Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Zacchaeus, Make Haste and Come Down!

Ah, Zacchaeus. Most of us who've been to Sunday School or know our Bible stories have heard of him. He's the short little tax collector who's famous for climbing a tree to see Jesus. What you might not know, is that Christ met him in Jericho, literally minutes after talking to Bartimaeus on the road to Jericho. It has always fascinated me, in reading Scripture, how much Christ got done in a day. His days were filled with ministry. If you do a quick search of Scripture for the words "that same day", it might surprise you what stories are linked so closely together.

These two stories are not linked by a "that same day" passage, but Christ met these two men one right after the other at the end of Luke 18 and the beginning of Luke 19. Let's consider it.

Jesus was followed by a multitude of people. A crowd followed Him when He passed Bartimaeus on the road, and it was this same crowd of people that surrounded Him once He entered into the city. Within this crowd, was a short man named Zacchaeus. He wished to see Jesus, but because of his stature, he couldn't see a thing (Luke 19:3). So he had a bright idea. He would climb a tree! (Luke 19:4)

Christ saw him, bid him to come down, and stayed at his house (Luke 19:5).

The interesting thing to me while studying the Lord's interlude with Zacchaeus, was how very alike the Rich Young Ruler he was, and yet, his story takes the opposite path. I have compared and contrasted Bartimaeus' life to that of the Rich Young Ruler, but it struck me when reading this passage in Luke 19:1-10 that Zacchaeus is also a parallel to him.

We aren't told how old Zacchaeus is. I have seen him portrayed in movies as an older, rotund fellow, likely with a balding head, but we don't know. The passage doesn't say. What it does say is that Zacchaeus was a tax collector. But not only that, he was the chief tax collector (Luke 19:2). In this way, he was a ruler, a rich ruler. Whether or not he was "young" makes no difference.

Now think of what he did when he tried to see Yeshua. He climbed a tree. Climbing a tree is something children do, certainly not a grown man. Certainly not an important, rich, chief tax collector! Why, he might stain or rip his clothing. He might fall. He might be made a laughingstock. But in the moment, he simply doesn't care. He wanted to see Jesus! I don't think this was necessarily a conscious effort on Zacchaeus' part to humble himself, but that's certainly what he did. And I believe it is this humbling moment that caught our Lord's eye.

The text says Christ called him by name. It's possible that He knew it simply by being God, but with a multitude around Him, it's also likely many were pointing and laughing at the "hated" tax collector in the tree. "Look at Zacchaeus!" I can imagine the crowd mocking him in that moment. Perhaps Christ overheard his name. Whatever the scenario, what is important here is that our Lord called him by name (John 10:3).

I have made mention on this blog that Christ defended Mary of Bethany's tender heart when she anointed Him with oil. He made sure her act of love did not fill her with shame when those around them began to rebuke her. I wonder if He did the same with Zacchaeus? If those in the crowd were indeed taunting the man in the tree, Christ's words that He must stay at his house today would surely have quieted the crowd. Zacchaeus would have been well aware he was not a popular guy. Tax collectors were hated, Jews who turned on their own people to serve Rome and line their own pockets. Perhaps Zacchaeus would have felt a certain amount of shame for being short, for climbing a tree, for looking the fool.

But this humbling moment is when Christ honors and exalts him by declaring to one and all that He'll be dining at his house that evening. This makes more sense to me when the crowd begins to grumble in Luke 19:7. How miffed they were Christ didn't choose them, such upstanding citizens!

As for Zacchaeus, the text says he received Christ joyfully (Luke 19:6). This reminded me immediately of the short parable Jesus gave in Matthew 13:44, of a man who finds a treasure in a field and sells all he has with joy to obtain it. Imagine - everyone hates you and all that you stand for, and yet this man who people say is the promised Messiah wants to eat at your table. What a glorious honor! Zacchaeus didn't take it lightly.

The honor Christ bestowed upon him compelled Zacchaeus to honor Him in return. Perhaps Christ gave him a sermon similar to the one He preached to the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-22). But unlike the Rich Young Ruler, Zacchaeus gladly gives away his riches. He immediately gives half of it to the poor, and the other half is spent paying back those whom he defrauded fourfold (Luke 19:8).

He knows his joy is not wrapped up in his wealth. He has found in Christ something far greater than money. I doubt Zacchaeus started the day knowing he'd give up his wealth, but that's certainly how it ended. He ended the day infinitely richer than when he began! The Lord Himself declared salvation had come to his house (Luke 19:9). Zacchaeus chose what the Rich Young Ruler had given up - treasure in Heaven (Mark 10:21).

Not only did Jesus declare that salvation had come to Zacchaeus' house, but that he is also a son of Abraham, thus reminding the people that he, too, was an heir according to the promise, and giving him back his respect in the community. Since he gave up his wealth to the poor and to those whom he defrauded, it's highly likely he also laid down his job. The end of the passage has Christ saying the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). All would now know that Zacchaeus, this lost, wretched tax collector, had been restored by the promised Messiah. And if that was true, then no one was without hope!

This was all for the glory of God. Christ's words about seeking and saving the lost confirm that He knew Zacchaeus was a sinner, but in His mercy, He saved him. Not merely a tax collector, but the chief tax collector. He went straight to the top, the most corrupt of them all! And yet Zacchaeus, being a son of Abraham, who humbled himself before the Messiah and gave all his riches away, is now - praise the Lord! - a son of the King of Glory.

The lesson we learn from both Zacchaeus and Bartimaeus is not necessarily giving away all your money. Bartimaeus had no money, he was a mere beggar on the side of the road. Zacchaeus was not a beggar, he was a very rich man. However, the lesson remains the same: they both gave up everything they had to follow Yeshua. They surrendered their all to become all of His. They gave it up with joy. They rejoiced in leaving it all behind, not for their own fame, but for the glory of the One whom they loved with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

That is the cornerstone of true faith in Christ - turning from your idols to follow the one true God. Loving Him high and above all other loves. Praising Him no matter the personal cost to you. Crying out to get His attention when you have no hope left to give. Climbing a tree and humbling yourself in the process just to get a glimpse of Him. Does this describe your walk with Christ? Are you desperate to get closer to Him no matter what? Even if someone tells you to be quiet? (Mark 10:48) Even if they call you a sinner? (Luke 19:7)

Within the lives of these two men, we see the fruit of true salvation. It is a devotion to Christ that is so strong, it transcends this world with its riches and comforts. It follows Him no matter what it costs. It is forgoing all that you've known to know Him. It's glorifying Him to such a degree, that it is the glory of your life to praise Him. It is realizing nothing else in your life has eternal value except knowing Him and making Him known.

Praise the Lord! Let us live as these men lived, and leave this world behind as we follow our Good Shepherd all the way to Glory.

Amen and amen.

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