Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE LORD’S ENCOUNTER WITH ZACCHAEUS”

Luke 19.1-10

 

We previously considered the encounter the Lord Jesus Christ had with a blind man referred to as Bartimaeus. It was in Jericho, likely a week to eight days before the Lord Jesus Christ’s crucifixion on the cross of Calvary. Likely on the same day and in the same place, the Lord Jesus Christ encountered another man. This man’s name was Zacchaeus, and his story is recounted in Luke 19.1-10. Please turn there at this time. When you find Luke chapter 19, I invite you to stand for the reading of God’s Word: 

1  And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.

2  And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.

3  And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.

4  And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.

5  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.

6  And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.

7  And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.

8  And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.

9  And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.

10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. 

To be clear, the story of Zacchaeus is the second encounter in Jericho that is recorded to picture the elements of conversion, with the real possibility that the events related to the blind beggar and Zacchaeus being mingled in the chronology of our Lord’s passage through the city, but separated by Luke’s Gospel accounts of the two encounters. With Bartimaeus, we were told of a man who could not see the Lord Jesus Christ because he was blind, while with Zacchaeus we are told of a man who could not see the Lord Jesus Christ because he was short. The blind man screamed and yelled to get the Lord’s attention, while the short man climbed a tree to get the Lord’s attention.

As we proceed deliberately and carefully through our text, there are some things you will want to notice: First, the Lord again reaches out to an unpopular sinner, showing that the Gospel is for the outcast. Second, Zacchaeus provides a model response to our Lord Jesus. He expresses joy, generosity, and a willingness to right previous wrongs that wonderfully illustrates one side of genuine repentance. Third, the exchange between the Savior and the crowd shows that a relationship with God requires not only Christ’s call but also a response to that call. When Zacchaeus responded to the Lord’s call, he was referred to by the Savior as “a son of Abraham.” Fourth, as He often did, the Lord Jesus affirmed Zacchaeus’ place before God despite the questioning of others, showing that God is more forgiving of sinners than sinners typically are. And finally, Zacchaeus is an example of a rich person who gets through the eye of a needle, which contrasts him with the rich young ruler in Luke chapter 18.18-23.[1]

By way of introduction, let me provide you with some more background of Jericho and the people who lived there. I read from The Words & Works Of Jesus Christ, by J. Dwight Pentecost: 

Jericho was a Levitical city, and hence the residence of a great many priests: its position as the centre of an exceptionally productive district, and also of the import and export trade between the two sides of the Jordan, made it, also, a city of publicans. It had much the same place in Southern Palestine as Capernaum—the centre of the trade between the sea-coast and the northern interior, as far as Damascus—held in Galilee. The transit to and fro of so much wealth brought with it proportionate work and harvest for the farmers of the revenue. Hence, a strong force of customs and excise collectors was stationed in it, under a local head, named Zacchaeus, whom, in our day, we might have called a commissioner of customs. In a system so oppressive and arbitrary as the Roman taxation, the inhabitants must have suffered heavily at the hands of such a complete organization. To be friendly with any of their number was not the way to secure the favour of the people at large.[2] 

The two most distinctive classes of Jericho were priests and publicans; and, as it was a priestly city, it might naturally have been expected that the king, the son of David, the successor of Moses, would be received in the house of some descendant of Aaron. But the place where Jesus chose to rest was determined by other circumstances. A colony of publicans was established in the city to secure the revenues accruing from the large traffic in a kind of balsam, which grew more luxuriantly there than in any other place, and to regulate the exports and imports between the Roman province and the dominions of Herod Antipas. One of the chiefs of these publicans was a man named Zacchaeus.[3] 

Christ decided to spend the night in the home of Zacchaeus, who was the “chief of the Publicans” —the head of the tax and customs department. As his name shows, he was a Jew; but yet that very name Zacchaeus, “Zakkai,” “the just,” or “pure,” sounded like mockery. We know in what repute Publicans were held, and what opportunities of wrong-doing and oppression they possessed. And from his after-confession it is only too evident, that Zacchaeus had to the full used them for evil. And he had got that for which he had given up alike his nation and his soul: “he was rich.” If, as Christ had taught, it was harder for any rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, what of him who had gotten his riches by such means?[4] 

There are three things I would like you to notice in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ and Zacchaeus: 

First, NOTICE HOW THE LORD JESUS CHRIST CAME TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH ZACCHAEUS 

We find this in Luke 19.1-6: 

1  And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.

2  And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.

3  And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.

4  And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.

5  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.

6  And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. 

It seems important to Luke’s purpose for us to know the setting in which this encounter the Lord Jesus Christ had with Zacchaeus took place, and that we are reminded once more that we are still in the environs where blind Bartimaeus was when he came to Christ and was then healed of his blindness by the Lord Jesus. 

Verse 1: 

“And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.” 

The Lutheran commentator Lenski writes that “It was Thursday before the Passion week.”[5] My own belief is that he is correct. Therefore, we are now eight days from the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Verse 2: 

“And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.” 

Is it not interesting to you that Zacchaeus is not introduced to us in the normal way, “there was a man named Zacchaeus,” but “behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus”? Why do you think that is so? Perhaps it is because we are about to read of some unusual things, even more unusual than what we normally see in the Gospel record. The Holy Spirit may be giving His readers a heads up here.

I mentioned before that this passage is all about an encounter that takes place between the Lord Jesus Christ and a man named Zacchaeus, which is the Greek form of a Hebrew name that means “clean” or “innocent.” However, we are told two things about this Zacchaeus that more than suggest to us that he was anything but clean or innocent. First, we are told that he was “the chief among the publicans,” the Greek word architeloontes, which is found nowhere else in Greek literature[6]. However, the word suggests that he was head of the local tax gathering administration. Occupying that position would make this fellow a very high-ranking official in the Roman taxation machinery, and despised by his Jewish countrymen. As much as the Jewish people hated Jewish tax collectors who worked for the Roman occupiers, they would no doubt be far more deeply embittered against the man the publicans worked for in that region, which would be Zacchaeus.

On top of that, we are told that he was rich. The tax farming operation used by the Romans was a contract operation, whereby entrepreneurs would buy their positions by paying the Romans. They would then be authorized to gather taxes by whatever means in whatever amounts they could. That way the Romans would get their taxes up front, and it would then be up to the publicans to collect the taxes from the resentful populace. That Zacchaeus was rich from this process meant he had been greedy and brutal in squeezing money out of his countrymen. Now you know why, despite the name given to him by his mother or father, this fellow was anything but clean and innocent.

Verse 3: 

“And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.” 

The verb forms that translate into our English “he sought to see” and “could not” are both imperfect verbs, indicating that Zacchaeus was continually, but unsuccessfully, trying to see the Lord Jesus Christ over the crowd.[7] What seems to have been the problem? There were two problems, also related to a third factor: First, there was what Luke calls the press, which was a large number of people who were jostling for position to see the Lord Jesus Christ and to hear Him. Anyone who has ever been in a large crowd can relate to this. The second problem was that this guy was short. “he was little of stature.” It is simply a matter of geometry. The taller you are, the farther you can see and the fewer obstacles there are to block your vision. When you are short, almost everything blocks your vision, making Drew Brees’ performance as an NFL quarterback who is about six inches shorter than Peyton Manning all the more amazing.

Related to both of these factors, of course, is the fact that just about everyone in the crowd would know, even if they did not know Zacchaeus, that a man dressed in fine clothes but not dressed like a priest would certainly be a tax collector. Therefore, not only did the packed crowd block his access and limit his vision because he was a small man, but they would also be highly motivated to not get out of his way so he could see. You know how people are toward someone they resent.

At this point, Zacchaeus displays a determination that shows us that he is more strongly motivated than most to see the Lord Jesus Christ.

Verse 4: 

“And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.” 

Zacchaeus displays some real initiative at this point. He has figured out a way to overcome the press, to overcome his height limitations, and to overcome the latent resentment of the crowd to block his access to a sight line to the Lord Jesus. Let me tell you something. If you really want to see the Savior, or if you really want to come to Church, you will find a way to achieve what you want.

Why do you suppose Zacchaeus was so interested in seeing the Lord Jesus Christ? Could it have been that word had somehow spread through the ranks of the publicans that Jesus of Nazareth was not as hostile toward them as the general population was? Remember, the Apostle Matthew had been a publican. Could it be that word had reached Zacchaeus about the parable the Lord taught which is recorded in Luke 18.9-14? Turn there with me to read that parable again, so we can see why Zacchaeus might have held out some hope that this Jesus of Nazareth would be favorably inclined toward him: 

9  And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. 

That Zacchaeus ran before the crowd shows us a couple of things: First, it shows us that the Lord Jesus was walking along a predictable route. Where He was going, both Zacchaeus and everyone else could figure out. Next, Zacchaeus ran, something no grown man of reputation and standing would normally consider doing. Men of his position and standing were careful to move with dignity, to always exhibit decorum. Therefore, for Zacchaeus to run shows us that this man was highly motivated.

What does climbing into a sycamore tree show us? Before I address that question, let me familiarize you with sycamore trees. Notice the picture I pulled off the Internet showing a mature sycamore tree. “The branches are strong and large, growing out from the trunk very low down so that the tree is easy to climb.”[8] Climbing the sycamore tree proves what running ahead of the crowd might suggest, that Zacchaeus was both highly motivated to see the Lord and completely unconcerned about anyone’s opinion of his actions.

How very typical of someone God is dealing with. So long as you are concerned at all about the opinions other people have about your consideration of Jesus Christ you can be sure the Spirit of God is not much working in you. When the Spirit of God begins to make an individual aware of the true significance of things he realizes that the opinions of others compared to the opinion of God simply do not matter.

Verse 5: 

“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.” 

Is it not interesting how God’s providence works? It may be that Zacchaeus spent his entire life bemoaning his small stature, thinking that he was somehow worse off for shortness than someone who was taller. As well, if may be that someone else had thought he was better off than Zacchaeus for his relative tallness. However, had this man been tall enough to see the Savior he would not have climbed that tree, the Lord Jesus would not have looked into the tree and seen him, and would not have invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ home to spend the night before continuing to Jerusalem the next day.

As well, the Lord Jesus Christ knew the name of this man He had never met. How so? Look up the six times in the Gospels that we read of the Lord Jesus, “He knew.” My friends, He is the Son of God. He knows. 

“Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.” 

Verse 6: 

“And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.” 

As quickly as he had run to the tree, and as quickly as he had climbed into the tree, so quickly he made haste and came down, to receive the Savior into his house joyfully. Can I hear an “Amen” about using your house to host the Lord and to host on behalf of the Lord? What a crying shame to the saved that we have this lost guy opening up his home to let the Lord and His entourage of disciples in to spend the night. My goodness, why have a spare bedroom that you use for storage, that could be used instead for ministry?

May I also point out that what the Lord wanted to accomplish in this lost man’s life He wanted to accomplish quickly? Verse 5 tells us the Lord Jesus said, 

“Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down.” 

Verse 6 tells us, 

“he made haste, and came down.” 

Time is a commodity that we waste too much of. It is the only thing God gives us that we lose, never to get back. Therefore, some things need to be done with haste.

You need to make haste in coming to an encounter with Jesus Christ. You need to stop this messing around and indecision about trusting Christ. Zacchaeus ran, if you will remember. As well, you need to make haste to heed the call to salvation. Jesus Christ said, “Make haste,” and Zacchaeus made haste. When you come to the place where additional information changes nothing and will not alter your decision, then get on with it! Zacchaeus expedited. 

Next, NOTICE THE REACTION OF THE MULTITUDE 

Luke 19.7: 

“And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.” 

“And when they saw it.” 

What does this phrase refer to? It refers to the entire exchange between the Lord Jesus Christ and the man named Zacchaeus, the short chief of the publicans who had to climb the tree to see the Lord Jesus, from which high up perch the Lord spoke to him and invited Himself to his home to dine with him. 

“they all murmured” 

To murmur is a terrible sin in the Bible, the kind of sin that is committed by despicable people. The children of Israel murmured against Moses in the wilderness in Exodus 15, 16 & 17 and were destroyed for it according to the Apostle Paul, First Corinthians 10.10: 

“Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.” 

In both Luke and John’s Gospel, we read of Christ’s enemies murmuring against Him, for what He said and did, as was the case here. Murmuring is a particularly galling sin, in that it is the cowardly and sneaky accusation of wrongdoing against someone without seeking a proper solution for the charge that is leveled against the individual. The children of Israel murmured against God and Moses but made no effort to find a solution for their complaints. On a number of occasions, our Lord’s opponents murmured against Him, such as here, but complained in a manner that made it impossible to face the accusers. If you still watch the corrupt evening network news, you will see that most of the charges leveled against presidents, both past and present, are murmurs, accusations made without effort to find solutions for the complaints. Discern, my brethren, between those who back up their complaints with verifiable sources and those who are merely engaged in wicked whispering campaigns.

So, what was the cowardly accusation against our Lord? 

“saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.” 

We know that our Lord has already been accused of being a friend of publicans and sinners, from Matthew 11.19. Has the crowd forgotten that one of the Lord Jesus Christ’s apostles had been a publican, the Apostle Matthew? Perhaps, though they are now a bit used to the idea of the Lord being a friend of publicans and sinners, they are still appalled by the idea of Him being the house guest of such a man.

I love the take of Charles Spurgeon, the 19th century London Baptist pastor, on this whole scene. In his devotional commentary, he writes on this verse, 

“Not only the Pharisees, but others also were astonished at the Savior’s visit to this member of the tax-collecting band, for the publicans were despised and hated by all their countrymen. Free grace thus delights to astonish men by choosing and calling the base things of this world.” 

Finally, NOTICE THE EVENING’S CONVERSATION 

Luke 19.8-10: 

8  And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.

9  And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.

10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. 

We can be certain that this passage records a later conversation that took place outside the sight and hearing of the multitude, perhaps when they were at Zacchaeus’ home. Consider the thrust of each of the three verses: 

Verse 8: 

“And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” 

I am of the opinion that what is not recorded by Luke is the actual conversion of Zacchaeus, though what we are given in this verse is evidence of his conversion in his later comments by means of two fruits associated with saving faith in Christ: First, we see here Zacchaeus confessing Christ before men, those who had gathered with him in his home to dine with the Savior. Almost certainly reclining with the others around an oriental meal, it was remarkable for Zacchaeus to stand and speak in this way. He is confessing Christ to others at this point, and for a good reason. Earlier in His ministry, the Lord had said, 

“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.” 

Accompanying his confession of Christ, Zacchaeus also exhibits the presence of real repentance by outlining the restitution he is committing himself to making. If you study the Old Testament requirements for restitution thoroughly, you will find that Zacchaeus promises greater restitution than is called for by the Law of Moses, suggesting that his repentance is thorough and penetrating. Real repentance is accompanied by restitution when the converted person is aware of that facet of God’s will for his life. When a man comes to Christ and is saved he will eventually do two things: First, he will say so. You do not keep your conversion to Christ to yourself forever, though some publish the news sooner than others. And, second, you do what you can to repair the damage caused by your sins, as Zacchaeus is seeking to do here.

Verse 9: 

“And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.” 

Here is where we see the proof of two things; that this conversation takes place later in the day, at Zacchaeus’ home and not when he is in the sycamore tree, and our Lord’s declaration that “salvation is come to this house” and “he also is a son of Abraham.” “This house,” of course, being Zacchaeus’ home, was at a different location than the sycamore tree. Thus, some time has elapsed, and they are now at a different location, out of sight and beyond the hearing of the multitudes. When the Lord said, “This day is salvation come to this house,” He could very well be referring to Himself. Salvation in the person of Jesus Christ most definitely had come to Zacchaeus’ house that day. However, I rather think our Lord is making a pronouncement about Zacchaeus and not Himself. This chief of the publicans is now a child of God through repentance and faith, as evidenced by his willingness to confess Christ and to openly commit himself to making restitution. No wonder our Lord pronounced him also to be “a son of Abraham.”

Verse 10: 

“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” 

Before we consider this statement, one of the most important and memorable statements our Lord ever uttered, it would be good for us to make ourselves aware of the context, the setting in which these words were uttered. We are no longer on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. We are no longer out in a public setting where the multitudes can see and hear. We are now in a man’s home, a rich man’s home, a despicable man’s home, a brutally oppressive and traitorous man’s home, and now a new believer’s home. The throngs of people earlier expressed their disapproval of Christ’s association with Zacchaeus. They were offended that He would condescend to be a guest in the home of such a man as had added to the burdens of their suffering. However, the Lord Jesus Christ went into Zacchaeus’ home anyway. At some point, this chief publican became a true follower of Jesus Christ, with real repentance exhibiting a willingness to make restitution. Where there is real repentance, there is genuine faith. The two travel as companions and never travel except in each other’s company. Notice that it was in that setting after Zacchaeus became one of Christ’s own, the Lord declared, 

“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” 

He was in this way explaining why He had called out this man’s name and invited Himself to this man’s house. It was to save that lost man. Why did He not declare Himself in this way in front of the multitudes? They were too busy murmuring to hear anything He would say at that point. As well, I do not think it too strong to remind folks that pearls should not be cast before swine. When you are busy accusing and griping, you are not in the frame of mind or heart to receive the truth. 

Please meditate on our Lord saving blind Bartimaeus and then saving Zacchaeus. The blind man, so typical of a sinner’s blindness to the truth. Yet he cried out to the Savior for mercy as his Messiah, and the Lord dispatched a disciple to bring him to Him. What a picture of the Great Commission and being sent to the spiritually blind to bring them to Christ. Then the Lord Jesus Christ calls out to a terrible sinner by name and invites Himself to his home as onlookers express their disapproval. He then goes to the man’s house, saves the man, and afterward issues a wonderful mission statement: 

“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” 

What a Savior!

Remember that this happens the Thursday before His passion week. Knowing full well that in eight days He will be crucified, He nevertheless shows His concern, His love, and His compassion for others. I say again, What a Savior!

Cast aside your concern about the opinions of others. Consider only the Savior’s concern for your eternal and undying soul and your heart’s need for Him to be your Savior. Come to Jesus Christ for salvation full and free. Come to Jesus Christ now!

__________

[1] Darrell L. Bock, Luke Volume 2: 9:51-24:53 - ECNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), pages 1513-1514.

[2] J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works Of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), citing Geikie on page 365.

[3] Ibid., citing Farrar on page 365.

[4] Ibid., pages 365-366.

[5] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel, (Columbus, OH: The Wartburg Press, 1946), page 936.

[6] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 139.

[7] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 197.

[8] Fauna And Flora Of The Bible, (New York: United Bible Societies, 1980 Second Edition, page 179.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org