In this passage in Luke 19, Jesus is interacting with Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector in Jericho. At this time, tax collectors were viewed as despicable sinners. John MacArthur identifies them as, “disloyal Israelites hired by the Romans to tax other Jews for personal profit.” As you can imagine, they were not the most popular people in town. In fact, they were often despised.
As chief tax collector, it is very likely that Zacchaeus was a wealthy man, much like the rich young ruler that we talked about last week in Luke 18. In that passage (Luke 18:18-30) Jesus made a statement saying, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24). And yet here we see this wealthy man named Zacchaeus, who was deemed unworthy by those around him, doing just that.
So what is different about this man Zacchaeus? I want to pull out four observations from his story for us to meditate on as we prepare our hearts and minds for the sermon this Sunday.
- Zacchaeus was fixing his eyes on Jesus.
As we read this account in Luke 19, one of the first details we get about Zacchaeus is that “he was seeking to see who Jesus was” (v. 3). Zacchaeus was not the only one who was watching for Jesus. There was a large crowd, probably filled with people who were waiting to see this man Jesus, the one who teaches and heals and can raise a man from the dead (John 11). But Zacchaeus was a small man and was unable to see because of the crowds, so he ran ahead and climbed into a tree where his view of Jesus would be unobstructed. I think this says something significant about Zacchaeus and his heart. He genuinely wanted to see this Jesus for himself and wasn’t willing to let his circumstances stop him from doing so.
- Zacchaeus received Christ joyfully.
As he sat in the tree seeking to see Jesus as He passed by, Jesus looked up and told him to come down so He could stay at Zacchaeus’ house. Now, remember, this is a wealthy man who is said to be a despicable sinner, even someone who steals money from others for his own personal gain. If that were you, what would your response be to Jesus? We might expect that he would be distressed or defensive at the thought of a visit from the perfect and sinless Son of God, and yet this is not at all how he responded.
Instead, Zacchaeus hurried down and received Jesus joyfully. While others scoffed at the thought of Jesus spending time with such an undeserving sinner, Zacchaeus’ heart seemed to be softened. He must have understood what those around him did not - that there is no people group on earth who cannot become a follower of Christ. In spite of all of his sin and brokenness, Zacchaeus was joyful at the thought of coming to know Jesus, and we can rejoice with him because we know that there is no sin and no sinner that Christ cannot redeem.
- Zacchaeus had a generous heart.
One of the most noticeable differences between Zacchaeus and the rich young ruler is their response to Jesus. From last weeks passage, we know that sadly the rich young ruler’s heart was captured by his wealth and he walked away from Jesus, unwilling to let go of his idol (see Luke 18:23, Matt. 19:22). But Zacchaeus’ heart was being captured by Christ and he said, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.” (Luke 19:8). He was willing to give up his wealth because he realized what he was gaining in Christ.
- Zacchaeus recognized his need for reconciliation.
Not only did Zacchaeus give half of his goods to the poor, but he also told Jesus that if he had defrauded anyone of anything, he would restore it fourfold. This willingness for restitution and reconciliation with those whom he had sinned against was the fruit of his salvation. The law only required one-fifth as restitution, but Zacchaeus went above and beyond the law. His heart posture was one of humility and generosity, knowing that he had just found unimaginable spiritual riches as a citizen of the kingdom of God.
So, who are the Zacchaeus’ in your circle? Are there people that you look at and think, “No… they could never become a Christian. I just don’t see it.” Because we are reminded through this scripture that there is no sin and no sinner that is too far gone for Christ to redeem. Let’s meditate on what Jesus tells us in Luke 18:27, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”