************ Sermon on Luke 19:9-10 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 18, 2000
I Zacchaeus: A Lost Sheep of Israel
A Zacchaeus. According to Scripture, he was a "chief tax collector." This does not mean Zacchaeus was a civil servant as are the tax collectors of the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, the Roman system of government had no civil servants; instead, the civil service was run by volunteers. Back then, tax collectors were self-employed businessmen who bid for the right to collect taxes for the Romans. They made a profit only by collecting more in taxes than they had contracted to pay to the Roman authorities.
B In the Roman provinces there were three main kinds of taxes: a produce tax on all the crops and goods produced, a universal poll tax assessed every resident, and a toll or customs tax to be paid as goods were transported from one province to another. To collect this last tax, custom booths were located at the border between provinces on all the major highways and trade routes.
C Zacchaeus was chief tax collector in Jericho. Jericho was a good spot for a tax-man to be located. First, it was a good place to collect a customs tax. Passing through Jericho were a number of lucrative trade routes. Jericho lay on the border between the provinces of Judea and Perea. Also, an important trade route from Jerusalem to the East and from Egypt to Mesopotamia passed through the area. Anyone traveling to Jerusalem, Bethany, or Northern Israel from across the Jordan had to pass through Jericho. Furthermore, Jericho was also a good place to collect the produce tax because it was the center of a rather rich and prosperous area. For instance, Jericho was known for its groves of balsam trees. The fruit of this tree produces a fairly strong and tasty wine. Also, slits cut in the bark of this tree causes a "gum" to ooze out which is used to heal wounds and to cure stomach problems.
D Tax collectors like Zacchaeus were hated and feared. Don't forget, they were self-employed businessmen who made a profit only by collecting more in taxes than they had contracted to pay to the Roman authorities. This made for a situation where taxes were often assessed at far higher than the legal rate. For instance, the customs rate set by Rome on transported goods was 2-5%. But, it was the tax collectors themselves who estimated the value of goods and on that basis assessed the tax. Needless to say, the tax collectors would often over-assess the value of goods. Furthermore, Roman law allowed the tax collectors to confiscate and keep goods not declared by the merchant. Here too, the system was ripe for abuse as many tax collectors would improperly seize goods.
E Scripture tells us that Zacchaeus was "wealthy." This means that he most certainly over-assessed the value of goods and produce for the customs and produce tax. This means he over-assessed the people for the poll tax. This means he wrongfully confiscated goods and property. In the Greek of verse 8 (conditional sentence in which the condition is real or true) it is clear that Zacchaeus admits to this.
F "Zacchaeus" – that's a Hebrew name. This means Zacchaeus was a Jew and a physical descendant of Abraham. "Zacchaeus" – this name means "the righteous one." Obviously, Zacchaeus did not live up to the promise of his name for he was anything but righteous. Also, he may trace his physical descent from Abraham, but he is not a true child of Abraham; true children of Abraham, you see, have Abraham's faith and righteousness.
G In Judaism, even Jewish tax collectors were regarded as being unclean. They did not meet the ritual requirements to worship God or to offer sacrifices in the Temple. Ceremonially, they were impure and were not fit to meet with God. So they were banned from all but the outer area of the Temple. They were regarded by the Rabbis as renegade children of Abraham. In other words, they had forsaken their Jewishness; they had abandoned their religion; they were not counted as sons of Abraham anymore. They no longer had the rights of citizenship in Israel. They couldn't appeal to a Jewish court of law and they could not appear there as witnesses in a criminal proceeding.
According to the Rabbis there was only one way people like Zacchaeus could once more be counted as sons of Abraham: Zacchaeus had to repent and make financial restitution to all his victims. This, of course, was quite impossible since Zacchaeus wouldn't know or remember or be able to get in contact with all his victims. According to the Rabbis, then, it was totally impossible for Zacchaeus and people like him to ever be converted. They were outside of Israel – forever lost, forever doomed, a son or daughter of destruction! In the words of Matthew's gospel, Zacchaeus was one of the "lost sheep of Israel" (Mt 9:36, 10:6, 15:24).
II Zacchaeus: A Found and Saved Sheep of Israel
A If we look at the end of our passage we see there, in spite of what the Rabbis said and taught, that Zacchaeus was converted, that he was a son of Abraham, that he was granted salvation.
Listen, first, to what Zacchaeus says as proof of his conversion:
(Lk 19:8) Look, Lord! Here and now I 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.
According to Old Testament law, if a person cheats someone he must make restitution in full and add twenty percent to it (cf Lev 6:5). And, if a person steals from his neighbor he must pay back double as restitution (cf Ex 22:1). According to Roman law, a tax collector who wrongfully confiscated goods had to restore double the value. And, if force was used, a threefold restitution had to be made. Zacchaeus offers to go far beyond the demands of both Old Testament and Roman law; he offers "four times the amount."
Zacchaeus even gives away the legitimate profits of his business: "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor." Zacchaeus speaks in the present tense here. He doesn't say, "I will give." Rather, he says, "I give." In our minds we are to see Zacchaeus untying his purse strings and giving to the poor and needy in the crowd while Jesus looks on.
Once more Zacchaeus goes far beyond the demands of the law. The Rabbis suggested that twenty percent of one's possessions or income ought to be given in charity. Zacchaeus gives half of his possessions to the poor.
There can be no doubt: Zacchaeus underwent a dramatic change in his life. He was really converted. He now lives up to his name; his actions and words indicate that he is "the righteous one."
B Listen also to what Jesus says as proof of Zacchaeus' conversion:
(Lk 19:9) Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.Notice, Jesus announces salvation even before full restitution is made. Jesus sees in men's hearts. He knows that Zacchaeus and his house are saved. Zacchaeus' conversion is acceptable in God's sight. Zacchaeus is saved from eternal doom and damnation. He is not a son of destruction anymore.
Rather, Zacchaeus is now acknowledged as a son, a true son, of Abraham. He can trace his physical descent back to Abraham. But now he can also trace his spiritual descent back to Abraham for he now has Abraham's faith and righteousness. As a true child of Abraham he is an heir to all the promises of God. He is a child of the covenant.
The Rabbis said people like Zacchaeus were outside of the covenant; they were forever lost; they were lost sheep of the house of Israel. But Zacchaeus is not lost anymore; he is not one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel anymore; he is not outside of the covenant anymore. Rather, he is found; he is of the covenant; he is one of the sheep of Israel; he is a son of Abraham.
III The Seeking and Saving Grace of God
A What happened? Why this dramatic change in the life of Zacchaeus? Why the dramatic change in status from one of the "lost sheep of Israel" to being a true "son of Abraham"? How come salvation has come to his house? How come Zacchaeus was converted?
We are to see here, congregation, the seeking and saving grace of God.
B We are told that "Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through." Where was He going? Where did He come from? Jesus came from Capernaum of Galilee. He was on His way to Jerusalem. We read of this in Luke 9:51 already:
(Lk 9:51) As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem in order to die on the cross for the sins of the world. In front of us is the final story in the long account of Jesus' trip. The Spirit Who inspired the Scriptures wants us to look at the Zacchaeus' story from the perspective of Jesus' upcoming crucifixion and death. The Spirit is telling us that it is only because of Jerusalem and what will happen there in a few short days that salvation can come to Zacchaeus and his house.
C Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was passing through Jericho and wanted to see Him. Zacchaeus probably heard that Jesus was the friend of tax collectors and sinners. Perhaps he heard how Jesus had even called a tax collector to be one of His disciples. So Zacchaeus mixed in with the large crowd of people who also wanted to see Jesus. And, because he was too short to look over the crowd, he climbed a sycamore-fig tree in order to see the Lord.
Zacchaeus must have been prompted by a powerful urge to do this. Don't forget, as a tax collector he was hated and feared by the people. To mix with a large crowd in the city streets he risked violence. And, he risked ridicule by climbing a sycamore-fig tree. One would expect children, not a grown and important man, to climb a tree in order to see Jesus.
The only explanation for Zacchaeus' actions is the prompting and leading of the Spirit. It is the Spirit Who made Zacchaeus risk violence and ridicule. Through the Spirit, the seeking and saving grace of God was at work in Zacchaeus' heart.
D Can't you just imagine Zacchaeus up in the branches, just about hidden from view, quietly watching the approach of the Lord? And, Jesus, when He reached the tree Zacchaeus was in, He stopped. What was Jesus doing? Maybe Zacchaeus scarcely dared to take in even a single breath as he looked down at Jesus below him.
And then Jesus looked up and talked to Zacchaeus. Jesus knew Zacchaeus was there and He knew his name. Jesus said,
(Lk 19:5) Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.Jesus did not make a statement, "I would like to stay at your house today." Jesus did not make a request, "May I stay at your house today?" Rather, He made a demand, "I must stay at your house today." "Must" – the Greek word used here signifies divine action, divine purpose, divine mission. "I must stay at your house today." In other words, Jesus saw His visit to Zacchaeus, just a few days before His crucifixion, as part of His divine mission.
Of course, with their attitude towards tax collectors in general and Zacchaeus in particular, the crowd of people did not like what Jesus was doing here and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner" (vs 7).
Jesus didn't back down in the face of their complaints. Zacchaeus was a lost sheep of Israel. Jesus did not want to leave him in his lost state. He came to Jericho to seek and to save Zacchaeus. He wouldn't leave until that mission was accomplished.
In verse 10 Jesus states His mission, a mission He was engaged in at that very moment:
(Lk 19:10) The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.That's why Jesus came to earth as a man; that's why Jesus "resolutely set out for Jerusalem"; that's why He suffered and died; that's why He was the guest of a sinner – to seek and to save what was lost. The Lord Jesus presents Himself here as the faithful shepherd of the sheep. Like a shepherd He seeks and searches out the lost sheep in order to save them from harm and danger and to return them to the fold.
How marvelous is our God and His Son!
E The seeking and saving grace of God in Christ Jesus was responsible for the dramatic change in Zacchaeus' life. That seeking and saving grace of God changed Zacchaeus' status from a lost sheep of Israel to a true son of Abraham.
Do you realize, congregation, do you really realize, how marvelous the seeking and saving grace of God is here? Don't forget, Zacchaeus was rich. And, just a few verses before Jesus had something to say about the rich:
(Lk 18:24-25) "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! (25) Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."Yet, Zacchaeus, a rich man, is promised salvation by the Lord. Obviously, Zacchaeus' conversion must be seen as a very striking display of God's seeking and saving grace.
A person whom the rabbis said could not be saved, a person whom the rabbis said was beyond salvation, a person whom the rabbis forever dismissed as a lost sheep of Israel, was converted because of the seeking and saving grace of God in and through Christ Jesus.
What Christ did for Zacchaeus He does for us too. He came to seek and to save what was lost – including all of us here. With His shepherd's rod and staff He wants to pull us unto Him so that we all become true children of Abraham.
Is Christ Jesus looking for you? If you are unconverted, He is. If you have not yet given Him your heart and soul, He is. Is Christ Jesus looking for you? Don't try to hide from Him. Don't resist Him. Let His Spirit bring you to Him.
Some people say – and some have said this to me with tears in their eyes – "no one can save me; I am too bad or wicked; I am beyond saving; God wants nothing to do with me." Perhaps some here think this way. Let me tell you, my brothers and sisters, that no one is beyond saving. If God could save Zacchaeus He can save you as well. The Rabbis thought Zacchaeus was beyond redemption, but he wasn't. You may think you or a loved one are beyond the reach of God's love, but you aren't. Don't forget the marvelous news of the Gospel this evening: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." No sinner is so lost that God can't find him. No sin is so big that God can't forgive and save. No guilt is so large that God can't remove it.
God can take anyone and with His seeking and saving love in Christ Jesus turn him or her into a child of Abraham. In fact, said Jesus, God can take stones and turn them into true children of Abraham (Mt 3:9). If God can do that with stones, think of what He can do with you! No one, absolutely no one, is beyond the seeking and saving grace of God in Christ Jesus.
Don't forget, let me remind you again, of the Gospel message for this evening: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
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