Summary: The sudden and miraculous conversion of Zacchaeus illustrates the truth that “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God”
“Suddenly and Surprisingly Saved!”
Conversion, being saved or being “born again” is the very center of the Biblical message. And although the phrase “born again” may have been trampled underfoot and misused by many it is still the center of the message of Jesus. In fact Jesus sums up his ministry to his disciples at the end of this story in verse ten by saying, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
Conversion or being born again is all about change and throughout the Old and New Testaments, the message is that it is never to late to change. You do not have to be locked into what you have been or what you have done. You do not have to be a prisoner of your past. The possibility of being saved is God’s gift to everyone and it is never too late to repent and turn to God. Both biblical and secular history abounds with examples of sudden and surprising conversions.
A classic story in the New Testament of a sudden and surprising conversion is that of Saul of Tarsus. Saul was a young Jewish religious figure of the time and a leading advocate of the persecution of Christians whenever and wherever they might be found. In Acts chapter nine Saul is making his way to the city of Damascus to stamp out yet another breeding ground of Christianity, when suddenly and dramatically he is meets Jesus on the road. There he is thrown to the ground and sees a blinding light and hears a voice from heaven. The result was that Saul became Paul. From chief persecutor of the Christian way to one of the chief advocates of Christianity in a moment. It would be difficult to find a more unlikely candidate to be saved than Saul of Tarsus. But then the new birth is always a miracle.
Such also is the story of Mitsuo Fuchida, the man who lead the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Mitsuo not only helped to plan the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor he also lead the strike force of pilots who carried out the mission. It was Mitsuo who uttered the words still remembered from that attack, “Tora, Tora, Tora.” The war ended with Mitsuo still convinced of the justness of the Japanese cause. But two things were a witness to him. He heard the story of Peggy Covell, who had ministered to Japanese POW’s, he learned that her parents had been missionaries in Japan, but persecution broke out and they were executed. He could not under how this woman could help those responsible for her parents death. And then on another occasion he was handed a tract written by Jacob Deshaze. Jacob had been a member of the Doolittle raid on Japan and had been captured. At the end of the war he returned to Japan as a missionary. Mitsuo was touched by the power of Christ that compelled these people to love those who had hurt them. Mitsuo sought out and found a Bible and there in the crucifixion story found in Luke 23 he gave his heart and life to Jesus. He spent the remainder of his life as a witness to the power of Jesus to transform a life. His was a sudden and dramatic conversion. [Story gleaned from “Pearl Harbor Remembered: The Miracle of a New Birth.” Stephen Rost. Baptist Bible Tribune (Dec 4, 1991)
But it should not be forgotten that sometimes a conversion looks sudden, but the struggle may have been going on for a long time.
In Luke 18:25 Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples’ amazed response was, “Who then can be saved” (v. 26). I would like to submit to you that a camel is about to go through the eye of a needle as we witness the sudden and miraculous conversion of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus certainly illustrates the truth that “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (v. 27).
Now in verse one we read, “Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. (2) Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. (3) And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature”
We are introduced to a man named Zacchaeus, his name meant “righteous one,” how ironic for he was an unscrupulous tax collector. Tax collectors in Jesus’ day were little more than government sanctioned crooks, in the Gospels they were mentioned together with “sinners” and “prostitutes.”
Taxes were collected at three places inland – Capernaum, Jerusalem and Jericho, so Zacchaeus had one of the big three. If tax collectors had a cartel, then Zacchaeus would have been the kingpin, for was not just “a” tax collector, he was “the chief tax collector.” As a tax collector Zacchaeus had it made.