Summary: In Luke 19, Zacchaeus encounters Jesus. Zacchaeus may have been a wee little man, but he was more than a little charged, charitable, and changed by Jesus.
Encountering Jesus (4)
Scott Bayles, pastor
Blooming Grove Christian Church: 1/25/2015
How many of you remember the story of Zacchaeus? Of course, you remember. Anyone who hears his story never forgets. Zacchaeus is one of those memorable Bible characters we learn about in Sunday School. In fact, to this day, every time I hear his name I immediately hear that children’s song playing in the back of my mind.
Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
A wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a Sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see.
Zacchaeus has the lamentable fortune of being remembered primarily because of his less-than-impressive stature—he was a “wee little man.” That’s just about all most of us remember about him so we tend to sell him short, so to speak.
But Zacchaeus, like so many others we read about in the gospels, experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus. His story actually picks up immediately following the healing of the two blind men that we read about last Sunday. And, like Zacchaeus himself, his story is rather short. So let me invite you to turn with me to Luke 19 as we read this petit passage with a powerful message.
Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.
When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.
Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:1-10 NCV)
The name “Zacchaeus” means the “righteous one,” but apparently Zacchaeus wasn’t living up to his namesake. Rather, he was known around town as a “notorious sinner.” As a tax-collector working for the Romans, most Jews would have considered Zacchaeus a traitor, but in the eyes of Jesus he was a lost sinner in need of a Savior. Although Zacchaeus is generally known for being short of stature, I want to highlight four qualities that Zacchaeus was not short on. First, Zacchaeus was more than a little curious.
Jesus not only drew decent folks and respectable citizens; but even tax collectors, street walkers, and other notorious sinners were drawn to Jesus like a magnet. I’m not sure how Zacchaeus heard about Jesus. Perhaps Matthew, a former tax-collector himself, was one of his friends. Did he told Zacchaeus about Jesus? Was Matthew praying for Zacchaeus? We can’t answer those questions, but something about Jesus piqued Zacchaeus’s curiosity.
The Bible tells us he was so compelled to see Jesus that “He ran ahead to a place where Jesus would come, and he climbed a sycamore tree so he could see him” (Luke 19:4 NCV). It wasn’t enough to stand at the back of the crowd. It wasn’t enough to peer through a make-shift telescope. It wasn’t enough to listen to someone else describe Jesus as he passed by. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus with his own eyes! So he went out on a limb. In a three-piece Armani suit and brand-new Italian loafers, he shimmied up a tree in hopes of seeing Jesus.
I wonder if we would be willing to do the same.
Would you go out on a limb just to see Jesus?
In the fourth century, Augustine posed the following experiment. Imagine God saying to you, “I’ll make a deal with you if you wish. I’ll give you anything and everything you ask: pleasure, power, honor, wealth, freedom, even peace of mind and a good conscience. Nothing will be a sin; nothing will be forbidden; and nothing will be impossible to you. You will never be bored and you will never die. Only . . . you will never see my face.”
The first part of the proposition is appealing. Isn’t there a part of us, a pleasure-loving part of us that perks up at the thought of guiltless, endless delight? But then, just as we are about to raise our hands and volunteer, we hear the final phrase, “you will never see my face.”