God’s pursuit of sinful humanity is the storyline of the entire Bible.
It begins in Genesis 3:8-9 as we see God pursuing Adam and Eve after they disobey his command to not eat from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
And it continues to be the narrative throughout the Old Testament as we look at passages like Ezekiel 34:16,
I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
And Isaiah 49:6,
It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Then as Jesus hits the scene, some of the very first words out of his mouth in Matthew 3:2,
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Are you convinced yet? If not, maybe one more verse that completes the bookends. Revelations 22:17,
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
From start to finish, we see this storyline. God created the galaxies, universes, and the earth to create a people he would call back to himself for his glory!
The Mission of God in the Life of Zacchaeus
Jesus embraced this mission of God during his 3-year ministry on earth. One example comes in Luke 19:1-10, the final words are “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”
As he was on this journey, he calls many to repentance, but rarely do we have a story like this one where Jesus calls a person by name. But here, we meet a character who has a name, Zacchaeus. There was the “woman at the well” and the “demon-possessed man.” There was the “rich young ruler” and “the centurion.”
He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Who was Zacchaeus?
Zacchaeus lived in a town known as Jericho. Maybe you are familiar with this city from the Old Testament story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho. In that story, the city was destroyed, but thousands of years later, it has been rebuilt and is thriving.
Since highways and waterways surrounded it, Jericho was a very bustling place with a healthy economy. An excellent place for one to thrive financially, which meant a great place to collect taxes.
Jericho was one of the three regional tax centers in the land of Israel. And it is in this city that we mean the chief of tax collectors, Zacchaeus.
Chief Tax Collector and Rich
Taxes were an everyday part of life just as a they are today. Whenever there is transactions of goods, there are taxes.
Jesus was not opposed to taxes. If you remember, it was Jesus who said, “give to Ceasar what is Ceasars…” and it was Jesus who established all of the governmental authorities.
But because of some unethical practices, tax collectors were despised by their communities. Here are few of those practices:
- To have a tax franchise you had to buy it from Rome which made you a trader to your own people.
- Rome required a certain percentage of tax and then gave freedom to tax collectors to tax on other goods if they wanted. This was abused.
- Tax collectors would create taxes to profit making them some of the wealthiest men in the cities.
And Zaccheus was a Chief tax collector which mean he was at the top of the pyramid scheme and most likely hated all the more.
In verse 7 we get more insight into the feelings others had for him.
This reputation left Zacchaeus and all other tax collectors ostricized from their communities. They were unable to go to the synagogues and worship. They were labeled “unclean” so no jews would associate with them. They were left to socialize with other tax collectors and sinners.
Zacchaeus seizes his opportunity
Jesus is passing through Jericho and clearly the word has spread because a crowd has gathered.
This would be normal for any foreigner passing through, but even more so for Jesus. His reputation was proceeding him. Those in the crowd would have heard of his miracles and rumors that he was the messiah.
Zacchaeus is attempting to navigate through this crowd, but the story informs us that he is having trouble on account of his size and the size of the crowd. But Zacchaeus wouldn’t be denied.
Knowing the city, he ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree. These trees are known for being low to the ground and having long think branches that extend out. The perfect tree for Zacchaeus to get a good view of Jesus as he came along the road.
Jesus knows his name
As Jesus approached the tree, he looks up and says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”
Can you imagine the jolt that must have gone through his body at that time? It would be similar to someone of great renown approaching you, and as your nerves spike, they acknowledge you by name.
Now for us, we shouldn’t be shocked. In John 10:3, Jesus says,
To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
God knows the name of every sheep that is in his fold. And it is more than this. God knows the year, month, week, day, hour, minute, and second of every person who comes to know the Lord.
This is no accident. Jesus says, “I MUST stay at your house today.” This is a divine appointment.
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but more importantly, Jesus wanted to see Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is comforted by this, and we should be too. It is the comfort experienced by David when he says in Psalm 139:16,
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;in your book were written, every one of them,the days that were formed for me,when as yet there was none of them.
Our God knows us better than we know ourselves. He is not losing any of his sheep. The intentionality that Jesus shows to Zacchaeus is the same intentionality given to you and me. It is the same intentionality that he will give to everyone he calls to follow him.
The evidences of true conversion
Zacchaeus “hurried and came down and received him joyfully.” Jesus’ call to him was irresistible. This was a divine appointment, and there was nothing anyone was going to do to stop it.
Notice the contrast of the hearts of the people in the next verse. Does it say, “and they were all excited that a sinner had been freed from his sins to walk faithfully with Jesus?”
It says they grumbled. The Greek word is diagongudso, which is an onomatopoeia. You can hear the sound of grumbling when you say it over and over again (go ahead and try…I know you are already).
These were religious Jews. They classified Zacchaeus as a sinner, but the truth was that their hearts were the ones that were still filled with sin.
They say, “he has gone in to be the guys of a man who is a sinner.” They should have said correctly, “he has gone in to be the guest of a man who WAS a sinner.”
They don’t get it. To the end, they hold on to this false religion while Jesus is saving sinners.
We see the attitude change of Zacchaeus, but we also see a simultaneous change in his actions. In verse 8, it says,
And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
Something has happed that has turned this thief into a philanthropist; this man who spent his life taking now wants to give a lot.
We know it is the result of salvation because the next verse tells us. There are other pieces of evidence, though.
First, he calls Jesus, Lord. He uses the same word that bondservants use to their masters, Kurios.
Second, he gives up half of his goods to the poor. Because the story points out that he is rich, we know that half of everything he has would be a lot. The tithing expectation for a Jew would be 10%, so he has already exceeded that by 40%.
Third, anyone that he has defrauded, he will restore fourfold. Why fourfold? Well, he was probably thinking of Numbers 5:6-7.
When a man or woman commits any of the sins that people commit by breaking faith with the Lord, and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong.
The law states he should give back a fifth, 20%. On top of giving away half everything he has, Zacchaeus wants to give back what he took plus 25% to every person he has wronged.
Ephesians 2:10 says,
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
And James 2:14 says,
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Why does he do this? The truly converted sinner can’t help but do this. He is, as 2 Corinthians 5:17 puts it, “a new creation.” He wants to be obedient to the maximum level.
This is a fantastic story of conversion! But let us not forget that we all were at some point as Zacchaues; lost, hopeless, broken sinners in need of a savior to come to us.
Praise God that Jesus sought you out, called you by name, and declared that salvation would be given to you!