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JESUS AND ZACCHAEUS MET

Luke 19:1-19:10
Key Verse: 19:10

In the last lesson, when a blind beggar called out for Jesus’ mercy with unyielding spirit, Jesus heard the cry and showed his mercy to him, granting him sight. The blind beggar’s unbending crying out was outstanding and Jesus blessed him. In today’s passage a quite different person from a different stratum of society came to Jesus in a different way. Yet, their desire for Jesus was same. Jesus also blessed this man remarkably. A person’s encountering Jesus is the most beautiful thing in the world. We can see newly how such an encounter can take place.

With today’s passage, we are coming to the end of a unique portion of Luke’s gospel, “Perean ministry” (9:51-19:27; or “Judean ministry”, 9:51-13:21; “Perean ministry”, 13:22-19:27). In this portion of his gospel, Luke has recorded events and parables which are not found in any other gospels. He has emphasized that Jesus came to save the Gentiles, as well as the Jews. And he has stressed the nature of Jesus’' salvation work. Jesus came to save people from everlasting punishment in hell and to give eternal life in the glorious kingdom of God. Amen. This unique portion of Luke’s gospel ends with Jesus meeting Zacchaeus the tax collector and with the parable of the ten minas. Through this meeting Jesus reveals that he came to seek and to save the lost. It is a fitting conclusion to Jesus' earthly life and ministry.

First, Zecchaeus wanted to see Jesus (1-4). Look at verse 1. “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.” In the Old Testament Jericho was the first city the Israelites confronted after crossing the Jordan River. It looked invincible with firm double walls surrounded. But the city was completed destroyed when the Israelites followed God’s direction. Then it was rebuilt after about 500 years later. At Jesus’ time it was a beautiful city even known as “a little paradise” with its palm trees and rose gardens, etc. It was famous for the balm derived from balsam tree. The balm was fragrant, soothing, and highly regarded for its healing qualities. A grand winter palace had been built there, also a theatre and a hippodrome. Some of the streets were lined with sycamore trees. The climate was delightful.

Look at verse 2. “A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.” In Luke’s gospel Luke wrote about tax collectors’ repentance in 3:12 and Jesus’ calling Levi sitting at his tax booth in 5:12. But “a chief tax collector” is mentioned uniquely in this passage in the New Testament. This man, as a chief tax collector, had been placed at the head of the entire tax district of Jericho and vicinity, one of the three main Palestine tax offices, the other two being located at Caesarea and Capernauum. Jericho also was at the heart and centre of a vast trade route network. The city had trade connections with Damascus, Tyre, and Sidon to the north, Caesarea and Joppa to the west, and Egypt to the south, as well as with many other cities and countries in every direction. It was also the centre of a good deal of local wealth, as, for example, from the famous balsam groves that abounded. So Jericho must have been a good spot for a tax man. It is no surprize that Zacchaeus was rich. No doubt he was an important man in Jericho. However, by the Jews “tax collectors” (certainly including chief tax collectors) were regarded as traitors and crooks. This man’s name, yet, means “the righteous one”, “pure” or “righteous.”

Look at verse 3. “He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.” A blind beggar’s crying out for Jesus’ mercy is understandable, for he was a poor man. But why did this man, who was a chief tax collector and wealthy, want to see Jesus? He seemed to be the last person to think of something spiritual, not to mention to see Jesus. His heart and mind may have been worn out with worldly success and wealth. Yet, his soul, probably in his middle of forties, was still sparkling and yearning for something new, pure and truly righteous and valuable as one made in the image of God. On top of that he surely heard about Jesus, who was a friend of tax collectors and sinners, particularly the story of Jesus’ calling Levi, a tax collector and his changed life by becoming a disciple of Jesus.

In the gospel story there was a man, who was a Jewish ruling counsel and also rich. He also had an honour as a teacher for the nation. But one day he came to Jesus at night, seeking for something beyond himself and this world. His soul found true rest and hope when he finally saw Jesus at his death on the cross. In the Old Testament Jacob acquired honour, love and wealth, which were supposed to make him happy. But his soul was fearful and he had to stand before God all alone and struggle with God until he became a new person, Israel, in God’s grace.

The desire to see Jesus was admirable. But as the blind beggar confronted an obstacle, Zacchaeus also did so. Being a short man he could not approach Jesus amid the crowd. In that blocked situation, probably he could not cry out like the blind beggar, because if he had done so, he would be conspicuous to everybody and the people would punch him and kick him and knock him down out of hatred for him. In that impossible situation what did he do? Look at verse 4. “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.” What an interesting scene! We can imagine how he climbed the tree, probably having a chubby body with a stomach which stuck out farther than the length of his arms. Finally he was sitting on the tree becoming like an old monkey there. In that high position above all people he could see Jesus from bird’s eye view. It is a funny story. However, he had to bear personal struggles, not only outwardly but also inwardly, overcoming his saving face (honour), self-consciousness and others’ contempt, etc. But when he had an intense desire to see Jesus, nothing mattered to him, as a saying goes, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

It is a meaningful description that he climbed a sycamore fig tree to see Jesus, since Jesus was coming that way. There are many church shoppers. They usually go to this church or that church, because they don’t want to commit themselves to a church, although true Christian life is the life of commitment to Christ and a certain church, that is, the body of Christ. Yet, we can understand church-shopping in terms of seeking which way or to which church Jesus is coming. In Revelation the Risen Christ gave messages to seven churches. Particularly, he said to the church in Sardis, “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (3:1b). What a heart-breaking rebuke! But the Risen Lord said to the church in Philadelphia, “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut, for you have a little strength, yet have kept my word and have not denied my name” (3:8 in NKJV and NIV). In that church the door of salvation was opened and people could see Jesus and be saved. So what a compliment! What a blessing! Each church should be like the Philadelphia church. However, on a personal level we should believe God’s promise. Deuteronomy 4:29 says, “If from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heat and with all your soul” (cf. Jer 29:13).Also, God said in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will find me when you seek me with all your heart.” A Palmist confessed, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Ps 42:1) God blesses such a seeking soul. God said in Amos 5:4, “Seek me and live,” and the prophet said in 5:6, “Seek the LORD and live.” Seeking the LORD is the way of living. Jesus said, “Whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life…” (Jn 5:24). Here we see the importance of hearing Jesus’ words in seeking God. And Luke 7, when a centurion believed in the authority of Jesus’ words, he could taste the grace of Jesus through the healing upon his dying servant and certainly could see Jesus, though not face to face (Lk 7:7,10). Apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 1:19, “And we have the word of the prophecies made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” God wants us to pay attention to his word so that we can see Jesus, who is the light of life (Jn 8:12). Whenever we study the Bible and write testimonies, we need to have this direction to see Jesus. And when we obey God and his word, we can taste the grace of Jesus and see him. When Ian confessed his sins at 2015 Canadian SBC in obedience to God, though it is hard for him to do, his heart was moved by the grace of Jesus who died for his sins and he could see Jesus. When Maryam worshiped God with first priority in obedience to God against the expectations of many of her family members and relatives, the grace of Jesus who was crucified for her was real to her and she felt that Jesus had pierced her ears at the cross. Whenever we are troubled or in inflict with others, in disappointment, in persecution and rejection, or in unbearable hardships, it is the very time for us to seek and see Jesus with an intense desire. Also, in our preparation for 2015 Christmas worship, we may have such heart and desire to see Jesus. In our Christian life, if one loses the holy desire to see Jesus, he or she can become nominal, humanistic, mundane or political. We learn from Apostle Paul. Even in his mature and great life of faith, he said, “I want to know Christ.” Knowing Christ was his master passion. May we have such an earnest holy desire to see Jesus and know Christ!

Second, Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost (5-10). Look at verse 5. “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’” We are surprized to hear the words of Jesus here. Jesus had already known the person’ name Zacchaeus. Knowing his name means a lot; it is knowing his life problems and emptiness and desire and aspiration. When Jesus called Zacchaeus, it was as if Jesus was waiting for him, purposely coming to Jericho to meet him. In fact, that’s true. This is Jesus’ initiative, which is a biblical constant. In John’s gospel when Philip was bringing his friend Nathaniel to Jesus, Jesus saw Nathanael approaching and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” Then Nathanael asked, “How do you know me? Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” In this Nathanael marveled at the transcendental knowledge of Jesus (Jn 1:47-48). In the Old Testament God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jer 1:5). Apostle Paul also said that God set him apart from birth and called him by his grace (Gal 1:15).

Jesus was so pleased with Zacchaeus sitting on the sycamore-fig tree that Jesus could not see him perching there any longer. So he said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately.” And then he said, “I must stay at your house today.” He could have said, “Now, follow me.” Here we see that Jesus wanted to have lasting fellowship with Zacchaeus. But why at his house, not at Jesus’? For as we know, Jesus had no his own house, even with no place to lay his head. Yet, more than that, since no one was willing, even his colleague was unwilling, to go to Zacchaeus’ house and stay there, Jesus was more than willing to stay at his house and have life together with him that is eternal, because Jesus was the true friend to him. Jesus knew that this was what Zacchaeus really wanted and also needed. Jesus God Incarnate wanted to be the Lord over his house. To Jesus this is “must” as part of his divine mission. What an amazing grace! We are reminded of John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” According to 1 Corinthians 6:19, our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in us. Apostle Paul struggled to bear this amazing grace, “I eagerly expect and hope that…as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Ph 1:20-21). We too pray to bear this grace learning from Paul’s struggle and also pray that our house be the place of fellowship with Christ and his people.

At Jesus inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ house, he came down from the sycamore-fig tree at once and welcomed him gladly. But in verse 7. “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” The people also had an opportunity to see Jesus personally, but they just mingled among the crowd. The crowd spirit or humanly close relationship is a hindrance to come to Jesus. Contrary to Zacchaeus’ response, all the people were standing against Jesus, criticizing his good and divine action. It was a situation when Zacchaeus could be daunted and concede to the crowd spirit. However, how did he react? Look at verse 8. “But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’” Zacchaeus’ repentant spirit made him courageous and overcame the crowd criticizing spirit. To him Jesus was the Lord over his house and his life and materials. In the past money was his lord, false god, but now not anymore. He was clear about how to use his money. In the past he used money in a self-centred way, but now he knew that he had to use his money in God-centred way. And people may have thought that he had cheated others a lot. Yet, that was not true. He said, “If I have cheated anybody out of anything…” This shows that he strove to live before God trying to be righteous in his position of a chief tax collector, as his name, Zacchaeus, meaning “the righteous one” denotes. Anyway, he was repentant.

At this Jesus said to him in verse 9, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” Salvation is most important in one’s life. Each person must be saved. Salvation came not through money or his chief tax collector position. He could not earn salvation through those things. Salvation came when he met Jesus. Jesus said, “Salvation has come to his house.” When Zacchaeus met Jesus, he became an amazing blessing to his house. Acts 17:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Jesus said, “…because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” We know that Zacchaeus was saved through his personal faith in Jesus and so salvation is a personal matter. But here what Jesus said makes us think of salvation more than that. In Luke chapter 13 Jesus regarded a crippled woman who had been healed by him as a daughter of Abraham (Lk 13:16). We remember that Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac was the son of promise, while Ishmael, the son of flesh. And Paul said in Roman 9 that the descendants of Israel are not all Abraham’s children. He quoted Genesis 21:12, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will reckoned,” and then stated, “It is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring” (Ro 9:7-8). A chief tax collector was a son of Abraham despite his past life. And children of Abraham are beyond race. Apostle Paul said in Galatians 3:9, and in 29, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise,” (3:29) and “Those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (3:9). This is true even in the Old Testament. A prostitute in Jericho, Rahab was a daughter of Abraham and a Moabite woman Ruth, also, included in the genealogy of Jesus in the line of Abraham.

It is also noticeable that Jesus did not say, “This man, too, became a son of Abraham,” but “This man, too, is a son of Abraham.” It means he was restored to that identity. Then Jesus concluded, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” The conjunction word “for” signifies that Zacchaeous, a son of Abraham, was saved because he was sought and found by the Son of Man. As we sought of Zacchaeus’ seeking and holy desire to see Jesus was great, but if Jesus did not enter Jericho, he would be forever lost. Jesus’ seeking heart and effort was much greater, for he came down from heaven to seek him. And to vindicate the salvation, Jesus would die on the cross. This is the wonderful grace of Jesus, which is higher than the mountain and deeper than the mighty rolling see. As we studied in the Psalm, it is indeed the wonder of God. Salvation is possible when one’s seeking and the Son of Man’s seeking meet. In this world the most beautiful and important event is truly a sinner’s encountering Jesus. It is greater than becoming the Prime Minister of Canada.

We thank and praise God for the wonderful grace of Jesus who came to seek and to save what was lost. May we bear this grace by keeping the holy desire to seek and see Jesus and stay with him, and by participate in our Lord Jesus’ seeking heart and effort, for many of the lost sons and daughters of Abraham had to be found.

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