such a person was contaminated, spiritually unclean. But Jesus makes a point of inviting himself to dinner. I think Jesus is saying something important about himself and his ministry. He came to save all sinners from all their sins. The emphasis is on the word “all.” There is no sinner that cannot be saved no matter what their sins are.
Well Zacchaeus did not waste any time getting out of the tree. Verse 6 says, “And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.” Jesus said, “jump” and Zacchaeus jumped, and welcomed Jesus with delight and exhaltation. He got far more than he asked for. He wanted a closer look at this Jesus but now this same Jesus was coming over for dinner. Zacchaeus was overwhelmed with joy.
Joy is one of the key themes found of the gospel of Luke. In the KJV, the word is used 10 times in that gospel. I wonder what it will take for us to become more filled with glad and joyful praise? When we consider all that God has done for us, we should be exuberant, ecstatic, overflowing with joy. Yet too often our faces are fallen, our hearts are heavy, and our minds are muddled with cares and concerns. Let us learn from Zacchaeus and be lifted up with rejoicing.
But not every one was happy that day. V7 says that the crowd murmured. People grumbled that “he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.” Why, they murmured, would such a holy man eat with such an unsavory character? The verse says “they” were murmuring. This may have included even the disciples of Jesus. Nobody liked what Jesus was doing, except Zacchaeus.
We may be more like the murmuring crowd than we want to admit. We have categories in our minds of people who are really “bad.” We tend to think the gospel is for good people, not bad people. The gospel is for people like us, good people, not for people like them, bad people. What we fail to see is that we are all bad people. We are all the people Jesus came to seek and save.
Jesus had an immediate impact on this tax-collector. V8: “Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” Zacchaeus knew he was a sinner; he has come to Jesus for salvation. He does not try to negotiate a contract with Jesus. He is not holding anything back. He is fully sold out to Christ. Jesus has changed his heart, and now he wants to demonstrate that change through his actions. His decision was voluntary and flowed out of a heart of gratitude.
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, understood the importance of asking God to change him. He prayed, “Lord, I give you everything there is in this man, William Booth. Do with me what you will.” God loves prayers like that because it shows a willingness to change.
As part of his repentance, Zacchaeus wants to right his wrongs. Biblical repentance always goes hand-in-hand with restitution because conversion is a radical, life-changing event. This Publican is now a different man, so he declares that he will give half of his possessions to the poor and will make restitution at four times the amount he swindled. This short man is suddenly standing very tall.
The mark of Zacchaeus' transformation and conversion was his staggering generosity. Before he met Jesus his money was everything to him. After his conversion, money became something to give away. It was Albert Schweitzer who said, “If you own something that you cannot give away, then you don’t own it, it owns you.”
Now we come to verse 10: “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” This is the mission of Jesus: He came to search for those who have wandered from the way and to lead them back into his way. Jesus is still on a search and save mission. He is seeking out people who need saving. This includes you and me. Jesus wants to have a vibrant relationship with you. Right now, He’s outside the door of your life knocking. He knocks and then he waits for you to open the door. Revelation 3:20 says that, “…If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
When he knocks he speaks your name. He knows everything about you and has been pursuing a relationship with you for a long time. He knows your pain, your dreams, and all the details of your life. He knows your failures and your sins. He has seen and felt them all. You may be hearing His voice right now in your heart. Just as He called out to Zacchaeus so too he is calling out to you. He says to you, “Come to me right now, for I must come into your life.”
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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