"Hurry and come down"
I wonder where would you like to live if you could chose. For many folk the answer might be somewhere in the south of France – Nice perhaps or just across the border what about Monaco?
Jericho in Jesus’ day was a very pleasant place to live: it was an oasis town having an ample water supply which facilitated the production of valuable crops. Herod had his winter palace here as the winter climate was warm and pleasant unlike the damp and chilly winter days and nights often experienced in Jerusalem. The town was also one of the main Roman tax centres in Palestine. All this combined to make Jericho a wealthy town.
It was here that a man named Zacchaeus lived.
Who was Zacchaeus?
Zacchaeus was a tax-collector and not just any old tax collector he was a chief tax collector, a superintendent who would have other men working under his direction. In other words Zacchaeus was an important man who occupied an important position and this position had allowed him to become a wealthy man whether by fair means or by foul – tax collectors were not above demanding more than necessary and pocketing the difference.
Last week we considered how Jesus totally transformed the life of a poor blind beggar. Now, still in the same town, we find Jesus once more in the transformation business only this time he has to do with a man at the opposite end of the economic scale.
It may have seemed to others looking in from the outside that this man Zacchaeus had everything going for him in life: he was rich and lived in a nice place – but all this left him unsatisfied deep down inside. This man just as much as the blind beggar needed to be transformed, he too needed to "be saved".
It doesn’t matter what your situation is in life the transforming salvation that Jesus brings will fit you fine. It suited the blind beggar, it suited rich Zacchaeus, and it is perfectly designed to meet your deepest needs too. Sometimes when you go shopping you’ll find an item of clothing that says "one size fits all" and you know what that means, it means that it doesn’t fit anybody properly! Well, it couldn’t be more different with the salvation Jesus brings: his salvation truly does "fit all" – it did so in the first century as he walked in Israel, it has been doing so down through the centuries in every culture and in every country of the world ever since. People from every sort of background have found in Jesus Christ exactly what they need – men and women, boys and girls, have found him to be a compassionate Saviour, a faithful friend and a loving Lord.
He meets the needs of those who look humbly to him and he’ll meet yours too. Have you looked to him?
Well now, let’s get back to the story in hand.
It was only a short while before that Jesus had been telling his followers just how difficult it was for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. A rich man has so many resources of his own upon which he is tempted to rely that he doesn’t want to look elsewhere for help. Jesus told his disciples that left to himself it would be utterly impossible for such a man to enter the Kingdom of God. He added however that what was impossible for man was not impossible for God!
And Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus was going to show just that!!
Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus and what he heard had stirred his interest. He was curious and hearing that Jesus was in the neighbourhood Zacchaeus determined to go and have a look to see who this man Jesus was.
The trouble was he was not alone – it seemed as though everyone had gone to have a look and a large crowd lined the streets. This posed a real problem for Zacchaeus for as any Sunday school child will be able to tell you – Zacchaeus was vertically challenged – he was short and with the crowds in front of him he’d never see be able to see Jesus. Tax-collectors were not renowned for their honesty nor were they popular people and Zacchaeus knew that the crowd would be ill-inclined to let him get to the front where he might be able to catch a sight of Jesus.
What was he to do? He might as well give up and go home – but, no, another idea sprung into his mind. He would run on ahead and climb up into one of the sycamore fig trees that lined the street and from there he’d get a good view of Jesus as he passed by.
And that is just what he did. The tree was good for a little man as the branches grew out close to the ground and soon he had settled himself in his vantage point – he wouldn’t have long to wait and then he would see who this Jesus was.
Zacchaeus was about to get more than he bargained for but how pleased he would be!
Zacchaeus hadn’t made a mistake, Jesus did come his way. In fact when he got to the tree Jesus stopped and then called out to Zacchaeus by name!
Now I can’t tell you whether Jesus had spotted Zacchaeus up the tree and then had enquired as to who it was before calling out to him, or whether he made use of his divine knowledge knowing that an appointment was scheduled for him that day with just such a short man called Zacchaeus whom he would find sitting up in a tree. What I can tell you is that Jesus knows who you are in fact he knows everything about you. He knows you name, he knows your circumstances in life and he knows just the help you need him to give you. I know too that he is able and willing to bring you that help – that’s not in doubt, but are you willing to let him? Now that’s a different matter.
Jesus stopped and spoke to Zacchaeus – his words were spoken as a command but contained an invitation too. Zacchaeus had only been hoping to catch a sight of Jesus but now here is Jesus offering to come and spend some time in Zacchaeus’ home as his guest. Would Zacchaeus be up for it? You bet he was!
v.5 "Hurry and come down"
And that is just what Zacchaeus did:
v.6 "he hurried and came down"
I hope you have noticed what Jesus did. He wasn’t entering into a set of negotiations with Zacchaeus as his equal, not a bit of it, he issued a simple straightforward command. Jesus was in charge and it was he who determined the terms and conditions.
We must realise that it is always this way with the Lord Jesus. He doesn’t engage with us in a series of offers and counter-offers instead he calls and commands. He knows what we need and he knows that he alone can meet that need – how glad we should be that he does not allow us to negotiate away the blessings he would shower upon our lives!
So down the tree came Zacchaeus and joyfully he took Jesus home with him – he was thrilled, it was far more than he ever expected.
But not everyone was as thrilled as he was, not by a long way.
The crowd that lined the streets had seen Jesus stop under the tree, they saw him look up and they heard him call Zacchaeus down. Maybe they hoped to see Zacchaeus mocked perhaps embarrassed as Jesus took him to task about colluding with the Romans – but no, not this, he’s going to be the guest of this man:
Doesn’t he know ""He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." v.7?
And they complained and grumbled about it. How could Jesus accept hospitality from such a man who lived openly outside the law? They didn’t like Zacchaeus but all their criticisms are now focused upon Jesus. I wonder whether you think that there are some types of people that Jesus shouldn’t have any dealings with. If you do I doubt whether you include yourself in the type of people that you think Jesus should ignore.
The crowd that day (yes, another negative discouraging crowd) probably thought that they were somehow more worthy than Zacchaeus, more deserving than him – couldn’t Jesus have looked to them then for hospitality... why this man? And they criticised Jesus as they grumbled.
Are you guilty of judging and criticising Jesus for his gracious dealings with needy people? Or perhaps you criticise God for providences that you don’t like.
On another occasion Jesus justified his behaviour by telling his critics that only the sick needed the help he as a doctor had to offer. Those who refused to recognise their need in other words would find no benefit in Jesus (cf.Mt.9:12). The implication here for the crowd in Jericho ought to be pretty easy for us to understand: if they were to persist in their criticism of Jesus they were unlikely ever to benefit from him - they would simply go on refusing his help and rejecting the salvation that he came to secure.
But so far we’re half way through the encounter – what else is there for us here?
Luke compresses the details of the story for us and we don’t know for sure exactly what did take place between Jesus and Zacchaeus – it would seem likely though that Jesus had some truths to share with Zacchaeus in his home and that what he had to say had a profound and dramatic effect upon the tax collector. Another transformation was in fact underway a transformation which became visible when Zacchaeus stood up to speak.
v.8 "And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold."
After only a short time in Jesus’ company Zacchaeus is deeply moved. His whole life is changing. As he speaks he makes a pledge of serious generosity. At the same time he pledged justice to any whom he might have wronged in the past – to these he goes way beyond the rigours of OT law which called for restitution and compensation but never to this degree. (Interestingly it would seem to suggest that the dishonesty practised by Zacchaeus could not have been dramatic otherwise he’d never be able to repay in the way he promised after distributing the half of his wealth to the poor.) But dishonesty there probably had been to some degree or else why make the offer?
What are to make of this?
Well, surely it is a sign that something significant has taken place in Zacchaeus’ life. Do we not see in his reaction to Jesus the fruit of repentance in his life? This man whose life to this point had been so bound up with money is now laying out his stall: he now has a new Master to serve, a new Lord to follow and to serve. And indeed as he speaks out to Jesus he refers to him in exactly that way calling him "Lord".
What did Jesus make of Zacchaeus’ declaration?
Well the first thing to say is that he did not demean in any way what Zacchaeus had to say. Jesus did not see his reaction as religious fanaticism. In our world doubtless some secular liberal would want to dismiss it all as some perverse effect of conversion therapy rather than to admit that this man had been confronted by his sin, repented and been thoroughly transformed.
Jesus didn’t interpret Zacchaeus’ words as an expression of a new-found morality, it was not the adoption of a self-improvement programme nor the moralistic turning over of a new leaf, rather Jesus saw it as clear evidence that salvation had come to Zacchaeus. A man who once was lost was lost no longer, he had been found and he had been saved. This man too was now a true son of Abraham, the father of all those who have faith (cf. Rom.4).
Quite simply Zacchaeus in his comfortable home in a sought after town with his burgeoning bank account had been lost, spiritually he had been utterly lost. But that day Jesus had found him – Zacchaeus was now a saved man. He was living proof that Jesus was in the process of accomplishing that very purpose for which he came into the world.
I wonder whether any of those who had been critical of Jesus and his behaviour earlier in the day would be caused to rethink their estimate of Jesus as news of Zacchaeus’ conversion became known. I’d like to think that some at least seeing what Jesus had done for this man would take time to revisit their prejudices and come trustingly to Jesus for themselves. I’d like to think that but I simply don’t know.
But what about you, today? Do you find yourself sitting in judgment and criticising Jesus because he doesn’t do things the way you think he ought to do them? Do you think he should choose his friends more carefully and select only those who you think are worthy in some way? Do you believe that you are somehow worthy or his friendship whereas others are not? Perhaps you’re even trying to hang back from committing yourself to Jesus until you can make yourself a bit more worthy in your own eyes...
Friend, Jesus came into the world to save sinners – we’re all sinners – and no sinner is worthy of God’s grace, it just doesn’t work like that. Jesus will have you if you call seriously upon him to forgive you your sin and you commit to live for him – but he only takes those who acknowledge their sin and repent of it. Those who would cling to a sense of their own worthiness will never cling to Jesus.
The episode comes to a close with Jesus making a simple statement concerning himself:
v.10 "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."
He would ultimately achieve that purpose by dying on the Cross and rising from the dead on the third day. We remember that death as we come to the Lord’s Table – but as we come to it let us remember that if we come we come as unworthy sinners who deserve nothing but who freely receive everything by virtue of Jesus our Saviour and our Lord.