Jesus and Zaccheus
050-00745 Luke 19:1-10
I. Dr. Luke was a master writer.
A. He makes careful note that the things he wrote came from diligent research and study.
1. One of the complaints some make about the Bible is that the gospels often place events at different places in different times.
2. From the earliest fathers there have been attempts to harmonize the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
a) Synoptic means to take a common view of the big picture.
b) Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called Synoptic Gospels because scholars think that the sources for the materials in the three gospels are the same.
3. When Luke wrote his gospel, he included many stories or events from Jesus’ ministry that the others do not include.
a) For instance, the record of Jesus’ visit with Martha and Mary is only told by Luke.
b) Likewise, today, the story of Zaccheus is unique to Luke.
c) Between these two stories there is very little action.
d) Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem. He stops at Martha’s home; he visits a Pharisee’s home.
B. Luke 13:22 Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.
1. That’s primarily what is going on between Luke 10 and 19.
2. Jesus is teaching. He teaches by presenting information. He teaches by telling parables. And he teaches by encounters with his disciples, the crowds, and specific people like Martha and Mary.
C. But Luke also teaches us.
1. He teaches us by the way he writes down Jesus’ sermons, dialogues, and parables.
2. And Luke teaches us by placing specific events in relationship with other events.
3. Luke’s gospel is an accurate presentation of the life and teachings of Jesus. But that does not mean Luke’s order of things is a chronological history as we who have been educated in the west would expect.
4. Luke takes freedom to order his gospel according to theological themes.
5. So to understand Luke’s point, we must always take seriously why each story, event, or message is placed in the context of other stories, events and messages.
a) Last week I tried to point out that Jesus was teaching about the law of God: You shall love the Lord your God and you shall love your neighbor.
b) Then Jesus tells a parable revealing who our neighbor is and how we are called to love him.
c) Then Luke includes Jesus’ visit to Martha’s house teaching us what it is like to love God.
D. The story of Zaccheus, again only told by Luke, follows the same kind of pattern.
1. I find it a fascinating study to look at the connection between all of Luke’s writing but it would take much too long to present it all here. So let me take a moment to point out a couple of things.
2. Luke gives us hints that such an encounter will happen earlier in the gospel: Luke 15:1 Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him.
a) This possible explains how Zaccheus had first heard about this man Jesus.
b) Many of his coworkers and maybe even employees has already encountered this man.
3. Then shortly before he runs into Zaccheus he tells a parable about a tax collector that puts the Pharisees to shame. Luke 18:13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”
a) No wonder there were murmurers when Jesus went to spend the night with a tax collector.
4. Also, much of the teaching of Jesus during this journey to Jerusalem was about the differences between rich and poor and that it was not easy for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.
a) Interestingly the last story of Luke 18 is Jesus’ encounter with the poor beggar, Bartimaeus (though Luke doesn’t mention his name).
b) And the first story of Luke 19 is Jesus’ encounter with the rich tax collector Zaccheus.
c) Both men end up as members of the Kingdom of God.
5. One last connection you might want to note is that Martha invited Jesus to her house but Jesus invited himself to Zaccheus’ house.
a) Both events though are used by Luke to illustrate the teaching of Jesus immediately preceding.
II. The story. Many of us know the story of Zaccheus.
A. It is a favorite one among children.
1. This may be because most children can relate to being too short to see what’s going on and they often get lost in the crowd.
2. I don’t know if any of you have heard the song about Zaccheus but I learned it when I was very young in Sunday School.
3. Play song video.
B. The story has stuck with me over the years because even as I have grown older and taller, there are many times when I still feel lost in the crowd.
1. Luke says Zaccheus was “short of stature” which no doubt means that he was physically short.
2. But the words in Greek and English can have deeper meaning as well, a kind of double meaning. For there are very large or tall people in the world who are still short of stature.
a) Usually this kind of person is more important in their own mind than they are in reality.
b) There are many professional athletes who consider themselves more important than reality. Jay Cutler of the Denver Broncos has his feelings hurt right now because his team has talked about trading him.
c) The executives of the AIG corporation have demonstrated how they think of themselves compared to all the schmuks who have been ruined by their mismanagement by the huge bonuses they have paid themselves out of money the government gave them to bail the company out of trouble.
d) But there is even the little guy who puffs himself up around others because he wants to feel more important than he is.
(1) He can’t stand to be a small fish in a big pond.
(2) She’s is easily duped into buying into schemes to become wealthy and independent.
(3) He is willing to cut the legs out from under others, to make them shorter, so he can feel bigger.
3. I can just see Zaccheus enjoying the status of being the “chief” tax collector after years of living with “short” jokes. I can feel him basking in the security of his wealth and his power over all the people in the area to determine their tax bill.
4. I also know his frustration at wanting to see the great commotion of the parade of people going through town. Once again, no matter what his wealth or power he was just Zaccheus, a wee little man.
C. Luke does not explain why Zaccheus wants to see Jesus but he does make clear that Zaccheus was not looking to get to know the man. Zaccheus was merely trying to see which one in the crowd was Jesus.
1. So we can’t say that Zaccheus was interested in having his sins forgiven.
2. It is probably that Zaccheus didn’t even consider that his work and life were sinful. He was just trying to get ahead and he was likely trying to compensate for his size.
3. But Zaccheus is smart even if short. He runs ahead of the direction the crowd is going and climbs up in a tree. All he wants is to see the man.
a) The tree, by the way, was a fig-mulberry tree, not really what we would consider a Sycamore tree today.
b) It bore fruit that looked like figs and had leaves that looks like a mulberry.
c) But the fruit was not good at all and the only people who ate the fruit were those who were poor, like the beggar Bartimaeus.
d) I don’t know if Luke is trying to be historically accurate by telling us what kind of tree it was or if he is making a symbolic statement.
e) It may just be a coincidence that such a man of small stature, a man who had gained significance in life by being hated by his Jewish brothers and sisters, would be sitting in a tree that bore fruit that was of such low quality that the important people wouldn’t touch it.
4. In any case, Zaccheus gets to see Jesus.
III. It is at this moment that the story develops with a shocking twist.
A. Zaccheus who didn’t think he was big enough or important enough to join the crowd walking with Jesus becomes Jesus’ central focus.
1. All he wanted to do was see who this man was.
2. Zaccheus wasn’t looking for some kind of life changing experience.
3. He was just curious.
4. But Jesus has a different agenda. Jesus came to seek and save what was lost.
B. There are two things we should learn from Jesus’ meeting with Zaccheus.
1. The first is that Zaccheus’ curiosity was not just some general kind of curiosity.
a) It may seem to us that he was like anyone might be.
b) But Zaccheus was curious enough to run ahead of the crowd. He was curious enough to climb a tree. He could have just become discouraged at his inability to see and given up and gone home. Just another disadvantage at being short.
c) But he did not. Zaccheus’ desire to see Jesus drove him to situate himself in a very unusual place.
d) His simple desire to see was the Spirit’s way of moving him to a place where he could be seen.
e) Imagine the sense of surprise when Jesus stopped, looked up at him and called him by his name!
2. The second is that Zaccheus was not seeking the Lord. He just wanted to see Jesus. But the Lord was seeking Zaccheus.
a) Jesus called him by name. There was no mistaking who he was talking to.
b) Jesus called him to come down from his perch to be with him, something Zaccheus never thought possible and so never entertained the idea in his mind.
c) Jesus invited himself to spend the night in Zaccheus’ home.
(1) I have no doubt that Zaccheus really thought of himself as insignificant. I don’t doubt this because I so relate to Zaccheus.
(2) I know that the glory I seek for myself in other’s eyes is because I do not see myself as very important.
(3) The picture we have here is that if the most significant calling to the insignificant and saying, “You are important to me. I am here to come into your home and spend time with you. I am here to love you as you have always longed to be loved.”
C. What grace! What love! What a gift! Salvation has come to your house today!
1. Even though we don’t always look for it the grace of God is given to us.
a) We didn’t ask for God to put on flesh and live with us.
b) In fact, as a whole, humanity didn’t really want anything to do with God.
c) Even those who were religious only wanted God on their own terms, a god under their control, a god who would do what they wanted when they wanted.
d) But God came to us anyway. And God did not come in anger – God came in love with grace.
2. There are also times that we are looking for the love of God yet we don’t know that’s what we are really looking for.
a) Without the love we are made to enjoy we try to find fulfillment in almost anything.
b) But our longing and desires for power, wealth, security, acceptance, purpose and meaning and significance are underneath it all a longing for God’s love.
3. So this is the good news. In our lostness Jesus seeks us. And Jesus saves us. Because Jesus loves us.
D. Jesus sought Zaccheus and when he found him, his whole life was turned around in an instant.
1. When Zaccheus heard all the comments flying about, “Look, he’s a guest of a sinner,” he took a stand.
2. Zaccheus would be a sinner no more.
3. This man of wealth and power gave half of everything he owned to the poor. He may not have know it, but to Jesus this was the same thing as giving the money to him.
4. And this man of questionable morals vowed to pay to anyone he cheated a fourfold restitution – exactly what the law demanded.
5. But these acts were not what saved Zaccheus and we should never think that doing such charitable work can save us either.
6. Zaccheus was saved by Jesus who prepared his heart by the Spirit, called him to relationship, and filled him with the love of God.
7. 1 Corinthians 13:3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
IV. What are you looking for today?
A. Whatever it is, the only thing that can fill your need is the love of God in Jesus.
1. And this love is yours even now.
2. Jesus is calling each one of us by name. He is calling us to come down from our high places. He is calling us to join him for supper, to spend the night with him, to enjoy him and his company forever.
3. Jesus is calling each one of us in love to love.
4. The story of Zaccheus is the story about small people who are big in the eyes of God.
5. The story of Zaccheus is the story about Jesus’ love for us.