Encounters with Jesus: Zacchaeus

Please read: Luke 19:1-10

So many of the encounters with Jesus we’ve considered in this series involve a brief meeting:  the only time the other person is ever mentioned.  The gospels record the life and ministry of Jesus.  They – rightly – focus our attention on him; the other characters are secondary.  But still, we often find ourselves wishing we knew more.  The story of Zacchaeus does this for us.

How did he ever become a tax collector?  Was he picked on when he was young because he was short?  Was collecting taxes from his countrymen on behalf of the “enemy” a form of revenge?  And what became of Zacchaeus after his meeting with Jesus that day?  Did he remain in Jericho, or join the growing band of Jesus’ followers?  Did Matthew –another former tax collector – take Zacchaeus under his wing and “disciple” him?  I’d like to know the answers to questions like these, wouldn’t you?

Meeting Jesus that day was truly life-changing.  Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  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.  – Luke 19:1-4

We do know some things about Zacchaeus (apart from his being short!).  He was a chief tax collector, and he was wealthy (surely these two factors are related!).  He had obviously heard about Jesus; he was really keen to see him.  And he was resourceful!  Concerns for appearances and dignity gave way that day to his desire.  So up the sycamore tree he went! When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”  So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.  (vss. 5, 6)

It didn’t really take much to bring about a momentous change in Zacchaeus.  Jesus’ words of kindness and acceptance touched his heart.  (How long had it been since Zacchaeus had heard words of kindness and acceptance?)  Not everyone was pleased!  All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”   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.”  (vss. 7, 8)

The word “repentance” is never mentioned in the story.  Jesus doesn’t demand it.  Zacchaeus offers it; freely, spontaneously.  And not just verbally: his actions and commitment demonstrate a decisive change has taken place.  Jesus notes this.  Jesus said to him, “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.”  (vss. 9, 10)

Such a beautiful story!  This is the gospel in action; the ministry of our Saviour fulfilling its function.  We note how it all began:  Jesus spoke words of kindness and acceptance to an outcast.  No words of judgment or criticism.  No need to identify inappropriate behaviour.  Not even a call to change.

Can we follow the example Jesus shows us here?  And leave the task of conviction to the Holy Spirit?  Is there someone you know just waiting to feel loved and accepted?

PRAYER:  Thank you for the reminder through this story that you came to “seek and save the lost”.  Thank you for including us in those you came to save, and for entrusting this ongoing ministry to us.  Lead us to those whose hearts will be receptive.  Enable us to show your kindness and acceptance to all we meet, regardless of their circumstances.  Grow your kingdom among us we pray,In Jesus’ Name.  Amen

(Written by Alan Akers)

SONGThe Servant King by Graham Kendrick –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpwfDXcKrNQ