[LUKE 19: 1-10]
The event as recorded in Luke 19: 1-10 was an especially remarkable one. What makes this encounter even more remarkable was that throughout Jesus’s recorded ministry, this was a rare case of where a person was presenting themselves to Jesus, not because of any apparent physical or mental infirmity but, that, knowing that Jesus would be passing through Jericho en-route to Jerusalem, was determined to “see who Jesus was.”
This is the story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector. Jesus was well familiar with tax collectors in those days. In fact, one of His disciples, Matthew, was a tax collector. It was recorded that after Matthew’s calling, “as Jesus sat at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples, thus causing a great stir amongst the Pharisees [Matthew 9: 9-11]. Tax collectors in those days, had very bad public representation and image. They were regarded as heartless and extortionists, hated to say the least, and regarded as the people’s enemies and counted amongst sinners.
Jesus was on the final leg of His ministry before His triumphant entry into Jerusalem where subsequently, He would be arrested, charged, convicted and crucified. For Zacchaeus, the opportunity to see Jesus before His entry into Jerusalem was one that he could not afford to miss. He possibly, would have heard some account of Jesus’s ministry from fellow tax collectors who had had the privilege of meeting Jesus – His message of repentance, forgiveness, compassion and salvation, and His healing ministry. So, Zacchaeus wasn’t going to let anything get in the way to see Jesus.
But what else could explain why Zacchaeus was so desperate to see Jesus. Being a chief tax collector and one who would have had to contend with and may have been very troubled in his conscience by the ‘court of public opinion’ in his daily life, perhaps Zacchaeus thought that Jesus was his only hope for fair judgement. The One before whom he could present an account of his case, knowing that Jesus would judge with justice, fairness, compassion, and without condemnation [2 Timothy 4: 8; Psalm 89: 14; Psalm 7: 11; Psalm 18: 20-27].
However, the odds were squarely stacked against Zacchaeus. He had his work cut out, so to say. He wasn’t just a tax collector; he was a chief tax collector. He was rich; of short stature and regarded by the people as a sinner and an enemy. All of these would have made him an object of absolute resentment by the people. And then there was the surging crowd to contend with.
It is also possible that some sections of the crowd would have recognised him in their midst by virtue of his work, resented his presence and determined to make life even more difficult for him. But Zacchaeus would not be deterred. He had only one thing on his mind; and that was his determination to seek after Jesus and “to see who Jesus was.” Zacchaeus would not allow his limitations nor the pressures of the challenges surrounding him to disenfranchise him from seeing Jesus. He wanted to lay his case before Jesus.
Zacchaeus’s zeal for Jesus gave him a brainwave! He saw the sycamore tree nearby. He looked up to the tree and immediately saw it as a step to get a glimpse of Jesus and a path to salvation. A tree would subsequently become a symbol of the cross that Jesus was nailed to and died for the sake of our redemption and salvation. Having climbed up to the tree, he was free from the ‘shackles’ of the people. He could now have direct access to Jesus.
Jesus saw Zacchaeus’s zeal and faith. He spotted him on the tree and among the branches and immediately beckon him to come down, and calling him by name, He said: “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house” [Luke 19: 5]. Zacchaeus obeyed and responded to Jesus’s call. This was the day; this was the moment that Zacchaeus had been waiting for. The Bible says: He [Zacchaeus] received Jesus “joyfully”.
But still the crowd continued to complain and condemn Zacchaeus, describing him as “a man who is a sinner.”
Zacchaeus was used to being condemned and called names. So, he tried to lay his case before Jesus, trying to prove his innocence by telling Jesus about his charitable acts and suggesting how different he was from the other tax collectors [Luke 19: 8].
But what mattered most to Jesus was Zacchaeus’s salvation. Jesus said to him: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham” [vs 9]. What a moment! What a day in Zacchaeus’s household! What a great rejoicing to have Jesus as your guest and have it declared that salvation, which is what matters most, has come into your house! It was no longer the views of the people that mattered to Zacchaeus and his household. It was having Jesus and being free from the condemnation of the people. The Bible says: “If the Son therefore shall set you free, you shall be free indeed” [John 8: 36].
What lessons can we learn from Zacchaeus’s encounter with Jesus?
First, reading between the lines, it would appear that Zacchaeus was a troubled man, considering his professional job as a chief tax collector and the people’s perception of tax collectors of his era. He must have been trying to prove his innocence and justify his integrity, through his charitable undertakings [vs 8]. But it would appear that he had already been judged and condemned by the ‘court of public opinion’ as a sinner and an enemy. This must have greatly troubled Zacchaeus. He must have felt that if the people continued to hold him in derision, Jesus was his last hope for fair judgement and resolution of his inner conflict. No wonder he was prepared to do anything, not least, setting aside his dignity and social status to climb onto a tree, so he could get Jesus’s attention.
When you’re trying your best, but this is considered not good enough by your distractors. When you’re trying to prove your innocence, but continually accused and derided. When you’re struggling with an acute or recurrent internal conflict occasioned by external and powerful influences. Remember, Zacchaeus was once in this uncomfortable place. Jesus Christ, the true and only One who judges with equity and righteousness, is your hope and stronghold. Remember what Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” [Matthew 11: 28-29].
Secondly, Zacchaeus, upon realising that Jesus would be passing through his neighbourhood to Jerusalem must have thought that that was an opportunity not to miss. As a chief tax collector, his busy work and life schedules may have always got in the way of seeking and encountering Jesus. But this day was a day not to miss, perhaps the only opportunity left for Zacchaeus if he was to find resolution to his inner conflicts and vindication from the public condemnation. So, he took his chance and was not disappointed. Jesus welcomed him. He and his household were saved and found resolution to their troubled souls. The Bible says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” [Romans 8: 1].
It is not too late to seek Jesus. He is the One that you can trust to truly resolve those inner conflicts that may have plagued you for sometimes. You only need to seek and present yourself to Him just as Zacchaeus did. The Bible says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord and He will have mercy on him, and to our God for He will abundantly pardon” [Isaiah 55: 6-7].
Do not decline the call of salvation. The Bible says, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6: 2].
Thirdly, Zacchaeus took time out from his busy schedules to embark on the quest to seek and to know who Jesus was. He was not disappointed. As Christ followers and believers, it is paramount to schedule time and space to nourish our relationship with Jesus Christ. This can be done through prayers and meditating and seeking divine insight and wisdom from the Bible to nourish and fortify our faith and bring the love of Christ and message of salvation to others [Psalm 1: 1-6].
Fourthly, Jesus is on hand to welcome and receive anybody and everybody who seeks Him and invite Him into their lives. Zacchaeus knew something wasn’t right in his life. He knew all he had to do was to have just a glimpse of grace and mercy of Jesus. He was ready for Jesus having perched himself in a vantage position on a sycamore tree. Jesus saw him even before he could start a dialogue. Jesus asked him to “make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house” [Luke 19: 5]. Zacchaeus responded to the invitation without any hesitation.
Today, Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart [and of your life]. Will let you answer the call and let Him in? Jesus is saying to you right now, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My Voice and opens the door, I will come into them and dine with them and they with Me” [Revelation 3: 20].