Summary: This morning we’re focusing on a high-ranking IRS man named Zacchaeus who cheated not on his return, but on everyone else’s. He had figured out a way to skim some money off the top and squeeze the last drop from people’s wallets. Jesus not only changed h
A Little Man Meets a Big God
There’s a story about a local fitness center, which was offering $1,000 to anyone who could demonstrate that they were stronger than the owner of the place. Here’s how it worked. This muscle man would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass, and then hand the lemon to the next challenger. Anyone who could squeeze just one more drop of juice out would win the money.
Many people tried over time other weightlifters, construction workers, even professional wrestlers, but nobody could do it.
One day a short and skinny guy came in and signed up for the contest. After the laughter died down, the owner grabbed a lemon and squeezed away. Then he handed the wrinkled remains to the little man.
The crowd’s laughter turned to silence as the man clenched his fist around the lemon and six drops fell into the glass. As the crowd cheered, the manager paid out the winning prize and asked the short guy what he did for a living. “Are you a lumberjack, a weightlifter, or what?”
The man replied, “I work for the IRS.”
Have you filed your taxes yet? I guess we still have a week so you don’t have to worry yet. I have a buddy who always starts his taxes on April 14 every year and stays up all night to get them finished. I think he likes the adrenaline rush!
It’s tough to be honest during tax time isn’t it? Here’s an actual letter that was received by the IRS a few years ago:
“Enclosed you will find a check for $150. I cheated on my income tax return last year and have not been able to sleep ever since. If I still have trouble sleeping I will send you the rest.”
This morning we’re focusing on a high-ranking IRS man who cheated not on his return, but on everyone else’s. He had figured out a way to skim some money off the top and squeeze the last drop from people’s wallets.
Our passage this morning has some parallels to last week’s topic. As you recall, when Jesus was approaching Jericho, he had an encounter with blind Bart, a poor beggar from the lowest social class. Now, as we look at Luke 19:1, we see that Jesus is passing through Jericho on his final trip to Jerusalem, and comes in contact with Zacchaeus, a very wealthy government man from the top rung of the economic ladder.
I want to use a very simple outline this morning:
I. The Searching Sinner (19:2-4) [read]
II. The Seeking Savior (19:5) [read]
III. The Spectacular Salvation (19:6-10) [read]
The Searching Sinner
In verse two, we see that Zacchaeus was a man of some prominence. His name in Hebrew means, “pure and righteous,” but he was not thought of as being anywhere close to righteous because of the job he had. As a tax collector, he worked for Rome and was considered a traitor by the Jewish people. The fact that he worked for the Roman IRS indicated to others that he was more interested in money than anything else.
Zack was more than just an IRS agent, however. He was a “chief” tax collector. He was in charge of all the agents and was able to take a “cut” of commission from those who collected taxes for him. He stood on top of the collection pyramid, stuffing his pockets with shekels before he sent the required taxes to Rome. If Rome charged a 5% tax, Zack may have collected 10% from the people.
Jericho was a great place to be for Zacchaeus because there were a lot of people coming in and out of the city on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. Jericho was considered the “tax capital” of Palestine, the center of a vast trade network that extended from Damascus to Egypt. Zack was in charge of one of the three tax offices in the entire country, and may have had the best job of them all. Not surprisingly, the last part of verse 2 tells us that he was wealthy.
But he was a renegade in the eyes of the religious people. He would have been thought of as fondly as a high-level drug dealer is today. In fact, in the minds of people, tax collectors were often linked with murderers, adulterers, robbers, and other “sinners.”
Tax collectors were not new to Jesus. Early on in His ministry, Jesus had attracted, and worse yet (in the eyes of the Pharisees), received them warmly. In Luke 5:30, Jesus was accused by the religious leaders for eating and drinking with “tax collectors and sinners.” These two terms were almost synonymous to the Pharisees. There was hardly a life form more offensive than these traitors.