TEXT: Luke 19:1-9
Tonight, we’re going to look at one of the most wonderful stories in the Bible: Zacchaeus’ encounter with the Savior…Like many of you I was first exposed to Zacchaeus as a child in Sunday School. I can still remember the little song we learned written by Elsie Leslie. If you know it, sing it along with me, and do the motions:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
A wee little man was he,
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see;
And as the Savior passed that way,
He looked up in the tree,
And He said, “Zacchaeus, you come down,
For I’m going to your house today,
For I’m going to your house today.
Read the Text:
I call this event in the Bible as the Story of the two collectors…Here in this story we’re going to see the two collectors…First is Zaccheaus – the tax collector and Jesus the Sinners’ collector. As we dig into this scripture, I want us to examine the two main characters. First, we’ll take a closer look at Zacchaeus, and then we’ll notice the star of the show: Jesus.
1. ZACH: THE TAX COLLECTOR
Now that doesn’t say a lot but we need to recognize the fact that Zach wasn’t everybody’s favorite person, as a matter of fact Zach wasn’t anybody’s favorite person not even his mother’s…
That may seem more than a little unfair but Zacchaeus was a tax collector and Jericho was a city of great wealth and one of the greatest tax bases in the area, and it was from the wealth and the poverty of the people of Jericho that Zacchaeus amassed his own personal fortune. You have to remember that Palestine was an occupied country under roman rule and so even if the tax collectors weren’t notoriously dishonest they had taken service under the Romans and because of that they were considered both renegades and traders by their countrymen.
Let’s take a moment now and have everybody visualize Secretary of Finance/BIR Director, ok you got that picture in your mind? Now add to that, the amount of tax you had to pay this year on everything accept the air that you breath, right? Now magnify the distaste you feel for the right honorable Secretary of Finance/BIR Director and you may be close to how the people of Jericho felt about our hero.
The tax concessions were like franchises. The Roman’s assessed the area and what they felt the tax should be, and then they sold the right to collect those taxes to the highest bidder above that amount. The trick being that anything the tax collector collected over the set fee was his cut that was how he paid the bills.
If you think that our tax load is high there were four distinct and separate taxes levied in Palestine at the time.
- First was the stated tax and that was paid for everyman between 14 and 65 and every woman from the age of 12 to 65 and that was a flat rate that you paid simply for the privilege of being alive.
- The second was the ground tax, you got it; that was the tax you paid on the ground you lived on regardless of whether you owned, rented or borrowed it.
- The third tax was income tax and I’m sure I don’t have to explain that to you and
- The fourth and last tax was something which they called duties and it basically taxed everything that hadn’t been taxed up to that point. It paid for the use of roads, harbors, the market etc. For example there was a tax levied on a cart and it was based on a set fee for each wheel as well as for the number and types of animals which pulled it.
In duties there were purchase taxes and import taxes and export taxes. A tax collector could stop you on the road make you unpack your load and then charge you tax on what you were carrying in your bundles.
That’s why the rabbis spoke of robbers, murderers and tax collectors in the same breath. Do you recall that whenever the Pharisees became critical of the company Jesus was keeping they always spoke of “tax collectors and sinners” at the same time. That was part of the reason that tax collectors were barred from the temple. And Zaacheaus wasn’t just any tax collector he was the chief tax collector. In every sense of the word he was the man everybody loved to hate.
Zach represents every person who doesn’t yet have a relationship with Jesus Christ. He’s a profile of a normal guy who would always strive to acquire wealth in any manner possible…a man who only thinks of what he can have in this world. The most important person for him is only himself…He was simply LOST! But Zach didn’t even know he was lost.
Before I came into a personal relationship with Jesus, I was a Zach, and so were you. A Zach is a person who is primarily concerned about one person: Zach. Here are a couple of ways in which each of us can relate to Zach.
- None of us measures up.
The one thing we all know about Zach is that he was vertically challenged–a wee little man. If I really was making a movie about this story, do you know who I would cast as Zacchaeus? Danny DeVito. He’s not quite five feet tall and he often plays a crooked and conniving character. In my mind, that’s Zacchaeus before Jesus changed him. I want you to notice that:
- He was a man of high position.
Luke 19: 1 “And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2a And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans…”
NOTE: He was the “chief among the publicans.” That basically means he was what we might refer to as “Commissioner of Taxes” (Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison, editors, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary: published by Moody Press, Chicago, Illinois; pg. 1059). This phrase also indicates that he had other collectors working under his supervision.
- He was a man of many possessions.
Luke 19: 2b “…and he was rich.”
NOTE: This is not meant to imply that rich people cannot be saved, rather, that often riches can be a source of hindrance to salvation. Jesus himself alluded to this truth when He said, “…How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18: 24). Patrick Henry, the man who said, “Give me liberty, or give me death,” once spoke concerning true riches. He said the following:
“I have now disposed of all my property to my family. There is one thing more I wish I could give them and that is faith in Jesus Christ. If they had that and I had not given them a single shilling, they would have been rich; and if they had not that, and I had given them all the world, they would be poor indeed.” – Patrick Henry.
But when it comes to God’s standard, no matter how high is your position in your career, no matter how rich we may be, we are all wee little people–spiritually. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall SHORT of the glory [standard] of God.”
In our house we used to measure all the children including my little daughter, and mark their growth on a door facing of one of our closets. It was great to watch them shoot up! There was a mark for David, Clarence, Nia and me. One day, a friend visited us, he’s a tall guy…We marked him on the door, and wrote his name…As they were growing taller, they would look at those marks and comment they would probably pass me, and one day they might even catch me, but they would never reach the measure of my tall friend!
On God’s door facing of righteousness, none of us measure up. There’s your mark, there’s my mark, and there’s the mark for Pastor Dave, who may be the Yao Ming of human faith here at Word of Hope! But God’s mark is a million kilometers above the highest mark of mankind. We all fall far short of God’s standard: Jesus Christ. He has a name that is above every other name and nobody, no one can measure up to him…
- He was desperately seeking something
Zach was rich, but he wasn’t happy. There was something missing in his life. The details of this story reveal he was a desperate man. He was rich and dignified, yet he ran down the road to try to get in position. In their time and culture, people of high position don’t run…But here can see that he ran…Desperate people run. We used to climb trees when we were kids, but most adults don’t climb trees, unless they’re chased by a mean dog, or trying to escape a flood. Climbing a tree is an act of desperation.
Zach had an itch in his heart all his wealth couldn’t scratch. He probably didn’t even know what he needed. He just knew he desperately needed something. When he heard Jesus was in town, he was hoping Jesus might have the solution to his problem. He didn’t know it, but unconsciously, he was looking for God.
****There are two events people usually go looking for Jesus. Most of us fit into this one. We go looking for Jesus when we lose everything. A crisis happens in our lives and we turn to God. C.S. Lewis said that “pain is God’s megaphone.”
Then we have people like Zacchaeus who look for Jesus not because they lose everything but because they have everything and yet they still feel empty.
Zacchaeus had every want met except one. He wanted to see Jesus. And everything Zacchaeus did in order to see Jesus and everything Zacchaeus did after he met Jesus showed that his want to see Jesus was more important than any other want he had.
Most of us have gotten a Credit Card’s Sweepstakes letter in the mail. They use their sweepstakes to entice consumers to subscribe to magazines they represent. They used to write letters making it sound like you were one of a very few finalists eligible to win millions of pesos. The letters appeared to be “personal” because they repeated your name several times. Of course, the letters are actually generated by a computer that just plugs a name in the right place. It may sound as if you are the only one getting the letter when, in fact, millions of people are getting the same “personal letter.”
A funny thing happened a couple of years ago–the computer generated a personal letter to the Bushnell Assembly of God church near Tampa, Florida. The church got a letter that said: Dear God of Bushnell Assembly, “God, we’ve been looking for you! You are a finalist to receive our $11 million Sweepstakes! So don’t just sit there, God, return your sweepstakes form today!” The Tampa Tribune interviewed the pastor, who said he didn’t plan on returning the form because God already has at least $11 million.
That’s humorous, but when I read the phrase, “God, we’ve been looking for you” I thought it spoke the truth. People today are looking for something. They are looking for God, but they call it happiness, or purpose. They look for it in money, in human relationships, or in a career. When those things don’t really satisfy they may get out on a limb and start looking for it in extreme living, which may include drugs, alcohol, sex, or anything that gives them a brief high.
Are you like Zach? Are you desperately looking for something and you don’t even know what it is? Jesus is here today, and He can be the end of your search.
The second character of this story is the real star of the show.
2. JESUS: THE SINNERS’ COLLECTOR
We see ourselves in Zacchaeus. We’ve all been there, and some of you are still there, searching for God. The good news is while you are searching for God, He is searching for you. That’s why Jesus came to planet earth. According to Luke 19:10, He came to seek out and to save all the Zachs like you and me. Jesus Christ came on the greatest search and rescue mission in history! Zach was lost, and Jesus came all the way from heaven to find him and help him. In Luke 19, Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world. He would be arrested and crucified just a few days after He visited Jericho. But on His way to the cross, He stopped in Jericho to seek out a couple of guys–a blind man named Bartimaeus and a short tax collector named Zacchaeus. Why? Because those guys were desperately seeking God. He’s seeking you today, too. The way Jesus related to Zach is the same way He wants to relate to you.
a. He knows you
The first word Jesus spoke to the little guy was, “Zacchaeus!” He called him by his name. Zacchaeus, who had probably been called many unmentionable names must have thought, “He knows my name! How does He know me? Jesus knew His name for the same reason He knows your name–because He is God. He knows everybody’s name. Don’t you like it when someone calls you by your name?
A few days ago, I read about a guy named Scott that was interviewed on CNN Headline News. Every day Scott wears an adhesive name tag that says, “Hello, my name is Scott.” He says when he wears a name tag, people are friendlier to him. He’s trying to start a trend, and he’s even written a book suggesting everyone wear a name tag like he does.
But you don’t have to wear a name tag for God. He already knows your name. God said in Isaiah 43:1: “Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” You may think you are all alone in this world and nobody knows you and nobody cares. He even knows the very situation that you’re having right now! (struggling, depressed, carrying a heavy burden, sick, etc)…It’s a great comfort to know that there is a loving God who created the Universe who knows you.
b. He knows what you need–a true relationship
After Jesus called his name, He beckoned Zach to come down from the tree. In the song I learned about Zacchaeus, we would point our finger and shake it like an angry schoolteacher and say, “Zacchaeus, you come down!” But I believe Jesus spoke those words in love and tender compassion. I’m certain many of the citizens of Jericho expected Jesus to deliver an excoriating rebuke to this men, little tax collector. Can’t you hear them as they whispered to each other, “Oh boy, Zacchaeus is finally going to get what he deserves! This righteous teacher will let him have it with both barrels!”
Jesus would have been telling the truth if He had said, “Zach, you are a dirty, rotten sinner! Repent, repent, repent! You’d better pay back all the money you’ve stolen from these people. If you don’t God’s gonna getcha’ good!
But Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn sinners–He came to save them. He knew Zacchaeus needed to know he could have a personal relationship with Jesus. Instead of condemning Zach, He said, “Let’s go to your house.” At that point, the religious crowd turned against Jesus and criticized Him for spending time with a sinner like Zach.
So, what do you think they did at Zach’s house? Maybe Jesus said, “Sit there, and I’m going to preach a sermon to you on the sin of stealing money!” Or maybe Jesus slapped him on the forehead and said, “Demon of greed, come out! Repent!” Well, stealing money is a sin, and Jesus did cast out demons on occasions, but the Bible says Jesus went to Zach’s house to EAT with him. I can see them sitting there sipping some juice of the vine and dipping pieces of pita bread in the humus sauce like Israelis still do today. At some point Jesus says, “Zach, tell me about your job.” And before he knows it, Zach poured out his heart to Jesus, confessing how he had been stealing from the people. Before the conversation was over, Zach was a changed man.
Some of you know what you are doing is wrong. I’m not here to point my finger at you and say, “Sinner! Sinner! Sinner!” I’m here to introduce you to Jesus Sure, you need to make some changes. Zach did, but you don’t have the power to make those changes on your own. But when Jesus becomes your friend, He’ll help you clean up your act.
Isn’t that an awesome thought? Jesus wants to be your friend. One of my favorite hymns is “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” written by Joseph Scriven. I particularly love the third verse. If you know it sing it with me.
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
3. THE RESULT OF THEIR ENCOUNTER
Changed life was the result of their encounter…Everyone else looked at Zach and saw a mean, little, dirty rotten sinner. When Jesus looked at him in that tree, He must have thought, “I’m going to make this short and sweet! Do you know what the name “Zacchaeus” means? It means “pure.” Jesus didn’t see a crooked tax collector, He saw a man who could become PURE. He saw a man who could be so generous he would give half of his money away.
At the tree, Jesus didn’t say, “Zach, you’re a thief. Now, after repent and pay back what you owe to these people, with interest and penalties, then I’ll come to your house and eat with you.” Instead, Jesus said, “Come one, let’s get to know each other, and once you get to know me, you’ll see yourself in a different light and you’ll want to make some changes.”
Jesus says the same to you today. You’ve made mistakes, there is sin in your life. Jesus is here today to lovingly point His finger at you and say, “I came to seek and to save you. C’mon, let’s become friends.”
Luke 19:8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have overcharged people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Aint it great? They say a leopard can’t change his spots, well if he gets saved he’d better. Not only was Zach a saved man he was a changed man as well. Wealth was everything to Zach and he gave half of it away to the poor, and then he used the other half to right any wrongs, he told people, if I cheated you out of P100.00 then I will repay you P400.00
The truth of the matter is that Zaacheaus was a changed man because his priorities had changed. After his encounter with Jesus, he was changed! How about it, does 2 Corinthians 5:17 What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!
After Zach got to know Jesus, he demonstrated he was a changed man. It’s easy for us to say, “I’ve met Jesus! I’m a Christian! I’ve been changed!” But the proof is in what you do. Has there been a change in the way you think, talk and live? God will forgive your sin, but sometimes, like Zach, we have to make restitution to others in order to demonstrate our forgiveness.
I like the picture of a kitten that is looking into a mirror and sees a lion. You need to start seeing yourself as God sees you. Sure, you are a sinner, and you don’t measure up to God’s standard. But Jesus has come to seek and to save you. When God looks at you today, He sees in you what you can become. No matter what mistakes you’ve made in the past, God sees in you the potential of becoming one of His children.
There are two kinds of people here today. Some of you are like Zach. You’re searching for something. You’ve found money and your job can’t really scratch that itch in your heart. Jesus is here today, and He knows you–He loves you. He is calling you by name today. He’s saying, “I want to have a relationship with you. I can see in you the person you can become–and that person is beautiful!” So for the normal folks here today, will you come down from your tree and meet Jesus and let Him change you?
But most of you are what I call former Zachs. We are recovering Zachs. We have already had the experience of meeting Jesus. You may think the story of Zacchaeus is just a nice children’s story about seeking and saving lost people, but He’s already done that for you. Perhaps you shifted your mind into mental neutral several minutes earlier because you thought this message didn’t apply to you.
In order to find our place in this story, let’s go back and roll part of the movie we filmed at the beginning of this message. Do you see the tree holding little Zach up? That’s us. Here’s the powerful APPLICATION FOR BELIEVERS (former Zachs):
ARE YOU WILLING TO BE A TREE TO LIFT PEOPLE ABOVE THE CROWD SO THEY CAN SEE JESUS?
Years ago, I realized that my role is like that sycamore tree. I can’t be Jesus to people. I can only lift people above the crowd so they can see Jesus clearly. That’s our job! We can’t save people, only Jesus can. We can’t change people–only Jesus can. Our job is to lift people up until they see Jesus, then He takes over.
What would have happened to Zacchaeus if there hadn’t been a tree there that day? We don’t know. The good news is God had planted a tree just in the right spot so Zacchaeus could see Jesus. Has God planted you somewhere that it seems your job is to simply lift someone up so they can see Jesus?