By: Dave Halsey
Zacchaeus, an unlikely hero indeed.
Short, probably stocky (just imagining), successful in the business world, wealthy, one heck of a tree climber……loathed by many, and despite his worldly success, he had nothing! There is something about Zacchaeus I like. He’s one of us.
At one time I heard the story of Zacchaeus, from Luke Chapter 19, three times within a 2 week period. Coincidence? I doubt it. God does this once in a while. Each time I heard the story, it made me think about Zacchaeus in a new way. I was compelled to dig in, learn it, and apply it. The conclusion I came to (and I’m sorry if you are already ahead of me), is that God used Zacchaeus as a great example of how he would like us to pursue Him. He basically wrote us a prescription. It is so simple and so perfect that we can easily miss it.
I also have a soft spot for Zacchaeus because he is short and had to climb a tree to see Jesus. I have been called “vertically challenged”, and climbing trees is something I did when I was a kid. I hope to do it again!
This is much more than a story about a selfish tax collector who was transformed after meeting Christ, but even if that’s all it was, it is still a great story.
The most pivotal parts of this story, are probably the ones not even told. In particular, the prequel and the sequel. I’m talking about the story of Zacchaeus before verse 1, and the story of Zacchaeus after verse 10.
I am not going to fictionalize, but I am going to fill in some blanks that I believe stand up to the test of truth, backed up by other biblical stories and patterns of Christ’s destiny for you and I.
Even more important than the story, is the fact that the sequence of Zacchaeus’s salvation and redemption, is the same model that Jesus Christ patterns for your life.
So let’s get to it!
Zacchaeus the Tax Collector
This is the critical part of the story because if this doesn’t happen, Zacchaeus never makes history. And it happens before verse 1. Zacchaeus doesn’t know it yet, but he is about to physically meet Jesus in a way that will change his life, his family’s life, and potentially the eternal destiny of generations. However, he already met Jesus before the written story began. At this point in the story, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, and passing through Jericho where Zacchaeus lived.
Zacchaeus was a man without want. He was Jewish and a chief tax collector, meaning he collected Roman taxes from the Jews. One might say he was a “sell out”. Not only that, he extorted and cheated both the citizens of Rome and the Romans, to fill his own greedy pockets. Think of Bernie Madhoff, Kwame Kilpatrick, Gordon Gecko from Wall Street. You get the picture. This guy was living the dream but on the backs of others.
Something happened to Zacchaeus prior to the arrival of Jesus. Maybe it was a memory of the way things used to be. Maybe he was questioning the way he was living his life. There must have been a crack in his heart. Instead of avoiding it or justifying himself, it seems he allowed Jesus to enter, not even knowing it was Jesus knocking on the door. He was seeking something that only Jesus could answer, but he didn’t know exactly what it was. This is an example of humility! It was this attitude of “need” that started a heart change that had a ripple effect in his soul. Just a little dash of the Holy Spirit was all it took. This act of humility before God enabled Zacchaeus’s imagination to be activated. He was able to see things a little differently, which gave him hope for a better future.
I think the big lesson for us at this point, is that Zacchaeus probably took some time to be still and examine his life. He did a sober self-assessment, and his imagination was awakened. I don’t think we allow ourselves to get “bored enough” to use our imagination the way we should. What are some steps you can take each week to make space for “active boredom” or carefree timelessness? This is where God speaks. Think about it. Maybe it’s time to stop at the chapel a few times a week and just sit there be with God. How about getting outside for a walk? Been in the woods lately? God wants us constantly focused on Him and others. How can we possibly do that at the American pace? Being intentional, prioritizing it, and scheduling it. That’s how!
Back to Zaccheus. He humbled himself. This led to an action. Let’s call this meekness, which is really surrendering his power to God. Whether he was consciously calling out to God, we don’t know for sure. Zacchaeus was meek because he was at the point of admitting he needed help and couldn’t do it alone. Meekness is merely the act of giving up your self-righteousness and letting God be your power. Another term for meekness is “strength under control”. Meekness is a very misunderstood word. It has nothing to do with cowering to others or being a “wuss” (sorry, just trying to relate). It has everything to do with letting God be your strength.
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
This is where his imagination morphed into a decision. He turned his eyes towards Jesus. He made a decision to seek him. The word “seek” is critical here because this is the beginning of a transformed heart. We can’t find what we don’t look for. It will not just show up on your door step unless you ask for it and take small steps forward every day. And if you do? Look out!
Because he was desperate for Jesus, he did not allow a physical limitation to stop him. He did not let his circumstances be an excuse for inaction. He stepped out of the boat, just like Peter walking towards Jesus on the water.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
An invitation! Jesus knew him and His heart skipped because of the faithfulness of Zacchaeus. This was a moment Jesus was longing for. Zacchaeus was ready for Jesus to change his life, and because of this relationship covenant, Jesus moved into the heart of Zacchaeus. Does your pursuit of Jesus make His heart skip? I know for sure that He has missed me at times. There is nothing he desires more than an honest conversation and a close relationship. In John 15:15 Jesus actually calls us His “friends”. Wow! That’s what I want.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
Gossip. Judgment. Pride. Jealousy. Comparing. There was a whole lot of that going on at all levels. It never fails. We start going down the right path, one that is giving us life and helping others, and then POW… Resistance! It can come from others, from our own fears and human desires, and from the enemy. You know you are doing something right for the Kingdom when this happens. Satan wants to keep us isolated, luke warm, and stuck. God always shows us a way out and surrounds us with Himself and others as a way to keep us moving forward. Gossip and comparing to others are on my heart right now. Gossip is a killer of the soul. It takes away our power and destroys relationships. It can undermine an entire revival. The other destroyer of our soul is comparing. My dear friend and mentor, Loren Siffring, regularly reminds us not to compare ourselves with others, because we will either come out ahead (pride) or behind (discouragement). Do yourself a favor and build a habit of resisting gossip and comparing at all costs.
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
What a tremendous act of confession and repentance. A true heart change leads to selfless acts that redeem the situation, without holding back to protect personal interests. Zacchaeus put it all on the line here, and he had to dig deep. This couldn’t have been easy. However, it was worth it because there is nothing in this world that compares to a pure heart that is in union with the Lord. Nothing comes close to an encounter with God.
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Forgiveness! Jesus forgave Zacchaeus and Zacchaeus received and accepted that forgiveness. Salvation came to Zacchaeus because he said yes to Jesus. What’s next? Living a life of Christlikeness, revealing God’s glory to others. It’s not just about making it to heaven. He has now been unleashed to serve God and make more disciples.
So that leads us to the close. I mentioned in the beginning that the two most pivotal parts of this story were the prequel and the sequel. Without the prequel, the story dies. But what about the sequel?
Think about it. Start with Zacchaeus’s family. Imagine Zacchaeus now viewing his wife and children through the lens of God. No family is perfect, but Zacchaeus now sees clearly they are cherished and loved by God, and so is he. God gave Zacchaeus this beautiful family, and he has been appointed a caretaker for them. God comes first, and they come second. Not his job, not his selfish ambitions, not his friends. What an opportunity to transform a family and change his legacy for generations.
Now think about his marketplace. Zacchaeus has a tremendous network of business partners, employees, customers, government officials, and personal friends that are available to him as he sets out to expand God’s Kingdom. Imagine the impact he had on others. I couldn’t help to think about Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation and how the changes in him changed his family, his community, and even saved a life.
In summary, I believe Zacchaeus went on to do amazing things in the name of the Lord and changed the destinies of an enormous amount of people.
Here’s the final thought…We also have the power to exponentially change the destinies of countless numbers of people by our faith, acts of love, being a living example of a person that walks with Jesus, appropriately handling conflict, overcoming our false beliefs and perceived limitations, glorifying God both in the good times and through suffering, and having the integrity to do the right thing even when nobody is watching.
Using the example of Zacchaeus, this salvation and new life transformation happens by:
- Opening our imagination (Behold/Look up to God)
- Admitting our true primary needs and acknowledging we can’t do it alone (Humility/Meekness)
- Seeking an encounter with Jesus
- Accepting his invitation to step in
- Confessing the truth, changing our heart (Repentance)
- Receiving the gift of salvation
- Giving and receiving forgiveness
- Allowing ourselves to be unleashed to serve and glorify Him always
Thanks you Zacchaeus! If you can do this…so can we.