"Jesus Finds Zacchaeus"
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, December 3, 1995
Copyright © 1995, P. G. Mathew
Two thousand years ago a baby was born to a Jewish couple who lived in the beautiful district of Jericho, where palm and balsam trees grew in abundance. This couple named their child Zaccai, or Zacchaeus, which means pure, innocent and righteous. Now, his parents were absolutely wrong in calling this baby Zaccai, because we know that every child is born unrighteous, impure, and sinful by nature. But another child born around the same time in Bethlehem, about twenty miles southwest, was certainly Zaccai. He was the Holy One, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He would save Zacchaeus, and will make him truly Zaccai--righteous in Christ.
Jericho was located strategically, with roads going from Jericho to Trans-Jordan in the east, Damascus in the north and Egypt in the south. As goods went through Jericho, many taxes were collected. From Jericho's balsam trees a famous balm was also made, so it became a very rich district. Living in this rich district, Zacchaeus grew into a very short man whose ambition was to become rich. He became a tax collector for the hated Roman government, although he was hated by all the Pharisees and scribes in the district. He was treated as a heathen, excluded from all social life and made to stand with the Gentiles at a distance when he went to the temple. Despite this, Zacchaeus worked his way up and became the chief tax collector--the only person in the Bible identified as such.
Zacchaeus had achieved his ambition of becoming rich. People still called him Zacchaeus, but everyone knew his name was a contradiction of his nature. Zacchaeus was rich, but he was not righteous, pure, or happy. Like most of us he thought the pursuit of happiness was in the amassing of money, but in reality, money made him miserable. He had no internal peace. By collecting taxes over and above those required by the Roman government, he had extorted money from his own people. His conscience was seared.
In his miserable, unhappy state Zacchaeus came to hear some good news, that Jesus of Nazareth was passing his way. He had heard that this rabbi was different and that he had the reputation of being friend of publicans and sinners. He had probably heard that even one of Jesus' own disciples was a former tax collector. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus as he passed through Jericho, to see this rabbi who would associate with sinners, but there was one problem: the crowd with Jesus was large, and Zacchaeus was a small man. But something was happening to Zacchaeus, and he had a tremendous desire, coming from the Spirit of God working in him, to see Jesus. No one comes to the Son unless the Father draws him.
Zacchaeus decided to run ahead of the crowd and climb a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. By now in his life Zacchaeus was older and, being wealthy, had probably eaten much rich food and was heavy-set. He was probably clothed in a distinguished, dignified way in all kinds of finery. So it would make a strange sight to see him running like a boy, climbing a sycamore tree and hiding in it, but Zacchaeus wanted to do everything in his power to see this Jesus, the lover of sinners.
Jesus Seeks Zacchaeus
Jesus came to Jericho for the purpose of seeking Zacchaeus. You see, Zacchaeus was one of those whom the Father had given as a gift to Jesus Christ to save. This idea is clearly taught in John 17:2, 6 "For you granted him authority over all people, that he might give eternal life to all those you have given them. . ." and "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word."
So Jesus was coming through Jericho for the specific purpose of seeking Zacchaeus, not because he was holy but because he was wicked and unrighteous. He was a gift that God the Father gave to the Son to save. Zacchaeus was hiding in the tree just to catch a glimpse of Jesus, but he was also one of those foreloved by God and therefore chosen by God before the creation of the world to be saved, and Jesus was seeking him. Zacchaeus was one whose name was written in the Lamb's book of life even before the creation of the world.
Zacchaeus knew he was not pure and righteous. He was probably the greatest sinner in all of the wealthy Jericho district, but the Bible says where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. The mission of Jesus is not to seek the well-fed, but the hungry, that he may feed them. His mission is not to seek those who are safe and self-righteous, but to seek the lost. His mission is not to find the healthy but the sick, that he may heal them. Those who think they are all right without the help of Jesus are left to save themselves, which will never happen. Jesus alone is the Savior, the only Savior, who comes to save those who need salvation. Zacchaeus was a sinner by birth, by nature, and by practice who could not save himself, so God sent a Savior to seek and save him. And Jesus knew where to find him--in Jericho, hiding in a tree. Oh, what joy for Jesus! In Luke 15 we read about the joy of finding the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. When one sinner repents there is celebration, not only on earth, but also in heaven. What joy for Zacchaeus! Jesus found him.
Jesus Summons Zacchaeus
Jesus stopped at the foot of the tree and looked up. He saw this gift of the Father, this one whom God loved, this one who was chosen by the Father, hiding. "Come down immediately," he commanded. You see, Jesus Christ is not begging people to come to him. No, Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. He commands.
He told Zacchaeus, "Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." This was Zacchaeus' moment. This was divine necessity because it was ordained by God the Father that Jesus must abide with him in his house. When we abide with Jesus, something happens to us, isn't that true? Look at what happened to Jesus' disciples in John, chapter 1, beginning with verse 37: "When the two disciples heard [John the Baptist] say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, 'What do you want?' They said, 'Rabbi, where are you staying?' 'Come,' he replied, 'and you will see.' So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour." You know what happened: Andrew and the other disciple came out saying, We have found the Messiah! A person cannot spend time with Jesus Christ and be unaffected by him. He is always saving his people, delivering his people, forgiving his people, seeking his people and finding his people.
Come down! Hurry up! I must abide in your house! Oh, there were great mansions in Jericho, where all sorts of people who called themselves righteous lived, but Jesus would not abide in any of those houses. He came to Zacchaeus' house--not because he needed housing, food or rest, but Jesus knew that Zacchaeus needed him and his salvation. Jesus is salvation. In Luke, chapter 2, we see Simeon saying about Jesus: "My eyes have seen the salvation of the Lord." The salvation of Zacchaeus' soul came from Jesus alone, who must stay in his house to preach the gospel to this poor, chosen sinner.
"I must stay at your house today." The Greek word is dei , meaning it was necessary, it was a must. Another time Jesus had to go through Samaria, we are told in John 4. Why? Although there were other ways to go to Galilee, Jesus went this way because there was a prostitute, foreloved and chosen by God, given to Jesus Christ as gift that he may save her. In the same way Jesus told Zacchaeus, "Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today."
How did Jesus know Zacchaeus's name? How did he know that he was in the tree? Jesus is the omniscient God who created Zacchaeus. He summoned him by name (Isaiah 43:1 and 45:3). He calls every star by name (Psalm 147:4). He knows our names, and calls his own sheep by name (John 10:3). Saul of Tarsus was a rebel and an enemy of Jesus Christ, but when he was in Damascus, all of a sudden he heard, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Jesus knew Nathanael, who was surprised, and asked the question, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were under the fig tree before Philip called you." Jesus knows your name. He knows you when you are under the fig tree, and he knows you when you are in the fig tree. Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the fig tree. Never think that Jesus does not know where his lost sheep are. He knows exactly where you are. He knows your name, your station, where you are hiding, your problems and your misery. He knows, he comes, he seeks, and he saves all who have been given him by the Father. Not even one will be lost.
Jesus Saves Zacchaeus
So Zacchaeus came down from the tree in a hurry and went with Jesus into his house. It is not stated, but I am sure that Jesus ate there and preached the gospel to Zacchaeus, because this was his pattern. In Luke 10, beginning with verse 5, Jesus instructed his disciples, "When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages." And verse 8-9: "When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there, and tell them the kingdom of God is near you." So I am sure Jesus did this also. He ate and preached the gospel, because his mission was to save Zacchaeus.
Jesus said, "I must stay at your house today." Today is a very important word. To the thief on the cross Jesus said, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Psalm 95:7, quoted in Hebrews 3, says "Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts," but rather, believe in him and surrender to him. In Luke 2:11 the angel said, "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you." In the synagogue at Nazareth Jesus said, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your ears," meaning that he was the Messiah. This was the day of Zacchaeus, who ate with Jesus and listened to the gracious words of this Jesus who loved him. PGM This is also our today--the day of our opportunity to hear the Savior's voice and respond. And there are two ways to deal with the voice of this Savior--we either believe in him, or try to kill him.
We are told that the people all murmured against Jesus, saying he could not be righteous and holy because he was associating with this sinner, Zacchaeus. This is always the case, as you read in Luke 5:30 and 15:2. This crowd of Pharisees and scribes considered themselves righteous and holy, and therefore they thought they had no need of a Savior. Knowing that, Jesus went into the house of the one who did need him--this lost, unrighteous person--and he saved him. Zacchaeus was effectually called, born from above and given eternal life. Everything happened quickly.
What was the proof that Zacchaeus was saved? 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." Now, only by the Spirit can we call Jesus "Lord," and only if you are truly saved will you stand up like Zacchaeus and make a bold, public declaration. Zacchaeus was filled with great joy. That which money never gave him was granted to him by the Savior. Although Zacchaeus had worshiped money all his life, his money did not save him. But as he realized that Jesus gave him life, Zacchaeus made a public confession of that fact.
Jesus Changes Zacchaeus
When Jesus comes into your heart, all idols will come out. Like many, Zacchaeus's idol was money. He worshiped it. But because he was saved, he suddenly became generous and concerned about the poor, which he had never been before. When Jesus saves people, they are turned inside out, and the greedy become generous.
How generous was he? He said, "I give half of my possessions to the poor." Now the Greek is not saying that he would give them after his death. No, it speaks about immediate action. Ephesians 4:28 says, "He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need." If Jesus Christ saved you, you will begin to live a holy life, and will become generous. You will be filled with love, not only for God, but for society. So Zacchaeus said he would give half his possessions to the poor, and pay back four hundred percent to the people from whom he extorted, although the law prescribed only one hundred and twenty percent.
I suspect that Zacchaeus was saying he would give everything. Remember the story of a man who found the hidden treasure and went home joyfully and sold all? That was not a foolish deal. That man was given tremendous understanding that in Jesus Christ he received the greatest treasure, the pearl of great price. Now, our text says, "if I have cheated anybody," but in the Greek it is a first class condition meaning it is true, that "I have cheated." Zacchaeus may have earned half of his money in the right way, and the other fifty percent by cheating. But when Jesus Christ comes into a person, he wants to make restitution.
How could Zacchaeus give up everything? Was this foolish action for a man with a family to take care of? No. Zacchaeus had found the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, Jesus Christ, and he knew as he prayed to the same heavenly Father who takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, God would also take care of him. He now belonged to God's heavenly family and was the Father's responsibility. Remember the rich young ruler? Although he was told by Jesus Christ himself to sell all and give to the poor, he refused to do so and went away sad. He was not saved, and perhaps remained an idol worshiper. But Zacchaeus, without any word from Jesus, automatically and generously disposed of his possessions, because he now had the greatest possession, Jesus Christ.
Giving is a characteristic of a saved person. Giving means loving, and loving is of God. People are not saved by giving, but saved people are generous. Holy living, sanctification, is the proof that you have been saved by the mighty Christ, so Zacchaeus repented of his sins, confessed and forsook them, and trusted in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Oh, the beauty of communing with Jesus Christ, the wonder of it all! What a profound change it makes in our life!
Jesus Guarantees Salvation
Jesus said, "Today salvation has come to this house." What is this salvation? Hebrews 2:3 says this is great salvation. Many people think of salvation in terms of money and health and power and position. No, salvation is the salvation of the soul and body. "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"
We read about this salvation in Luke 16. There we find a rich man who lived sumptuously all his life, but he was a greedy, unrighteous, wicked person who refused to believe in the God of revelation. What happened when he died? In verse 23 we read that he was in hell where he was in torment and agony, and in verse 25 Abraham told him, "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony." We think that death is the end of us, but it is not. People do not believe this will happen, but if you are not saved, you will go into hell. If you are a saved person, you go into the very presence of God and will be comforted by God. This is salvation--to be saved in body and soul from eternal damnation, to be brought into the very presence of God, and to live with him in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. This was the salvation Zacchaeus received, and Jesus guaranteed.
And not only was Zacchaeus saved, but his whole house was saved. We read about this happening in other parts of the Bible also. In Acts 10 we see Cornelius and his entire household instantly saved through the preaching of Peter. In Acts 16 the Philippians jailer called out in the middle of the night, "What must I do to be saved?" and the answer was, "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved--you and your household." In Joshua 6:23 we read that "the young men that had gone spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her." Rahab's whole house was saved. Can you say that you are saved? And then can you say that your whole house is saved? Wouldn't that be wonderful? In Acts 2:39 we are told "The promise is for you and your children. . . ."
Salvation had come to Zacchaeus's house. Can you imagine the joy in that family? No wonder Zacchaeus said, "I am going to give up everything." What a happy family, when all are worshiping Jesus Christ and singing his glorious praises! They were rich one moment, but instantly they became poor. They gave up all things because they were made rich by Jesus Christ. He who was rich became poor that we might become rich.
Our true riches are in Christ. In Luke 12:15 Jesus said, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Everyone wants to disprove this verse, working their entire lives to prove it wrong, but they discover it is true. Money disappoints, power disappoints, possessions disappoint, and they become a burden. The fool, whose field brought forth abundance, told his soul to eat, drink and be happy for a long time, but God said that very night his life would be demanded of him, and asked who then would get what he had stored up for himself. And in Luke 12:21 Jesus said, "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." This is what is illustrated in Luke 16:19-31. Or look at the prodigal son in Luke 15. He thought money would save him, but after he received it and went to a far country, he discovered it did not make him happy. But although Zacchaeus was rich, he was saved by Jesus Christ. It is extremely difficult for rich people to enter into the kingdom of God (Luke 18:25), but here a rich man and his whole family were saved, because with God all things are possible.
Finally, when Jesus said, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he is a son of Abraham," did he mean that salvation came to Zacchaeus because he was Jewish and physically descended from Abraham? No, Jesus meant that Zacchaeus believed as Abraham had believed. All who believe in Jesus Christ are descendants of Abraham. Zacchaeus was a physical descendent of Abraham, but he was saved because he believed in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Rebukes the Crowd
The last verse in this passage is very serious and important. Remember how all the people murmured because they were self-righteous, healthy and safe? They were going to Jerusalem, but they thought they did not need God. They walked with Jesus Christ, yet they did not need Jesus Christ.
So Jesus publicly rebuked them. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which is lost." The Son of Man, who was God, humbled himself and came down from heaven. He took upon himself human nature, becoming flesh and dwelling among us. He came to this world as our kinsman and perfectly obeyed God's holy law. On the cross he paid the penalty of our sins, and in him we died and live forevermore. But these people did not need Jesus Christ. What a tragedy, to trust in one's own righteousness, and thus miss God's great salvation!
Let me ask you: Are you lost, or are you with this multitude of people who pretended that they were righteous and holy? Are you a sinner? Being a sinner is what qualifies you for being found and saved by Christ. Are you thinking that money, position or power will save you? If you are, then Jesus cannot save you. Are you sick in your soul? If you are not, Jesus cannot heal you.
In great mercy Jesus comes to seek you. He knows where you are, what your name is, and how miserable you are. He comes to find you and save your soul and body, that when you die you will be in Abraham's bosom, comforted by God himself. He comes to forgive all your sins, to heal your soul, to justify you, and to clothe you with the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Has he come to your house? Have you striven to see him? Have you received him? Have you prayed to him and believed in him? Have you confessed your sin? No one can be saved unless he confesses and repents of his sins, and trusts in Jesus Christ alone. Do you believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for you on the cross? Do you feel any pain of your sin in your being? If you do not, salvation means absolutely nothing. Are you a son or daughter of Abraham? Has your family confessed Jesus Christ as Lord? If not, today can be your day of salvation, for you have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow.
We need to learn a lesson from Zacchaeus. The worries of life, the deceitfulness of wealth, the pleasures of life and desires for other things choke and kill, but if you are chosen of God, you will strive to see him. You will repent, believe, confess and live a godly life. God will never cast away anyone who turns to him for salvation. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ today and you will be saved.
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Copyright © 1995, P. G. Mathew
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