|Jesus calls Zacchaeus|
Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 19:1-10 to teach believers that Jesus draws us to His Presence and His Purpose.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about Jesus’ Presence and Purpose.
Key Verse: Luke 19:10 (the key verse of the entire Gospel)
Pray and Read: Luke 19:1-10
Throughout his Gospel, Luke emphasizes the importance of walking in faith and avoiding unbelief. He has made it clear that every individual who meets Jesus Christ must make a decision about Him. Christ must be received or rejected. His claims must be believed or denied. When the Gospel shifts gears at Luke 9:51, Luke urges us to prioritize faith over unbelief (Luke 9:57-11:36) and warning us to trust the Lord rather than ourselves (Luke 11:37-12:59).
Christ then calls us to a Kingdom marked by grace (Luke 13:1-21), repentance (Luke 13:22-35), provision (Luke 14), and redemption of the lost (Luke 15). Luke warns us to prepare for His Return by responding to God’s Word in repentance (Luke 16), guarding against sin with obedience and thankfulness (Luke 17:1-19), waiting with faithful service (Luke 17:20-37), and persevering prayer (Luke 18:1-8). God always responds with mercy to a humble and simple reliance on Him (Luke 18:9-17). True faith is
In chapter 18, Luke, who has been talking about the importance of walking in faith and not in unbelief, shows us what true faith actually looks like. The necessity of complete reliance on God is emphasized in Jesus’ response to the little children (Luke 18:15-17), the response of the rich young ruler to Jesus (Luke 18:18-30), and most powerfully by Jesus Himself when He shares with His disciples His coming death and resurrection (Luke 18:31-34). Then in an example of His free mercies, Jesus turns aside to free a beggar from blindness (Luke 18:35-43).
The passage before us brings us to the end of Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem.
1. Jesus draws us to His Presence (Luke 19:1-7)
2. Jesus draws us to His Purpose (Luke 19:8-10)
Exposition: Note well,
1. JESUS DRAWS US TO HIS PRESENCE (Luke 19:1-7)
a. The story of Zacchaeus together with the Ten Minas bring Luke’s Journey to Jerusalem to a close (Luke 9:51-19:44). What a fitting conclusion to a section that has been called “The Gospel to the Outcast.” Zacchaeus, whose name “Zakkai” means “the innocent one,” (Ezra 2:9; Neh 7:14) is the ultimate in Israel’s outcasts, a chief tax collector, the worst of the worst. Jesus’ encounter with the rich ruler (Luke 18:18-30) had prompted the question, “Who then, can be saved?” (Luke 18:26). If, as Christ had said, that it was harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, Zacchaeus was the most impossible case.
b. In this story, told only by Luke, Jesus is now passing through Jericho, an oasis for millennia in the desert, a stopping point on the way up to Jerusalem. Most people rested here in this desert oasis with nice weather all year before starting the six-hour trip uphill trip from 600 feet below sea level to 3000 feet above, through the dangerous, rocky, robber-haunted gorge leading up to Jerusalem. There were two Jerichos, the old and the new cities, and it was a town of two classes of people: priests and publicans, Pharisees and tax collectors. This is the sixth mention of tax collectors in Luke, all of them favorable to Jesus (Luke 3:12; 5:27; 7:29; 15:1; 18:10).
c. Zacchaeus wanted to see this Jesus of whom he had heard so much (like John 12:21), but he was so short that the crowd made it impossible for him to see anything. So, he climbed up in a tree along the route which Jesus’ group would take. Jesus transforms a tax collector in Jericho and leads to Luke’s clear statement of the purpose of Christ’s mission to the planet. Zacchaeus is a seeker (Luke 19:1-4), and soon Jesus himself seeks him (Luke 19:5-7) to save him (Luke 19:8-10). Jesus sees him in the tree and calls him down, asking him for hospitality.
d. Luke 19:2 – chief tax collector: Being a border city between Perea and Judea with the Jordan as the border, Jericho had a customs station. Taxes were assessed on the large business traffic in balsam in the Jericho area and on goods crossing the Jordan from the eastern Roman province into Herod Antipas’ Judea. Tax collectors were viewed as extortionists and Roman collaborators and were despised. Zacchaeus apparently held a relatively high position in the Roman tax system (architelonis). Though this word has not been found in Greek literature outside the Bible yet, it seems to be an official title, perhaps we could say Commissioner of Taxes. These positions were obtained by making high bids with the Roman government for the leases to collect taxes who then hired employees to collect the taxes. The cost of the bid was recovered by charging ordinary people exorbitant rates. Zacchaeus’ title probably indicates that he was responsible for a broader region,
e. Luke 19:4 – sycamore-fig tree: For Zacchaeus to be short by ancient Mediterranean standards means he was probably less than five feet tall. Because of Zacchaeus’ lack of height, he ran ahead to a place where Jesus would pass, and he climbed to one of the widespread branches of the sycamore fig tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. This is not the European sycamore, nor like our fig, but the ficus sycoorus, “fig-mulberry.” It was tall, similar to an oak with a short trunk, pleasing shade, and wide branches, easy to climb. Without a doubt he was not welcome in this crowd of religious and self-righteous from that city.
f. Luke 19:5 – “I must stay at your house”: Even in ancient times, people did not normally invite themselves to someone else’s home. Pharisees, especially, would not do this because they would not trust the food. Not its cleanliness, but instead one could not be sure if what one was given to eat had been tithed on. Still, Jesus could have enjoyed accommodations at any home in Jericho, but he chose to spend it with this despised tax collector. Jesus’ ability to call the name of someone whom he had never met was considered by the Jewish people to be the sort of thing only a prophet could do (how Jesus knew Nathanael cf. John 1:47).
g. APPLICATION: How do we reach people? By spending significant time with them in settings where they feel comfortable. Don’t be surprised when people don’t accept an invitation to come to church. If you want to reach them, spend time where they do.
h. Luke 19:7 – The guest of a sinner: In a city of priests as Jericho was, it is natural to expect that a great rabbi like Jesus would be received in the home of some descendant of Aaron. But no, it was in the home of a hated tax collector where he found hospitality. Eating in a person’s home was a significant act in biblical times, signifying fellowship and acceptance of the other by both guest and host. In the eyes of the crowd, Jesus had a lot to lose and did lose a lot of respect with them for going to Zacchaeus’ home. For a religious-minded Pharisee to eat with a notorious sinner brought ceremonial defilement and social ostracism. Jesus’ motive was not considered by the crowds, but look at his love for the lost. It must move you and me. The mere presence of Christ in Zacchaeus’ home brought conviction to the tax collector.
2. JESUS DRAWS US TO HIS PURPOSE (Luke 19:8-10)
a. Luke 19:8 – Four times: The OT Law demanded restitution in cases of loss, but only by adding 20 percent to the value of the goods lost, certainly not this much under ordinary circumstances (Lev 5:16; 6:1-5; Num 5:5-7). A thief who has been caught had to pay the victim double (Exod. 22:4, 7). The penalty for outright theft of something essential like a farm animal and showing no pity, however, required restitution of four or five times the value (Exod. 22:1; 2 Sam 12:6). Zacchaeus apparently viewed his white collar crime, his heartlessness and cruelty just as serious as outright theft and offers the whole four-fold restitution.
b. The text (statheis, pros ton kurion, idou) indicates that for Zacchaeus, this was a formal act of renunciation. This is a declaration of the immediate result of personal contact with the presence of Christ. He is overwhelmed by Christ coming to be with him, and his is eager to acknowledge it well. He is not answering his accusers. Instead, Luke is contrasting his conduct with theirs. He addresses the Lord. By saying in present tense, “I hereby right now restore . . .”
c. Zacchaeus’ restitution is in response to grace, not in order to receive grace. One cannot earn salvation by doing. That would be a wage, not grace. Zacchaeus’ salvation was not based on what he did, not on his works. Instead what we see is the result of his faith. Because of his faith in Jesus, we see its genuineness in what he did. Zakkai had himself now become innocent.
d. APPLICATION: The proof of salvation is not that we do what is required to make things right, but that we gladly do more.
e. Luke 19:9 – A son of Abraham: Most Jewish people believed that salvation belong to all Israelites by virtue of being descended from Abraham except for those, like Zacchaeus, who excluded themselves through heinous crimes. The Jews were proud of their status as children of Abraham and treated this as reason enough for God’s blessing. Tax collectors, however, were viewed as having forfeited their rights as Abraham’s children. Salvation, in Hebrew (yeshu’ah), the feminine form of Jesus’ name is important. There is wordplay in “Salvation/Yeshua has literally come to this house.” Note the complete difference between Zacchaeus and the Pharisee of Luke 18 with his self-congratulating prayer and the difference between the rich young ruler who found it impossible to give up his idol of possessions, “he became very sorrowful, for he was a man of great wealth,” and Zacchaeus, “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor.”
f. Luke 19:10 – Though this story told only by Luke, is often viewed only as a cute children’s story, it is in fact one of the most important stories in the whole Bible, since it reveals the heart of Jesus’ mission and God’s purpose for the world. Jesus came, above all, to seek and save what was lost.
g. Only on this occasion did Jesus invite Himself as a guest, though He sometimes accepted invitations. But the remarkable thing He does here is to reveal Himself as Messiah to this outcast tax collector. He only did that with the woman at the well (John 4:26), a despised Samaritan, and to the man born blind, who had been cast out of the synagogue (John 9:37). This verse is considered the key verse and a major theme of Luke’s Gospel, the best summary of what Luke taught.
h. It reflects the image of a shepherd seeking his lost sheep, and image Luke has already used of Jesus eating with tax collectors (Luke 15:1-7), and further points especially to the image in Ezekiel 34:6, 11 of God as a shepherd to his people Israel. The criterion of God’s dealings with men is not men’s merit but his need.
APPLICATION: Those who love God will share his passion to bring his wondrous salvation to a lost world. Christ came to seek and save the lost. That is the Great Commission. That the order He gave us when He ascended. His mission on this planet is that there be disciples from every tribe, language, people, and nation to worship Him one day around His Throne. What are you doing to make that a reality?
j. Second, The Lord seeks to save those who acknowledge they are sinners, not those who think they are saints. We can play the game. You know what I mean, the church game. It is a variant on the child’s game, hide-and-seek, but with eternal consequences. You can play as if you are already found. You can play the part of a saint, as much as the flesh will allow you. You can even convince yourself, but in reality you are still hiding. You are hiding from the only person who can give you life and rescue you from your charade. You can play nice, play as if you are a good, wholesome person who doesn’t need Him, but you do, and you know that is true. Jesus is searching for those who realize the truth and are honest with themselves that their lives are empty without Him.
The Lord seeks us far more intensely than we seek Him. He is the ultimate pursuer. He initiates with his love on the cross. Our job is only to say yes to Him. He is calling your name, as He did with Zacchaeus, and He offers you an invitation. Your part is to welcome Him and receive Him. Will you do that now?
Paul John Isaak, “Luke,” Africa Bible Commentary, Tokunboh Adeyemo, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 1241-1242.
Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1993), 240-241.
David W. Pao and Eckhard J. Schnabel, “Luke,” Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, gen. eds. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), .
Dwight J. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 365-366.
Alfred Plummer, International Critical Commentary on Luke, 5th ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902), 28:432-437.
Laurence E. Porter, “Luke,” The International Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1219.
Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Reader’s Companion (Wheaton: Victor, 1991), 670.
Lawrence O. Richards, The Victor Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Wheaton: Victor, 1994), 201-203.
A.B. Simpson, The Christ in the Bible Commentary. Vol. 4 (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1993), 4:290-291.
David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996), 138.
Mark Strauss. “Luke,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Clinton E. Arnold, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 1:461-464.
Charles R. Swindoll and Bryce Klabunde, The Consummation of Something Miraculous: Jesus’ Trial and Triumph of Redemption. A Study of Luke 16:19-24:53 (Anaheim, CA: Insight for Living, 1995), 45-48.
J. Willcock, The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Luke (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1896), 24: 501-502.
Harold L. Wilmington, The Outline Bible (Nashville: Tyndale House, 1999), 549.
 Tristram, Natural History of the Bible, 398, cited in Plummer, 433.
 Plummer, 432, says that the Clementines say that Zacchaeus was a companion of Peter who appointed him, against his wishes, to be bishop of the church at Caesarea (Hom. 3:63; Recog 3:66), and the Apost. Const. say that he was succeeded by Cornelius (Apost. Const. 7:46). Clement of Alexandria says he was identified with Matthias (Strom. 4:6. p. 579). The Talmud mentions a Zacchaeus who lived in Jericho who was father of the celebrated Rabbi Jochanan. Perhaps this Zacchaeus was part of this family.