Zaccheus

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)

This is one of the first stories from the Bible I remember being told. I could identity with the story back then because I was a small guy as Zaccheus. A thing I have made up for that by growing horizontally over the years. I remember the Sunday school teacher Mrs. Stockton who had a felt board with felt figures that she used to illustrate the story. I kind of like Zaccheus and if I ever get a dog for a pet maybe I will name him Zaccheus.

This story occurs when Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. In Luke chapter we read that Jesus had told His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem to be rejected by men, put to death on the cross, and be resurrected from the dead. (Luke 18:31-34) As our pastor has said to us there are no wasted words in the Scriptures so this story of Zaccheus must relate to the coming events of what was to happen in Jerusalem.

First just outside of Jericho we learn that Jesus had healed a blind man named Bartimaeus. (Luke 18:35-43) This excited the crowds and they were well pleased with this act of compassion and healing by Jesus. Bartimaeus himself was now following Jesus so he must have been there when Jesus saw Zaccheus up in the Sycamore tree.

As Bartimaeus was healed outside of Jericho and certainly the word of his healing had traveled throughout the city of Jericho and a large crowd of people must have at that time been following Jesus through the town. The people were joyous and anxious to see what more Jesus would do. At this time the excitement of the people was high and their welcome was extended to Him. It was as a precursor to the triumphant entry that soon would be seen in Jerusalem. But crowds are fickle and moods change quickly just as they did in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem the crowds cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9) Then in a few short days they were yelling crucify Him.

When Jesus saw Zaccheus, He told him to come down from the tree, and that He was going to his house to stay that day, the mood of the crowd quickly changed. As we read, “When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus was a tax collector, a chief tax collector, and was not a respected man in that town. Jewish tax collectors worked for the Roman government and were to collect the taxes as they saw fit. They would set the amount of the tax and to be sure it was more than what they had to give to the Romans. A tax collector like Zaccheus was a greedy person who embezzled and extorted money from his fellow Jews. The tax collector was considered a sinner of the worst sort.

We have to note here that it was not Zaccheus that invited Jesus to come to his house. Zaccheus was just trying to see Jesus and possibly avoid the crowds as well. He was not a popular person in that town as a tax collector. It was Jesus who looked up to the tree and called Zaccheus by name to come down. It was Jesus who invited Himself to go to Zaccheus’ house. Of course, Zaccheus was delighted. Of all the prim and proper people in that crowd Jesus had called on him into a fellowship. But the crowds who had been glad to see Jesus now where dissatisfied with Jesus. Zaccheus was a great sinner in their eyes and now Jesus had chosen to visit him. I have often felt that way myself, I was always the last pick when dividing up for a sports game.

This story cuts to the heart of Jesus’ ministry, which was also key to His rejection by the people in Jerusalem. In Luke 4:16 we read that Jesus went to the synagogue in His home town of Nazareth and read from the Prophet Isiah. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn.” (Isaiah 61:1-2) Jesus told those in His audience at the synagogue that He was the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy. The people in the synagogue were astonished with Jesus until He spoke and convicted them of their sin, then they were filled with rage towards Him. The people in the synagogue were rejoicing until Jesus tells them that He has come to save the sinners. Not only the sinners but the Gentiles too. They became so angry that they sought to kill Him. (Luke 4:22-31)

In the Gospel of Mark we see this same issue come when Jesus was dealing with another tax collector named Levi. “As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:14-17)

So we have seen now that while Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem He came to Jericho and healed a blind man. The people were delighted and gave Him praise. They praised Him because He had given them proof that He was the Messiah. But when Jesus begins to perform His ultimate Messianic duty to save sinners the crowds turn on Him. Saving sinners is too much for them and their praise turns to protest.

In response to their protest Jesus tells a parable about stewardship. Jesus is warning the people of the failure to make good use of what God has given. When we think of all that God gives to each of us the greatest is the Gospel.

The people of Jericho are apparently so self-righteous that they do not need to realize how far short they are of God’s glory. How many people are like that? They think they have arrived in their godly goodness and need not strive to become more Christ like. They are self-righteous enough, but compared to who? To their neighbors, to the sinners on the street, and if that is good enough then why would they need Jesus? God’s standard for righteousness is that of His Son Jesus Christ. Are we really righteous?

If we were humble in spirit, then we would see our unrighteousness in the light of Jesus. We would realize the peril of the state we are really in. And we would have empathy for the unforgiven sinner. Then we could come near to the compassion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

This story of Zaccheus is a favorite of the children. It is so I believe because children can identify with the unwanted, the deprived, the dirty, and those whom they have been told are bad. Children seem to have no trouble grasping the concept that Jesus came to save those whom nobody likes. Jesus came to save those unworthy sinners that we have been told to shun. Children get that and that is why Jesus said, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Luke 18:16-17)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, June 22, 2016

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