B Y PASTOR T. O. BANSO
“And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house’” (Luke 19:5 NKJV).
The Bible records different life-changing encounters that people had with Jesus. One of them was the encounter of Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector or tax-gatherer (publican) or a superintendent of customs at Jericho. Zacchaeus means pure or just but this man was not pure or just in the conduct of his business as a tax collector as he appeared to have become rich through corrupt practices on the job. Tax collectors were very unpopular and known for cheating taxpayers. Therefore, Zacchaeus and other Jews collecting taxes for the Romans were hated and seen as sinners. Also, they were considered traitors for collecting on behalf of their enemies, foreigners, the Romans who ruled over them, taxes they were forced to pay. In the judgment of the Jews, Jesus should not associate with such persons.
One day Jesus was passing through Jericho, and as usual, the crowd gathered because of Him. Zacchaeus also wanted to see Jesus but he had a challenge: the crowd because he was a short man. Not discouraged by that, he ran ahead to climb a sycamore tree to see Jesus. He not only saw Jesus, Jesus saw him. His encounter with Jesus changed his life. Zacchaeus’ story is recorded in Luke 19:1-10. The story is recorded only in Luke.
What lessons can we learn from the encounter the only man the Bible describes as being short in stature had with Jesus?
1. Go into the world and preach the gospel. Zacchaeus encountered Jesus because He went about preaching the gospel. Zacchaeus didn’t go to Jesus as Nicodemus did in the night (John 3:1-2). The Bible says in Luke 19:1 that Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Zacchaeus encountered Him as He was passing through Jericho.
As believers go to places with the gospel, different people will encounter Jesus and their lives will be changed. Before Jesus left the earth, He told His disciples to go into “all the world” and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15). This is the Great Commission. The disciples obeyed Him as Mark 16:20 says they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.
Also, Acts 8:4 says those who were scattered (the believers) went everywhere preaching the word. As Jesus and the disciples did, we must go everywhere and preach the gospel, using different means. Thus, many people like Zacchaeus will encounter Jesus.
2. Everybody, including the high and the rich, needs Jesus Christ. Luke 19:2 says, “Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich” (NKJV). Like others, this chief tax collector, a rich man, wanted to see Jesus. He was a prominent man in society and he wasn’t poor. Why should he be bothered about Jesus? He must have heard about Him before. He saw a need to see Jesus as He passed through Jericho. He didn’t say he was better than others like some people today feel. They feel the gospel is only for the poor and the low people in society. No.
Everybody needs Jesus whatever is his social and financial status. The rich man must humble himself as Zacchaeus did. The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 shows that the rich also need Jesus. But for that rich man, it was too late. After enjoying and living a godless life on earth, he was in torments in Hades while Lazarus who suffered while on earth was in comfort after death.
The high and the low, the rich and the poor need Jesus. What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul? (Mark 8:36). The rich must not be deceived by their wealth. On Judgment Day, wealth or social status on earth will save nobody. The apostle Paul told Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17 NKJV).
3. There are different obstacles people face to come to Jesus but they could be overcome where there is willingness. Nobody should surrender to any obstacle. Zacchaeus’ obstacle was the crowd because of his short stature. Luke 19:3 says, “And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature” (NKJV).
He could also have allowed his social status to be an obstacle, being not just a chief tax collector in that city but also a rich man. He could have allowed his ego or people’s hatred for him to prevent him from going to see Jesus. But Zacchaeus overcame whatever could be an obstacle because of his willingness. He quickly thought of what he would do in his circumstances. “So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way” (Luke 19:4 NKJV). A rich Chief tax collector ran and climbed a tree to see Jesus! If he had considered his status, he wouldn’t have done so and Jesus wouldn’t have seen him.
He could have used the crowd and his short stature as an excuse for not seeing Jesus but he didn’t because he was determined to see Jesus. In Mark 2:1-12, the four men who carried the paralytic to Jesus in Capernaum to be healed couldn’t enter the house He was in because of the crowd. But they didn’t go away or stay outside complaining. They uncovered the roof where He was and let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. Mark 2:5 says when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” He healed the man.
In Matthew 19:16-22, the rich young ruler’s barrier to having eternal life, a barrier he could not overcome, was his wealth. He went away from Jesus sorrowful because he had great possessions (verse 22). He couldn’t do what Jesus asked him to do. You will find the story also in Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-23. But Zacchaeus could not be stopped by anything.
4. Jesus Christ is more willing to save the sinner than he is willing to come to Him for salvation. Jesus responded to and rewarded the effort of Zacchaeus when he got to the sycamore tree he had climbed. He thought he wanted to see Jesus by strategically positioning himself on the tree where Jesus was going to pass. He didn’t know that Jesus was more willing to see him. If Jesus wasn’t looking for him, how would He have known he was on the tree despite the thronging crowd? He saw him and called him by his name!
Luke 19:5 says, “And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house’” (NKJV). Zacchaeus must have been shocked. The Bible says Zacchaeus made haste and came down, and received Jesus joyfully (verse 6). This was the right response to the Saviour’s invitation.
God wants everyone to be saved (1Timothy 2:4). That’s what Jesus died for. He says in John 6:37 all that the Father gives Him will come to Him, and the one who comes to Him, He will by no means cast out. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live (Ezekiel 33:11). He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). If you’re running away from Jesus or you’re hesitating to come to Him, come to Him today. He is more willing to receive you than you’re willing to come to Him. He is inviting you today to give your life to Him. Respond as Zacchaeus did. Make haste, come down from wherever you are, and receive Jesus joyfully into your heart.
5. There is no sinner too lost to be saved. Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the sycamore tree and went home with Him. He was joyful to receive Jesus. But the people of Jericho were not happy with Jesus because they were not happy with Zacchaeus’ life. Luke 19:7 says, “But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, ‘He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner’” (NKJV). The New Living Translation renders the verse thus: “But the crowds were displeased. ‘He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,’ they grumbled.”
Replying to His critics, He said that He, the Son of Man, had come to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners, to repentance. He didn’t come to heal the healthy but the sick. Those who are well, have no need of a physician but those who are sick. Jesus came to give sight to the blind, not those who could see (Mathew 9:12-13; 18:11; Luke 5:31-32; Mark 2:17).
There is no sinner too lost to be saved. Sinners must not think or be made to think that they’re too lost to be saved. The blood of Jesus will take care of every sin. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (NKJV).
Paul says Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom he was chief (1 Timothy 1:15). Believers must not discriminate against any sinner or believe (or suggest) that certain sinners cannot be saved. Jesus died to save all.
6. Nobody is born saved. Nobody is saved because he was born in a Christian home; no one is saved from birth. Everyone must give his life to Jesus at a point in his life. Because Zacchaeus was a Jew did not mean that he was born saved. Although he was Abraham’s son, he still needed salvation. Because of this, Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9 NKJV).
The Jews must have been uncomfortable hearing Jesus refer to Zacchaeus as also a son of Abraham because they’ve considered him a traitor and sinner. Also, all Jews prided themselves on being the sons of Abraham. Thus, Jesus’ statement implied that all Jews needed to be saved. They also must have been uncomfortable with that.
Both the Jews and the Gentiles need salvation. Jesus died for the world. Once saved, we are one in Christ – no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. We’re all Abraham’s seed (Galatians 3:27-29).
John the Baptist also emphasized the need for the Jews to bear fruits worthy of repentance and not say that Abraham was their father. He said God could raise up children to Abraham from the stones (Matthew 3:8-9; Luke 3:8). Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NKJV). Nobody is born saved. Zacchaeus called Jesus Lord (Luke 19:8). Sinners must confess Him as their Lord and Saviour.
7. Genuine salvation must lead to a changed life. Don’t forget that those who knew Zacchaeus very well described him as a notorious sinner. He didn’t disprove it. Jesus must have known He was a sinner, therefore, He went to His house to save him. To show his repentance and changed life, Zacchaeus voluntarily made restitution. “Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold’” (Luke 19:8 NKJV).
It has been said that the penalty for anyone convicted for extortion or fraud under the Roman laws was fourfold restitution and that Zacchaeus pronounced this penalty on himself. But that he also added what the law did not require by giving half of his goods to the poor. However, there is another suggestion that Zacchaeus might have followed 2 Samuel 12:6, the second part of David’s judgment that the rich man in the prophet Nathan’s parable, who took the poor man’s lamb and killed it to entertain his guest, instead of taking from his flock, must restore it fourfold.
Genuine salvation should lead to a new life in Christ Jesus. Old things must pass away (2 Corinthians 5:17). We must put off the old man (nature) and put on the new man (Ephesians 4:21-24; Colossians 3:8-10; Romans 6:5-6).
In Ephesus, because of the ministry of Paul, many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Many of those who had practised magic also brought their books and burnt them publicly. The books were worth fifty thousand pieces of silver (Acts 19:18-19). Salvation should result in a new set of behavior consistent with the new faith people have received (Ephesians 4:17-24; Galatians 5:16-26; Colossians 3:3-7).
Conclusion: Have you had an encounter with Jesus? Has your life changed since you gave your life to Jesus? Are you seeing in your life the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control? (Galatians 5:22-23). Zacchaeus changed. Paul changed. Onesimus changed (Philemon 10-16).
If you are not born again, you need to give your life to Jesus now. I urge you to take the following steps: *Admit that you are a sinner and you cannot save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start attending a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church. There they will teach you how to grow in the Kingdom of God.
Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto You today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and resurrected the third day. I repent of my sins and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I surrender my life to Jesus now and invite Him into my heart. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank You, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.
I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church in your area where they will teach you how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I will be glad to hear from you. The Lord be with you.
T. O. Banso is the President, Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
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