Many of us are familiar with the account of Zacchaeus. In fact, you may have even heard a catchy little tune about it before (I bet it’s stuck in your head now, huh? Sorry about that). But, have you ever thought of this part of scripture as an amazing display of God’s huge love?
Jesus loves everyone of course, but there recorded in Luke 19, He demonstrates clearly how much He loves the outcasts of society–the very ones who are despised by the rest of the world. He has crazy love for all of us, but here, with Zacchaeus, He goes out of His way to show His love to one of the worst of that society.
Here’s What Happened:
“1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 There was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but he was not able because of the crowd, since he was a short man. 4 So running ahead, he climbed up a sycamore tree to see Jesus, since He was about to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today I must stay at your house.”
6 So he quickly came down and welcomed Him joyfully. 7 All who saw it began to complain, “He’s gone to lodge with a sinful man!”
8 But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, I’ll give[a] half of my possessions to the poor, Lord! And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay[b] back four times as much!”
9 “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus told him, “because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”[c]
Chief Tax Collector = Not the most Popular Guy
At that time, Israel was under control of the Roman Empire and Rome appointed tax collectors throughout their empire. Many were Roman citizens, but some Jewish men held the position. Their job was to collect taxes for the Roman Government from everyone in their assigned area, including, of course, their own Jewish brothers and sisters.
These Jewish tax collectors were seen as traitors first of all and, then, they usually added to their bad reputations by cheating the people, collecting more money than was due to the Romans and more money that was fair for the work they were doing. They routinely pocketed any extra they collected. They were truly a despised group of people and, for the most part, they earned that reputation fairly with their actions.
But, wait, there’s more!
Zacchaeus wasn’t just a tax collector; he was the [read it in a suspenseful movie announcer voice] Chief Tax Collector (dum dum dum). That means he was a guy who hired other tax collectors to go out and collect taxes, so he wasn’t only a traitor, he was in the business of making more traitors. Meanwhile, the extra money he and those who were under him collected from the Israelites left him living “high on the hog.” O.K., well, not a HOG exactly, since, ya know, Jewish folks didn’t exactly have pigs, but Zacchaeus was a rich dude any way you slice it.
How Short Folks go through a Crowd
Reading this account recently had me thinking why Zacchaeus, being a short guy, didn’t just try to get to the front of the crowd? As a short person myself, I know from experience that it is fairly easy to duck under the taller folks’ elbows to get through a crowd of people fairly quickly. I used this technique pretty much every day in high school and also at a handful of concerts, where I could easily get to the front of the crowd (and no one minded, because they could see well over my head).
So, why didn’t Zacchaeus either duck elbows (that has to be a universal short person maneuver, after all) or simply say “excuse me” and make his way to the front of the crowd? Of course, this is speculation on my part, based on my personal experience and the available facts in the passage, but I think it was because he knew they would not let him through. I think he knew just how despised he was in the community. They did not like him and would not help him out and he knew it. In the end, climbing the tree was easier than facing their distain.
So up the tree he went (possibly another short person maneuver, but, sadly, not one I have employed since the time I got stuck up in a tree when I was 7 or 8). And there he was despised, despicable and totally undeserving of love and mercy—wholly responsible for that distain the whole crowd of people felt for him. But, thankfully for Zacchaeus (and the rest of us) that was just the kind of person Jesus was seeking. So, of course, Jesus sees him and calls out to him!
“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today I must stay at your house.” (v.5)
I think it’s worth noting that when Jesus calls Zacchaeus does not hesitate. He doesn’t let the fact that he is totally despised by the people prevent him from hurrying to the One who saw Him—the One who loved Him in spite of all he’d done wrong—the One Who would save him and change him completely.
Many times people allow their own short comings to prevent them from coming when the Savior calls. But, Zacchaeus saw the light of God’s love and hurried toward it, knowing it was far better than anything he was leaving behind.
And, you know what? He did leave that stuff behind, because when Zacchaeus met Jesus that day, he was saved and we know that “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
Meeting Jesus Changed Zacchaeus (It changes us too)
Immediately Zacchaeus set out to right all he’d done wrong. He vowed to give half of all he had to the poor and pay back four times the amount to any he had cheated. He was no longer a despised, rejected, tax collector. He was no longer lost. He had been found. He was loved and He had a brand new identity as a child of God. All because Jesus came to seek and save those just like him. Indeed, to seek and save those just like us.
Crazy Big Love
What an amazing tale of God’s crazy love for Zacchaeus and, you know what? He has the same crazy, big love for each of us!
Do you feel unloved? Unpopular? Despicable? Even if you have legitimately caused others to feel badly toward you by your actions, this account of Zacchaeus’ life and Jesus’ great love for him should greatly encourage you. Please let its message sink in today.
Run to Jesus if He is calling to you. Let Him change you as only He can.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He loves you no matter what you’ve done and if he’s calling you today, please hurry and jump out of that tree (or maybe use a ladder), run to Him and let Him save you. He can do that today.
He can save that which is lost. It’s why He came. For Zacchaeus—for us—for the whole world!
Now, that’s some amazing love right there!
Dear Jesus, thank You for this amazing, huge, crazy love you have for all of us, especially the very people the world hates the most. Your love in our lives changes everything, because it is because of Your love that You were willing to sacrifice Your own life on the cross to pay for our sin. Thank You that You are still seeking to save the lost. Help them to run to You now, asking for forgiveness and allowing You to change them. Thank You always for seeking and saving me, Lord. You are so good to us! Amen