Summary: No one is beyond being saved. Our task is the same as Jesus' task - to seek the lost and save them and to be proactive in doing it.
Jesus was passing through Jericho from the area of Jordan to Bethany near Jerusalem. He was on his way to raise Lazarus back to life. It was an important journey that he was undertaking but as he was going to perform this great miracle he still found time to deal with other people and their issues and needs and wants. The need that was going to delay him for a while was a man called Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector.
The Jews, as decreed by Roman law, had to pay taxes, which resulted in them having to hand over much of their wealth and income to support a regime, which they disapproved of. Tax collectors or publicans were usually Jewish and so they were hated by their own people and not cared for by the Romans. As they collected taxes for Rome they would turn over the required amount of money, and whatever they could add on for themselves is what they kept. They were known to be extortionists; they took large sums of money through unscrupulous means.
Because tax collectors were in a relationship with Rome, they were classed as Gentiles in the eyes of the Jews, and were hated for their domination and dishonesty.
They were treated as the worst kind of sinners going, as they were sinning through choice and not ignorance. They were classed as untouchables, people to be shunned at all cost. Some other occupations that were classed as sinners were barbers, tanners, shepherds; they were all immoral jobs but at the top of this list were tax collectors.
Jesus, however, showed great compassion to the tax collectors, as he did with other sinners, he even dined with them, which in Israel was a sign of fellowship. This was an act that surprised the crowds that were around Jesus. They found it very hard to understand how this man from God could socialise with the outcasts of society.
Zacchaeus was not just an ordinary tax collector; he was a chief tax collector, who would have employed other tax collectors. He came from Jericho, which was an important town in the Jordan valley.
It comprised of a new and old town section. It was a rich and important town and a gateway to Jerusalem. Here there were date palm forests and Balsam groves along with fields full of roses. Dates and balsam were exported from this busy town to all regions of the Roman Empire. This rich trade centre was one of the greatest taxation centres in Palestine.
Zacchaeus was probably responsible for collecting the tolls on goods coming into Judea from Perea an area to the east of the river Jordan and north of the Dead Sea. His taxation business had made him very rich indeed. He was a small man but he was also a lonely man, his occupation had made him this way. But he was also a curious man who wanted to get a better look at this man called Jesus, this Holy man from God, who he had heard so much about. So he ran ahead until he was clear of the crowd and then he scrambled up into a sycamore fig tree, which grows to around 40ft high by 18 ft wide. It had sprawling lower branches so was easy to climb. But it was also a tree that was considered unclean as its fruit were fed to pigs. But what was it that made him react in this way, what had moved him to crave a glimpse of Jesus? Perhaps it was God at work in Zacchaeus’ heart without him knowing anything about it, which John Wesley would describe as prevenient grace. When Jesus reached the tree where Zacchaeus was he called to him to come down as he wanted to stay with him. Zacchaeus was so moved by what Jesus said to him and moved that Jesus should care so much about him, a sinner that he should want to have fellowship with him, that he immediately repented and offered restitution to the people of Jericho.
Today I would like to take a little time to consider three short points about this story:
No one is beyond repentance and redemption
Our Master actively seeks the lost in order to save them.
Our ministry may require a boldness that calls on us to invite ourselves into the lives of people.
No one is beyond repentance and redemption
As can be seen from our story with Zacchaeus and in many other places in the bible, Jesus socialises with sinners and the outcastes in society. But not only does he socialise with them he calls them through kindness and compassion to repent and be his friend and his disciples. I have already mentioned how Zacchaeus was eager to see Jesus. But you know he was taking a bit of a risk in trying to see him. Here was this small man, a man without friends, amongst a big crowd of people. He was eager to see Jesus, a man whose reputation had gone before him. His heart seemed to be on fire but he was taking a risk as he acted in this way. Here he was in the midst of a jostling crowd. He would have been well known and many would have taken their golden opportunity to settle scores and grudges that they held against him. You can almost imagine their mutterings “Look there he is that’s the one that swindled me out of my money. I owe him one you get one side and I’ll get the other side and we will give him a push and a shove, we’ll sort him out and pay him back” But on the road side our chief tax collector was about to experience a sudden conversion. So sudden would his conversion be that it would move him to give back money that he had acquired. Sudden conversions can be seen elsewhere in the bible. Other people who had a great and sudden conversion experience were Saul of Tarsus. He was thrown to the ground and Saul became Paul. He changed from persecuting Christians to promoting them. In Acts 16:23-34 we see how Paul and Silas are in prison and are praying and singing hymns when there is an earthquake and the doors fly open and the prisoners chains fall off the gaoler is about to kill himself as he thinks they have all escaped only to be stopped by Paul as they have remain there. He is moved and an immediate conversion of the gaoler takes place along with all within his household and the list goes on. All sorts of people are called by God and there are no exceptions to this call. No longer does God require elaborate sin offerings from us, it no longer pleases him to have burnt offerings. The death of Jesus was the start of a new covenant where the confession and repentance of our sin was sufficient.