By David Faust
Before climbing the tree, Mr. Z had climbed the corporate ladder. Scripture calls him “a chief tax collector” (Luke 19:2) who supervised others.
He was short in stature, but not on cash. He “was wealthy” (v. 2)—successful in the grimy business of extorting money from his countrymen. Major trade routes passed through Jericho, creating financial opportunities for those shrewd enough to seize them.
A Curious Mind
Even those who didn’t shun Zacchaeus as a traitor and a thief probably hesitated to associate with a person of such wealth. Material assets can obscure a rich man’s inner poverty. Zacchaeus, though, possessed a healthy curiosity and he “wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way” (vv. 3, 4).
The Lord went out on a limb by entering his new friend’s personal world. “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ’Zacchaeus’” (v. 5). It must have startled Zacchaeus to realize Jesus knew him and noticed him. The Lord continued, “’Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly” (vv. 5, 6).
If Zacchaeus had a wife, was she thrilled to have an unexpected guest for dinner? Were tax documents strewn around the dining room table? But Zacchaeus didn’t make excuses; he made room for Jesus. When confronted with the gospel, some merely inspect it (with casual interest), some firmly reject it (with hardened hearts), but others warmly accept it (with open arms). Zacchaeus was more receptive than anyone (but Jesus) might have imagined.
A Repentant Heart
Some didn’t understand what Jesus was doing. “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner’” (v. 7). Zacchaeus, though, was delighted. His life would never be the same again. He said, “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” (v. 8). The Old Testament required a thief to pay back twice the amount he had stolen (Exodus 22:7), but the repentant Zacchaeus was willing to do twice what the law required.
Can you picture the scene a few days later? There’s a knock at the door. Looking out the window, the homeowner exclaims, “Oh, no! It’s Zacchaeus. He’s here to squeeze more taxes out of us!”
But instead, Zacchaeus humbly explains, “A couple of years ago I over-charged you $1,000 on your taxes. I’m so sorry for cheating you. I follow Jesus now, and I want to make it up to you. Here’s $4,000. You can count on me never to take advantage of you again.” Jesus changed a taker into a giver, a fraud into a friend.
The Lord still goes out on a limb to transform lives, and so should we. He told Zacchaeus, ”Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (vv. 9, 10). Aren’t you glad he did? After all, you and I have a lot in common with Mr. Z.
1. In your circle of acquaintances, who do you think is curious to know more about Jesus?
2. This week, how will you engage in a meaningful conversation with someone who doesn’t know the Lord?
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for August 25, 2013
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
2 Timothy 4
Esther 3, 4