Jesus was passing through Jericho, on His way to Jerusalem, where the final days of his ministry would play out. A large crowd was with him, and though He was trying to reach a destination, He made a point to pause there and seek out a man who was despised in his community and viewed as a “sinner” (Luke 19:7).
Zacchaeus Encounters Jesus
Zacchaeus was a wealthy chief tax collector in Jericho, which was a major tax collection site. He likely had plenty of opportunity to abuse the system that funded the Roman army, thus giving him plenty of opportunity to be disliked by his neighbors. This was a man who cared much about his wealth, and little about the well being of others. We are told that Zacchaeus badly wanted to see who Jesus was, but was too short to physically see over the crowd (Luke 19:3). His desire was great, though, and it led to a creative solution. He ran ahead of the crowd, found a sycamore-fig tree, with its squatty trunk and wide branches, and perched himself at a higher vantage point to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passed by. Picture the scene and try not to smile. It’s doubtful a powerful, wealthy man such as Zacchaeus waited in trees for people often!
Jesus came to the spot where Zacchaeus was, looked through the crowd, up into the tree, and called him by name. Oh, the worth communicated in calling someone by name! Psalm 139:13 says, “You created the deepest parts of my being. You put me together inside my mother’s body” (NIRV). Jesus knew Zacchaeus, even though Zacchaeus didn’t yet know Him.
Not only did Jesus call Zacchaeus by name, but He invited Himself to his house, telling Zacchaeus “I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). We are told Zacchaeus gladly came down at once and welcomed the Son of God, and we are given a glimpse into how the crowd around him felt as they watched him climb down the tree: “they began to whisper among themselves” (v. 7 NIRV). What must that have been like to be one in the crowd that followed Jesus? This scene must have made their heads spin. How could Jesus be associating with this dishonest man who in essence had stolen from them, benefitting from their inflated taxes? Do you think they wondered why Jesus didn’t come to their houses? What made Zacchaeus so special?
For Zacchaus, this encounter was the turning point in life. He recognized that he was a sinner and responded to Jesus’ call more enthusiastically than was even asked. His offer to “give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” was unusually generous (Luke 19:8 NIV). It was the sort of “fruit in keeping with repentance” earlier sought by John the Baptist (3:8 NIV). Zaccheaus’ encounter with Jesus led him to repentance because, in stark contrast to the young ruler in Matthew 19, he allowed it to. He was a new man! Changed! As Scripture says, “If anyone believes in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Zaccheaus’ old deceptive ways were gone and a new righteous man in Christ had come!
Have your encounters with Jesus led you to repentance? Why or why not?
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