ZACCHAEUS – WAS HE REALLY THAT BAD?

Luke 19:1-10; Matthew 10:11

Introduction

Winning the lost for Christ is the ultimate purpose of the church. Jesus sent out his disciples to harvest the lost. In Matthew 10, Jesus sent 12 disciples to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In Luke 10, Jesus sent 70 more disciples “into the harvest.” The so-called “Great Co-Mission” is found in all 4 gospels and Acts (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-17; Luke 24:47; John 20:21 and Acts 1:8). Several of Jesus’ parables had to do with a sending. Servants were sent to invite guests to a wedding feast (Luke 14). Laborers were called and sent to work in the harvest from early morning until late afternoon (Matthew 20). Servants were entrusted with talents to invest in the kingdom (Matthew 25).

In Matthew 10, Jesus told the disciples: And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence (Matthew 10:11). At first glance, it seems as though Jesus broke his own rule. If he had asked who in town was worthy, I doubt if anyone would have suggested Zacchaeus! Perhaps it would be a good idea to place this little man under a magnifying glass and take a closer look. Perhaps we can recognize what Jesus saw in him.

Zacchaeus was small in stature
There is a song that goes, “Don’t want no short people 'round here.” Being small of stature isn’t so bad for a girl, but boys definitely have problems when they are small. Until I was 16, I was the youngest and therefore the "runt" of my class. I was last to be chosen for sports and other guys liked to pick on me. Only in the game of marbles and matching pennies, could I hold my own.

Short people have fewer choices in life. They can develop an inferiority complex and crawl into a corner. They can of course look for a profession in which smallness has an advantage. We worked in a coal mining town for a number of years and discovered that short miners had a distinct advantage. They could get into places where others couldn't and they didn't bump their heads nearly as often. A short person can also become a jockey in horse races, but possibilities get scarce after that.

Short people can choose a criminal career. With weapons, even the smallest can wield power and gain respect. Many people with inferiority complexes attempt to compensate by resorting to violence, or drinking more beer than anyone else. People who feel inferior like impressive titles or drive bigger cars to gain prestige and recognition.

There are jobs, like sales and office work, where size shouldn't make a difference, but even there, being small is a definite disadvantage. Studies show that short people are seldom advanced to positions of leadership.

Most people in Bible times were involved in common labor such as agriculture or construction. Short people could hardly compete in these occupations.

Zacchaeus became a tax collector. Tax collectors were detested  by the Jews and they are not held in particularly high esteem today, but few people dare to offend them. We must give Zacchaeus credit for choosing a legal occupation.

Zacchaeus was a "Big Shot!"
Zacchaeus was the tax collector in Jericho, a major city situated on a main highway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Orient. There were many wealthy merchants in this city, which was an important source of income for the Roman government. Zacchaeus didn’t have it easy, for the Romans never got enough money.

Zacchaeus was “chief” tax collector, meaning others worked under his authority. Those working under him were probably jealous and Zacchaeus would have had his hands full trying to keep these cheating and dishonest tax collectors in line. He was despised in Jewish society and the harder he tried to do his job right, the more difficult life became.

Tax collectors were considered traitors because they collected money from the Jews for the despised Romans. Most tax collectors were dishonest, charging more than was required and keeping the difference, or charging less in exchange for a bribe. The Jews had a term for the latter. It was called a “fig declaration” (the Greek word Zacchaeus used in verse 8). The tax on figs was considerably less than other items of commerce. For a bribe, tax collectors would often charge for figs instead of the more valuable wares.

Zacchaeus was "worthy"
“Publicans and sinners” was a derogatory expression like  saying “lawyers and politicians” today. Contrary to popular opinion, some lawyers and politicians are honest and try to do their jobs correctly and honestly. The same was true of some tax collectors in Jesus day. It appears from our text that Zacchaeus was one of those. He was ambitious, clever, disciplined, dependable, and in my opinion, he tried to be honest. That is probably why he had advanced to the position of chief tax collector. The Romans trusted him.

It would have been impossible for Zacchaeus to give half of his money to the poor and still repay those he cheated 4x if he had done very much cheating.

The great effort Zacchaeus made just to see Jesus is also impressive. Thieves and criminals normally avoid representatives of the law, but Zacchaeus practically made a fool of himself in front of all those spectators by climbing a tree just to see Jesus.

As already stated in the introduction of this study, Jesus instructed his disciples ito look for “worthy” people and abide with them. Jesus looked up into the tree and said, "Zacchaeus, come down, for I am coming to your house today!" Zacchaeus was worthy in Jesus' eyes.

As Christians, we should be careful not to judge people by outward appearances. And we certainly shouldn't condemn them on the basis of what others say. Classifying people according to race, nationality, financial status, education or occupation is wrong. We should always give people the benefit of the doubt. Two decades ago, Americans believed that all Russians were Communists and Russians were convinced that all Americans were capitalists. I know Christians who say, “All lawyers and politicians are crooks!“ or "All these people on welfare are just plain lazy!" We must be careful about such generalizations.

I have heard a number of sermons on this text and every preacher without exception claimed that Zacchaeus was dishonest. They simply join with the Pharisees and Jews in generalizing instead of investigating what the Bible says.

Jesus looks at the heart and not on outward appearances. He came to seek and to save that which is lost. That is why he had time for a Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob, for the maniac of Gadera and for the criminals who were crucified with him. He also knew the hearts of tax collectors. In studying the unusual circumstances surrounding the conversion of Saul on the Damascus Road, I have come to the conclusion that God recognized in this man a heart that was intent on serving God. He only needed a rude awakening and dramatic course correction!

Jesus chose the tax collector, Matthew, to be his disciple and to write a Gospel. Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner. He knew their hearts.

Who determines what is poverty and what is wealth? Zacchaeus may have been wealthy in the eyes of his neighbors, but in reality, he was poor. Fortunately, he recognized his destitute spiritual condition and sought the one who could fill his spiritual void.

Two pastors of my acquaintance were walking through an Austrian park in springtime, enjoying the songs of birds. Others seemed oblivious to the lovely music. One of the pastors took a coin from his pocket and  dropped it on the sidewalk. Nearly everyone stopped and looked. The pastor conducted an impromptu street meeting!

Zacchaeus sought Jesus
Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was coming to town and wanted to learn more. He was Seeking. He went out of his way to find Jesus. He was Determined: He didn’t let anything stand in his way. He overcame obstacles and hindrances. He was Calculating. He took the time to figure out how he could best find Jesus. He was Ambitious. He ran ahead and climbed a tree. He was Obedient. He responded immediately to the words of Jesus. He was Hospitable. He invited Jesus into his home and his heart.

Jesus sought Zacchaeus (Luke 19:10)
What Zacchaeus did and said is not so important as what Jesus said and did. "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John 6:44). "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy" (Romans 9:16.

Signs of a True Conversion
Zacchaeus recognized that he was a sinner, repented and vowed to make things right. He took Jesus into his home and heart. There was great Joy (v.9) - and it spread to his entire household! He was obedient and prepared to serve the Lord and others. Do you think Zacchaeus changed his job? I rather doubt it!

The Apostle Paul claimed to have been the chief of sinners. Which of the early Christians would have dreamed that Saul could get saved, let alone become a great apostle? God looked for someone whom he could send to Saul and he found Ananias.

When I was a kid, we had neighbors that were farm laborers from the south. The father couldn’t speak two words without one of them being a swearword. He was married to his first cousin and two of their many children were mongoloid. My brother Tim led one of the boys to Jesus, and he graduated from Bible College, earned a doctorate in Dallas Theological Seminary and eventually became head of the Church History Faculty. And he led almost his entire family to Christ!

It would be interesting to know what became of Zacchaeus. His testimony must have influenced many.

Romans 11:33-36:
"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counselor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen."

Ralph V. Harvey