ZACCHAEUS – WAS HE REALLY THAT BAD?
Luke 19:1-10; Matthew 10:11
The last verse of our text gives the purpose for which Jesus came to earth. It also tells us why he suffered and died, and why he didn't take believers with him when he ascended into heaven. Jesus came:
…to seek and to save that which was lost Luke 19:10. That is why we are here. It is why the church is here. It is why the rapture has not yet occurred.
James 5:7: Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
This is why Jesus gave his disciples what we call "the great commission." It 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).
On two different occasions, Jesus sent out his disciples to be missionaries. In Matthew 10, Jesus sent out his 12 disciples, giving them clear instructions.
Almost every missionary has at some point preached a sermon from the sending of the seventy disciples in Luke 10, but very few use the text in Matthew 10. There are obvious reasons for this.
Jesus sent the twelve to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Most missionaries go to the Gentile nations today.
Luke 10:1-20 seems custom tailored for missionary presentations, covering the entire spectrum of modern missions:
* The 70 missionaries are commissioned by the Lord in verse one.
* The great need in the world and the sense of urgency for missionaries is expressed in verse two.
* The Lord sends the seventy ("Go!") in verse three.
* Verse four deals with missionary support levels and initial outfitting.
* Verses 5 – 11 present a detailed mission strategy.
* In verses 12 – 16, the missionaries are told what they can expect to face and how they are to react.
* Finally, in verses 17 – 20, the missionaries come home on furlough and report to the Home Board, where they get a debriefing.
* Luke concludes the missions challenge in verse 17 with the happy ending that people, especially Americans, delight in. The disciples return rejoicing and victorious!
Matthew skips the happy ending and adds 25 extremely uncomfortable verses. It's no wonder missionaries prefer to use the text in Luke 10! (Read Matthew 10 at home!)
1) Who was Zacchaeus?
Ask anyone that question and they will answer just as any Jew of that day, "Zacchaeus was a tax collector."
We know little about the disciples and the Apostle Paul. Paul was a tent maker and most of the disciples were professional fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector. What do we know about Jesus? We don't know what he looked like. Some claim that he learned the carpenter trade, but the only reference to that was in the form of a question of an unbeliever, "Is this not the carpenter's son?" In fact, this is the only place that indicates Joseph's occupation.
The Bible gives us much more information about Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus lived and worked in Jericho, a major city situated where several important trade routes between the Mediterranean Sea and the Orient intersect. There were many wealthy merchants in this city and Jericho was an important source of income for the Roman government.
Zacchaeus was not just "a" tax collector, but "the chief of tax collectors." He was a Jew, but he worked for Rome. The Romans made him chief of the tax collectors for good reason. They trusted him! Others worked under his authority, but they were probably not happy with Zacchaeus for the same reason the Romans preferred him. 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 with those he worked with. Zacchaeus didn’t have it easy, for neither the Romans nor the tax collectors ever got enough money.
Tax collectors were viewed as 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 for other items of commerce. For a bribe, tax collectors would often charge for figs instead of more valuable wares.
Tax collectors were detested by the Jews and they are not held in high esteem today, but few people dare to offend them.
His Physical Condition
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
or matching pennies, could I hold my own.
Short people have fewer choices in life. Some 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 riding race horses, but possibilities get scarce after that. Many people have more debilitating handicaps than size which they can do nothing about. They just try to make the best of it.
Short people sometimes choose criminal careers. 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, talk tough using foul language, 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 has definite disadvantages. Studies show that short office workers 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. We must give Zacchaeus credit for choosing a legal occupation.
2) Zacchaeus was "Worthy"
When Jesus sent out the twelve in Matthew 10, he gave them certain instructions including this one in verse 11:
And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence (verse 11).
If he had asked who in town was worthy, I doubt if anyone would have suggested Zacchaeus! It would seem that Jesus broke his own rule! Jesus didn't ask, he commanded Zacchaeus to come down out of that tree but pronto!
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. (vs. 5) He told him that he "felt obligated to abide" stay with him – in his house, eating at his table and sleeping in his guest room!
Lets place this little man under a magnifying glass and perhaps recognize what Jesus saw in Zacchaeus.
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 invited Jesus not only into his home but also into his heart, life and bank account.
The great effort Zacchaeus made just to see Jesus is 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 to see Jesus. As already stated, Jesus instructed his disciples to look for “worthy” people to abide with. Jesus looked up into the tree and said, "Zacchaeus, come down, for I am coming to your house today!" In Jesus' eyes, Zacchaeus was worthy
– but was he saved?
If so, when, where, how and why? We tend to place too much emphasis on OUR actions and words. We raised our hand in a meeting, or we filled out a "decision card". We prayed "the sinner's prayer" and accepted Christ as Savior. There is nothing wrong with that, but we seem to think that salvation is something that we do. We often forget that we are not so much "finders" and "choosers" as we are lost souls sought, loved and rescued by Jesus.
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
In Luke 18 (just before the story of Zacchaeus) we find the story of the Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee boasted of all his deeds but the tax collector
smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. Guess which one we will meet in heaven!
Jesus looks at the heart and not on outward appearances. He came to seek and to save that which is lost. 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 chose the tax collector Matthew, to be his disciple and to write a Gospel. It was not what these persons said or did but what Jesus recognized in them. Recognition of our own unworthiness is often the key to the Lord's recognition that we are worthy.
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.
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! He remained a publican and sinner even after he became a child of God. And so do we!
“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. It would have been impossible for Zacchaeus to give half of his money to the poor and still repay those he cheated 4 times if he had done much cheating. Note that he prefaced this statement with the little word "if." I don't think that he was being dishonest. He must have already recognized that Jesus could read his heart and thoughts. He knew that he was a publican and sinner but he sought the grace of God and God found him.
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, physical abilities, financial status, education or occupation is wrong.
We should always give others the benefit of the doubt
Three 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 and follow Paul's example, who claimed to be the chief of sinners (publicans and sinners). Which of the early Christians 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. Saul had come to arrest and perhaps kill him, but it was Ananias who introduced him to Christ, and prayed over him to restore his sight (Acts 9:10-18) and who baptized him (Acts 22:16).
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. His VW Beetle slipped on a snowy road and went through a barbed wire fence. I painted his car free. John Hannah graduated from Bible College, earned a doctorate in Dallas Theological Seminary and eventually became head of the Church History Faculty at Dallas. And he led almost his entire family to Christ!
It would be interesting to know the rest of the story of Zacchaeus. His testimony must have influenced many.
Ralph V. Harvey