By Pastor Hal Mayer
Warm Christian greetings to you and your family, I am praying that the Lord is helping you to be more faithful to His voice and that you are listening very carefully to His counsel. We are living in a very difficult time in history, but it is not without precedent. I am thankful that we can trust the Lord to sustain us and keep us faithful. I want to thank you for your prayers for Keep the Faith Ministry. I also want to say to those who send gifts each month that we greatly appreciate it. You are part of our Keep the Faith extended family, and it means a lot to us. We could not send you the timely end-time messages without your prayerful and generous support.
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Have you ever wondered what motivated Jewish men in the time of Christ to join the ranks of those collecting taxes for the Romans? It was a most demeaning job. After all, they were considered to be outcasts and rejects by their fellow Jews. They were a constant and galling reminder of the Roman rule. They were hated intensely because they were viewed as traitors to their country. They were accused of being sinners and therefore not worthy to be included in among the sons of Abraham. The accusations were probably true for the most part, because these men were corrupt. They were legalized thieves. What would motivate anyone to take on this profession? What would be the reason why someone might be willing to descend to the level of a publican among the Jews? I don’t know about you, but I have always wondered about this. Matthew was a tax gatherer. He no doubt felt the sting of accusation and was certainly the brunt of many jokes. But what a change took place in him when he became a disciple of Christ. An enormous transformation came over him! Someone else took his place at the publican’s table. He had found the real treasurer.
This month we are going to study this point and the impact that Jesus made on these people because it has powerful lessons for those of us who are burdened by sin and who long to be free and have joy. You will be amazed at what Jesus did with one man who was perhaps the most despised of all.
When I think about the tax gatherers in Israel, I am astonished at their depravity. They were working for the enemy. They were traitors, and it was no secret that they were sabotaging the nation by their cooperation with the Romans. What would motivate someone to do this work? Perhaps greed was one of the most powerful motivators. The tax gatherers could easily become rich. And they used their office to do so. It was a game of course, much like taxes are today. The people tried to minimize their income and their assets and the tax gatherers tried to maximize them. They had freedom to exaggerate the tax when they wanted, and they did so with great skill. They knew what they were doing and they knew it was wrong. But they justified themselves by one means or another to continue in this evil work.
The Roman system of gathering tax was left to the local governors or procurators. They would appoint someone who would manage the whole business over the whole territory. When they found the man that suited them, they would give him the use of a garrison of soldiers to enforce his decisions. The chief tax-gatherer would in turn appoint others who were willing to help him. The job was so lucrative that there were always enough greedy people around who would take it on. Of course the purpose of the tax was to raise money so that the Romans could pay for their road building and other infrastructure projects. But it also paid for their oppression of the people being taxed. This made it even more galling to the average citizen. The oppression was at their own expense. Therefore they hated the tax gatherer. Were it not for the support of the soldiers, the tax gatherers would have probably been unable to do their work, or would even lose their lives.
Jewish law prohibited a publican from certain activities. He could not be a judge or even a witness, because his testimony was considered to be tainted. Nor could his family serve in either role, since they would likely protect him and his interests. They were considered to be robbers because of the way they conducted themselves. As a result they were viewed with suspicion and despised.
These tax gatherers made themselves rich. They would extort extra money from as many as they could, rich and poor. We know this because when the publicans came to John the Baptist and asked him what they must do to be right with God, he told them to “exact no more than that which is appointed you.” That’s Luke 2:12. So obviously they are demanding more tax than was required. Of course they would keep the money for themselves. It was perhaps an open secret. They had ways of getting more money from the people. They would accuse people perhaps of hiding assets so that they would not be taxed. Naturally, the game was played by their victims too.
“Among the publicans there was a confederacy,” we are told in Desire of Ages, page 555, “so that they could oppress the people, and sustain one another in their fraudulent practices. In their extortion they were but carrying out what had become an almost universal custom. Even the priests and rabbis who despised them were guilty of enriching themselves by dishonest practices under cover of their sacred calling.”
When I think deeply of what it must have been like to be a tax gatherer for the national enemy, I am gripped with the feeling that I have also done the same thing. The national enemy of heaven is Satan himself, and I have so often worked for him. How many times have I betrayed my country by selfish actions and prolonged this night of sin? I cannot judge the tax gatherers for their depravity because I have the same faults as they. Without the grace of Christ, we perhaps would do worse.
Many of these tax gatherers knew that what they were doing was wrong. They understood that extortion was a crime, but they justified it somehow, perhaps on the basis that the religious leaders were doing the same thing under cover of their religious office, so what is the difference if the publican does it under cover of the Roman taxes?
Under these conditions consider how many of these poor sin-burdened souls were weighted down with a heavy load of guilt. Can you imagine having to live with the condemnation of the church as well as the people? Publicans only had a few friends. And most of them were fellow publicans. They were a proscribed class. Every society has its own proscribed class. Sometimes they are in that class of people because they were born in that condition, or perhaps they sunk into it because of their decisions and actions. Regardless of the cause, for various reasons the social order has decided that they do not deserve to be full members of society. Perhaps you know someone that is of a proscribed class in your community or in your church.
Jesus described one of these poor souls when he gave the parable of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the temple to pray. His purpose was at least two fold. On one hand, He was reproving the Pharisees for the spiritual pride. But the publican knew himself to be a sinner and beat upon his breast saying: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Luke 18:11. The typical publican was treated with distain. Perhaps the publican was meant to hear the prayer of the Pharisee, so as to reprove him publically, and rather piously, for his sinful life. But there was no need. The publican knew his wickedness and pled with God for forgiveness.
There was something different about Jesus. Jesus had kind words for the publicans. He treated them with respect as if they were normal members of society. The religious leaders had neglected the spiritual condition of these lost souls, but Jesus taught them about the kingdom of heaven too. It was as if he opened the very door that the Pharisee had shut. How often do we do this today, my friends? How often are some souls neglected because they are not deemed worthy by the religious establishment? How often do we whisper about someone that has a bad reputation or some who may continually get themselves into difficulties in their life and ministry? Yet we don’t help them.
Notice what happened when word got around that Jesus was friendly to the publicans and sinners. Luke 15:1, 2 says; “Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.” Jesus words were gentle. They were hopeful. And in them the publicans and those that were outcasts for other reasons were greatly encouraged by them. It seemed as if there was a general movement among these people and they were drawn by a common impulse or attraction to the power of Jesus.
The contrast between what the Pharisees told the publicans and what Jesus told them was so stark that the Pharisees were threatened by the fact these sinners were flocking to Jesus. Jesus was so bright and hopeful that these downcast sinners thought that perhaps He would help them. He gave them hope. They saw Him as a holy man. They had never met anyone like this before. And as the despised ones drew near to Him, they remembered better days. Their hearts longed for sympathy and kindness. He offered them something intelligent and reasonable, the real genuine chance that they might in fact find a home in heaven. Before that time, they had only heard about the terrors of the law and the thunders of heaven against the sinner. But Jesus offered them love, and eternal joy.
But the Pharisees were quite unhappy that Jesus would fellowship with the members on the fringes of the church. Verse 2 says: “And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”
The approach of the publicans and sinners awakened a murmuring among the Pharisees against Christ. It seemed to them that for these outcast people to go to Him were to leave them. They had created a wall around these people and isolated them from the rest of the church. And it seemed that Jesus was deliberately circumventing their authority and breaking down their wall of division by fellowshipping with these evil people. Even though they had no interest in these people and had neglected their salvation, they were nevertheless disturbed that Jesus would accept them and thereby reject the Pharisees.
Why did the Pharisees murmur against Christ? What really bothered them was that Jesus bypassed their system and offered the publicans and sinners the very thing they refused to give them. They thought that they were the gatekeepers of heaven and that everyone had to be approved by the church leaders in order to be in favor with God, and for that matter to be in good standing in the church. But Jesus deliberately threw down their barriers. He openly undermined their teaching and the people flocked to Him.
The Pharisees saw that many people were following Jesus because of His gracious words. They saw their influence declining. Jesus knew that his act of associating with the publicans and sinners would be seized upon by the leaders of the church and used against Him. But that didn’t stop Him from treating them with respect and offering them the kingdom of heaven. And they knew it was at his own personal sacrifice, and this greatly increased their respect for Christ.
Listen to these words found in the second volume of the Spirit of Prophecy, page 175. “The scribes and Pharisees… knew that since the ministry of Jesus had commenced, their own influence over the people had greatly decreased. The sympathetic hearts of the multitude accepted lessons of love and kindly benevolence in preference to the cold forms and rigid ceremonies exacted by the priests.”
One day Jesus was going through Jericho. He was on His final journey to Jerusalem and his crucifixion. We find this story in Luke 19. Jericho a few miles from the Jordon was a very rich area of Judea at that time. “The city lay in the midst of tropic verdure and luxuriance of beauty. With its palm trees and rich gardens watered by living springs, it gleamed like an emerald in the setting of limestone hills and desolate ravines that interposed between Jerusalem and the city of the plain.” That’s Desire of Ages, page 552. It’s rich soil made Jericho an ideal place for agriculture, particularly wheat. But it’s plentiful balsam and sycamore trees also strengthened its economy as timber. The sycamore tree is a type of fig tree that has rather unpalatable fruit. Its timber was the common timber of the area used in buildings, utensils, equipment etc. The fruit was, however, eaten by the poor people. They made it more palatable by slitting the fruit open when it is maturing so that the sour juices could flow out.
Sycamore Tree 
Jericho was also an important political center since its position was at the entrance to Palestine. “Jericho was one of the cities anciently set apart for the priests,” we are told in Desire of Ages, page 552, “and at this time large numbers of priests had their residence there. But the city had also a population of a widely different character. It was a great center of traffic, and Roman officials and soldiers, with strangers from different quarters, were found there, while the collection of customs made it the home of many publicans.”
Many wealthy people lived there during the time of Christ, and of course there were the tax-gatherers whose job it was to collect the taxes and forward them on to the Romans. This was a very important region from the standpoint of taxation, and the publican who was in charge of this region was in a most coveted position. The chief publican was the one who appointed others throughout the region to collect the taxes. They were to keep a portion for themselves, and pass on the tax plus a commission to the chief publican. He then would pass on the revenues due to the Romans, of course keeping his commissions. No doubt, he reserved the most lucrative households and business enterprises to his “expert” assessment and judgment. Further, there was probably a lot of corruption as well. Wealthy land owners and businessmen would make the tax gatherer and especially the chief tax gatherer the beneficiary of their goods and services, otherwise known as bribes, so that he would not attempt to overtax them.
Luke 19 verse two tells us who the chief tax-gatherer in Jericho was at the time when Christ came through the city. “And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.”
This simple statement tells us that Zacchaeus was the head customs officer and that he was very wealthy. No doubt after many years in this position, he had accumulated a lot of wealth, and unfortunately, it came by extortion and by bribery. His soul was heavy. He had no happiness. And he longed to find relief.
One day, Zacchaeus heard some surprising news. There was a new self-supporting itinerant rabbi that had been traveling about the country. He was not part of the religious establishment. In fact rumor had it that he wasn’t appreciated by the Pharisees and that he was rather independent. The enthusiasm about this man ran on the lips of many, and Zacchaeus could not help but hear of the miracles he was doing, and how he was kind to all, especially the outcasts of society. He heard that Jesus was friendly to the publicans. It was even reported that he told a story about a rabbi and a publican that went to the temple to pray, and the publican was justified before God because of his repentance. “Perhaps,” thought Zacchaeus, “there may be hope for me to be forgiven of my sins.” But the most intriguing thing about this new teacher named Jesus was that he had students that traveled with him. He even had one that had been a publican like himself.
Was Jesus a different kind of rabbi? The miracles sounded wonderful! He had healed 10 lepers. He had restored the sight of a man blind from birth. He had even raised a dead man named Lazarus to life again. This is no ordinary rabbi. The question was being asked from house to house, “Could this be the long awaited Messiah?” Some doubted, but most enthusiastically said He was the One who was to restore Israel to its glory.
Just hearing about Jesus, Zacchaeus had already felt the conviction to make things right with people he had wronged. He knew that it was what he should do, and had already begun to make some efforts to do this. But he wanted to see Jesus and get some reassurance that by repentance and restitution he could regain the favor of Heaven.
It is in the few words of verse three where we really learn a lot more about him. “And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and he could not for the press, because he was little of stature. By now Zacchaeus had heard enough. Zacchaeus longed to see Jesus. He hungered to have relief from the guilt that pressed about his soul. He knew he had wronged many people and had corrupted others along the way. He felt the sting of condemnation of the religious leaders and no doubt he often wished he could hide from their piercing gaze.
The church leaders were quick to denounce the wave of enthusiasm about Jesus as sensationalism. They studiously underplayed the importance of this new rabbi. In fact they even suggested that these miracles were all a hoax, that Jesus fabricated to draw attention to himself. They said that He could not have any credibility… after all he was from Nazareth. And what good could come out of Nazareth?
But Zacchaeus was interested and intrigued by the rumors. He may have even checked discretely with some well-placed friends to see what he could find out about him. The reports must not have been good. The rabbis were saying that this man was an independent minister and that He was taking money from the people, and especially the money that should have gone to the church – perhaps even the tithe.
But what Zacchaeus heard on the street was quite a different story. The people were amazed that Jesus was willing to go places and do things that the rabbis would never do. He would touch the unclean. He would heal on the Sabbath. He would speak the kindest, most comforting words ever heard. He spoke of God as if He was His Father and like He knew Him personally. He would pray with such fervency and earnestness that thousands were impressed that He knew God as a friend. Why, He even pardoned sins, something the rabbis said that only God could do.
And when they kicked Him out of the synagogue because His sermon was too pointed, He didn’t get upset. He just went somewhere else to preach. In fact, the rumor mill was saying that on one occasion He had even preached to five-thousand men plus women and children all day, and then gave them all food to eat. Maybe this self-supporting preacher wasn’t as bad as the rabbis made Him out to be.
If anyone was the Messiah, it would have to be a man like that? Zacchaeus determined to see who this man was if ever he had the opportunity. And now, he heard that Jesus was coming to Jericho on His way to the feast in Jerusalem. Many people passed through Jericho at this time of year. And the excitement was palpable. Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead and the controversy and whisperings about what the priests might do to Jesus made the people all the more interested in what He had to say. People everywhere flocked to see Him. Crowds pressed Him from every side as he drew near the city.
When Jesus entered Jericho, it was no doubt with difficulty in the narrow streets that there could be room for the crowd. Everyone it seemed was vying for His attention. Some were sick and wanted healing. Others just wanted to be noticed and receive a blessing from Him. Others just wanted to look at the face of a man who was kind and gracious. Little children wanted to hold His hand as He walked. Mothers with babies in their arms pressed in hoping that he would touch their child.
Zacchaeus began to be a little anxious perhaps. He really would like to see Jesus. In fact deep down, he would really like to talk to Him. Perhaps, just perhaps Jesus could help him see a way out of his despicable life. Secretly, no doubt, He hoped that he could have forgiveness for his greed, his cheating, lying lips and his gross selfishness. He felt terribly guilty but had no way out. He was desperate for relief. The rabbis didn’t offer Him hope. Maybe Jesus would.
As Jesus came into the city, Zacchaeus felt an irrepressible urge to see Him. He had to see Him, even if it was just a glimpse. He had to look upon His face to make sure that it was as kind and friendly as the people said it was. Perhaps just by looking upon Him, Zacchaeus would feel better. If he could just see Jesus, maybe he could have hope. Verse three says that “he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was of little stature.”
My friend, what a mission! There is no more important mission in life than for the sinner to do whatever he has to do in order to see Jesus, who He is. It is not merely a slim hope that it will change your life, it is an absolute certainty. To see Jesus is the sinners only hope. It is his only possibility of being right with God. You have to see Jesus if you want forgiveness and joy. You have to see Jesus if you want hope and peace. You have to see Jesus if you want power to overcome your sins. You have to see Jesus if you are ever going to gain heaven.
You cannot merely hear about Him. You have to see Him and learn of His wonderful character. Then, and only then, can you have a new experience. Then, and only then, can He change your life for the better. When you see His love, when you see His compassion, when you see His life, then, and only then, you can see a way out of your own. When Jesus passes near, that is the time to see Him. He may never come that way again. You may never have as good an opportunity to see Jesus. The time to seek Him is now. Not tomorrow. Not tonight. Not next week, but now.
Zacchaeus knew his chance had come. If he missed this opportunity now, he may never have a chance again. He hurried to the throng of people around Jesus. He tried to go this way, and he tried to go that way, but he could not get close enough to get even a glimpse of him. There were just to many people, pushing, shoving, pressing in so tightly that it seemed impossible to see Him. Besides, the scripture says, he was little of stature.
What a description! Think for a moment what this is saying. Yes, Zacchaeus was of little physical stature. He was stunted. Everybody was taller than him and they all looked down on him. This meant that he had to have even more shrewd and subtle ways to enforce his tax decisions. Everybody knew he was a cheat, and they treated him with disdain. He felt the sting of his smallness of stature, because he was midget in mind and heart.
Every day he had to face people that looked down on him, and it was a fitting reminder of how God must look on him too. The rabbis looked down on him as if he was not welcome in the church. The people looked down on him as if he was a national traitor. It was as if he was cursed by his stunted growth. He was constantly reminded of his sin, rejected, dejected and hopelessly lost. Like his stature, he had no hope of a change. He was stuck and stuck badly.
What a fitting symbol of his pathetic character. His pride was so great that his character was of little stature. His greed was so strong that his heart could only be small. His selfishness was so big that his maturity was stunted like his height. How could he see Jesus if he was always blocked by taller people? How could he ever solve his problem when other people were always in the way?
Now Zacchaeus was getting desperate and He got a little more aggressive. He began to push a little on his own. He tried to squeeze in between some of the people on the outer edge. But as soon as they saw who it was that was trying to push around them, they pushed back. He didn’t need to see Jesus. Jesus wouldn’t notice such a small man anyway. Besides, Jesus was too busy with more important people to notice this spiritual midget.
Zacchaeus knew in his heart that he had to see Jesus, but he was thwarted at every turn. Frustrated, dejected and utterly disappointed he turned away from the crowd. Tears welled up in his eyes as loneliness and rejection sunk into his heart and hurt him deeply. Perhaps he would never be able to see Jesus. Perhaps he was worthless, and Jesus wouldn’t be interested in him anyway. Perhaps his life wasn’t worth living since he had no hope of salvation. Satan ruthlessly pressed him with doubts and temptations. Maybe he should just end it all. What more does he have to live for? He has everything this world has to offer, except happiness and peace of mind.
As he trudged back toward his empty tax booth, tears began to flow freely down his face. The agony in his heart only increased his mental anguish. So many obstacles, so many barriers, how can he find faith if he can’t even see Him? How could he have any hope of relief of sin and guilt? How could he ever find joy and happiness if he could not look upon the face of forgiveness and love?
His eyes were so blurred by tears that he didn’t see the tree at first. It was one of those common sycamore trees and it was just a few yards in front of him. And it was located right in the middle of the street. He had passed it many times, but never had he given it much thought. Its green leafy branches had offered him and many a weary traveler a little shade on a hot day. Children would play in its branches, screaming with delight in their happy carefree way. They always had a special appeal to him. How he longed for the happy, free, trustful spirit of a child again. Years of wrongdoing had jaded him and he no longer trusted anyone. He stood there a moment trying to think more clearly and dry his tears. Children don’t have the years of sin and guilt to deal with. Their joy is free and simple. But those days were long gone for him. He had to deal with his years of evil choices. To have their joy was impossible. Well, what could he do? Perhaps he would just have to pick up the pieces and hope that God would have mercy on him in the judgment. But really, God wasn’t like that, at least not according to the priests. He would severely punish the sinner, even if he was repentant – wouldn’t he?
Then, all of a sudden, as if by divine suggestion, that tree gave him an idea. The still small voice spoke almost audibly to him. “Zacchaeus, that tree is there for you. That common sycamore tree is your solution. It could be your salvation.” He quizzically looked at its branches and saw that he could actually climb up into it. Maybe from there he could see Jesus as he passed by below. The crowd was getting closer now. Verse 4 says that he quickly ran before the crowd to the tree and clamored up into the lower branches and positioned himself among the boughs so that he could at least get a decent view. Perhaps he even broke off a few small twigs to remove some of the leaves that might be in the way of seeing Jesus.
He had never climbed this tree before, and it was a long, long time since he had climbed any tree at all. Only when he was a boy did he play in trees. But now there he was, desperately hoping for a little chance of happiness, climbing up into a tree hoping to see Jesus. My friend how many times in your life have you felt like you were so desperate that you didn’t care what you had to do. You would even act like a little child to find relief. That was Zacchaeus. His moment had come. He didn’t know it, but he was about to find wonderful relief. He was about to see Jesus. As he climbed up into the tree, the hope in his heart also went higher. All the protective layers of distrust and defensiveness in his heart let go of their hold. His soul was no longer like a cold stone. It was ready for a change, a very big change. As the throng came closer, his heart began to pound. What would Jesus look like? Would He have a smile on his face? Would Jesus notice him up in this sycamore tree?
He dare not hope that Jesus would see him. He was too busy with too many people, and too may demands. He didn’t have time for Zacchaeus. So he settled for a mere look. My friends that’s all it takes… It is a mere look, a pleading look that stirs the heart of Jesus. Jesus knew what was going on in Zacchaeus’ heart. One of the reasons he came to Jericho, among other things, was specifically to save Zacchaeus from himself. Here is an important point. Jesus knows your heart’s burden. He comes to you specifically and offers you an opportunity to change. This story is in the Bible so that discouraged, desperate people will understand that Jesus is coming to Jericho specifically for them. So go ahead, climb up in your sycamore tree and have a look at Jesus.
Finally the crowd passed below. There was Jesus in the middle of them all about to pass right under where Zacchaeus was sitting. Zacchaeus’ anxious eager face peered through the leaves to see if he could catch a glimpse of Jesus. When he saw the peaceful, happy countenance on the face of Jesus, he was surprised at how happy He was. How he longed for that peace and happiness that he saw on Jesus face. How he longed for the ability to do what Jesus did and help others rather than selfishly grasping for everything he could get. Zacchaeus was ready to learn the greatest lesson of all; that to give is better than to receive. That true joy can only come in unselfish giving. That peace is possible when pride is punished.
When Jesus came to the tree, to Zacchaeus utter surprise, He stopped. He looked up as if to draw the attention of all to the tree. All eyes look up too. There dangling from a leg hanging over a branch was a red silk slipper, gold trimmed and having a few jewels. There was the gold edge of the robe of a very wealthy man. Wasn’t that the robe of Zacchaeus? Everybody knew who it belonged to. It was the only one like it. They hated him because he made their lives so miserable. Why was Zacchaeus up in this sycamore tree, they no doubt thought? Zacchaeus was self-sufficient they imagined. They had no idea how desperate he was; how his heart had been crushed by their evil words about him, and their rejection. Zacchaeus had no friends, except fellow greedy tax gatherers. Little did they realize that Zacchaeus had a friend in Jesus.
When Jesus looked up into the tree, it wasn’t to see the spectacle of a rich man foolishly staring down through the branches. He didn’t look up to see a funny sight. Jesus looked up into the face of this desperate man, whose sins had almost blotted out all hope of heaven, and pierced His soul with kindness. He saw the tears in his eyes. He saw the hunger in his soul. He saw the longing for a new life. That was his mission in Jericho… to give Zacchaeus a new life.
When Zacchaeus saw that Jesus was looking straight at him through the leaves of the tree, he was almost embarrassed. Yet he was thrilled at the same time. Hope seized him. Maybe Jesus could make a difference in his life… Maybe he could find an escape from his sins.
The scripture says in verse 5, “He looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.”
When Zacchaeus heard these words, he was overwhelmed with so many emotions all at once. Did he really hear correctly? Did Jesus say he was coming to his house? Zacchaeus couldn’t believe his ears. Was Jesus serious? Zacchaeus scrambled down the tree. This time instead of having to muscle through the crowd, he was standing in front of Jesus. He looked him straight in the eye and he saw His wonderful compassion and kindness. He felt his love warm his cold heart. He was speechless at first. Perhaps he was tempted to doubt or question Jesus motives… “Does Jesus really know what kind of evil man I am?” he must have thought. Does Jesus really care about me?” But he thrust these doubts aside when He saw His friendly face. Jesus wasn’t kidding. He wasn’t artificial. This was genuine.
As Zacchaeus stood there in astonishment, he couldn’t help himself. He bowed low to the ground as if to worship Jesus in silence. Jesus reached down and lifted him up. As Zacchaeus stood up, his lips were unsealed and he publically confessed his sin and repentance. In front of everyone he said; “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.
Jesus smiled and looked at Zacchaeus with the kindest expression Zacchaeus had ever seen, and said: “This day is salvation come to this house forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.” Jesus loved the sons of Abraham. He would do anything to save just one soul. He longed for them to turn from their wicked ways and be saved. Then He added as if to reprove the rabbis for their neglect of this poor rich man; “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
But for Zacchaeus, the relief was refreshing. He had never felt so at peace and it caught him by surprise. What a wonderful feeling. Quickly, and almost as if in a dream, Zacchaeus led Jesus and his disciples to his mansion. Its marble floors were clean. Its beautiful lawn and garden refreshed their spirits. He asked Jesus to make himself comfortable on the well appointed furniture in the parlor. He asked his servant to wash the feet of Jesus and his disciples. Then he went to the kitchen and told the cook to make sure that there was enough food for 15 people, and instructed her to make the very best dishes using the very best quality food. He went to the butler and asked him to bring out the freshest and most tasty grape juice. Then hurried back to the parlor where Jesus and His disciples were waiting.
There he sat down and began to listen as Jesus told him the secrets of eternal life. How the Son of Man came to sacrifice His life for lost souls, and that God wanted Zacchaeus to live in heaven eternally. He told Zacchaeus perhaps, how much He longed for Zacchaeus to have a pure life, and that it was possible by His grace. No doubt He gave Zacchaeus a lesson in philanthropy, and explained to him that peace comes when you give of yourself to others, and that the greatest joy in this world is to make the life of someone else better by your presence and generosity.
Already Zacchaeus could feel the burden of guilt being lifted from His shoulders. Jesus did not condemn Zacchaeus for his sins. He knew that Zacchaeus already felt a heavy load of guilt. Jesus was there to bring forgiveness, and Zacchaeus already sensed that his sins were cast aside. His heart was moved by Jesus words. He saw his wretched, selfish and proud heart, not as a condemned sinner, but as a lost man who had found his way home. Now he needed to take action. Several hours later they were still talking. They had eaten and now Jesus knelt in prayer and pled with God to restore Zacchaeus into favor with Heaven. He prayed so earnestly that Zacchaeus could not help but weep as Jesus re-consecrated this repentant soul to God.
Zacchaeus was overwhelmed. He saw what he had to do. His heart was overcome with love for Jesus. And he wanted to make sure that he would not lose the blessing. So he certainly reiterated his promise to give half of his goods to the poor and restore anything four-fold that he had taken unjustly. Zacchaeus had received Jesus, not merely as a passing guest in his home, but as One to abide in the soul’s temple. The scribes and Pharisees accused him as a sinner, they murmured against Christ for becoming his guest, but the Lord recognized him as a son of Abraham. For “they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.’ Gal. 3:7.” That’s a quote from Desire of Ages, page 556.
The sad part of this whole story is how the religious leaders reacted. Verse 7 says that when the rabbis saw it, “they all murmured, saying, that He was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.” They were just as sinful as Zacchaeus. But they wanted to discredit Jesus before the people, so they stooped even lower to bear false witness against Jesus by their murmuring. This was the very purpose that Jesus came to our earth – to save the sinner. Yet the rabbis represented it as if it was wrong for Him to do that.
But how can you save someone if you don’t visit them and help them? Their prejudice and pride was so strong that they could not see that Jesus was there particularly for the sinner. They thought they needed no salvation because they saw themselves as righteous. They could see that Jesus was bypassing them and spending time with those they despised. It was as if Jesus slapped them in the face every time He healed someone, or ate with publicans or prostitutes. He never followed their principles, let alone their rules. Yet He spoke with such authority, that they thought him arrogant. Yet they saw His growing influence as a threat so they followed Him around hoping to find some occasion to accuse Him or condemn Him. No matter what He did, they made it out in some way to be evil and proclaim Him a sinner.
Yet Jesus longed for the rabbis to see their own need of salvation. Often His miracles and actions were designed to show them their own hearts. In visiting Zacchaeus, Jesus showed them their own wicked attitude toward the sinner. He showed them their spiritual arrogance. Yet they would not yield to His saving power. Instead of saving them as Jesus longed to do, His actions hardened them. Speaking of gross sinners, the book Christ’s Object Lessons tells us on page 236; “As the word of Christ came to Zacchaeus, “Today I must abide at thy house” (Luke 19:5), so the word will come to them; and those who were supposed to be hardened sinners will be found to have hearts as tender as a child’s because Christ has deigned to notice them. Many will come from the grossest error and sin, and will take the place of others who have had opportunities and privileges but have not prized them. They will be accounted the chosen of God, elect, precious; and when Christ shall come into His kingdom, they will stand next His throne.”
When Jesus and his disciples left the home of Zacchaeus the next morning, they were refreshed, not so much by Zacchaeus hospitality, but by the humble response of a man now transformed by the grace of Jesus.
Imagine the surprise when a local businessman had a visit from Zacchaeus that morning and dropped a bag of money on his counter. “Here Joseph, here is 400 shillings. I overcharged you 100 shillings, and I am returning it with interest.” “But why are you doing this?” Joseph asked. “I met Jesus and I learned the secret of peace and happiness,” replied Zacchaeus. “Now I want to make things right with everybody.”
Later he stopped in at the wine press, and asked to speak to the manager. Here was a man with whom he had a bitter argument over the value of his assets. “Jacob,” he said, “I’m sorry for accusing you falsely of trying to hide assets. I believe that I overcharged you 700 shillings…. Here is $2800 shillings to repay you for all your trouble with me.” Shocked, Jacob stood there in disbelief, the money sitting on the floor. “Rest assured Jacob,” Zacchaeus must have said smiling broadly, “you will not have any further abuse from me. I found Jesus and He has changed my life.”
The city of Jericho was abuzz. What had happened to Zacchaeus? So many people were getting visits from him. He was giving away so much money that it seemed as if he would become poor. He was giving money away to street vendors, homeless people and the common laborers. In a few weeks, his mansion was sold, and the money was distributed to the poor after all his spiritual debts were repaid. Now he lived in a humble home. No more servants. No more luxury items. No more raw consumerism. What a change in the man! How can it be? Just one visit from Jesus and now this? Something has come over him, something overwhelming, something transforming. He is a very happy man now. He always has a smile and a friendly word. He doesn’t walk in that defensive arrogance any more. He walks with a light step. He is not defensive. He is always kind. What a change! Maybe there is hope for sinners, they must have thought. Maybe the rabbis were wrong after all. Maybe even the most hardened sinner can find peace and happiness through a visit from Jesus.
Surely the people of Jericho were impressed, not by all the sick that were healed when Jesus passed through; not so much by His teachings or popularity, but by the way a hardened criminal can be completely changed into a compassionate and generous man. Forgiveness is wonderful, my friends. But as wonderful as it is, it is not complete. The fullest happiness, the greatest joy can only come when we cooperate with Christ and take action and make things right with our fellow man. We can only have true joy and peace when we adopt the giving spirit of Christ, and do what we can to help make a difference in the lives of others.
My friend, Jesus can do the same for you. This encouraging story is given to us as a statement, a statement about what Jesus will do for us, if we long for His righteousness and purity. He will find us and abide in our hearts just as he abode in the home and heart of Zacchaeus. Do you want that freedom and happiness? I do. Do you want to have the heavy burden of sin and guilt lifted from your shoulders? Of course you do. Then go find a way to have a look at Jesus. Sit at His feet a while, and learn about giving of yourself for others. Make your priority each day to listen to His voice. Then walk in His ways. He will completely overwhelm you with joy. He will completely overcome you with peace.