KEY SCRIPTURE Luke 19:1-10
APPLICATION Do you remember the story of Zacchaeus? The short guy who climbed the sycamore tree just outside Jericho to see Jesus? Today, we will look at specifics to understand how mighty salvation can be to some people.
The last time God visited Jericho, He came with Joshua and tore down the city walls. This time He came with His Son Jesus to tear down walls of the heart. Zacchaeus was similar to Rahab the Harlot (I feel bad calling her that) from the earlier Jericho. When he heard Jesus was coming, he couldn't wait to see Him.
Zacchaeus was not just a publican, but a CHIEF of publicans in and around Jericho. The head man! The top protected thief making an immense amount of money. A man of low physical and spiritual stature, he was short in appearance and shortchanged others.
Publicans, or tax collectors, were a breed of their own. When Satan came beckoning for their souls, they sold them to him cheaply.
An Outline of Biblical Usage states, "The tax collectors were as a class, detested not only by the Jews, but by other nations also, both on account of their employment and of the harshness, greed, and deception, with which they did their job."
The back-alley natures of Zacchaeus and Levi (Matthew), another publican, are essential to understand. All countries despise traitors—people who forsake their own kind. They are like an autoimmune disease where something in the body betrays the rest of it. A type of national cancer eating away at the fabric of society. So it was with this sector.
When I was young, I remember asking myself as I read the Bible, why publicans were so disliked. Publicans today are hotel owners, E.g. Pub, not tax collectors. Very different to the biblical definition. I don't think the Bible adequately describes their deviance or the community's hatred and disdain for them. Knowing their background helps us better cherish the redeeming power of Christ's message when it meets the desperate hunger of a lost soul.
Jesus said, the greater the debt, the deeper the repentance. (Luke 7:36-50). Zacchaeus had had enough of his distorted life, inventing new ways to cheat people out of money legally. He wanted to change. All his money, land and shares could not complete him. Nothing in his life had filled his hollow heart with what was needed—for which it starved.
As Jesus walked along the road, Zacchaeus' physical stature prevented him from seeing Jesus amidst the crowd. So his spiritual hunger sought the elevation of a tree and climbed it. It caused the first heightening of Zacchaeus' Spirit by his imminent Saviour.
A glimpse of Jesus was all he expected, all he needed for now. To see Him and perhaps hear Jesus speak of the Kingdom of Heaven that others had heard. After all, Zacchaeus had seen enough corruption in this kingdom, mixing with the some duplicitous elites and other reprobates to design methods to rob common folk. But when Jesus saw him out on that limb upon which he had risked his life and career, and beckoned to sup with Him, Zacchaeus' life changed.
Revelation 3:20. states a most precious Godly assurance, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." That day, this scripture came to life for Zacchaeus. His self-loathing had intensified, but the power of Christ came upon him. Christ's words were not a gentle sprinkle upon Zacchaeus but a flooding of his soul. The enveloping water of life—the words of Jesus Christ— were sufficient to wash away the putrid stench of his inner being, which he himself smelled daily.
What changes were wrought in this professional white-collar thief once Jesus took hold of his life?
Verses 8-9 tell us more about his conversion than is written. "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. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house," Zacchaeus didn't care about the accusations he could hear above the crowd's noise. His focus was on His Saviour, as like a unique key, Jesus' words opened the vault of his heart.
Salvation is a free gift, but is to be followed by works of repentance. As we examine these two verses, we see the actual cost Zacchaeus was prepared to make. Many people repent to God but do not make things right with people.
1/ Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; This first promise accounts for 50% off his net worth. That leaves him 50% to cover the following commitment, which was more challenging to estimate.
2/ and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. I believe this part of the sentence confesses his detestable weakness condemned by the commandment itself—that of falsely accusing a neighbour. (Exodus 20:19). I do not doubt these instances were for financial gain for himself or as favours. He agreed to repay four times what he had acquired. That is a greater amount than the law dictated and may have left him with nothing. He would need to go over his books and diligently inquire to find those people harmed by his deceit. So this last 50% may not have covered what he was prepared to pay out. But he was ready to do it. His heart was rendered, the Spirit entered, and out flowed the loving justice of God.
Furthermore, his desire to repay four times the amount taken also reveals the heart of the issue. A false accusation in a courtroom from a person everybody seems to believe, followed by the Judge's penalty, can strip honest citizens of their dignity and community value. People can lose careers, jobs, money and property, endure prison sentences and even commit suicide. One simple conjured lie can produce all that injustice. As he repented, I think some of Zacchaeus' deals were already in his head judging him.
True Godly rehabilitation came to this well-known local identity whose repentance would have swiftly become known to all. Zacchaeus didn't care about society's rejections that would have followed or the complaints from family members who would now lose money and status. They no longer meant anything to him; now he had met Jesus! His transformation came from true repentance.
Indeed, Jesus was able to say with all conviction." This day is salvation come to this house."
Dear Lord, thank you again for reminding me what you can do for a lost soul, and what you did for my lost soul. You came to seek and save the lost, and Zacchaeus' change was immediate. Lord, make me as honest as Zacchaeus.
Photo by Ben White