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Zacchaeus and Jesus

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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.”

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What Should We Pray For?

For the last several verses, the apostle Paul has been breaking down for us what it means to be made new in Christ and how that should affect our day to day lives. As we get ready for the preaching of the Word this Sunday, I want to take a few minutes to meditate on Paul’s words in Colossians 4:2-4 as he instructs his readers to be steadfast and watchful in their prayers.

 

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving”

 

Numerous times in the New Testament we see Paul write about praying steadfastly, or praying without ceasing (see Ephesians 1:16, Romans 1:9). Does this mean that we are expected to be on our knees day and night, praying endlessly and doing nothing else? Of course not. I would argue that what Paul is encouraging and exemplifying is having a posture of prayer at all times so that as we go about our day our hearts and minds are focused on our thankfulness to God and dependence on Him.

 

Paul also adds an instruction to be watchful in prayer. The general meaning of the word “watchful” is simply to be awake or alert. If we look at the gospel of Matthew, we can read the account of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. While He was praying, the disciples fell asleep and He said to them, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Matt. 26: 40b-41a, ESV). Just like the disciples, we should all heed this warning. An important practical implication we should take away from these verses is a reminder to be watchful in our own prayer life, so we do not fall into temptation.

 

Just imagine for a moment that rather than being watchful over our prayer life we were talking about being watchful over our family when they are in danger. How would you handle that responsibility? Would you simply sit down and fall asleep, not taking the threat seriously? I assume for most of us the answer would be, “no, of course not!” We would stand prepared, thinking through an intentional plan to keep our family members safe and doing everything within our power to protect them from harm. Now, think about how you protect yourself from the evil and harm caused by sin. Does your strategy look the same? If it does not, how can we change our strategy? What are some practical ways that we can be watchful in our prayer life? Paul gives two answers to this question. First, give thanks always. Have a heart filled with gratitude for all that the Lord has done. Second, be alert and pray for specific needs, for yourself and for others.

 

Now, the question is what specific things should we pray for? While the Bible is filled with many examples of specific prayers that Christians can and should pray, Paul’s focus in these next verses is praying particularly for those who are in ministry, preaching and teaching the Word of God.

 

“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison - that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

 

In these verses, Paul is urging the saints at Colossae to not forget about the faithful ministers of God’s Word when they are praying. It can often be easy when we sit down to pray to give attention only to those things that affect us personally, and while we certainly should pray for those things, Paul’s instruction should remind us to pray also for our pastors. More specifically, we should be praying for the pastors at our local church. We should pray that God would open a door for the preaching and teaching of the Word. In Matthew Henry’s commentary on the book of Colossians, he elaborates that we can pray even more specifically that God

would “either afford opportunity to preach the gospel… or else give [them] ability and courage, and enable [them] with freedom and faithfulness” (The Matthew Henry Whole Bible Commentary).

 

It is my hope that as we all prepare for this Sunday that we would take the time to consider the specific needs around us for which we should pray, that we would give thanks to God, and that we would lift up our pastors and pray for opportunity, courage, and faithfulness in the preaching of God’s word.

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