Remember that little song we learned as kids?
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he.
He climbed way up in a sycamore tree,
For the Lord he wanted to see.…
The story of Zacchaeus is far more than a cute children’s song. It’s the true story of a man, yes, a wee little man, who came to Jesus. It’s a story that we can learn from, the first lesson being that…
COMING TO JESUS MAY BE EMBARRASSING
Luke 19:1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.
Luke 19:2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.
Zacchaeus lived in the city of “Jericho,” which was a border city and so it had a customs station. It was also a very wealthy city, so taxes would have been very high.
Zacchaeus was “the chief among the publicans” (a chief administrator of the tax collectors), and as such, he was very rich.
Zacchaeus was “rich” not just because he was a tax collector, but also because he had been overcharging people on their taxes and taking the difference between what he charged and what their real taxes were.
So if Rome charged 20 percent, Zacchaeus might charge 30 percent and pocket the 10 percent difference for himself. The Roman government didn’t care what he did as long as they got their due. This, as we’ll see, did not make him a popular man in Jericho.
There’s a story about a local fitness center, which was offering $1,000 to anyone who could demonstrate that they were stronger than the owner of the place. Here’s how it worked. This muscle man would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass, and then hand the lemon to the next challenger. Anyone who could squeeze just one more drop of juice out would win the money.
Many people tried over time other weightlifters, construction workers, even professional wrestlers, but nobody could do it.
One day a short and skinny guy came in and signed up for the contest. After the laughter died down, the owner grabbed a lemon and squeezed away. Then he handed the wrinkled remains to the little man.
The crowd’s laughter turned to silence as the man clenched his fist around the lemon and six drops fell into the glass. As the crowd cheered, the manager paid out the winning prize and asked the short guy what he did for a living. “Are you a lumberjack, a weightlifter, or what?”
The man replied, “I work for the IRS.” (Brian)
I am sure that Zacchaeus would have squeezed more than six drops from that guy’s lemon!
But here’s the thing: Although Zacchaeus was “rich,” he was lacking something and he knew it. Riches cannot buy what we really need—eternal salvation.
Zacchaeus had heard about a man named Jesus. We don’t know what or how he knew about Jesus, but from the next couple verses we can tell that Zacchaeus was very interested in seeing Jesus.
Luke 19:3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press [of the crowd], because he was little of stature.
Luke 19:4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
There happened to be a lot of people interested in seeing Jesus, and Zacchaeus “was little of stature.” A short person in those days would have been less than five feet tall.
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he.
In order to see Jesus, he did two embarrassing things for a man in those days to do. First, “he ran.” A dignified man, like the chief of tax collectors, would not do such a thing.
Second, he “climbed up into a sycomore tree” in order to see Jesus. A “sycomore tree” was a short, squat tree that was easy to climb.
These would have been things—running and climbing trees—that a kid would do, but not a man—it would not be dignified or proper. But to Zacchaeus, he did not care about man’s opinion. He did what he needed to do in order to see Jesus, even if it meant embarrassing himself.
Are you willing to do what you need to do to see Jesus? To follow him? Are you willing to be embarrassed for his sake?
1) Have you been holding off receiving Jesus as your Savior because you are afraid what your family or friends might think?
Don’t let the prideful fear we call embarrassment keep you from making the most important decision that a person can ever make. Take Jesus as your Savior today—right this minute.
All you need to do is to recognize that you are a sinner, that you aren’t good enough for God to let you into Heaven. Then you trust in Christ to save you. Embarrassing? Quite so. But it’s absolutely the best thing you can do.
2) Are you a Christian, but you are embarrassed about being a witness? Do you even avoid praying for your meal in restaurants because you fear what others will think?
Be like Zacchaeus, climb a tree and go out on a limb for Jesus!
Coming to Jesus, whether to be saved or as a saved believer, may be embarrassing. A second lesson we learn from Zacchaeus is that…
COMING TO JESUS CHANGES A PERSON
Zacchaeus may not have known it, but he was going to do more than sit in a tree and see Jesus. Jesus was going to see him and change his life.
Luke 19:5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.
Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house! It’s pretty easy for us to overlook how radical what Jesus did is here. Even today, it’s not considered very polite to invite oneself to another’s home. In that culture it was considered even more improper to do so.
Did Zacchaeus accept the backwards invitation?
Luke 19:6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.
We’ve already mentioned that Zacchaeus was in no way liked by his fellow citizens. Not only was he a tax collector for the great enemy, the Romans, he was also ripping people off and cheating them out.
It’s no surprise that they grumble at Jesus going to Zacchaeus’ house:
Luke 19:7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.
What these folks didn’t realize however, was that Zacchaeus was a “sinner” who was changing. He had at this point already believed in Jesus or he was about to do so. When someone is truly saved by Jesus, they don’t stay the same—they become changed people.
How do we know that Zacchaeus was a changed man?
Luke 19:8 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.
Zacchaeus may have heard what John the Baptist said to tax collectors back in Luke 3—
12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? 13 And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. (Luke 3:12–13)
This was exactly what Zacchaeus had been doing—taking more than what had been appointed to him. Perhaps he had even heard John say that back then and was cut to the heart with guilt.
Zacchaeus knew what the Law of Moses said about paying restitution. For example, in the book of Numbers we read:
7 Then they shall confess their sin which they have done: and he shall recompense his trespass with the principal thereof, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him against whom he hath trespassed. (Numbers 5:7)
If you stoled something, you were to pay it back and add 20 percent.
But Zacchaeus does more, he pays back “fourfold!” He could have been thinking of a verse in Exodus where it says that if you steal a sheep you were supposed to pay back four sheep (Exodus 22:1).
Zacchaeus did the toughest thing that the Law demanded—he paid back not just 20 percent, but fourfold (and that on top of giving half his wealth to the poor)!
Jesus observes all this and then declares:
Luke 19:9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
Now, be careful here—Jesus did not look at Zacchaeus’ works here and say, “On the basis of your good deeds, I can say that salvation has come to your house.”
Zacchaeus was not buying salvation with good deeds, salvation is free:
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
However, true faith will show itself in works. Faith cannot just sit in a person’s heart and do nothing. Faith gets up and changes people.
The Bible says that’s how we can know if someone really has a true faith, because they will be a changed person (James 2:18).
Jesus observed what Zacchaeus did and took it as evidence that Zacchaeus really had faith. And Zacchaeus was a changed man because he came to Jesus and was saved.
And that is what Jesus said his mission was and is today:
Luke 19:10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Do you know that you are eternally lost if you are not saved?
Have you come to Jesus to be saved?
Does your life show the evidence of one who has come to Jesus?
Bill, Brian. “A Little Man Meets a Big God.” http://www.sermoncentral.com. 1 Apr. 2000. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.