I’ve preached three Sundays in a row for the first time ever. Usually I just preach one Sunday here and there. And on two of these Sundays I preached at two churches, one service at 9:30 and the next at 11:00. Here is the message I spoke last week at an assisted living facility and then again this week. I tweaked it a bit for a regular church setting. I feel lazy to re-use a sermon but there is also an opportunity to improve or adapt it. I may get audio up later, but here is the manuscript. In my preparing I was surprised by how much we can miss in this story if we only give it a quick read or think of it as a children’s story. In fact, it could have been a 2-part sermon series.
Update: here is the AUDIO.
Scripture readings were: 1 Timothy 1:12-17 and Luke 19:1-10
The story of Zacchaeus, found only in Luke, is often thought of as a cute children’s story. When I got to thinking about it, I remember learning about Zacchaeus many times in Sunday school and in Bible story books as a child, yet almost never as an adult.
But this is an important story for adults too because it reveals the heart of Jesus’ mission and purpose: to seek and save the lost.
Luke 19:10 is considered by many commentators to be the key verse of the Gospel of Luke. And Luke chapter 15 has the 3 parables about lost things: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons. God loves the lost, and Jesus is still seeking the lost. Has he found you?
In our passage today, Jesus is passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. Jericho is about 12 miles northeast of Jerusalem. Why is Jesus headed to Jerusalem at this time? Luke 18 tells us that.
Jesus had a private talk with his closest disciples and told them that… what the prophets wrote about Him in the Old Testament was about to be fulfilled, and he has going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. The disciples were confused and could not grasp what Jesus meant. That would be another sermon. But today we will move through this passage about Zacchaeus and observe things about it.
If you’d taken a poll or survey in ancient Jericho and asked: who is the most disliked or despised person in this town? Zacchaeus would have been #1 or at least high on the list.
It says that Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. Throughout history no one has liked taxes. Today we are not fond of the IRS. Doing our taxes is a chore. But in ancient Roman times, and especially for the Jews, there was an added or extra dimension of frustration about taxes.
Rome was the main power and they occupied and colonized the known world at that time. While there were Jews living in their native homeland of Israel, they were not a free or independent people. They lived under Roman occupation.
Rome imposed taxes and hired people to collect the taxes for them.
Tax collectors like Zacchaeus were despised because they were viewed as collaborators with Rome. They were viewed as traitors – disloyal to their own people, oppressing their own people – because they worked for the enemy.
It also says that Zacchaeus was wealthy and there is an implication that Zacchaeus was an extortionist, who got rich dishonestly. The tax collectors took surcharges for their expenses, and the system was open to easy abuse and corruption.
It says that Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was but because he was short this made it difficult. He could not see over the crowd so he ran ahead and climbed a tree. Zacchaeus had an unusual eagerness to see Jesus. He was willing to put aside his dignity and act a bit silly and like a child. Zacchaeus may have been despised but he was also an influential and powerful government official.
Imagine if an influential government official today, such as our long time SC senator Lindsay Graham, went running down the street and climbed a tree in order to see someone at a parade. We’d likely wonder about Graham behaving in such a way. It would probably make the news.
Are we this eager to see Jesus? What are we willing to do in order to get a better view of Jesus? Zacchaeus was trying to see Jesus for the first time, but even if we have already had an encounter with Jesus and began our life of faith, we still need to keep seeking Jesus. Matthew 6:33 says seek ye first the kingdom of God. Hebrews 12:2 tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus and run the spiritual race set before us.
So many things in life can distract us from Jesus, and blur our spiritual vision. Our pride can also get in the way. We can be worried about what people will think of us.
If we run down the street and climb a tree that is not very dignified. If we really get serious about our faith, some of our friends or family will not like it – even some of our Christian friends and family may not like it. I heard it said once that: “A fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do.”
When Jesus reached the spot where Zacchaeus was in the tree, he looked up and said to him: “Zacchaeus come down immediately, I must stay at your house today” and Zacchaeus came down and took Jesus to his house.
Jesus called Zacchaeus by his name. Hearing our own name spoken means that we are known and it gives us significance. We’re not just a number or a “hey you.”
And I imagine that Zacchaeus was called plenty of unpleasant names in Jericho, behind his back and to his face: Traitor! Cheater! Sinner!
But Jesus called him Zacchaeus. Did you know that the name Zacchaeus means “righteous one”? Zacchaeus was not living up to his name, but Jesus called him by his name anyways. Jesus was gracious.
Jesus shifted the town’s hostility away from Zacchaeus to himself. Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house and this is actually the only time in the 4 Gospels that Jesus invited himself to someone’s home.
If Zacchaeus had invited Jesus to his house, that would have been a bit of a different situation – giving the town yet another reason to dislike Zacchaeus for being so impudent. “Who does he think he is inviting Jesus to his house?” – But no, Jesus took the initiative in this situation and was willing to take the criticism for it.
It says the crowd began to mutter “He’s gone to be the guest of a sinner.” Eugene Peterson in The Message, which is a modern paraphrase of the Bible, words verse 7 this way: “Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”
You could say that Jesus crossed the picket line, associated himself with a traitor, and bore some of the hostility. Jesus here enacts or depicts part of the theology of the cross. Remember Isaiah 53 that prophetically speaks to the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross for us. Isaiah 53: 4- 6 states:
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
So here in Jericho with Zacchaeus, as Jesus heads towards Jerusalem, we get a hint or a glimpse of what Jesus was going to do for us on the cross.
We are not told in the passage what happened at the home of Zacchaeus. We do not know what Jesus and Zacchaeus talked about. But we see the result of it. This encounter with Jesus changed him. Jesus extended grace to Zacchaeus, and this became a life changing force.
In verse 8 Zacchaeus said that he’d give half his possessions to the poor and pay the people he’d cheated back 4 times the amount. Zacchaeus gave evidence of his new faith by promising to make restitution. And Jesus replied in verse 9 that “Today salvation has come to this house.”
Salvation has come. That’s a divine passive. Someone brought it. Jesus was the agent of salvation. Jesus is salvation. In John 14:6, Jesus proclaimed himself the way, the truth, and the life.
Zacchaeus may have been seeking Jesus, but Jesus was ultimately seeking him. Zacchaeus accepted being found by Jesus.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see
In verse 10 Jesus says that he came to seek and save the lost. Jesus is on the lookout for people who realize they are lost sinners and who are ready to be saved.
When the crowds in Jericho saw Jesus go home with Zacchaeus, they muttered “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
So in other words, they were not thinking of themselves as sinners, at least not compared to Zacchaeus. If Jesus had invited himself to one of their houses instead, apparently they would not have thought of Jesus as being the guest of a sinner. They thought of themselves as good or righteous Jews doing their best to keep the law.
Well, if you are not a sinner, then Jesus cannot bring salvation to your house as he did to the house of Zacchaeus.
In Luke 5:31-32 Jesus said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Unfortunately it can be hard for some people to realize they are sinners. Oh, I think they realize they are not perfect, but they get focused on their goodness (and indeed we have all done good things) and their confidence ends up in themselves, and they fail to see that they are lost and need to be found by Jesus.
This is a bad place to be. If we don’t realize we are lost, we cannot be found by the Savior.
In different living situations, people can decorate their door. Students in college dorms, older folks in retirement facilities can get creative in decorating the door to their room. People can decorate the front door of their house too. Whether it is a handmade wreath, a framed message, or an artistic picture — you can get a sense of what the person is like by how they decorate their door.
I read about this message seen on a door:
“You are not too bad to come in; Or too good to stay out.”
Without meeting the person who put this sign on their door, I would assume that she or he is loving and forgiving; the type of person you would want for a friend especially when you really messed up. “You are not too bad to come in.”
However, it looks like this person is also sending a message to those who may be puffed up about themselves. She’s uncomfortable with those who feel that they are better off than the rest of us and are not in need of coming in…Those who are too busy, too self-sufficient, or too advanced to need what the other folks need. They have their act together. The sign on this door sends a message to such a person: no one is that “too good!”
The “too good” needs to come in, just as the “too bad” needs to know they can come in. Did you get that?
The “too good” needs to come in, just as the “too bad” needs to know they can come in.
Perhaps even more so, the “too good” need this message. In Luke 18, the chapter just before the Zacchaeus story, Jesus tells a brief parable about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. And the first sentence makes the point of the parable very clear. Verse 9 says:
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.”
Zacchaeus could have thought of himself as “too bad” for salvation but he somehow sensed that Jesus was different and he went seeking Jesus, and was found by him. Jesus referred to himself in the book of John as the gate or door. In John 10:9 Jesus said “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”
The “too good” need this door too. The crowd in Jericho muttered “He’s gone to be the guest of a sinner.” Unless the individuals in that crowd realized they had a “too good” problem, and realized they were sinners, they would not be able to walk through the door of salvation found in Christ.
The “too good” needs to come in, just as the “too bad” needs to know they can come in.
Fanny Crosby was that blind woman in the 1800s who wrote over 600 hymns, many that we still sing today. And I thought I’d close by reading a couple stanzas from her hymn Near the Cross.
Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain;
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calv’ry’s mountain.
In the cross, in the cross
Be my glory ever,
Till my ransomed soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.
Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me;
There the Bright and Morning Star
Shed His beams around me.
Has love and mercy found you? Can you look back to a time when you were lost and were found by Jesus?
I assume we are all believers here today, but if anyone is uncertain about their relationship with God, please talk to me after the service or Pastor Renee when she is back in town.
But there are powerful lessons and warnings in the Zacchaeus passage for us as believers. We can become like the religious crowd in Jericho, focused on our goodness and drifting into self-righteousness. We can behave un-graciously towards people like Zacchaeus.
Being near the cross isn’t just a place for non-believers to find salvation, but a place for believers too. Love and mercy found us, and we need to keep on living in light of that great love and mercy – and extend it to others.
Robert & Willene Spicer said:
Outstanding message, Laura! May God use it for His glory.
Thanks for your encouraging comment!