Luke19v1to10: ZACCHAEUS

(A) Introduction. Read: Luke19v1to10

Only Luke deals with the well-known and much loved story of Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree. It is the sort of encounter that appealed strongly to Luke who throughout his gospel emphasises Jesus' determination to seek and to save the lost. Luke was for several years a close associate of the great evangelist Paul. He had seen at first-hand how the good news preached by Paul of Christ and him crucified had transformed the lives of men and women lost to God.

This exposition is based on a sermon I preached many years ago on Zacchaeus and as such will be shorter than usual!

(B) Zacchaeus was lost.

(a) The chief tax collector was not lost because he was especially crooked. He would hardly be able to say: "If I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount" if he had been systematically defrauding the people in his district. The Romans divided provinces like Galilee into districts for tax purposes. A chief tax collector would be appointed to collect a given sum from a district. He would be permitted to add a charge for raising the amount specified by the Romans. The chief tax collector would divide his district into areas and appoint area tax collectors. They would have to collect enough money to satisfy the Romans and the chief tax collector. The area officials would also make a charge for collecting the target they were set. It is obvious that such a system was open to abuse. Unscrupulous officials would screw as much money out of the populace as they could. However, Zacchaeus seems to have been relatively honest. He probably stuck to guidelines laid down by the Romans as to what was reasonable. This still allowed him to become very rich!

(b) Zacchaeus was lost in part by the decision of the Jewish authorities to excommunicate collaborators with the Romans. Such a decision was not based on God's law. When Jesus was asked if taxes should be paid to Caesar he replied in the memorable words: ""Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." Lk20v25.

(c) Zacchaeus was lost by his own decision to become a tax collector for the Romans. He made this choice in the knowledge that it would exclude him from both synagogue and Temple. It is likely that Zacchaeus opted to be a tax collector because it was one of the few ways a poor boy could get on and get rich. He may have attended his local synagogue as a lad and been turned off by the lifeless formality of the worship, legalism of the teaching and hypocrisy of the leadership. However, no godly Jew would do what Zacchaeus did. He cut himself off from Judaism and a means of grace. It wasn't something old Anna, or Simeon or Mary or Joseph or Nicodemus would ever have done. It wasn't something that Jesus did. He attended the synagogue every Sabbath.

(d) So is Zacchaeus' situation 2000 years ago of any relevance today? Sadly individual churches can be unwelcoming to certain groups of people who a majority of the congregation disapprove of. Some folk are not respectable: gypsies, gays, dissidents, the dyed hair, bodily pierced and tattooed brigade, unmarried mothers, the old and ugly, the shabby, dirty and smelly, illegal immigrants, rowdy, boisterous and overenthusiastic types - and so on.

In the circumstances it is all too easy for people belonging to these groups to opt out of organised religion. But this wasn't the way of Jesus. It would have been so easy for him to stop going to the synagogue - but he didn't. There were doubtless some devout Jews worshipping at his local synagogue and from time to time a reading from God's word and a comment upon it proved a blessing. There is no doubt, men and women can be lost in the church but it is a lot, lot easier to be lost outside it!

(C) Zacchaeus was lost but still living.

Zacchaeus was a lost sheep but not a dead dog. What do I mean by this? All men are lost but some are so lost that they prove irredeemable. Men like Herod Antipas, Annas, Caiaphas and many of the Pharisees were so profoundly lost that they would never, ever recognise Jesus for whom he was. But Zacchaeus showed some hopeful signs:

(1) He showed initiative. Zacchaeus was a hustler. He ran and climbed the sycamore-fig tree. Zacchaeus would never have become a chief tax collector without showing initiative.

(2) He was inquisitive. Zacchaeus had a lot to do with people. He sorted out the problems his area tax collectors encountered. He learned to tell a charlatan from an honest man. Zacchaeus had to deal all the time with men on the fiddle! He was something of an expert on human nature and wanted to see the man he had heard so much about for himself.

(3) He was individualistic. Zacchaeus didn't care over much what other people thought. He did his own thing even though it attracted bitter criticism from nationalistic Jews. So Zacchaeus wasn't going to worry what others would say if he made a commitment to Jesus.

(4) He was impulsive. Zacchaeus was not cautious! He showed a certain recklessness in running ahead of Jesus and clambering into the branches of a sycamore-fig. His impulsiveness is shown by his statement of intent after having tea with Jesus. He said: "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." v8.

I think there is always more hope of people like Zacchaeus being found than the unenterprising, incurious, conformist and cautious.

Zacchaeus rose to the top of his profession quickly and was not so old he couldn't climb a tree. He got rich rapidly but he wasn't so fat that he couldn't clamber into a sycamore fig. The chief tax collector had power and influence but wasn't too proud to scramble into the high branches to see Jesus.

Men and women need to show some enterprise and initiative to learn more about Jesus. Inertia and complacency keep many from entering Christ's kingdom.

(D) Zacchaeus was conscious and tired of being lost.

There are three pieces of evidence for this:

(1) Zacchaeus climbed a tree.

He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. v4.

Who would you climb a tree to see? If I walked through my local park - the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds - and came across a milling crowd I would skirt the fringes and hurry on my way. If someone said, "The preacher, John Henry Fielder Smith, is in the middle there somewhere;" I wouldn't shin up a tree. I would think, "Whose he?" and carry on my business. Indeed, as I think about it, there is no one I am sufficiently intensely interested in that I would climb a tree for.

Zacchaeus did not climb the sycamore-fig because a crowd had gathered. He would hardly go to the trouble of running ahead and climbing high into the branches to see a country prophet he knew nothing about. No, Zacchaeus took the action he did because he wanted more than anything to see Jesus for himself. The chief tax collectors were a relatively small group who doubtless met together from time to time to receive instructions from their Roman masters. On such occasions the tax officials would talk among themselves. I expect they discussed Jesus - the friend of publicans and sinners. Zaccaeus heard about Jesus' provocative, unorthodox teaching, amazing miracles and power to transform lives. The little tax collector felt the need for spiritual renewal and he thought Jesus might be the answer to his need. It is only such that will come to Jesus. How we need more to be like Zacchaeus today in spiritually soporific Western Europe.

(2) Jesus said, "Make haste and come down." v6. AV

I like the words used in the Authorised Version. Jesus said, "Hurry up and come down." What did he mean by that? There are three possibilities:

    (a) Jesus was being ironical. Zacchaeus was always making haste. He was a little hustler and now it was time to hustle for Christ.

    (b) Perhaps Zacchaeus had not made haste enough. He had been thinking about seeking Jesus out and had never got round to it. This was his very last chance and so he had better make haste and come down.

    (c) I do not think either of these explanations is correct. We need to ask ourselves when we use the expression: "Hurry up and get ready." Sometimes I would offer to take my parents for a little ride. My mother would say, "Hurry up Frank and put your coat on, John is taking you for a ride." My father did not need to be told. He loved going out and always put on his coat with alacrity!

    Or take another example: a girl has a little tiff with her boyfriend. They were due to go out - now she does not expect him to call and pick her up. So she sits sorry for herself in her room. But the boy friend turns up. What does mother do? She shouts up the stairs: "Hurry up Doreen, John's here to take you out."

    In both these cases the person who says, "Hurry up," knows that is just what will happen because a desire is being met. The expression is a knowing kind of acknowledgment of that desire. So when Jesus told Zacchaeus to make haste and come down he was recognising the very real eagerness the chief tax collector had to meet with him.

    No one who has any desire to meet with Jesus, to know him better and become one of his followers is ever rebuffed. Jesus will seek such out and make himself known.

(3) Zacchaeus' response.

Once again I love how the AV puts it: And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. v6. Zacchaeus got what he wanted otherwise he would never have reacted as he did. His response is wonderful. He made haste - would to God sinners made haste to come to Jesus. People can attend church for years without coming in faith to Jesus and submitting themselves to him for the forgiveness of sins and newness of life. Procrastination is both the thief of time and the cause of many being forever lost. (See exposition on Ecclesiastes10.)

Zacchaeus came down. There is a sense in which we have to come down to meet with Jesus. We have to abandon our self-sufficiency, self-satisfaction and self-reliance and humbly ask for help. That is all - ask for help - just like Blind Baritmaeus did in the previous exposition.

Jesus accepts people who come reluctantly, suspiciously and selfishly. The loving father in the parable accepted back the prodigal even though his return was motivated by self-interest. C.S. Lewis said that when he submitted to God he was the most reluctant convert in all Christendom - yet he was accepted. I am glad that there are still some who receive Jesus joyfully! I like the story of the Ethiopian eunuch who after Philip baptised him, went on his way rejoicing. Acts8v39. Zacchaeus shows us how to accept Jesus. He was full of joy that Jesus had accepted him! Such should be the reaction of every sinner saved by grace. Somehow today we exhibit little of that joy!

(E) Jesus' method in saving the lost.

Jesus befriended Zacchaeus. He said: "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." v5. Elements in the crowd condemned Zacchaeus as a 'sinner' - but that wasn't Jesus' way. Perhaps, evangelical Christians, are too quick to condemn, too ready to criticise their neighbour's deficiencies, failures and weaknesses. That wasn't how Jesus proceeded. He was the friend of publicans and sinners! Respectable Jews wouldn't have been seen dead in the house of Zacchaeus. Jesus invited himself to tea!

The apostle Paul, that great 'fisher of men,' outlines in his epistle to the Corinthians his fishing technique: I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law .... so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law ... so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 1Cor9v20to22. (See exposition on 1Cor9v19to27) Paul knew better than most how to make converts!

We will not win men and women for Christ by being exclusive, standoffish, unfriendly and disapproving. If we follow Jesus' example we shall be the friend of publicans and sinners.

(F) Zacchaeus was sought and found.

Jesus said of Zacchaeus: Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham." v9. The Jewish establishment did not consider that Zacchaeus was a son of Abraham. He was excommunicated from Judaism. But Jesus knew he was a son of Abraham in the best sense of the term. Zacchaeus had excercised faith in Jesus. He was a man of faith like Abraham was. He exhibited that faith by works - as did Abraham. James stressed the importance of this: You see his(Abraham's) faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. James2v22.

Zacchaeus demonstrated his faith in Jesus when he declared: "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." v8. It cost Zacchaeus something to follow Jesus!

There is, perhaps, a tendency of men and women becoming Christians today for what they get out of it and there are many, many benefits to be gained from following Jesus. It is easy to ignore the example of Zacchaeus who did what John the Baptist demanded: "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance." Lk3v8. We forget at our peril the words of James: As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. James3v26. Zacchaeus could not be accused of faith without works - and I hope that neither can you or I!

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