The story of Zacchaeus is one of the most beloved of all bible stories. But it is also one of the most hilarious stories of the Bible. I believe this is Bible comedy at some of its best.
You have to picture the whole unfolding of this event. Here is Zacchaeus. He’s this short guy. He’s actually the second shortest guy in the Bible [the shortest is Peter—he slept on his watch]. Now you have to picture him in this crowd. You know, he’s trying to jump up and see.
Let you mind fill in some of the blanks here too. I’d picture him as a portly guy too. He’s a wealthy man and as we’ll see he’s a rather self indulgent man too.
I'm thinking that you got this little pudgy guy jumping up and down trying to get a glimpse of Jesus. Then, what does he do? He gets the idea to run ahead of the crowd. So picture him waddling as fast as his fat little legs will take him, sweat pouring down his face breathing hard from being out of shape. Now here he is trying to pull his tubby self up into a tree. This is something that would likely cause some good chuckles if not uproarious laughter.
You got to think about Jesus stopping underneath this tree too. Every eye in the crowd is now zeroed in on Zacchaeus. The whole crowd is watching this guy hanging in a tree like a portly pinata. Oh the humiliation!
But no matter how many laughs you may get from this, there is much more to be gained in spiritual truth. This passage is a favorite, not just because of the yucks you can get out of it, but because it clearly expresses the saving grace of God.
If there is one thing that this passage tells us, it is that Jesus saves. As a matter of fact, the passage concludes almost climactically with Jesus saying, “The Son of man came to seek and save the lost.” If you are hear today, that is the message that you should take home with you today. Jesus saves.
But what exactly does that mean? We see that posted in different places “Jesus saves.” What is that all about? One thing I like about this passage is that it clarifies that for us. It helps us understand the very essence of salvation.
I. The essence of God’s saving grace
The word save here in verse 10 is the Greek word “soteria.” It means to deliver or to rescue. And when we think about salvation in those terms, we can get a better understanding of what it is all about.
Christ came to deliver us. He came to rescue us. That of course, means we are in trouble, doesn’t it? We don’t need saving if we are not in any kind of predicament. We could leave well enough alone, if that were the case.
Scripture makes it clear that we are in a predicament though. As a matter of fact, we are in a perilous condition. We are sinners and as such we have offended God by the many ways we have broken his law.
And because we have broken his law, we stand condemned to die. In other words, because of the guilt that we have incurred, we are liable to the punishment that we so justly deserve for having become law breakers.
You know, today we are almost inoculated to this. We are told over and over that our actions do not have consequences. We watch the television and it tells us about free and unhindered sex. People have all kinds of sexual relationships and there never seems to be any repercussions, is there? But that is such a wild myth. There are horrible consequences, both in this life and the life to come.
And it is not just the lack of chastity. But it is every sin that we’ve ever committed. It is the lies, the unkindness, the blasphemies, profanities, the list could go on and on.
We have to understand that we have fallen short of God’s glory and are under his wrath and curse. The wages of sin is death. And every time we sin, we provoke God all the more. God’s wrath towards us has been kindled and his justice demands that we be stripped of every God given blessing and cursed with hell fire for all eternity.
But Christ came to deliver us from that. He came to rescue us from our sin and its punishment. He came, not just that we might have a better life now, but that we might have eternal life. He came so that we might be delivered from the state of sin and death and enter into a state of salvation.
And that salvation can be yours through faith in Christ. He has come to seek and save the lost, and if you are here today, you can rest assured that if you turn to Christ you too can be saved. If you trust Christ he will save you from your sins and give you the gift of eternal life.
Of course, you might be thinking, “That’s good and all, but how far is God willing to go?” You might be thinking, “Sure, God would save some people, but could he save someone like me—with all the things I’ve done?”
In other words, you might not question the essence of salvation. You get it that Jesus saves sinners, but just not a sinner like you. You think that God’s grace just can’t extend that far.
Well, this passage is an answer to that. It shows us not just the essence of salvation, but it shows us the extent of it too.
II. The extent of God’s saving grace
In this passage we have the story of Zacchaeus. I want you to understand that Zacchaeus was one seriously lost sinner. He was one of the lowest of the low. Out of all the people in Jericho who you might think that God is willing to save, it probably would not be Zacchaeus.
Look at verse 7. You hear something of the scandal of it all. Jesus has just told Zacchaeus that he wanted to go to his house. And how the people respond? They say, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Can you hear how aghast they are? The people of Jericho are horrified at this. They are absolutely appalled that Jesus would even dawn the steps of this man’s house, let alone actually spend time in fellowship with him over dinner. This was a scandalous thing to them because Zacchaeus would have been a notorious sinner in that town.
We are given a clue as to what all is entailed when it tells us his occupation. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. And not just any tax collector; it says that he was the chief tax collector. That is to say, he was the head tax collector in the city who would have had other tax collectors under him.
Now, understand, you don’t ascend to places of rank and influence in this part of the world by being a nice guy. This was a cut throat job. And it is likely that Zacchaeus, even though he was a little dude, was a real thug. He was someone who was used to getting his way, if you know what I mean. People don’t let go of their money happily, especially when they are being cheated. That’s what tax collectors did. The Roman government required that you collect so much, anything that you get above that was yours to keep.
And it tells us here that Zacchaeus was a rich man. He had accumulated quite a pile of cash, and you can bet that it didn’t come honestly. (It is likely that he didn’t spend it honestly either). And again, people don’t just open up their wallets when they are being cheated. To feed that greed Zacchaeus likely had gotten feisty with some people. He was not only involved in extortion, he was likely a thug.
Think mob. You know the mob. They extort people for money, and they don’t float around like little fairy princesses. They have their means of getting that money.
But it isn’t just that he is a greedy thug. That would be bad enough. But Zacchaeus’s occupation affiliates him with Roman Empire. He is working for the enemy. People didn’t want to pay into the system because these taxes were seen as a religious thing. To pay taxes was, to some, considered a disloyal act to God. It was to support the pagan system and a direct defiance to the nation of Israel, which is the kingdom of God.
So really, you can think of Zacchaeus as a lying, cheating, mobster, who likely hung around with some not so pleasant characters (You know, the girls he hung around with were probably not your average church going girls). And, above all that, he was a Roman sympathizer. He was a man who defied God’s kingdom on a daily basis. This guy was, in all respects, scum. In terms of people, you couldn’t get any worse than Zacchaeus.
And yet, despite how hideiously (Notoriously!) wicked this man might have been, Christ chose to stop at his tree. Chirst chose to stop at his house. And Christ said, “Today salvation has come to this house.”
So, how far does the saving grace of God extend? It extends to even the worst of sinners. The thought should never enter your mind that there is no hope for you.
Most of you would likely be familiar with George Whitfield. But you might not be familiar with his brother. Whitfield’s brother was deeply despondent at times and felt his utter worthlessness. On such a occasions a friend would avail herself of the opportunity to speak with him about his soul’s salvation. She would try to induce him to come to Christ. To all her pleas he would simply respond, “Oh, it is of no use! I am lost! I am lost!”
She used many means of trying to overcome his feelings of helplessness. At one point she simply shrugged her shoulders and said, “Thank God for that!” The man ask for clarification and she said, “Because Christ came to save the lost. If you are lost, then He is just the one who can save you.”
No matter how great a sinner you are you cannot out sin Christ. The grace of Christ cannot be exhausted or outdone. No matter how defiant you have been; no matter how much you have thumbed your nose at the Lord, the Lord is willing and able to forgive you.
Zachaeus really is an example of what we saw earlier in our study. Back in chapter 18 Jesus said, What is impossible with man is possible with God. Was it possible to save a guy like Zacchaeus? Is it possible for a person like you to escape the wrath and curse of God due to you for your sin? Absolutely.
Christ came to seek and save the lost. And this passage helps us understand that it doesn’t matter how lost you may be. Whether you are a little lost or a whole lot of lost, Christ can save.
But as we look at Zacchaeus we not only see the extent of his saving grace, we also see the evidence of saving grace.
III. The evidence of God’s saving grace
When someone is saved that is going to have an impact on his life. He’s going to show evidence that God has done something. In other words, he is going to demonstrate a repentant lifestyle.
And that is what we see right here. Look at verse 8. It says that “Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor and, if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
Now it is interesting that we do not hear about anything that happened at this party. Luke doesn’t tell us anything about who was at the party or anything else that might have transpired. We don’t know if they played charades or pin the tail on the donkey. We don’t know if they had any appetizers or anything. The only thing we are told is that Zacchaeus’s life changed. He changed from one who lived contrary to God’s law, to one who is now seeking to abide by the law.
That’s what is going on here. That’s the sum and substance of what he says here. In pledging to give away half of his wealth Zacchaeus is saying, “I once made a god out of money. I am now turning away from the worship of the money-god and I am pledging to follow the true and living God alone.”
Then he goes on to say that “if he has defrauded anyone, he will repay 4 times the amount.”
What Zacchaeus says here goes back to Exodus 22. In Exodus 22 we read various laws about what is to happen if a man steals something. And it tells us that if a man steals a sheep and kills it he is to repay the owner 4 sheep in its place.
What was that law all about? Why 4 sheep? Well, sheep were a huge part of one’s income. If you lost a sheep, you were out a significant portion of your year’s wages. And it isn’t easy to recoup that.
Zacchaeus doesn’t deal in sheep, but he recognizes the principle inherent in God’s word. He had burned people through his greed. He had infringed on their lifestyle maliciously by his thuggary, and God’s law required him to correct that.
What I want you to understand is that this is the true evidence that someone has been saved. Jesus comes into the world so save men from their sins. And when they come to Christ they realize that they cannot go on living the way they have been. They have to change. Instead of being a law breaker, his live must now be oriented towards obedience to the law.
There is a distinct break with one’s previous lifestyle that occurs and an evidence of true repentance.
And I’d like you to focus on this notion of restitution. Zacchaeus isn’t just saying, “I choose to follow God now.” He understands that his relationship to God is going to manifest itself in his relationships with others. It’s not just about not following money anymore. He understands that it is imperative that he restore what has been broken between himself and his fellow man.
I used to lead a Bible study for some ex prison inmates. It was supposed to focus on addictions and addiction recover and we were to use as the basis for it the 12 step program for Alcoholics Annonymous. Now, there are some critical things you can say about it, but one of the things that was really good was that it dealt with broken relationships. One of the steps said that you needed to try and reconcile with people in your past who you sinned against.
It might have been someone from whom you stole money. It might have been someone you cheated or lied to. Whoever it was, you were to seek, in so far as you could, to be reconciled.
Why was this required? What was the purpose of this step in the program? It was to be a sign of your recovery. It was to be one evidence that you had broken with your addiction and that you were on the way to recovery.
It is true: Every new man will act in new ways. If you are truly saved from your sins, then you will evidence that in your newfound obedience.
I’d encourage you to think about this. Ask yourself if there is any restitution that you need to make. Is there someone with whom you need to reconcile? Maybe you haven’t stolen any of their money, but perhaps you haven’t given them the love that they are due. Maybe it is as simple as your wife or your husband. You’ve stolen from her the sacrificial love that is rightfully hers or you’ve withheld from him the proper respect that he is due.
If Christ has saved you, you ought to show Christ how thankful you are by returning to his law and offering to restore what has been stolen. Doing this will evidence that Christ has indeed rescued you from a life of sin.
A man once stood up to give his testimony in a service. He said, “The man I am now does not know the man I used to be.”
His words were brief, but they could not better sum up the saving power of Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus does.
Zachaeus might have been a wee little man, but he had a life full of sin. And through him we see how a great salvation Christ can bring.
It doesn’t matter how sinful you may be or how desperate your condition is, Christ has the power to deliver you and bring you into a state of salvation. You need only to turn to him, like Zachaeus did, and trust him for his grace.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.