Jesus and Zacchaeus: On Salvation | Luke 19:1-10
Brad O’Dell | April 16, 2023
If you have your Bibles with you, go ahead and turn to Luke 19. That’s where we’re going to be this morning.
As we start this morning, we’re actually starting a new series that we’re going to be doing over the next handful of weeks or so—a little more—and we’re calling this “Conversations with Jesus.” We’re looking at some accounts that are unique to Luke’s Gospel, accounts of people having personal encounters with Jesus and how that changed their lives. So that’s what we’re going to be looking at over the course of this spring. It’s something for us to be excited about. I’m excited about this series, because as we look at these accounts of people having these moments with Jesus and a change in their lives, I think there’s a way for us to have these fresh encounters with Jesus ourselves and to step into some of these realities and to have our lives be changed as we seek the Lord in faith and as we see the way he moves. That’s what we’re going to be focusing on here in the spring.
Speaking of spring, what a lovely week, was it not? Man, what beautiful weather outside! Who here just got outside and enjoyed the weather a lot this week? Not as many as the first service—come on! What were you doing all week? It was a beautiful week! This is about as good as it’s going to get. It’s either going to get cold again or it’s going to be way too hot really soon. So this is your moment; get out there and enjoy it today at least.
The spring weather—I found myself, as I was walking outside, I walk my dog every single day, and it’s been every single day of the winter as well, even if it was bitter cold, snowing on me, sleet; she’s one of those dogs that’ll freak out if she doesn’t get outside. As I walked the neighborhood, it was like being in a whole new landscape. These trees and bushes that were just kind of brown, spindly things set against a gray backdrop that I’d seen month after month, day after day, all of a sudden were just full of new life. They had this spring green color on them, and then the flowers were coming out, so I saw yellows and whites and reds and pinks, and the sky was blue, and it was like being in a whole new neighborhood, a whole new location. I don’t know; it revived my soul this week. If you were outside and you got to enjoy some of that, I think it probably did the same for you.
I think it’s a really apt image that I want to use as we approach Luke 19 this morning, looking at the account of Jesus and Zacchaeus. What I want us to have is that picture of a bare, desolate, bleak backdrop, or from that source, new life springing forth, and the beauty and the joy that is associated with it, because I think we see that with Zacchaeus this morning. We see new life spring from a situation that you just wouldn’t imagine that it could possibly be there. So that’s what we have in mind as we go into Luke 19. We’re going to read verses 1-10, and we’ll take it from there. Luke 19:1-10.
“[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 and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ 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.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’”
The story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. If you grew up in church, this is probably a story that you know very well, because there’s a very famous song: Zacchaeus was a wee little man, / A wee little man was he. Since I’ve grown up and I came to my full height in life and I realized I’m not that tall, I find that those are kind of mean-spirited lyrics! A wee little man? And then you have to say it again: A wee little man was he. I mean, you could have just said he was “challenged in height” or he wanted to get a better view, but instead we say “wee little man.” I’ll put that aside; I’m not going to dwell on it too long this morning.
Here’s how I want to progress through the account, one that’s pretty familiar to us; I want to hopefully see a little more about the story that maybe we haven’t thought about since we were children. I’m going to do it by doing this—here’s my outline. I’m going to look at: 1. Who Zacchaeus Was, 2. Who Jesus Was, 3. What Jesus Did, 4. What Zacchaeus Did; then I’m going to bring Jesus’ actions into the present tense and look at 5. What Jesus Does
That’s going to be my outline; that’s how I’m going to open up the aspects of this account for us this morning.
1. Who Zacchaeus Was
First we see who Zacchaeus was. I think to really get the drama of this scene you have to see the presentation of who Zacchaeus is in juxtaposition with who Jesus is in this account as we come into Luke 19. I think it helps us see a little more of what’s there. So first, who Zacchaeus was.
Luke just gives us a simple little statement to help us out. In verse 2 he says Zacchaeus was a “chief tax collector and was rich.” A tax collector and was rich.
If we were part of the original audience in that day, that would have told us everything we needed to know about Zacchaeus. Tax collectors in that age were really kind of known as some of the worst of sinners, or some of the most utterly corrupt people that you can imagine in that time frame. So the tax collectors were actually Jews by birth, and what they did is they worked for the Roman government to exact taxes from their fellow Jews. The Roman Empire was this authority that was over the Jewish people, and it was an oppressive authority. They would exact tribute from them because they were the people in power, so the Jewish people were a subjugated people at that time.
The tax collectors, being Jews themselves, instead of being a part of this and experiencing the oppression of it, they actually worked with the Roman authorities to be the instruments to exact this tax from the people. They sided with the other people; they were turncoats. They were turning against their own people. It would be as if your brother was an IRS agent and he audited you every single year. You’d be like, “Come on, man! Get off my back! You’re working for the enemy here!” That’s kind of what it was like.
However, it was a little more than that. See, tax collectors wouldn’t just exact the taxes from people and go to gather them, they would actually tax people more than the people were required to give, and this was how they would pad their pockets. So this was an understood institution where tax collectors were usually a very corrupt people. With the backing of the Roman authorities and that might they were going and pressuring the people to give them even more than they owed so that they could pad their own pockets and they could become rich. So we see the corruption inherent in this.
But Zacchaeus was not just a tax collector, he was a chief tax collector there in the city of Jericho. We can almost see him as a mob boss-like character. He was not just part of this oppressive regime, he was the one who actually ran it in that territory, and if someone wanted to be a tax collector and to be in this corrupt system they actually had to go through him, and he delineated who got to do that. All of the corrupt proceeds that they got would actually filter up to him, and he’s the one who kind of facilitated this corrupt system. So we see that Zacchaeus is a corrupt person.
We see this in the Scriptures every time it talks about tax collectors. Tax collectors are always spoken of in relation to the worst of sinners at that time. So we see in Matthew 9 it talks about tax collectors and sinners. In Matthew 18 it talks about the pagans and the tax collectors. In Matthew 21 it talks about tax collectors and the prostitutes. Here in Luke 18, just a chapter before what we’re reading here, it talks about “robbers, evildoers, adulterers, even like this tax collector,” right? This is how people understood tax collectors in that time, and we’re supposed to see Zacchaeus as this utterly corrupt person.
But not only that, Luke gives us a detail that he was rich. Of course, this should have been understood, as a chief tax collector, that he would have been inheriting all the proceeds of this corrupt regime that he was running. But Luke draws special attention to it, and I don’t think we’re supposed to say, “Riches at all times are evil,” but is trying to bring attention to the fact that riches are an aspect of Zacchaeus’s character, they are an aspect of who he is, that he is captured by worldly treasures. He’s a greedy man, and he’s always trying to indulge and build up his riches even more.
It helps to read this on the backdrop of an account, just slightly before this chapter, in Luke 18:18-40, when we have this account of the rich young ruler. There’s this rich young man, and he comes and he says, “Jesus, I want to follow you.” Jesus asks him some questions, and he says, “Yes, yes, I’d done all those things; I’m ready.”
Jesus says, “One thing you can do: go and sell all your possessions so that you won’t be captured and trapped by those, and then you can follow me.”
And the rich young man actually goes away sad, because this is something he can’t do. Jesus says, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
I think that’s the backdrop we’re supposed to have as we encounter another rich man who is already utterly corrupt. But then Jesus says in the account, when his disciples say, “Boy, this is a tough thing! What are people supposed to do?” he says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
That’s what we have in the character of Zacchaeus. He is this utterly corrupt person, one of the worst of sinners, and he is a hopeless cause, right? It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for this guy to receive the message of the kingdom.
I want to pause here and ask, maybe there’s someone here in the congregation today or watching online, and you feel like as you know your life and you think about your previous weeks and you know your struggles, maybe you kind of feel like, “I’m a hopeless cause. I’ve let myself down enough times. I’ve seen myself fail enough times. I’m a hopeless cause.”
Or maybe you have someone in your life—a family member, a friend, someone who you work with, and you’ve prayed over them at previous times, but you’re seeing the way your life is going, and honestly if you look at it you say, “I haven’t prayed for them in a long time, and they really aren’t on my heart anymore, because I think in my heart I’ve just written them off as a hopeless cause. Maybe they’re a hopeless cause.”
I want us to see that there is hope in this passage for those situations, because what is impossible with man is possible with God.
2. Who Jesus Was
But against who Zacchaeus was we see a presentation of who Jesus was. And Zacchaeus was excited to see Jesus. All he knew about Jesus was that he was a great teacher, he was a miracle worker, he was this person who was a righteous man in a lot of ways, but also he was this fulfillment of the prophetic office. Zacchaeus is a Jew; he has the same Old Testament that we have, it was his Scriptures, and he says, “For 400 years God was silent, but then John the Baptist came, and then on his heels Jesus came, and it seems like the prophets of old have been resurrected, and he’s preaching from God, and he preaches with authority. I want to go see what this is all about.”
All that stuff is in view for Zacchaeus, but what the passage is mostly presenting to us is Jesus as the King. We spent quite a bit of time on this in the previous weeks over our Holy Week preaching, so I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it, but this is right in line with that same scene we see in the triumphal entry, where Jesus goes into Jerusalem and the people say, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” That’s going to happen a day or two from this event. Jesus is already going up toward the Mount of Olives, where that even will happen, and he already has a great amount of people following him and praising and worshiping him for all the things that they’re seeing. So we’re supposed to see this royal procession as he’s going, and this royal procession comes through Jericho, and the King has an encounter with Zacchaeus.
Also we see it in this phrase that Jesus uses for himself in verse 10, “The Son of Man.” If we were to understand the Old Testament backdrop, we know that this comes from Daniel 7. This is one of Jesus’ favorite titles for himself to use. In Daniel 7 we get this presentation of all these worldly kingdoms who are these oppressive kingdoms, and they’re oppressing the people of God. So God gives a prophecy of one like a son of man who will come, he will set up a new kingdom that will crush those oppressive kingdoms, and he will also drive out corruption and he will bring justice to the people of God. We see this in Daniel 7. It says,
“Behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.”
The Son of Man has come, and he’s going to meet with Zacchaeus, and that’s not a good thing for Zacchaeus, because when the Son of Man comes he’s going to destroy the oppressive regimes that have been over the people of God and have been coming against the people of God, and Zacchaeus is part of core oppressive regime in this day, the Roman emperor, and he is actually one of their instruments to exact that oppression on the people. Not only that, but the justice that the Son of Man will bring is going to be coming against the injustice that he’s been perpetuating. So that is the account, and those are the two people we have meeting one another. We need to remember that it’s a bleak backdrop. It looks hopeless, it looks lifeless, it looks stark and bare, just like a lot of these trees have looked all throughout the winter. There’s a gray backdrop. But what’s impossible with man is possible with God, and we’re going to see that new life can come even from this situation.
3. What Jesus Did
This takes me to what Jesus did in this account. What we see first of all is that Jesus took the initiative to go to Zacchaeus. Jesus took the initiative to meet Zacchaeus. You see, this whole scene is presented as kind of a divine appointment that Jesus had. None of this is presented as arbitrary or unexpected or just coincidental. Jesus knew exactly who Zacchaeus was; he knew exactly where Zacchaeus was. This is really interesting, because Zacchaeus would have been trying to hide in this tree. Zacchaeus is an eminent man in that city; he’s a rich man. He’s not respected by the Jewish people, but he’s respected at least broadly for being a rich person. For him to be climbing up in this tree in sandals and probably some type of robe would not have been an honorable thing to be seen doing. For him to have to climb up in a tree to see over people is not a respectable position for a man like that to be in. So he probably wanted to see, but he wanted to not be seen.
But Jesus immediately, when he comes to the place, he notices him. All this language is right in the passage there. In verse 5 we see that “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.’”
Jesus came to him, he saw him, and then Jesus summoned him. He gave him a command as a king would do. “I must come to your house today.” So Jesus has this appointment with Zacchaeus, and he takes the initiative to go and meet him.
We also see it in the language that Jesus speaks as he gives this command to Zacchaeus, and we see it in the words “must” and “today.” If we’re really keyed into how Luke is presenting his accounts in this gospel, we know that Luke actually brings out this language of Jesus more prominently than any other Gospel author. When Jesus uses the word “must,” it speaks of this divine necessity or this divine impetus that has been put on Jesus, and that seems to be driving Jesus forth on mission. It’s something given from the Father that is understood by Jesus, and he must do some things that the Father has sent him to do.
We see this in Luke 2:49. This is when Jesus is about twelve years old and his parents came to the Passover, and then they went to leave and they thought Jesus was with them, but Jesus stayed behind. It takes his parents a few days to find him. They come back, they’re looking all over for him, and finally they find him at the temple. His mom’s pretty upset. She’s like, “Jesus, where have you been! We are supposed to leave! You can’t just leave us!” That’s pretty understandable.
Jesus answers her, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” “I must be in my Father’s house.” For him, that was answer enough. I don’t know if it was answer enough for Mary, but for him that communicated, “Don’t you understand that there’s a divine necessity upon me? This is where I must be.”
You see it again in Luke 4:43 when Jesus is preaching in the synagogue and he actually gets a good following around him in Galilee, and people want him to stay. They want him to preach more. His disciples are saying, “Jesus, let’s not move on to another town; we got a bunch of people here who want to hear your teaching and preaching. This is good.”
Jesus says, “No, no, no.” He says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well, for I was sent for this purpose.” “I need to move on; I must, because I have a purpose that I am pursuing. I have an impetus that is upon me, and I must pursue it.”
There is divine necessity upon Jesus, and we see that Zacchaeus is part of this divine impetus that is upon Jesus. This was a divine appointment.
But also we see it in the language of “today.” When Jesus uses the word “today” in this Gospel it often brings up the immediacy of salvation. When he says “today,” salvation is here, salvation is before you right now, the kingdom of God is in your midst now, and it calls for an immediate response. In Luke 4:21 Jesus is in the synagogue and he reads the scroll of Isaiah, and he stands up and says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” “Today it’s been fulfilled.”
That’s an interesting phrase, because Jesus is fulfilling that for about three years while he travels around and he preaches, and he’s going to be there probably the next day preaching and teaching, but he brings the focus to today. Today is the day of response, today is the day of salvation, today the kingdom is in your midst. Salvation is here.
We see it again in Luke 23:43. On the cross Jesus turns to the thief who says to him, “Jesus, would you remember me when you come into your kingdom?” And Jesus responds to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
All of this has been arranged. All of this has been designed. As the King is going up the mountain, and as he’s going up to Jerusalem to take up his throne, the King has an appointment for even little Zacchaeus, and he makes sure to meet him on the way.
This is a picture of what the historic church has called the doctrine of salvation by grace alone: that God is the one who has us on his heart, and God is the one who pursues us, and God is the one who calls us, and God is the one who redeems us and changes our hearts by his action and by his grace alone.
Of course, that’s not to negate the human side of things, right? Zacchaeus has some actions here. He went to try to see who Jesus was; he didn’t have a clue that all this was going to happen. Even in the account before this, in the blind beggar story, the blind beggar, as Jesus passes by, he says, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He keeps calling out until Jesus pays attention, and there’s an aspect where we use our will, we use our decision-making, to pursue Jesus, to seek him out, so that he might be found. But underneath it all, underneath any action of us, underneath any urgency that we would have, there is.a grounding impetus, there’s a grounding drive, and that is that God has set his heart on us and he has pursued us and he has called us to himself, and that’s where any urgency in ourselves comes from. Salvation by grace.
Also, another thing Jesus does in this account is he exchanged places with Zacchaeus. We see this in verse 7. As Jesus goes into Zacchaeus’ house to eat with him and Zacchaeus receives Jesus, they all grumble. They say, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” What is this grumbling? What’s going on here?
Well, we have to understand what it meant to share meals with people in the ancient near east. In fact, this is something that actually still exists in the Middle East in North Africa, culturally, to a degree, and even parts of Latin America. To host someone in your house was to be honored by them and to be blessed by them, that they would come into your house and receive what you had to give them. So it was a very important thing, if someone had a meal with you, if they sat down, if they came into your home and dwelt with you, this is them brining you honor for allowing you to do that. But at the same time, for you to go and eat with someone and to spend time with them is for you to, to a degree, accept them and identify them. There’s a thicker communal structure there than we typically have in our culture today.
What we see here is that Zacchaeus is very honored to have Jesus, to have this eminent figure, come and say, “I want to eat at your house.” So all of Jesus’ honor and renown is transferred onto Zacchaeus. He is the one who gets to host the teacher, the Rabbi, the King! But also we see that all of Zacchaeus’ shame and scorn gets transferred onto Jesus, and they say, “How could Jesus eat with this person? How could Jesus spend time with this person?” Jesus got Zacchaeus’ shame and scorn; Zacchaeus got Jesus’ honor and renown. There’s that exchange that happened.
What this does is there’s a little bit of a prefigurement here, just about a week before Jesus goes to the cross, and it pictures what Jesus is going to do in his passion. This is what is credited to Martin Luther when he speaks of the gospel: he calls it “the great exchange.” On the cross Jesus took our sin, Jesus took our shame, Jesus took our punishment, Jesus took our disgrace upon himself, and in the same token he transferred to us his righteousness, he transferred to us his life, he transferred to us his victory over these things. He even transferred to us the rights of his sonship that he has with the Father. Jesus got the sin, and we get the righteousness.
That’s what it says in 2 Corinthians 5:21. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The great exchange. It’s a wonderful, wonderful depiction of the gospel and a good phrase.
My question to you is, have you experienced this? Have you experienced the freedom? Have you experienced the joy? Have you experienced the rest that comes from knowing that your sin, your shame has been taken on Jesus? He has killed it, he’s put it on the cross, and all you’re left with is the life of Jesus. All you’re left with is God’s favor in place of those things, because that’s what Jesus is giving you that he had to give. Have you experienced this today?
Christian, if you’ve experienced this in the past, are you walking in the experience of it now, or have you shouldered your shame again? Have you taken the sin that was put on the cross and are you carrying it and living in it again? Turn to Jesus anew to experience the great exchange. Believe in him and experience the life that comes from him.
4. What Zacchaeus Did
We also see what Zacchaeus does in response to this grace that Jesus shows. We see that he responded in faith and repentance. This is not as explicit in the text, but I think it’s inherent there. We see it in verse 6, when Jesus comes and says to Zacchaeus in verse 5, “Hurry and come down.” In verse 6 it says, “Zacchaeus immediately hurried and came down.” In verse 5 Jesus says, “I must stay at your house today.” Then it says in verse 6, “So Zacchaeus received Jesus joyfully into his house.”
We see that everything that Jesus gave in command there is a response by Zacchaeus—an immediate response, a joyful response of obedience to what Jesus has called him to. So we see all those direct parallels in the text.
Also there’s a little bit of background here that helps us understand a bit more what’s happening when Zacchaeus receives Jesus into his house. We have to go back a few chapters in Luke to Luke 10. There’s this interesting account.
Jesus sent out his disciples ahead of him when he was on mission, and when he sent them out he gave them authority to heal and to deliver people from demonic oppression and also he gave them the message of the kingdom. They were supposed to go and say, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” and they were supposed to see who was receptive to that. Jesus gave them a pattern or paradigm for knowing if this is a place where there message will be received, if God had prepared these people to receive the message well.
He said, “Enter the town and start preaching, and if people invite you into their house and if they feed you, then go into their house, stay with them, and eat everything that they give you to eat for as long as they give it to you. When they do, you can say, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you,’ or, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ However, if no one does invite you in and you find that you’re not able to do that, then this is not a place where God has prepared these people to receive the gospel message, and just move on to the next town.”
It's an interesting account, and I think we bring that into the backdrop here. We see that Zacchaeus is presented as what Luke 10 calls “a person of peace,” a person that God has prepared his heart to receive the gospel message, and this is a place for gospel activity to take place. So when Zacchaeus receives Jesus in we see that he is receptive to the gospel, he’s receptive to the kingdom message that Jesus is bringing.
We also see that, in his reception of this message, Zacchaeus turns in repentance. We see that in his actions at the end of the account and in his words.
But right here I want to focus on repentance. It’s a word we throw around a lot in church; I just want to make sure we understand what it is. Repentance classically has been defined as turning away from something and instead turning toward something else, right? To repent is to turn, to turn from the path you were on or from the things you were pursuing and to turn toward another path and to pursue other things. That’s what it is to repent. I think that’s a really good understanding of repentance and it’s helpful.
But I also think that it’s a little bit more than that. Repentance can also be described as leaving behind one way of living, leaving behind some values or pursuit, as you are drawn to a different pursuit and you’re drawn toward these other values that are better than the things you were trying to find satisfaction in at first.
We see that repentance is not just a decision of the mind. “I have to stop doing this and I’m going to start doing this.” If that’s all repentance is to you, then you’re going to find that it usually fails, because repentance is more than just a mental action that we do, it’s a change of what our heart loves. For the loves of our hearts to be changed, the thing that we did desire needs to be driven out by a new love that is more powerful than the love that we were holding onto.
It's what Thomas Chalmers calls “the expulsive power of a new affection,” the expelling power of a new affection. When there’s a new affection that is better, that’s more beautiful, that’s more satisfying, that can expel an old affection that was lesser and less satisfying. I think that’s what we see happening in Zacchaeus’ life.
The Puritan Thomas Watson says it like this in his book The Doctrine of Repentance:
“Upon our turning to God, we have more restored to us in Christ than ever was lost in Adam. God says to the repenting soul, ‘I will clothe you with the robe of righteousness; I will enrich you with the jewels and graces of my Spirit; I will bestow my love upon you; I will give you a kingdom. Son, all I have is yours.’”
I think that is the message that landed on Zacchaeus’ heart in this time that he spent with Jesus. His old affection, his old greed for pursuing worldly treasures and for building up his own riches in this earth through corrupt means, gets driven out by a new affection, and that is that the Father has set his heart on him and he’s been offered place alongside Jesus in the kingdom. He has been called a son of God.
That’s why Jesus says in Luke 19:29, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.”
What we see in the account of Zacchaeus is that new life springs from the least likely of sources. New life springs forth from the least likely situation. It’s a beautiful picture.
We also see another thing Zacchaeus did: he bore fruit in keeping with repentance. This is what we see in the actual language that he has at the end of this. We can probably imagine that there is a long meal, a long conversation, lots of preaching and teaching by Jesus, response from Zacchaeus and also the other members of his household. I know we called this series “Conversations with Jesus,” and what’s interesting is in this first message in the series we don’t get much of the conversation that actually happened. We have to assume what happened. But we do get the results of the conversation, and I think it tells us everything that we need to know about the conversation that took place.
Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord in verse 8, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything I restore it fourfold.”
This is interesting. It shows how serious Zacchaeus is about changing his ways and about leaving the things that he was pursuing and desiring and pursuing something else, because Jewish law demanded that if you defraud someone out of money you’re supposed to repay them everything you defrauded them and then add another 25 per cent. So you paid back 125 per cent. But we see Zacchaeus here says, “Anyone I’ve defrauded, I'm paying back fourfold." How many people has he defrauded? Pretty much everyone, right? I mean, not only was he doing this himself, but he was the chief tax collector over all the tax collectors who were defrauding everybody constantly. So this is a lot of money he’s going to be paying out to these people, and it’s going to really reduce his situation quite a bit.
Not only that, he also says that “half of my proceeds [half of everything I own], I’m going to go and I’m going to give it to those in need.”
What we see is that there’s this true change of heart that has taken place in Zacchaeus’ life. We see that through the actions that come out of that heart change. The man who idolized money and who was greedy ends up becoming someone who gives away money and generosity. That’s a really beautiful picture. We see that the love of his heart has been driven out by this greater love that Jesus has called him to.
I think it’s a really beautiful picture. I don’t think this account is trying to say, “Hey, if you have to follow Jesus, then you need to make sure that you’re pretty desolate, give away all your money, and don’t account that of any worth to yourself at all.” I don’t think this is what the point of the account is.
What we do see is that the way people handle their finances or the way people handle their possessions does reflect something of the nature of their heart. We see the change of Zacchaeus’ heart and the change in how he understood his possessions and how he used the things that God had given him.
This reminded me of the character Bishop Myriel—I think I’m saying that correctly, but I’m not French—in the book Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. If you’ve never read the book, then you probably don’t know much about Bishop Myriel. He’s a very small character in the musical. But Bishop Myriel is really what Victor Hugo spends the first 75-100 pages focusing on, this character in this book. What he’s trying to do is he’s trying to present him as the spiritual soul or the spiritual soul or the spiritual core of this book that drives the drama forward from this point.
He's trying to present the character of Bishop Myriel in a lot of different ways, but one device he uses is how Bishop Myriel interacts with his possessions and with the money that he comes into.
In that day and age, to be a curate or to be a bishop was actually a pretty nice position. This put you in the upper class of society. There was a lot of money in it; this was in Napoleonic-era France. You know, we actually see something very similar in some of the English novels. If you read Jane Austen novels or you read Charles Dickens, this is a career that people pursued not so much because they loved the Lord and were about his kingdom but because this gave them a really nice position in society.
That is the backdrop. That’s how a lot of bishops and a lot of churchmen in that day lived. They kind of lived high off the hog. They used the name of Jesus and they used his church to actually build up their empire on earth, and they lived like it.
But Bishop Myriel is presented as something wholly other than those types of leaders. We see this in a few counts, right in the early parts. Bishop Myriel is given this palace that he inherits as part of his job in this place that he’s serving in, and the hospital warden—there’s a little hospital, just a little three-room hovel off the side of this palace—the hospital warden is showing him around the house, showing him all the rooms. “Here are all the places you can eat. Here are all the places you can sleep. Here are all the rooms you can host people.” Think of one of those big English manors or one of those big French manors that you see in movies and television shows a lot.
As Bishop Myriel, as he’s walking through, he simply says to the hospital warden, “How many people can you service? How many beds can you have there in that small little house you have over there?”
The hospital warden said, “Well, five or six. That keeps us pretty packed. Wish we could do more, but that’s about all we can host at a time.”
Bishop Myriel sat there and thought for a second, and said, “If you had all of these rooms, how many people do you think you could serve? How many people do you think you can minister?”
The guy was baffled. He said, “Well, if you’re going to make me say a number,” and he gives a much, much larger number.
Bishop Myriel says, “Okay, thank you for showing me your hospital. Now, can you please show me my house?” He says, “This is now your new hospital, because this is what will do the most good in this town. Please show me to my little simple house, this little three-room place.” It reflects his character in this way.
When they give him his salary of 15,000 francs, he immediately says, “Okay, I need to make sure I know how to spend this,” so he makes a big list of items, and he says where all the money’s supposed to go to.” At the end of it, what he does is he writes out 14,000 of it to charitable causes, missional causes, and he keeps only a thousand for himself. He says, “That’s enough for me to live on.”
He lives with his sister and a maid, that’s all. They don’t really love the way Bishop Myriel handles their money; they would like to live a little bit of a nicer life. So they actually said, “Hey, Bishop, there’s more money that you can have if you account for your travel expenses. They’ll recoup you for those.” They’re thinking, “He’s not going to spend this on himself, but it might help us to nicen up this house a little bit, maybe get some more furniture, some more silverware, etc., etc.”
So he says, “That’s a really good idea. I’ll make sure to do that.” He files all the paperwork, and now he gets 3,000 more francs a year, and he immediately wrote out a list of where he wanted to spend that money. He gave absolutely all of it away to more causes that he could serve in the town.
Really where this comes most fully to bear is when Jean Valjean shows up at his house, newly out of prison, can’t find a place to stay anywhere, and the bishop allows him into his house even though he’s a terrifying man. The women are terrified that he might just be a murderer and everything could go wrong here. But the bishop invites him in.
What happened is the bishop came from a nice background, and there was one luxury that he liked to keep, and it was this set of silverware. He liked to eat with silver; he didn’t like eating with the nasty pewter of the day. He only had six sets, and it was one luxury he allowed himself at that time. He also had these silver candlesticks that he had inherited from his mother.
Jean Valjean, after being hosted on this silverware and having a nice meal given him and a bed given him when no one else would, in desperation he feels like he needs to steal this silverware so he can sell it and he can start his life over again. The next day, after he’s stolen it, Bishop Myriel’s in the garden and the women come out and say, “Sir, the silverware has been stolen! Do you know where it’s gone?”
He actually had the basket that it was supposed to be in, and he was putting flowers in it, and he said, “Here you go.”
They’re like, “No, we don’t care about the basket, we care about the silverware!”
He’s like, “Oh, okay, yes.”
They went on and on and on: “We have to go get it!” and all these things. “That man—I told you not to invite him in! He stole it from us!”
He just sat and listened for a while, and eventually he said this: “Well, in the first place, was that silver ours? Madame, I have for a long time detained that silver wrongfully. It belonged to the poor. And who was that man? A poor man, evidently.”
Immediately, the one luxury he had, he says, “This was given to me by God to bless another.”
Actually, Jean Valjean gets captured, and they bring him back, and they just need the bishop to say, “Yes, this man stole from me,” and the only thing he says is, “Jean Valjean! I’m glad you came back. You forgot the candlesticks! Don’t you know they’re silver as well, and they go with the set?” Then he leans in closely to him and he says, “This I give to you; go and make yourself an honest man as you use this for yourself; change your life.” That’s the story that launches Jean Valjean into the rest of the story.
You see, something about the way the bishop handled his possessions, handled money, reflected where his heart was and where his true value was, where his true treasure was on this earth.
We see something of that same heart manifest in Zacchaeus as he spends time with Jesus. We see something about the nature of true repentance.
Repentance is not just something that happens in our hearts, it’s not just something internal, but it manifests in actions that are consistent with that change of heart. We see that in Zacchaeus. James says it like this in James 2:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? . . . But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
The actions do not accomplish the repentance, but they are an aspect of the repentance, they are an outworking of a true, repentant change of heart. We see that in Zacchaeus.
5. What Jesus Does
What I want us to finish with today is focusing on verse 10. I want to bring this into the present tense; it’s not just what Jesus did, but what Jesus does. He says, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
That’s how Jesus wants to wrap up this account. Yes, the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost, and that’s who Jesus is, and that’s what Jesus does. Jesus is the King, Jesus is the Lord who comes to seek and to save the lost.
I just want to ask us, do we know that? Do we live as if that’s true? Do we pray for people in our lives as if that is on the heart of the Father and that is what Jesus’ heart and actions are, that he is the one who seeks and saves the lost?
In Luke 5 he’s also eating with tax collectors and sinners, and as people grumble about that Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” “That’s who I’m about. I’m about those who are sick.” “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” The sick, the sinners, right, are the ones who Jesus has on his heart; those are the ones he’s seeking.
This has always been the heart of God. In Ezekiel 34 he says it like this:
“Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. . . . I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.”
The weak, the injured, the strayed, the lost, these are the people who are on God’s heart, and this is the kind of Father that we see.
I just want us to remember this. I think this is what we see in this account, when we see how new life sprang from such a bleak and desolate backdrop. How did things just happen like that? How is this so beautiful? It’s because it was on the Father’s heart, it was put on Jesus’ heart. This is his mission, to go and seek and save the lost. He’s not just our King and Lord and sovereign—he is all those things, but he is also our Shepherd who seeks us out and rescues us from peril. He is our Redeemer who will go to purchase us out of slavery and bring us back into freedom. He is our Savior who delivers us from death and despair so that we might have newness of life.
I just ask you, are you living in that reality today? Do you feel like a hopeless cause? Do you feel lost? Do you feel stuck in darkness and like you can’t get out? Turn to Jesus today. There’s a promise of newness of life. It’s not probably going to happen like that, but Jesus can meet you where you’re at; he’s seeking, and he has a heart to save.
I’ll leave you with these words from this sweet hymn, then we’ll pray.
Oh for the wonderful love he has promised,
Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon,
Pardon for you and for me.
Come home, come home;
You who are weary, come home.
Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home.
Let’s come to Jesus today and find new life and find salvation afresh, maybe for the first time, as we pray.
Lord Jesus, we thank you for your grace, we thank you for your love, we thank you for your love, we thank you that it’s not about anything that we have done but because of everything that you have done that you have taken our sin and our shame. You even know our hurts and our pains. You take that on yourself, and you say, “I’m Lord over it, and I can have victory over it and I will conquer it,” and in exchange you give us your life, you give us your hope, you give us your peace, you give us the kingdom. We become co-heirs of the kingdom with you. What a sweet, sweet truth.
God, I pray for those today who are listening who feel like they’ve just been stuck in darkness too long. Would you meet them here today, O Jesus, you who seek and save the lost? Would you go, would you see them, would you call out to them? Would they have a change of heart even now in this moment.
I pray for those who are on our hearts, loved ones who we know are far from you, loved ones we know are lost. God, we put them before you and we ask that you would go and you would seek them and you would save them. We ask that you would give us words, give us your heart for them, that we would be those who go in your name to seek and to bring salvation to the lost. God, this spring as we look at what it is to have an encounter with the living God, as we look at what it is to spend time with Jesus, we ask that we would have new life springing forth day by day; that there would be fruitfulness in our lives because of your work. We ask that we would also be your instruments to bring that to other people for the renown of your name and for the praise of your glory and for our great joy. I pray this in the name of Jesus, amen.