VERSE DISCOVERY: Luke 19:1-10 (KJV, Public Domain)
Can wealth make you happy? Many people seem to think so. They pursue it as if this will be the answer to all their troubles. While money in and of itself isn’t bad, one’s attitude toward it can be. If it becomes the main focus of life and is managing you more than you are managing it, then it’s a possibility that there’s a problem.
The fact is many people every day look at money, prestige, titles and the like as a gold access card to carry them through life; depending on it to be there to fill every need imaginable. For some, it may not be money rather it may be certain people and vices that have this hold on them. But, when the truth of it all boils down to nothing, often the pursuer of such things still find they have an unanswered void that remains in their life.
Material things and people can only take you so far in life. Not until we meet Jesus face to face; not until we see Him for who He is in our own lives and depend on Him for salvation and to fill that void, do we find the peace and rest that our souls so desire.
Zacchaeus was such a man in today’s lesson. He had money. He had a title. But his life was not all that it cracked up to be. On the outside, it may appear that he had everything going for him. But, on the inside, there was something still missing; something that drew him to want to be where Jesus was on that day of their meeting.
No matter how bad a sinner someone is considered to be, or the negative way people view them when they meet Jesus with a surrendered heart, their life can be changed.
Luke 19:1-4 “And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.”
Being a “publican” (tax collector) is a title that left an awful aftertaste in the mouth of the ancient Jewish people. Due to their role in extorting monies from their fellow countrymen and working side by side with the occupying forces of the enemy Romans, this made them especially despised in the eyes of their own people. And, he who would dare to be considered “chief” among these could be looked on possibly as a chief sinner as well. His sins against his people were even greater considering he most likely came to that position through bidding with the enemy for the right to tax his own people and to hold back monies for himself adding to his “rich” status.
Yet, it is the same man such as the one described above who hears of Jesus coming to town and wants to get a better view of Him. The Bible doesn’t specify his cause for wanting to be near to Jesus when He comes, but the fact that he went through great lengths to gain a bird’s eye view is nothing to sneeze at. Something (as we say, but know it had to have been the Lord), was working on the inside to draw this man closer to where the Savior would be for a divinely appointed encounter that would change his life forever.
“He sought to see Jesus who he was.” At this point in His ministry, Jesus is coming to the end of His course on this earth. By now many people in many cities have seen or at the very least heard of this man who teaches with such power and authority; a man who raises the dead and opens the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. Some identified Him as a man who restores the lepers to a whole state and frees people from spiritual bondage. Some thought of Him as John the Baptist come back to life or Elijah or one of the prophets (see Mark 8:28). Very few saw Him for who He really was – the “Christ,” the Son of God (see Mark 8:29), who came with a divine mission to save mankind from his sins.
With such a reputation preceding Him it is not surprising that when He comes to town people want to clamor to at least get a glimpse of Him to see “who he was,” even this publican. Was it mere curiosity or was there something more going on in the heart of Zacchaeus? We may never know what started his pursuit to be near Jesus, but we are sure told how the story ends – and that, my friends, is the best and most important part of it all.
With the crowds forming Zacchaeus’ size posed a problem in his desire to see Jesus better. It is recorded that he was “little of stature,” meaning he was shorter than the average males present there. We are not told exactly how tall he was, but it had to have been significant to point out as a hindrance to see Jesus.
With that, “he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.” Although I am a girl, climbing trees used to be one of my favorite things to do as a child. I mean, literally, almost every day we were climbing trees. We would pretend this tree was my house and that one was yours and so on. Oh, for the imagination of youth…
Yet, it was not imagination that drove Zacchaeus, but a real-life desire. Determined to not let anyone or anything get in his way, in the most undignified fashion imaginable for a grown man who had the status of “chief publican”, he acted as a school-aged boy and climbed a tree just to see Jesus.
What lengths do we go through to be near Jesus? Our western culture offers us opportunities that others may not be privileged to, and yet how do we use our unrestricted access of the Lord? Perhaps if we were forced into hiding just to worship, we would understand the simple desire to climb a tree to see Jesus.
A clear vision of Jesus, no matter where we find ourselves in life, is imperative to our Christian faith. It requires determination and commitment to be where He is. The question is, “How bad do you want Him?”
Zacchaeus didn’t know Jesus personally, yet, but from what he heard he, a sinner, had a made-up mind to find out more, even if it meant suffering the scoffing of others. Not caring what they thought, he mounted the “sycomore tree” branches that went out some, giving him the perfect place to perch himself for a better vantage point to see Jesus.
Luke 19:5-6 “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. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.”
Jesus has always had an amazing focus for people. He had a perspective of souls that others couldn’t possibly see on the outside. When they looked at Zacchaeus all they saw was his sins and with condemning attitudes brushed him off as not being worthy of their time. After all, he consorted with the enemy, so why should they.
Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t see him or us that way. Outward markers that try to identify us are not what He’s most concerned with. I have always said that He is more interested in what goes on inside. Jesus pays attention to the needs of the inner man that the whole man might be saved. Inside every real person is a real soul that needs to be filled by the Lord Jesus Christ.
What would it have been like to be the most unwelcome guest at the party, but the honoree comes along to point you out and elevate you above all others in attendance? Sweet! This is something akin to the way I believe Zacchaeus must have felt when, despite the crowds of “worthy” people in the press, Jesus centered on him alone, saying, “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.”
I love this because it really personifies what Jesus taught when He told the parable of the lost sheep saying, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” (Luke 15:4). This was a picture of Jesus caring enough about each individual to go after that one soul. Make no mistake about it, Jesus cares about you personally.
It was simply unheard of for a rabbi or a holy man to go to the house of a sinner such as him. Being the Savior that He was, Jesus often ruffled the feathers of other’s opinions in a desire to draw people closer to Himself. This was not the first time His actions upended other’s views. Earlier, explaining His choice to eat with sinners, Jesus taught, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick,” (Luke 5:31). Jesus was not, and has never, and never will entertain sin. Please get that right. However, Jesus knows that people from all manner of life need a Savior regardless of how the rest of the world views them.
Sticking to His guns, as we would dub it modern terminology, Jesus invites Himself to Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus surely knows how people viewed him. He probably would have never thought to ask Jesus to come but Jesus has opened the door and called to him out of the crowds. Quickly he came down from that tree and “received him joyfully.”
He had something to be happy about. Jesus chose to be with him out of everyone else. The world had written him off as a no good, no good. But, not Jesus. There’s a phrase that most are familiar with called “carpe diem,” which many interpret as “seize the day.” It means don’t let this moment go by. Take hold of what is presented before you before it slips through your fingers. It may never come around again. He must take a step of faith now.
Zacchaeus saw Jesus before him. Zacchaeus received Jesus’ beckoning to allow Him to come to his house. There are a lot of spiritual underlying references here. The Bible tells us to “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near,” (Isaiah 55:6). The time is now. The day is at hand. For anyone who wants to be saved, tomorrow is not promised. When Jesus knocks at the door of your heart, right now is the time to open it and let Him in; to receive Him joyfully.
The Bible also lets us know, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name,” (John 1:12). What would have happened if Zacchaeus would have denied Jesus’ request? Little did he know that Jesus was making His way closer to the cross to be sacrificed for the sins of all mankind past, present, and future. Jesus would not come through here again. This was the time to receive Him. It was not going to come around once more. He would have missed out on the best life-altering experience there is. Don’t let it be said too late.
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.”
The others in the crowd complained when they saw the interaction between Jesus and Zacchaeus. It is amazing, that despite the grace of God in each individual life, how we can get selfish and nick pick when God wants to do something for someone else.
People talk about what they don’t understand. God said in Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD,” (55:8). They couldn’t understand why Jesus would want to even talk to the likes of this tax collector, better yet, why He would want to go to his house. They couldn’t understand that Jesus looks beyond what people are right now and sees what they can become. They couldn’t comprehend that love, grace, and mercy were at work there that day and every day to any and all who would receive Him joyfully. He might be classified as a “sinner” right now, but before this event is over with, he shall be called a child of God.
Luke 19:8-10 “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, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
A changed heart is reflected by changed actions. What people witness in your life will resound more than the words that are coming out of your mouth. Something remarkable transpired there that day between Zacchaeus and Jesus. We don’t know exactly what, but at the end of the day, Zacchaeus was a new man. The art of greed and getting over on people to make a quick buck were no longer his priorities. His priority now was living right before the Lord. And with that, he seeks to pay back some of the wrongs he has committed toward his fellow man.
He offers, of his own accord, to give half of his goods to the poor. This was not something that was required but wholly testifies to the new nature his heart has undergone. You can never be saved by your works, but faith without works is dead (James 2:17,20,26). What has transpired on the inside should be made manifest on the outside.
For this man, who gained his wealth by stealing and extortion, sought means along those same lines to recompense his wrongdoings. Therefore, anything he had taken from any person through the means of “false accusation” Zacchaeus promised to “restore him fourfold.” He was ready, and his heart was in proper position, to go above and beyond what was necessary to work to undo some of the wrongs he had done.
Jesus, the true teller of a true heart transformation proclaims, “This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.” True repentance is an inside job. Faith is personal and Jesus knew, not from his giving, but because He is the only one who can see where man can’t, that this man is a new creature with a new nature. Jesus knows this man is fit for salvation, and as Zacchaeus received Him with joy into his home, Jesus gladly welcomes this repentant man into the family of faith.
Isaiah tells us, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon,” (55:7). And, this is what we see play out in Zacchaeus’ story.
God has from the beginning always sought the side of pardon. Man has often gone in the opposite direction. But, when one wants to make that spiritual U-turn in life and gets back on the right path where He is, God does not reject him. God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” (2 Peter 3:9). And, “He that believeth on him is not condemned,” (John 3:18).
The murmurers and complainers had condemned him already, but Jesus saw more. He was still a child of promise, the seed of Abraham (compare to those of us who are now in Christ, who through faith are now the seed of Abraham as well – see Galatians 3:7,16,26), just as they were, and if he was truly repentant, he deserved another chance. Earlier Jesus taught, “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” (Matthew 9:13; compare to Paul’s personal testimony in 1 Tim. 1:15). And, judging by Zacchaeus’ outcome, I’d say, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
Changed hearts and changed lives are what Jesus’ ministry is all about. He didn’t wash His hands of him and consider him out of the game. Rather, He sought for that lost soul, stating, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Jesus’ life was marked with the undeniable cause to save men from their sins; to redeem a people unto God. The ministry that He operated in would heal; bring peace and deliverance, eventually fulfilling all through His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved,” (John 3:17; see also 1 John 4:14).
Revelation 3:20 says, “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.” Zacchaeus joyfully received Jesus with faith. Will you?
PDF Printable Sunday School Lesson Pack (With easy to read instructions following the P.E.A.R.L. format on how to conduct each lesson with areas for adding personal notes): Sunday School Lesson – Zacchaeus Meets Jesus
Object Lesson: “Gum and Money Object Lesson” video
Adult Journal Page: Adult Journal Page – Jesus Christ is a Personal Savior
Kid’s Journal Page: Kid’s Journal Page – Jesus Christ is a Personal Savior
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Memory Verse: Zacchaeus Meets Jesus Memory Verse
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