- If Jesus were to walk around south Florida today, where do you think he would go eat and stay with? The great teacher of the day who was healing the sick and help the oppressed and downtrodden in the first century is now coming to the 21st century to teach the good news. Where do you think he would go? Jesus is making a tour through Florida and he is only going to stop at one person’s house in West Palm Beach. What would you think if Jesus chose to eat and stay with Donald Trump on Mar Largo? What would you think about Jesus staying there of all the places in West Palm Beach? But this is the impact and shock of the story recorded in Luke 19.
- Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. At the end of chapter 19 we see Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus passes through the city of Jericho. Jericho was an important city in the first century as the city sat at the crossroads of two major highways. Not surprisingly, there was a major tax collection center in Jericho because of the traffic and commerce that passed through the city (the Romans imposed heavy taxation).
- In Luke 19:2 we are told about a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and he was rich. This is the only time in the scriptures where “chief” is attached to the occupation of “tax collector.” Zacchaeus clearly held a high office in the Roman tax collection system in Jericho. It is supposed that he likely had tax collectors under him and he was in charge of the tax collection in the city. Our children have a song that romanticizes Zacchaeus, which has the tendency to paint this man in a kind light. But we should not think of him this way. Zacchaeus would have been the villain of the story to the average Jew. Not only was Zacchaeus a hated tax collector, he was in charge of tax collection in Jericho. Worse than that, Zacchaeus was rich from the money of the Jewish people by collecting excess taxes. Zacchaeus was not a righteous man and it is important to understand this to grasp the impact of the story.
Zacchaeus, the Seeker?
- In verse 3 we are told that Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd and because he was short in stature. This verse gives us some interesting insights. We are given a view of what it was like when Jesus entered into a city. Jesus had attained nearly a “rock star status,” if you will, when he came to various towns. This helps us understand the jealousy of the Jewish leaders. People were just thronging around Jesus in every city that he came to. People are leaving what they are doing and going out to the street to see this Jesus. How did these crowds know Jesus was coming but someone must have gone on ahead telling the city that Jesus was coming.
- Knowing the occupation and nature of Zacchaeus, we probably find verse 3 amazing. Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was. Who would believe that he would be seeking Jesus? This is a person who had clearly cast off the common understanding of God’s teachings by working for the Romans. He was clearly violating God’s law by charging excessively beyond what the Roman Empire demanded such that he became a rich man. But he wanted to see “who Jesus was.” Quite simply, Zacchaeus had a curiosity about this Jesus. He was interested in seeing who this Jesus was and what he was all about. Zacchaeus had an interest, though unseen. If we were to come across someone like Zacchaeus today, we would have written him off as wicked and uncaring about the things of God. But Zacchaeus’ interest and curiosity is strong enough that he leaves his place of business and tries to go see Jesus as he walks through the streets of Jericho. His interest is so strong that when he cannot see Jesus, Zacchaeus climbs a tree to get a glimpse of him. But you would have never known that Zaccheaus was interested by looking at him. You would have never believed he had any concern for spiritual things by looking at his occupation or looking at his house. But he did have an interest.
- I want to strongly impress this point upon every person here. Zacchaeus did not look like he cared, but he did. He did not seem interested, but there was a spark of interest strong enough to climb a tree to see this Jesus. How many people have you and I written off as “not interested in God” based upon these same kind of external evaluations? Perhaps we look at their job and think they are not interested. We may see their demeanor or their weekend activities and think that they would not be receptive to the gospel. Now I know what you are thinking in your minds. You think that you know your friends. You know that your friends are not interested in God and would never accept any invitation to spiritual things. Or so you think. Did you know that according to surveys performed, one out of every four people say that they would accept an invitation to services if asked. For every four friends that you can think of, statistically speaking, one of them will come with you but only if you invited them. They will not say yes to the preacher, elders, or deacons inviting them. But they would say yes to someone they know. How often we look at our friends and see the external Zacchaeus, thinking that they are too wicked or too uncaring to listen to my invitation about God. But what we do not see is that there is a curiosity. There are people who want to see “who Jesus was” and we are not allowed to decide who those people are. The interest your friend has is unseen. We have two upcoming opportunities to invite these people to see who Jesus is. On March 5 we are having a “bring your friend Sunday.” Your first thought may be that you do not have a friend that will come. But that is not the question we are asking. We are simply asking if you have a friend. If you have a friend, then invite him or her to come. You may find you have a Zacchaeus on your hands.
- So how does it go with Zacchaeus? One can only imagine the scene as Jesus is walking down the streets of Jericho. The throng of people is pressing against him in the streets. People are lined up to see Jesus as if they were lined up for the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. Then Jesus comes to the place where Zacchaeus is. I wonder what the face of Jesus was at the moment he saw Zacchaeus in that tree. Even more, imagine as Jesus looks up into the tree that everyone else also looks up to see what Jesus is looking at. In this tree is a short man who is trying to fulfill his curiosity. Then Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, because today I must stay at your house” (vs. 5). Jesus simply declares before all the people of Jericho that he is going to stay at Zacchaeus’ house.
- Zacchaeus is excited by this news. In verse 6 we are told that Zacchaeus hurriedly comes down from the tree and joyfully welcomes Jesus. What moved Zacchaeus from mere curiosity and interest to joyfully receiving Jesus? I believe the answer is that Zacchaeus quickly was able to comprehend what Jesus is able to do. Zacchaeus did not know who Jesus was, but wanted to see him. But this Jewish teacher knew Zacchaeus’ name. Zacchaeus immediately recognized that this Jesus was someone different. He was different the others who had claimed to be the Messiah. He was different that the other Jewish teachers who would have never stepped foot into his house. According to the Bible Background Commentary, pious Jews would loath entering the home of a tax collector or to eat his food. Someone unreligious enough to collect taxes would not be careful about the preparation of the food offered. But Jesus was different. Jesus showed that he cared about Zaccheaus, even though he was a chief tax collector who had become rich by ripping off his own people. Jesus did not treat Zacchaeus like everyone else had. Jesus was going to eat with him and lodge with him. No other Jewish teacher would have ever stepped foot into his house.
- Before you invite someone, ask yourself a question: how do you treat your friends? Too often we can treat our friends like the Jewish teachers would have dealt with Zacchaeus. We try to teach them the truth but we do not show that we care about them. We want people to change, but we do not want to have to get close to the person to help them change. The person smokes, drinks, or plunges himself into all sorts of immorality. So we do not want to get too close. But we simply communicate that we do not care about the person. Jesus did not start with Zacchaeus by having an argument about taxation and the laws Zacchaeus was breaking. Jesus started with Zacchaeus by going to his house. This act showed Zacchaeus that Jesus cared about him, the person. We have to start evangelism as Jesus did: becoming friends with tax collectors and sinners.
- When the people of Jericho who were thronging in the streets heard that Jesus was going to Zacchaeus’ house to eat and lodge, the people begin complaining. I would like to point out that these are not the religious leaders complaining. No, these are the average people of Jericho. No one can believe that of all the places to stay in Jericho, Jesus is going to stay with Zacchaeus. One can simply hear the gasping and groaning of the crowd. As Jesus and Zacchaeus begin to walk off to his house, the complaining of the people becomes overwhelming. “He’s gone to lodge with a sinful man” is the complaint. What is fascinating is that Jesus does not defend Zacchaeus. Jesus does not say a word. It is Zacchaeus who understands what he has done wrong and makes a dramatic statement of repentance.
- “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord! And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much!” Now, it is important for us to understand that Zaccheaus is not making a statement of innocence. A.T. Robertson in Word Pictures says, “The language indicates he had defrauded, hence the complaining of the crowd.” Zacchaeus is not saying that he is innocent of the charges. Proof of this is found in Jesus’ words in verse 10, that he came to seek and save the lost. Zacchaeus was not a believer. He was not righteous. Zaccheaus was lost. But Zacchaeus is showing us a great example of repentance. Zacchaeus desires to make restitution, a nearly foreign concept in the religious world today. The law of Moses required restitution plus 1/5th (Levitcus 5:16; Numbers 5:7). But Zacchaeus goes far beyond the law by offering restitution of four times the amount! This shows a real change of heart on the part of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus went from ignoring God’s law to going beyond what the law prescribed. I love that Zacchaeus did not look to fulfill the bare minimum. He does not ask Jesus what he needs to do to get by. Zacchaeus offers this resolution on his own, recognize that if we are to be God’s children, then we need to right the wrong. Zacchaeus not only could not keep all the money he had obtained through defrauding, but he also could not continuing defraud either.
- True repentance comes from a true change of heart. Repentance is not only righting the wrong, but ceasing the wrong. Whether we are talking about lying or stealing, we have to right the wrong and not continue committing the wrong. Whether we are talking about sex before marriage or unlawful divorces and remarriages, we have to right the wrong and not continue committing the wrong.
- It is only when we understand this concept that Jesus declares that salvation has come to our house. Repentance is an important condition that God demands from us if we desire to receive God’s grace. We cannot think that God will cover over our sins such that we can continue in our sinful ways. How many people think that God accepts you as you are and let’s you keeping living the way you are living. God accepts you where you are but he does not approve of our life choices and expects us to change. This is God’s call to repentance that I hope you will accept today. Change the way you are living. Right the wrongs that you have committed and dedicate yourself to ceasing sin. Then salvation will also come to your house as you submit to the Lord.