Zacchaeus was a wee little man. A wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree, For the Lord He wanted to see. And as the Savior passed that way, He looked up in the tree. And He said: "Zacchaeus, you come down. For I'm going to your house today!"
A simple song. A simple tune. A simple story that we all know very well. Many of us can have known that story since before we can remember when we started learning stuff. Way back. I don't remember when I first heard about Zacchaeus, it was probably when I was in cradle roll, singing that song and using the motions. Such a simple story. It just takes a few verses of the Bible to tell. But it boils the gospel down to its most elemental meanings.
It is my desire that the message of this simple story will find a permanent place in your heart.
Turn with me to Luke 19 where we find the story of Zacchaeus. This story takes place at the Emerald City Jericho. Oh, there is a neat song about Joshua and Jericho too. But this Jericho is not exactly the same Jericho that fell when Joshua marched around because, if you remember the song, you will remember that "the walls came a tumbling down." They weren't there any more. So what they did was they moved the town about a mile away, probably. That started a new Jericho. This was the Jericho of the days of Jesus and Zacchaeus. It can be called the Emerald City because if you had been traveling through the desert, through the sandstone hills and scrub brush and you came upon Jericho it would be a feast for your eyes. Beautiful greenery every where. You would say, "I want to be there." It was called a City of Palm Trees, City of the Moon, Place of Fragrance. People thought highly of Jericho. Caravan camels must have been hard to control as they neared this city because of the smell of water and the smell of lush vegetation. The handlers must have dreaded coming to Jericho because their caravan animals would act up.
The Jordan River was 5 miles to the East. The Dead Sea was 8 miles to the South. Jerusalem was about 15 miles to the South East. Jericho belonged to the Tribe of Benjamin and was a city of priests. Can you imagine a whole city where priests lived? Kind of like Collegedale, I think. In this verdant oasis there lived a man whose heart was a dry as the hills of Gilboa. Zacchaeus.
Luke 19 tells the story, beginning with verses 1 and 2. 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 was a Publican. The Tax Commissioner. He had people that worked under him collecting taxes. I'm going to ask you to do something unusual for a church service. I want you to think awful thoughts. That won't be hard. Think some of your worst thoughts about paying taxes. What was going through you mind when you had to send in all that paper work. Were you muttering under your breath? I was! I'll admit between January when I get my W-2's, in April when I send in all my paperwork, I'm thinking thoughts that are not exactly wholesome. It's not that I don't want to support my country. It's the best country in the world, and I'm proud to support my country. But I think it's the paperwork that gets to me: keeping track of the receipts. And I mutter and I complain for two and a half months about it.
Now, take the worst thoughts that you have about tax time and multiply them by ten. Maybe you will have an inkling about how the Jews felt about Zacchaeus. He was not collecting taxes for his own government. He was collecting for the enemy, Rome. And yet he was a Jew. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Let's say that Russia invaded the U.S. and took over and we had to pay them taxes. Wouldn't that make you feel good? That would make your dealings with the IRS seem very nice. You'd long for those good old days. What if your long-time neighbor and friend suddenly said, "Today, I'm going to work for the Russians. I'm going to collect taxes for them." Would you like him very much? NO! He'd be considered a traitor, an enemy. And that's the way the Jews felt about Zacchaeus. He was a traitor, a thief, and worse than the Romans that occupied.
As if that wasn't enough, he was short. I also picture him as rather flabby. Not from any Biblical evidence that I have (after all, the limb on the sycamore didn't break), but rather by deduction. With all that wealth, Zacchaeus probably ate the richest foods available, clogging his arteries, and didn't exercise much sitting in the tax booth all day counting his money. He's just not a good looking fellow. Zacchaeus just was not a favorite personality.
Verse 3: He wanted to see who Jesus was. Now , that seems to be a turning point in the story. He wanted to see who Jesus was. Why? Evidently there was still something in Zacchaeus that had not given way to that hard heart. There is an inkling that he wanted to meet Jesus. We often say, "We're planting seeds, but we don't often see the fruit." Someone had planted a seed in that dry heart and it had taken root. I don't know. Maybe someone sent him a brochure in the mail inviting him to the local Net 27 AD 'Discoveries in Prophecy Crusade by John the Baptist.' Desire of Ages (by EG White) states that he had heard John the Baptist preach nearby and his heart had become troubled. Why would his heart be troubled by what he heard?
Luke 3:12,13 tells the story of John the Baptist. Verse twelve shows that he had tax collectors in his congregation. Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" He knew what they were asking. "Hey, we've led this life of crime. I'm not saying that tax collectors are necessarily criminals, but that's how they made their money, by overcharging. The Romans said, "We want this amount, what ever you can get, that's up to you." That's how they made their money. So they're saying, "John, what should we do?" He didn't say to get out of the business. "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them. Now Zacchaeus was here that day and Zacchaeus heard these words and his heart was troubled. His heart hurt because he knew of his past, yet it also was stirred with hope of a different kind of future. Have you noticed how your chest hurts when strong emotions are aroused? That is what made so many ancient cultures believe that it was your heart that did the thinking. Your brain was just some mush to keep your ears apart. This is where you thoughts came from because that's where you felt it. We know better today even though we still use the symbolism of the past "I love you with all my heart!" We still use the language because that's where we seem to feel it. Right there in the chest.
Zacchaeus' chest was hurting. He had conflicting emotions going on that his heart was troubled. "Yes, I've been bad in the past. But maybe there's some hope. Could there be some hope?"
What do you do when you have chest pains? Seriously, if you start having chest pains, real chest pains, what would you do? Call an ambulance! Get to a physician fast! Then you need to submit yourself for the best treatment the physician can give and do what the physician says. Minutes count. You surrender yourself to what the physician says. Don't say that you know better than the physician. The physician is the expert. When Zacchaeus had chest pains, he went to see the Great Physician fast! He then submitted himself to the Jesus. To the Physician's care. He said, "Create in me a new heart. Renew a right spirit in me."
I learned a lot about this heart stuff a few weeks ago. One of our church members (Pam Raney) invited me to take a course that she helps with at Memorial Hospital. In fact, she's pestered me to take this course for two years now. Finally I was able to go and do it. The course is called Cardiac Residency for Clergy. The purpose of the course is to help pastors to know how to be better pastors in the hospital when people are having heart trouble. It shows us everything that happens to a person from the time they start to have chest pain to the time of their recovery at home They showed us about every procedure that can be possibly be done to the human heart, up front and personal. I was able to observe almost every procedure that is done in the hospital for a heart patient.
One of the most dramatic procedures that I witnessed was when you had to put on the funny blue hat and the blue scrubs and the booties and the mask and walk into the operating room. My wife, who's been an OR nurse for year was hoping I'd faint. In fact, one of the nurses came up to me and said, "Who are you?" and she realized I was not Dr. Kildare. I said, "I'm here with the Cardiac Residency Program. She says, "You might want to put your back against the wall so that when you fall down it won't hurt so bad." I did that because I knew I would faint. "I can't believe I'm in here. What am I doing?" But what held my attention more than my own fear of queasiness was the man on the table. Flat on his back. He knew nothing, he was asleep. I'm glad because he didn't have anything on, period. He was in total submission to whatever it took to keep him from dying. He did not care that he didn't have clothes on. Whatever it takes, heal me. And there he was with about twenty stranger rushing around him getting him ready for surgery. Then in walked the surgeon. He made the initial incision. I didn't pass out. I was proud of myself. Actually, it was so fascinating that I forgot to pass out.
Then he takes this skill saw and runs right up through the sternum. I couldn't believe they do this. And then they take some clamps and hook it around the rib cage and they turn this crank like they were fishing and up came the rib cage. I won't tell you about all the smells and the fats and all that stuff. And there was the man's heart. Right there where it should be, beating. I'd never seen a heart beating before, although I watched PBS one time. This was close enough where I could reach it and take a hold, but I didn't. But I was that close. And his lungs were going up and down and I watched the surgeon as he skillfully, without a doubt of what he was doing, started a triple by-pass.
They were taking veins from the legs and all this, and I was walking around getting better views, and I looked at him closely and I realized his heart had stopped beating. And his lungs had ceased to inhale. I looked at the surgeon and he was still operating. I felt like saying, "Excuse me, sir, he's dead. Stop any time now." But, no, they didn't seem to take notice that he wasn't breathing or his heart had stopped. They were still working away there. And I wondered what happened here. He's laying there, he's dead. And then I realized they had stuck some tubes down in there and run them through his huge machine full of tubes and filters that was putting oxygen back into his blood and sending it back into his body. His blood had been rerouted so that his heart and lungs could be still during the operation.
I was glad to see his heart and lungs get going again when the surgery was nearing completion! They wired his chest back together and sewed him up. Three and a half hours after the first incision, the triple bypass was complete. I was exhausted and I had done nothing but watch. It was like he had died on the operating table and come back to life.
When we submit to the Great Physician, we die on the table. We die to our selves and we submit ourselves to Jesus. "Do whatever it takes to create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me. Bypass the blockages that are there. Whatever it takes, I submit my heart to You because I want to be revived to live for You." I'm hoping that this man when he came to himself, that he decided to lead a new kind of life, too. I know, I did. I've heard health messages all of my life, and I believed them, and I've tried to practice them without a lot of success sometimes. But after watching this man's chest open up I thought I'm cutting back to one doughnut instead of twelve. Nothing will get your attention like seeing that.
Well, Zacchaeus had hope that his chest pain could be cured. After all, hadn't Matthew been a tax collector as well?
Verse 3: He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being short he could not because of the crowd. I'm sure the crowd was not very helpful to Zacchaeus. "Come on, Zacchaeus, wouldn't you like to see better?" No! They detested him. I can picture them squeezing him out. Someone may have said: "Go away Zack! Go climb a tree!" "Oh, good advice."
Verse 4: So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. Zacchaeus ran through the narrow streets of Jericho (so narrow that a man could touch both sides with out stretched hands) until he found himself on the outskirts of the city where he found the sycamore tree.
This was not the same as the sycamore trees we have around here. This comes from the word "Sukomrea." Sukon means fig and Morea means Mulberry tree. It had leaves like a Mulberry and a fruit like a fig. This particular tree produced great fruit - Zacchaeus! I can picture Zacchaeus, he's put his pride away, hasn't he. There in his finery he climbs a tree in front of everybody. His pride's gone. He wants to see Jesus. He's willing to lay all that aside.
Verse 5: When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately." Luke like the word "immediately." It's one of his favorite words. "Come down immediately."
Jesus knows where you are, who you are, and what you need! Is you life up a tree? Jesus knows it. Jesus knows who you are. He can call you by name. He knows what you need. Don't wait when He calls! Come down immediately! Let nothing keep your life up a tree! Don't let you job keep your life up a tree. Don't let your spouse, don't let your children, don't let your parents keep you up a tree. Follow Jesus. Don't let School, work, Grudge, Sports, Pride, Nothing! Nothing should keep you up a tree. Come down immediately. Why? Where was Jesus headed? He was headed toward Jerusalem to die. Jesus did not pass that way again! This was Zacchaeus' opportunity. Follow Jesus immediately.
Continue with verse 5: "Zacchaeus, come down immediately, I must stay at your house today." This is the only recorded time that Jesus invited Himself to someone's house. He did it at great risk to his own reputation but He saw a strong desire in Zacchaeus' heart to be a changed man.
Verse 6: So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly." How exciting! This Great Teacher was going to stay with him! He would be able to do more than glance at Jesus through he leaves of a tree! He would be able to talk with Him, to eat with Him! Do you realize how long it had been since anybody had wanted to eat with Zacchaeus? I'm sure his own wife didn't relish the thought. This guy was unpopular. And Jesus, the very one everybody is longing to see, the one who just a few minutes before healed blind Bartimaeus is coming to his house?! And the crowd was excited about that. Jesus is going to visit Zacchaeus. Right? No! Remember this is a city of priests. There was probably a bunch of pastors here.
Verse 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner'." A sinner! "Why didn't He come to my house. I've been doing good things, and He's going to Zacchaeus' house? He's a sinner." Well, when we say "sinner" today, it doesn't have quite the connotation that it did then. This had a much stronger connotation then than it does today. Don't get me wrong. Sin is just as bad now as it was then. When they used the word, "sinner" then it meant, "outcast." But today when someone is said to be a sinner, we, as a Christian family may say something like "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. How can we help this person." But in Zacchaeus' day, to be called a sinner meant that you were an outcast of both the church and society. You had no more chance of being saved than a Gentile or a dog. You were lost! No hope for you. An outcast from the bosom of Abraham. A walking disease to be shunned. That's the way Zacchaeus felt about himself.
A sinner! How could Jesus even speak to such a person? This was more than just a quiet muttering. And they muttered about it. It wasn't just some muttering under the breath. The Greek word implies emphatic or loud muttering. They were making their displeasure known that Jesus was going to eat with this publican, this sinner, this thief, this person that had been robbing them blind.
Verse 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." Hearing the crowd and knowing that they spoke truth about his past, Zacchaeus stands up and makes this announcement. That was more than the crowd would do in such a circumstance.
That was more that the crowd would do in such a circumstance. Moses' law required that if a person admitted to being a thief and involuntarily said he would give back things he only had to give back a fifth of what he had taken. If a person was convicted as a robber and was forced to pay back, he was forced to pay back double by Mosaic law. But Zacchaeus doubles this penalty out of the sincerity of his own heart. Desire of Ages states : "No repentance is genuine that does not work reformation." How did Jesus react?
Verse 9: Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham." This was the worst thing Jesus could have said to this crowd. He called Zacchaeus a Son of Abraham. This reflects back to what John the Baptist had said before he was talking to the tax collectors. Luke 3:8 "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of those stones God can raise up children for Abraham." Out of that stony heart, those clogged arteries of that heart, Jesus reinstated a child of Abraham. Israel had disinherited him. Jesus had reinherited him. Why did Jesus die a thief's death? Because He came to steal hearts away. Yes, a rich man can inter Heaven!
Verse 10: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. Here we find the Gospel in a nut shell! These fourteen words in the NIV are what it is all about. Not a single one of these words is more than one syllable. The Gospel in its essence. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." Very simple, very straight forward, the gospel in its simplest essence.
It was hard for the Jews to believe that Jesus would have dealings with the likes of Zacchaeus.
It may be hard for you to believe that He cares about you. He knows your name. He knows you need. You have looked for Him or else you wouldn't be here today. But the question boils down to, Have you come out of your tree yet. Have you come out of where life has treed you by trusting Him enough to come into your home? You notice, Zacchaeus didn't say, "I'm glad you're coming over. Let me run ahead and warn my wife so she can dust, sweep something under the rug." No. "Come, just as my home is." I'll let you tell what He's cleaning up.
Do you trust Jesus with your home? with your life? Are you willing to let Him be the Master? Don't wait! You don't know when He will be this way again!
Zacchaeus was a wee little man, Whose life was up a tree. He opened his heart to Jesus, And Jesus set him free. Opening Hymn: #27 Rejoice Ye Pure in Heart Scripture: Psalm 51:10-13 Closing Hymn: #290 Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus HOLYCHESTPAIN.WPD
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last updated 6/10/99 by Bob Beckett.