Introduction: When our girls were little, we read in the news that President Jimmy Carter would be visiting the Opryland Hotel. An hour or so before the appointed time, we walked over to Two Rivers Park and stood alongside Briley Parkway so we could see the Presidential Motorcade. A helicopter showed up and hovered over us, and pretty soon a police officer came, asked what we were doing, and stayed with us the whole time. By and by, the traffic cleared and there was nothing in the northbound lanes. Then here came a long line of cars traveling at a rapid speed. There were police motorcycles and squad cars and all kinds of limousines. There was an ambulance and other emergency vehicles. We thought we spotted the president’s car but couldn’t tell. Then there was a slight break and here came another group of vehicles and this one had a helicopter flying figure eights over a long black car that sported flags on the front fenders. As it passed by, there was President Carter looking out the window and smiling his famous smile and waving just to our little group. It was all very exciting.It’s the only time we ever watched anything like that and I still remember it clearly. I think that’s how Zaccaeus must have felt the day that our Lord’s procession passed through Jericho. It was a much simpler affair but just as exciting and much more important.
Background: The story of Zacchaeus is a wonderful story, but its placement in Luke is the key to understanding it. The Gospel of Luke is apportioned geographically. Luke always tells us where Jesus was and what route He was taking. In Luke 9:51, Luke tells us that after finishing His northern ministry Jesus left Galilee for Jerusalem (“When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem”). From Luke 9 to Luke 19, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem; and in Luke 19:28, Jesus entered Jerusalem at the Triumphal Entry to trigger the clock on Passion Week. The story of Zacchaeus is the final story in these ten chapters. It was the climax of Luke’s account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. This account explains why Jesus was making the journey to begin with. Notice the culminating verse of the story (v. 10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost”). It also explains how Jesus can change lives as He passed through the geography of Israel and as He passes through the corridor of time.
V. 1: Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. Jesus has a way of passing through. His whole ministry was passing through this world. He passes through everyone’s life, and we have an opportunity of responding to Him. In Jericho great crowds swarmed around Jesus, but there were only two conversions that we know about: the blind man at the end of chapter 18, and Zaccaeus at the beginning of chapter 19.
V. 2: Zacchaeus must have been a little bit older because he was a “chief” tax collector, indicating promotions and advancement of his career. He has also managed to accumulate a good deal of money. He was wealthy. (Notice that this story comes right after the account of the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18 and answers the question about whether rich people can be saved (implied in 18:26).
V. 3: He was also a short man. This passage indicates there was such a buzz about the Lord Jesus that it was difficult to see. Great crowds were surrounding Him.
V. 4-5: Notice that Jesus knew His name and knew right where he was. John 10:3 says that He calls His own sheep by name. Jesus probably intended to stay overnight at Zaccaeus’ house.
V. 6: Great verbs: He hurried, came, received—and did so joyfully.
V. 7-8: Zaccaeus not only received Jesus, but his life showed immediate change. He started giving more of his money to the poor and he promised to make restitution to any he had defrauded.
V. 9-10: In commending Zaccaeus, Jesus pointed to His own mission to seek and save the lost. What elements led Zacchaeus to such openness?
- An inner hunger. Zaccaeus had not found ultimate fulfillment in his position or wealth.
- A healthy curiosity
- An appreciation for Jesus’ love for outcasts. Jesus was one of the few people who spoke patiently of tax collectors. They were considered traitors or turncoats by everyday Israelites. Publicans or tax collectors were Jewish men who worked for the occupying Roman Government in collecting taxes for Rome from Jewish people. The disdain for tax collectors in the New Testament resulted from collaborating with the enemy and their habits of cheating people out of their money. But Jesus loved tax collectors and – without condoning their cheating or lack of patriotism – He viewed them with compassion. He had the right balance between hating sin and loving the sinner. That’s important for us to remember on this day when the first gay marriages are occurring in New York. We make no apology for believing that sexual activity is limited to a covenant marriage of one man and one woman. But we love people nonetheless and seek to bring everyone to Christ.
- The initiative of Christ. It was the Lord Jesus who took the initiative to seek out the wee little man.
V. 11-17: Our Lord used the conversion of Zaccaeus to deliver a parable with one main point: “My followers must be faithful to their tasks and duties until I return.” Jesus intends for many more like Zaccaeus to be saved.
Conclusion: At Lake Junaluska last week I was speaking to the Christian Businessman’s Connection and mentioned I had attended Columbia International University. An older gentleman came up and asked when I had been there. I told him and he asked if I had ever known a man named so-and-so. Yes, I said. He was the Dean of Men when I arrived at the school. My new friend said: “That man came to the Lord because of what happened to my father. This man, Jack, was a successful real estate man in Florida. He owned a company and he had done very well. From time to time my dad would have the opportunity of witnessing to him and speaking about the Lord. But Jack was never drawn in. And then one day when I was 13 years old, my father was killed in a terrible car wreck. Jack came to the funeral, and there in front of the casket my mother asked him about his soul and handed him a tract entitled ‘Are You Ready?’ Jack sat through the funeral, but on his way home he pulled over to the side of the road and there in his car weepingly gave his life to the Lord Jesus. Jack was such a changed man that he eventually gave up his profession and felt God calling him to work with young men including students and businessmen.” There are a lot of Zaccaeuses and Jacks in the world right now. Let’s be faithful, share anyway and everywhere we can, and help fulfill our Lord’s mission to seek and to save the lost.