I had the opportunity to preach on Zacchaeus at Cross Church this past Sunday. My goal was to approach this familiar passage by trying to find something new – something that I had never seen before – similar to re-watching a movie or TV show and discovering something new, exciting, and refreshing.
As I studied the passage, many scholars and commentators pointed out the difference in reaction between the crowd and Zacchaeus to Jesus’ request.
Luke writes in chapter 19:5-7, “when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
Zacchaeus hurriedly climbs down and responds to Jesus’ request joyfully.
This is in stark contrast to the crowd who responds to Jesus’ request with grumbling. It’s as though a not-so-low murmur goes through the crowd as everyone has the same thought – “Jesus has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
Those in the crowd are not entirely wrong. He is a sinner. It is likely that Zacchaeus made his money through exploitation.
In a way, tax collection was a pyramid scheme. The Roman Empire stood at the top and at each level everyone takes a cut. As a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus took a cut from those underneath him as he passed the taxes onto his superiors. This was a system that ensured taking advantage of people on the bottom of the pyramid – the common people who hated the empire and hated tax collectors by extension.
Zacchaeus is a sinner; of this there is little doubt. However, “The complaint about Jesus staying with sinners shows that the crowd has learned little from his ministry” (Bock, BECNT, 1519). The crowd had plenty of experience with Jesus, but never learned what Jesus’ was actually all about.
If you’ve spent time at Cross Church, friended/followed on social media, or whatnot you know that I coach little league soccer.
Even though my boys are only 6 years old, Parker has played 6 seasons of soccer, and Jonathan 8. I’ve coached all of Jay’s 8 seasons, all 6 of Parker’s.
In soccer, when the ball rolls out-of-bounds on the sideline, players have to throw the ball in. We practice throw-ins every practice. We have about 12 practices a season. Some of these kids have played all 8 seasons…So they’ve practiced throw-ins 96 times.
We call them “aww-booms” because that is the sound we make as we practice the throw in, which does occasionally cause confusion when the ref calls for a throw-in, and my kids know it as an aww-boom. In theory, a player is supposed to start by holding the ball in both hands with the ball behind their head. With both hands on the ball, they throw the ball as they follow a path over their head.
And yet, for all of the practices, some of the kids can never do it correctly in a game. (I know what you’re thinking: blame the coach.)
Lots of time with me…little learning.
Many in the crowd have spent countless hours with Jesus – and yet they have learned very little. Zacchaeus, on the other hand, has not spent a great amount of time with Christ, and yet comes away as a tremendous model of faith.
When Jesus meets blind beggar at the end of Luke 18, the blind man cries out twice – Jesus “Son of David” have mercy on me. This is not only a cry for help but also a profession of faith as “Son of David” means that the beggar recognizes Jesus as the Christ, the messiah, of the line of David.
But in Luke 19, we never hear a profession of faith from Zacchaeus. And yet, Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house.”
How do we know that Zacchaeus comes to faith? Because of verse 8, “And 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.”
Zacchaeus goes from exploiter to benefactor, from selfish to selfless, and from lost to saved. It’s not that these actions save him – it’s that these actions demonstrate that a change has occurred. When Jesus enters into a life, change must occur.
Darrell Bock puts an exclamation point on Zacchaeus’s faith when he explains, “If there was any doubt Zacchaeus meant what he said, his pocketbook spoke volumes” (Bock, NIVAC, 483).
Zacchaeus first believes and then demonstrates his faith through his generosity and restitution. Our faith must also be manifested by our acts of service to others.