Summary: True grace goes much deeper than we tend to think it does. We tend to reserve it for those who are already followers of Christ, however, Christ exercised grace, mercy, and love even to the most despised of sinners.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with the biblical account of a tiny little guy by the name of Zacchaeus. Well, far from just an entertaining story popular among Sunday School children, the incident with Zacchaeus gives us an incredible example of God’s grace and love. We see in this story not only a glimpse of the love Christ has for sinners, but also the results that can come from such love. We see from the example of Zacchaeus the fruit it can produce in a life, and also the resistance it finds among those who witness it.
To provide some context it must be mentioned that Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector. Because of this, the Jewish community would have hated him as it meant he collected taxes for Rome. Collecting taxes for the Romans caused Zacchaeus to be viewed not only as a traitor but as a wicked sinner as well. And because he was a Jew, his employer (the Romans) would have also had a great disdain for him. Most likely his co-workers would have despised him too because as chief tax collector he would have been ripping them off; he would have been skimming off the top of their ill-gotten gains. I imagine he may have got into this work to feel a sense of power. Being just a little guy, I imagine he had a Napoleon complex and this “power” probably gave him somewhat of a bolstering of his ego. So, virtually what we have in this little man is nothing short of a despised thief, a kind of loan shark, who used his authority to extort his own people in order to gain wealth for himself and for the government at odds with his people. His horrible reputation would have actually been accurate, which makes what Jesus did even more notable and shocking.
A Seemingly Simple Act:
“[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and came down and received him joyfully” (Luke 19:1-6, ESV).
Jesus singled out Zacchaeus regardless of the fact that he did absolutely nothing to deserve or attract His attention. All Zacchaeus was doing was trying to get a better look at the guy causing all of the commotion. He simply climbed a tree to see what was happening. There was no prayers, no crying, no acts of repentance, not even any words. Just as is always the case, the initiative belonged to Jesus. It’s interesting to take note of what Jesus did NOT say. He didn’t say, “I WANT to stay at your house,” or “WOULD YOU be a sport and have me over for some coffee?” What He said was, “I MUST stay at your house” (emphasis added). The request, if you will, was more of a command than an actual request.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Zacchaeus must have been absolutely shocked by the fact that Jesus actually wanted to spend time with him. But even so, how did he react? What was Zacchaeus response to this unmerited act of grace? He came down from his perch and received Jesus, and he was very happy to do so. He didn’t hesitate to respond to Jesus. In fact, the passage says he “hurried” to Him. Not only did he “hurry” to Jesus, he also did something remarkable which I’m sure astonished those who knew him or knew of him. We read in Luke 19:8, “And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
In this particular case we see the fruit of grace produced instantly. It was so immediate it almost appears as a knee-jerk reaction bordering on generosity most would identify today as bad financial stewardship. Jesus came to Zacchaeus before he had a chance to display any kind of receptive attitude, not to mention remorse or desire. The charity displayed by Zacchaeus was not some kind of condition for grace – it was the result of grace.
We don’t see Jesus requiring anything of Zacchaeus. The passage does not give us any sort of sermon Jesus gave to inspire such an act; we don’t even see any suggestions from Jesus, no urging; and we don’t see Jesus attempting to guilt Zacchaeus into returning what he had stolen. All we see is a response to grace that is more sacrificial than anything Jesus may have suggested. What Zacchaeus did surpasses mere obedience as nowhere in the Law is there a demand for a person to give half of what they own to the poor. In like fashion, paying back someone you have defrauded four times the amount is going far “above and beyond.” Zacchaeus really proves himself here. Saying he did the right thing sounds too weak because he did that and more. And, he did it immediately, joyfully, and generously.