Summary: The Sycamores of the Middle East are highly prized. And it was one such highly prized and valuable tree who's limbs held a despised and sinful man. Why was he despised and what difference did Jesus make in his life?
OPEN: The story of Zacchaeus only occurs in the Gospel of Luke. It seems to me that its possible that, as Luke interviewed people for his Gospel, he may have spoken with Zacchaeus - and the man’s story stood out to him. It’s also possible, given that Zacchaeus’ name is used here, that he was known to the early church and may have been an active member of the early congregation in Jerusalem.
It’s an unwritten rule (my unwritten rule) that whenever I preach a sermon on a story that is also part of a famous children’s song, you gotta sing the song. So join with me: “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. And when the Savior passed that way, He looked up in the tree. And said, 'Zacchaeus, you come down! For I'm going to your house today! For I'm going to your house today!'”
Now, QUIZ TIME: What kind of tree did Zacchaeus climb up in? A sycomore Tree. Now we have sycamore trees in Indiana. In fact, the famous song “Down Home In Indiana” mentions sycamore trees in way that makes you realize how highly regarded they are here. As I searched the internet, I found our sycamores described as majestic, fast growing, and attractive. Its wood is sometimes used for things like veneers. In other words, it’s a great tree…. But they’re not as great as the sycomores of the Middle East.
In Africa, for example, those sycomores were called the “Queen of Trees”, and in Egypt they were called the “Tree Of Life.” (They have a tasty fig-like fruit and is praised by many for its medicinal properties). In fact, these trees were so valuable in the days of King David, that David appointed a special caretaker to protect and cultivate them (1 Chronicles 27:28).
So, the tree that Zacchaeus climbed up into was highly regarded and valuable. And in the limbs of this valuable and highly prized tree was ... an unwanted and sinful man.
Zacchaeus was a WEE little man… and he was a tax collector. In the days of Jesus, tax collectors were little better than pond scum. “The Pharisees (complained to Jesus’ disciples) ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” (Matthew 9:11) In the Gospels, we’re told no less than 8 times that people complained about Jesus eating with the "tax collectors and sinners." It was like - there were sinners... and then there was this special class of sinners called tax collectors. (PAUSE)
Now, why were they so hated? Well they worked for the Romans. Rome occupied Israel and the land and people were literally owned by them - and the Jews hated that. So tax collectors like Zacchaeus who worked for the Romans were seen as traitors to their nation. But not just traitors – they were also viewed as thieves.
You see, back then tax collectors weren’t paid by Rome. Rome simply said “We need this much tax revenue. You collect that and you can charge an extra percentage on top of the tax for yourselves. And they would often charge whatever they thought the person could pay. A really good tax collector could make a LOT of money. In our text Zacchaeus was called “a CHIEF tax collector and he was RICH.” (Luke 19:2) You know what that means? It means he was REALLY good at his job!
So, if Zacchaeus is so rich and powerful - if he had everything he could possibly want in this world - what’s he doing looking for Jesus? Well, a couple of things. First, I think he’s tired of his life. You see, I believe that Zacchaeus became a tax collector to get revenge. Remember, he was a WEE LITTLE man. People have literally looked down on him all his life. He’d been laughed at and ridiculed ever since he was a child. But all that’s changed now. Now, he’s tax collector. Now, he’s got the power to take revenge - and it’s payback time. If you’d insulted him in the past, may the Lord have mercy on your soul, because he’ll come after you! And you’d have to pay up or move away, because if you didn’t… he was going to get you. And he liked it that way! He liked being feared, he liked having the power, and he liked the money. There’s an old saying “Revenge is sweet,” but – you know - it really isn’t.
ILLUS: About 30 years ago, Dr. Meier of the Minirth-Meier Clinics observed that “Ninety-five percent of all cases of depression is caused by repressed anger.” (Russ Blowers in The Lookout 9/4/1994 p. 9)
That’s why someone once said “Hate is a prolonged form of suicide.” (Doug V. Steere, from Dimensions of Prayer)