Summary: Zacchaeus realised Jesus was the One who looked for him and transformed his life. He experienced God’s seeking love and saving power.
All of us have been to the doctor because we needed help. We may have started with self-medication - taking pills, resting, drinking water - until the point we say, "It’s time I go to see a doctor." We go with expectation that they would be able to diagnose the cause of your illness and prescribe the right medicine. And if they can’t, we are referred to the specialist. They will run a number of tests to determine your problem. These are times of great anxiety, because we do not know what’s wrong with us, and how it can be solved.
Zacchaeus was in a similar situation. Not that he was physically sick - in fact, he was probably quite fit being able to climb a tree. He was an outcast of the society. He needs acceptance, he needs fulfilment... he was spiritually sick. There was this emptiness in his heart. How do we know?
The Bible says he was a tax-collector, and he was rich, being the chief tax-collector. In Jesus’ time, they were hated by the society. Verse 7 - when Jesus wanted to go to his house, the crowd mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a "sinner".
But why? Why was he looked down upon?
1. because of who they work for - the Romans. Jews were forced to pay taxes to Roman government. They were unhappy, but they have no choice. And yet these tax-collecting Jews are helping "foreigners" to collect their taxes - they were considered as traitor to Israel.
2. From what he shared at the end of this story - he has been cheating. People knows them to be dishonest. Why are they so rich? Through dishonest means.
In the Gospels, when tax collectors were mentioned, they were mentioned together with "sinners", "prostitutes". They were of the same class. In Jewish (rabbinical) writings they are classified with robbers.
Zacchaeus was not only a tax collector but the chief tax collector, so he was likely hated even more.
As an outcast, Zacchaeus was not popular among the people, and most likely very lonely. He needed something - probably acceptance, probably fulfilment in life... something that can fill the emptiness in his heart. He was rich, he can buy anything he wants, but money cannot satisfy the longing in his heart.
That probably explain why he has such a great desire to see Jesus. Having heard so much about Jesus, he wanted to see Him personally. He was so passionate about it that he was willing to climb up a tree - Middle Eastern adult, chief tax-collector, wealthy - wearing nice clothes.
This encounter with Jesus changed him completely. He realises TWO things:
(1) HE REALISE THAT JESUS WAS THE ONE LOOKING FOR HIM
He was up on the tree. Jesus was walking by. Everyone’s eyes were on Jesus. Nobody probably take note of him. Yet the Bible says Jesus reached the spot and stopped. He looked up to Zacchaeus and called him!
Was Zacchaeus looking for Jesus? Or was it Jesus who found Zacchaeus? Apparently, it was Jesus who sought Zacchaeus. It was Jesus who stopped under that tree. It was Jesus who looked up. And it was Jesus who called him... by his name! Jesus KNEW his name!
No wonder God revealed to prophet Jeremiah(29:13) "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." God is not playing hide-and-seek with us. He wants us to know him - as our Creator and our God.
Today, man search for God. We use all kind of means and ways to find God. We thought that by our own efforts we can make it to God. Yet the truth is, God is reaching down towards man. God is revealing Himself to us. The Bible revealed that God came down to this world in the Person of Jesus. Jesus himself said in verse 10, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
Religion - man looking for God. Christianity - God looking for man. For man looking for God - many obstacles - our finite mind, limited intelligence, language.
Can man really find God? If we play a hide-and-seek game with God, who do you think will win? When God hides, can man find Him. If man hides, can God finds him?
Shopping Centre - mom and child separated - phone call connected - mom will ask child to stay put; child will not ask mom to stay put and he comes to her. Mom looks for child is so much easier. The one more intelligent being - God - will find the one less intelligent - us.
No wonder the Psalmist says (Ps 139:1-14)
1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.