Zacchaeus was a rich man, living in a well-known and strategically important town in Israel. His occupation was that of a chief tax collector. Despite his wealth, he was not a happy man. There was something missing in his life and heart. Something he could not explain.
Although his name, ‘Zacchaeus’, meant the righteous one, or clean, he was well aware of the fact that his conduct and morality did not conform to his name. As a tax collector, he would take a cut of what he had collected, justifying himself by saying ‘Nobody would do this kind of work without getting something extra out of it!’
But he had other problems. Being a tax collector, he served the Roman occupier, the cruel enemy who oppressed the people of his nation. He was the one who took money from his own people in order to enrich their enemies and himself.
He was regarded as a collaborator, a traitor and a quisling. He was hated and despised by his own. He was a very lonely man. Having involved himself so deeply he could not now retrace his steps. He could not see nor find any alternatives. He had burnt all his bridges behind him.
He was also small in stature. His outer appearance was in some way a reflection of his deepest feelings and attitude towards himself. He was a ‘little’ person.
But then something happened in Jericho. Someone, who was becoming rapidly well known and said to be very special, was about to pass through his own city. Jesus of Nazareth was His name. A great and remarkable event! Zacchaeus may not have known it but this was to be one of the most important events in the history of Jericho. This same city was conquered by God’s army through Joshua more than a thousand years before when its walls fell tumbling down. Now comes another ‘Joshua’ or ‘Jesus’, the same names really, representing and demon-strating the same divine power! Both declared the fact that ‘the Lord saves’.
Zacchaeus had heard about Him. Now he wanted to see Him for himself, face to face. Therefore, he entered the streets of Jericho, hungry in his heart to see the well-known visitor. But he could not see Him! Why not? The crowd accompanying Him hid Him from his view! So many tall and mighty people coming along with this Jesus. The visitor Himself was completely hidden among His followers and the crowd. Zacchaeus looked and looked yet without seeing the One he longed for to see! What a tragedy! He wanted to see Jesus. Not His followers, nor His disciples and the people around them, but Him, the Lord’s salvation Himself!
Then he noticed the big sycamore tree growing beside the street. Immediately he thought he would climb it. Usually, only kids would climb trees. He knew that. He also knew that people could laugh at him as he climbed up. Well, he would take the chance. People around him mocked him and laughed at him anyway. He had nothing to loose! Without further hesitation he eagerly climbed higher and higher his heart filled with anticipation.
Suddenly the crowd was below him. There were so many noises, people talking, shouting and even singing. He looked down and his heart beat wildly inside him. Suddenly, one of the moving group below stopped dead in His tracks. The people around Him seemed caught by surprise. What now? The Man who had stopped lifted His head, looked straight up at him and called him by his name. Mightily, but gently, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste, come down, for today I must abide at thy house today’.
The thought occurred to Zacchaeus that although he had not been able to see Jesus that had not stopped Jesus seeing him! He even knew his name. Who had told Him? He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out, John 10. 3. He also knew that he had a house, and He was asking him to take Him home. Only God knew what was really going on in Zacchaeus’ heart at that moment.
Now, let us apply this remarkable story. First, we can praise God for in it He demonstrates His way of knowing and seeking us in order to save us and abide in us. Exactly in line with His invitation given both to the local church and the individual in Revelation 3. 20, ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me’.
Secondly, we see how Christ changes the heart and behaviour of the person He enters. There was now a ‘different’ chief tax collector in Jericho! How differently he behaves and sees how to live.
Thirdly, there is another lesson given us in this story. In the world today, there are so many like Zacchaeus. So many ‘small’ people longing to see and meet God’s salvation in the Person of His Son, Jesus. They will look at those professing to be His witnesses, His friends, His believers. And what do they see? So often they see just a crowd of tall men and women hiding and overshadowing the Saviour. What they see is our pride, our self-righteousness, our ‘priestly’ garments, our claimed titles, our judging eyes and words, our condemning finger, our traditions, our doctrines, our buildings and our activities. But where is the One they really need to see in all this? Are they able to see Him and Him alone? His true face, His nature, His will, His open and saving arms, His wounds, His heart, His love, His might and His seeking eyes?
Satan from without, and the flesh from within, have so often succeeded in getting interested in their own selfexalted position, that they simply forget the real task and challenge which is to bring and reveal the Lord Jesus to all those Zacchaeus-like people among us.
May God help us to grow in faith just like John the Baptist did as he made it known that ‘He must increase, but I [must] decrease’, John 3. 30.
So then, dear fellow servants of the Lord, bring the Lord Jesus into and through the homes you live in and the villages or cities around you. There will be a lot like Zacchaeus there, waiting only for Him. You are His feet, arms, heart and mouth.
‘Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’, 2 Cor. 5. 20-21.