Summary: Zacchaeus was rich, greedy, corrupt…and short. And he knew something was missing from his life. What happened when Jesus passed by surprised him and deeply disturbed the great throng of people following Jesus to Jerusalem.
A Wee Little Man Meets a Great Big God
Easter Series: On the Way to the Cross, #2
March 18, 2018
NOTE: A PowerPoint presentation is available for this sermon by request at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a shorter adaptation of a sermon from an Easter series by Brian Bill found on SermonCentral.com.
TEXT: Please turn in your Bibles to Luke 19.
If you grew up in church, the little ditty in this YouTube video will bring back memories. [Play the 1 minute, 10 second video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkd-QFD7vMA]
How many of you remember singing that in Sunday School or K.I.D.S. Church growing up? What is not mentioned in the kid’s song is that Zacchaeus was a tax collector.
Which reminds me: Have you filed your taxes yet? You have a little time yet before the April 15th deadline. But make sure you’re honest, or you won’t have a good conscience.
Here’s supposedly 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 the equivalent of a regional office chief of the IRS, a man who did not cheat on his own taxes, but on everyone else’s.
We’re in a short series leading up to Easter titled, “On the Way to the Cross.” We saw that there is a “travel motif” that permeates the book of Luke from chapter 9 on until Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem just before His crucifixion. Repeatedly, Luke records incidences that he says happened, “as he set His face towards Jerusalem,” “on the way to Jerusalem,” and so forth.
As you’ll recall from last week’s sermon, when Jesus was approaching Jericho, he encountered a blind man named Bartimaeus, a poor beggar from the LOWEST economic class. Now, as we look at Luke 19, we see Jesus passing through Jericho on the final leg of His fateful trip to Jerusalem, where he encounters Zacchaeus, a very wealthy government tax man from the TOP RUNG of the economic ladder.
Like Bartimaeus, whom I nicknamed Bart last Sunday, Zacchaeus is another tough name to say repeatedly throughout a whole sermon, so I’ll nickname him Zack from here on out.
Notice three things about this story in Luke 19:
I. FIRST, WE SEE A SEARCHING SINNER – Verses 1-2 – “And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans [i.e., tax collectors], and he was rich.”
We see from these verses that Zack was a man of some prominence, but what is not mentioned, but which historical background tells us, is that he was deeply despised. Even today, tax collectors have a bad reputation—perhaps a rung lower than lawyers.
An Internet search came up with hundreds of pretty mean jokes about IRS agents, such as: What’s the difference between an IRS agent and a mosquito?—One is a blood-sucking parasite, and the other is an insect. Or, what do you call 25 IRS agents buried in cement?—Not enough cement. I’m sure you’d agree those are unfair characterizations of people doing their job in our government, but the point is that, even today, tax agents are feared and disliked.
Now, multiply this distrust and hatred a hundred times for Zack for three reasons:
First, as a tax collector, he worked for Rome and was therefore considered a traitor by the Jewish people.
The second is that tax collectors, in general, were allowed to squeeze more than what the government demanded: the more you could get, the more you made.
Third, verse 2 tells us that Zack was the “chief” tax collector, meaning he was the head supervisor of the local tax office.
This meant he got a commission off the money his other collectors brought in. He stood on top of the collection pyramid, stuffing his pockets with shekels before he sent the required taxes to Rome. This is why Luke tells us at the end of verse 2 that he was rich.
All this meant that Zack was correctly perceived as greedy, predatory and a traitor. He would have been thought of about as fondly as a high-level drug dealer today. This is reflected in several instances in the Gospels where the religious leaders complained that Jesus consorted with tax collectors and sinners. Sinners meant people like murderers, adulterers, robbers, etc.: So tax collectors were in a category by themselves, equivalent to ordinary sinners.
Now Zack may have become rich as a tax collector, but his riches did not meet the cry of his empty heart. – Look at verse 3 – “And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press [crowds], because he was little of stature.”