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“And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who He was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see Him: for He was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received Him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That He was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; 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. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost”—Luke 19:1-10.
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This is another incident preserved for our edification for which we are indebted wholly to Luke, writing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We do not read in any other of the four Gospels of this visit to the house of Zacchaeus. The Lord Jesus was nearing the city of Jericho. As He entered it He would pass the customs house, which was at the entrance-gate on the side nearest to the river. It was there, in all probability, that Zaccheaus had his office, for he was the chief publican. No one admired a publican. Such an one was looked upon as a traitor to his own people. The Jews were looking for the time when the promised Messiah would appear to deliver them from the power of Rome. They detested the Imperial Government and hated to be taxed by it. What made it worse was that the position of tax-collector was sold to the one who offered the most money for it. He who secured the privilege imposed heavy taxes on the people so as to reimburse himself for all he had paid for his position and to obtain a good living besides. If he were a reasonably honest man he could do well, but if he were a rogue or a rascal, he might accumulate vast wealth. Zacchaeus was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. This tells its own story. We can well understand why the Jews detested him: he had made himself wealthy by oppressing his own people.
This man heard that Jesus was coming to his city. I do not know how much he knew about Jesus, perhaps very little; perhaps he had been told by others that Jesus was the Prophet who was to come into the world and re-establish the kingdom of Israel and bring them back to God. At any rate, he had heard of Jesus and wanted to see Him. There was a crowd gathered about our Lord, and Zacchaeus, being small of stature, could not get sight of the face of Jesus. He ran ahead and climbed into a sycamore tree, or really a wild-fig tree, a very leafy tree. Ensconced in its branches he thought he could see, without himself being seen. This man, Zacchaeus, in one respect at least, is like all of us: he was a “come-shorter.” He had come short. The Bible tells us that “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Zacchaeus was a sinner, he was a come-shorter, and he thought he had to do something in order to see Jesus. Many people have that idea. They imagine that they must do something special if they are going to make contact with the Saviour. The Lord Jesus came that way. He stopped and looked up into the leafy tree; He could see the little man up there on that limb. At once He called him by name, “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house. “ Jesus knew his name. Elsewhere we read, “He calleth His own sheep by name,” So evidently the Lord had marked this man out and knew he would respond to His solicitation. We read that Zacchaeus “made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.” No one else in all Jericho had invited Jesus to his home. We read in this Gospel of many people inviting Him to be their guest, and He always accepted; we never read that He refused an invitation. But no one in this village was concerned enough about Jesus to offer Him entertainment; so He invited Himself to the home of the man who was considered by the stricter Jews to be the chief of sinners. In answer to His request we are told that Zacchaeus “made haste, and came down, and received Him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That He was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.” He invited Himself, and Zacchaeus was delighted to have Him enter his house. That little man got ,out of the tree in much less time than it took him to climb up, we may be sure. We can imagine him exclaiming, “My Lord, come right along; I never dreamed, of anything like this.” And home they went; and the door was closed. Inside that home something was going on that you and I will never know till we get to heaven. It must have been a wonderful experience for this despised publican. We may be sure that Jesus was faithful to him, that He told Zacchaeus of his need to repent and to get right with God.
Outside the people could not hear what was going on between Jesus and Zacchaeus. It is always that way when the soul and the Lord Jesus get into close contact. Something goes on between Christ and the sinner that no one else can enter into. Friends sometimes only hurt instead of helping; they get in the way. The Lord wants to speak to people alone. So this day, while Jesus sat at Zacchaeus’ table, enjoying the food prepared for Him, the great throng outside look at the house and said to one another: “Think of Him, a Prophet forsooth! He says He is the Messiah, but see what He has done; He has gone in with a publican, a man who is a sinner!” Where else could He go? There was not a house in all the world where He would not have to be entertained by a sinner, for “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not.” These Pharisees knew that Zacchaeus was a sinner, but they esteemed themselves as righteous and did not think that they too were sinful and needed a Saviour.
Oftentimes when one tries to speak to people about the Lord—about their need of redemption— they start talking of their own goodness, their charity, the money they give to certain good causes; and they think they do not need to repent. We want to lead them to Christ, but they are trying to make out that they are not sinners and so have no need of a Saviour. If you are not a sinner then there is no salvation for you. If you can prove that you are not a sinner, then I can prove to you that there is no Saviour for you, and you will never go to heaven, because heaven will be filled with redeemed sinners —sinners cleansed by the precious blood of Christ. Only sinners need to be saved; so if you are righteous in yourself then you have no need of Christ. Jesus said He came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. These Pharisees did not realize they were sinners. They knew that man inside the house was a sinner, for all publicans were sinners, but not such people as the Pharisees themselves! They were proud of their own self-righteousness. In Isaiah 64:6 we are told that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. This does not mean rags made unclean merely by the dirt of the streets, but it refers to garments defiled by that which exudes from within, as from the sores of a leper. No matter how beautiful such clothing might be, no matter how fine the texture, they were all contaminated from the corruption within. You would not thank a person for bringing you a beautiful robe which had belonged to a leprous friend who had died and willed the robe to you. No. You would say, “Take it away; it is filthy. I do not want it; it is contaminated by the uncleanness of leprosy.” Well, that is how God looks upon our own righteousness. Our hearts are evil, and yet we draw apart from other people and pride ourselves on being better than they. We say, “Stand by thyself, for I am holier than thou.” But the Word says, “There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Some realize their sinfulness; others do not, but God’s holy eyes see all to be alike. Zacchaeus was a sinner. Yes, Jesus had gone to be guest with a man who was a sinner. Those who were finding fault with Zacchaeus were also sinners, but they did not realize their need of a Saviour as did Zacchaeus. By-and-by the doors of the house were flung open. Zacchaeus came out into the light of day again, and by his side was Jesus. The crowd had been wondering what was going on, and Zacchaeus evidently knew what was in the hearts of those Pharisees. He knew how he was hated and detested; he knew how he had been looked down upon. But he had spent an hour or two alone with Jesus, and something had happened to this man which was to change everything. Zacchaeus 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.” Expositors are not agreed as to whether Zacchaeus spoke of what had been characteristic in his life, or whether he was declaring his intentions for the future. But his wealth declared him to be dishonest. I take it that he had been brought to know the grace of God in Christ, and this grace had changed his heart and his whole attitude. He said, “From now on everything is going to be different; I am going to divide my wealth with the poor; and then above that, if anyone can come to me and prove that I have taken anything by false accusation, I will give him four times what I took from him wrongfully.” “And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house.” Why? Because ,of his giving half of his goods to the poor? Oh, no! Because he is restoring fourfold? No. Why, then? “This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.” We are told that they who have faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. This poor sinner, this despised publican, had real faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and recognized Him as the Son of God and his Saviour, and so salvation had come to his house. Grace had saved him and changed his whole attitude.
“For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” This was the very purpose for which He came to earth. He was ever on the lookout for sinners who knew their need and were ready to be saved. It is His gracious mission still. Though seated on the Father’s throne He is working by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of His servants as they carry the glad tidings to lost men, telling them of salvation from sin and its judgment through faith in Him who died to redeem them.