Up a Tree (Luke 19:1-10)
When Mom and Dad were here, Dad asked me what I was preaching this morning. I told him that I planned to preach on Zacchaeus. Mom just breaks out in song and begins to sing the song that most of us have known all our lives, the one about Zacchaeus’ being a wee little man.
I’m afraid that for most of us that’s what we know about Zacchaeus. He was a wee little man, he climbed up a tree to see Jesus, and Jesus told him to come down for He was going to his house.
However, the episode of Zacchaeus is much deeper than what we teach children. The more I’ve read this morning’s text, the more it’s touched my heart. There have been times in my life that I’ve wondered if God would really save me. There are times that my heart and my life have been full of sin; there are times that I have embarrassed my family with my sin. At times I’ve wondered if maybe God was ready just to cast me off and forget about me. This text has an answer for that.
There are times in my life I’ve had to make things right. I’ve had to go to folks and, as best as I could, make amends. We find Zacchaeus doing the very same thing in this text.
What about your own life? Have you not found yourself committing sins and wondering if God could really save you? Have you ever had to go back to someone you had wronged and make things right? If you’ve ever found yourself in that situation, then the episode of Zacchaeus is one you really need to hear.
In this morning’s text, Jesus finds a horrible sinner. He is a rich tax collector, and he has defrauded people. Yet, none of that keeps Jesus from reaching out to Zacchaeus. In fact, Jesus goes to Zacchaeus’ home. Why would Jesus do such a thing? Because he wants to teach the people around Him a very important lesson. That important lesson is: Jesus came to save sinners.
Scripture (Luke 19:1-10)
Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Jericho is a border city, and it has a custom station where folks must stop and pay taxes. Jericho is also one of the richest cities in Palestine–the tax revenue in Jericho is going to be absolutely through the roof.
In Jericho, there is a man named Zacchaeus. I have heard for many years (and I’ve even preached) that Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Honestly, simply saying that Zacchaeus was a tax collector overlooks a great deal. Zacchaeus was “a chief tax collector.” He would have been the one who contracted for sales and customers and hired tax collectors to gather the money. Zacchaeus was no measly tax collector; he was a big-time supervisor with tax collectors under him.
No wonder he was wealthy. Zacchaeus could have become very wealthy without cheating at all. However, the fact that he is going to restore “fourfold” what he took by “false accusation” lets us know that Zacchaeus did not just come by his wealth honestly.
Zacchaeus sought to see who Jesus was. The Greek word “sought” is an imperfect verb; the idea of the imperfect is repeated action in the past.
He could not see Jesus, for he was short. Being short by ancient Mediterranean standards likely means that he is less than 5 feet tall.
He climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. This isn’t the sycamore tree that we know. It has a short trunk with twisted main branches near the ground; therefore, it was easy to climb.
Jesus tells Zacchaeus to make haste and come down.
Jesus’ actions here are out of the ordinary. No matter how high your social standing, you did not ordinarily invite yourself to someone else’s home. Pious Jews would not enter the home of a tax collector, nor would you eat his food. Jesus is demonstrating two things: One: He has important business to take care of in Zacchaeus’ home; and Two: Zacchaeus and every other “unmentionable” in Palestinian society has real value before God.
Zacchaeus is obedient to Jesus and makes haste to welcome him. Zacchaeus welcomes Jesus with joy. Why not? The Lord of heaven and earth–the One who can give salvation–has accepted him and is willing to go to his home.
“They” are the people of the crowd mentioned at verse 3. They accuse Jesus of going to be the guest of a man who was a sinner. In antiquity, going to someone’s home meant that you shared in his sins. Jesus, on the other hand, is demonstrating how much He cares about Zacchaeus.
In this verse, Zacchaeus puts his repentance into practice.
Zacchaeus gave half his goods to the poor. Throughout Luke-Acts, Luke is very careful to demonstrate Jesus’ concern for those who are down and out. Zacchaeus was considered a rotten scoundrel by the people of his day. Yet, it is he who in turn gives to the poor.
Benevolent care of the hurting is a cornerstone of Christianity. “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35). “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn 3:17).If Zacchaeus had taken anything by false accusation, he would restore it fourfold. There is some discussion as to what exactly Zacchaeus means here. The Greek could actually be translated: “Since I have defrauded people . . . .” Or, he might mean that he has to look back at records before he knows and he’ll make restitution if he has defrauded anyone. I personally think that Zacchaeus has defrauded people, and he’s going to make that right, but either way, it’s a great example of true repentance.
The Old Testament only required 20 percent when restitution was necessary. Only when a Jew stole an animal that he could not restore was he required to pay fourfold; on the other hand, if he was caught with the stolen animal, he only had to pay double. Zacchaeus has a truly penitent heart.
Most Jewish people believed that salvation came by virtue of being a Jew, unless you excluded yourself by some horrible crime. Tax collectors would have excluded themselves in the opinion of most Jews. Jesus is saying, “This man’s heart is right. He is a descendant of Abraham. Salvation has come to his home.”
Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost. Jesus’ mission on this earth was all about finding folks like Zacchaeus and redeeming them.
Jesus came to save sinners. That is a statement of truth straight from the mouth of Jesus in our text. However, Zacchaeus had to act to make that a reality in his own life. In other words, Zacchaeus had to act in order to receive the salvation Jesus was offering. Let’s think about what Zacchaeus did and how we can follow his example.
Zacchaeus made Jesus a priority.
He didn’t try to find Jesus over the heads of the taller people and then give up. He kept seeking Jesus. As we mentioned, the Greek term “sought” at verse 3 means that Zacchaeus kept on seeking.
Jesus must be a priority. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33). After the Resurrection, Jesus asks Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” (Jn 21:15). Peter says, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You” (Jn 21:15). How would you answer that question? “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You and my life proves it.” “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You, but don’t look at how I live.”
I fear that too often we don’t make Jesus a priority. We’ll give lip service to loving Jesus, of serving Him. But, we’re easily distracted in the course of our lives.
Here’s how we can correct that:
- Examine your own life to see what keeps you from making Jesus a priority. Is there some TV show that keeps you from spending time in Scripture and prayer? Are you so bogged down with worry that you cannot adequately focus on spiritual matters? Are you so busy at work or at home that your spiritual life is suffering?
- Spend time this week making Jesus a priority. Spend at least a half hour each day this week in Bible study and prayer. Be here when the church meets for Bible study and worship.
Zacchaeus made an effort to get to Jesus.
Zacchaeus had to climb a tree in order to find Jesus.
Is there effort you need to put forth in order to come to Jesus? Is there a sin you need to struggle with and put away from you? Is there more effort you need to put forward to serve other people? Is there more effort you need to put forth to be more faithful in your worship attendance?
Zacchaeus made things right.
He promises to make restitution for defrauding folks.
Repentance always involves putting this as right as we can. When Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized by John, he told them, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt 3:8)–In other words, show your repentance in your actions. Jesus says for us to make things right before we come to worship (Matt 5:23-24).Make your wrongs right this week. Is there fruit of repentance you need to bear? Is there someone to whom you need to make amends?
Jesus came to save sinners.
He’s more than happy to save you this very morning. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7). There is only one way to get into Christ where Jesus’ blood forgives sin. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). Do you need to be baptized into Christ this morning?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.