We’re going through the New Testament and looking for Trinitarian emphases. Right now, we’re in Luke looking mainly at the understanding Jesus has of himself or the way his contemporaries saw him. We’ve been skipping many parts that have been covered in Matthew or Mark and we’re going to be making some huge skips this time as many parables exist to show the character of the Father, which it is important to point out that Jesus has the same nature. Tonight, we’re going to be seeing some of that nature with Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus. The text is in Luke 19.
1Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ ”
8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “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.”
9Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
To set the scene, in the mindset of the Jews at the time, tax collectors were the lowest of the low. They were the ones that were despised by all the people and were seen as completely wicked. (Okay. Some things haven’t changed in 2,000 years.)
It was more than the taking of money though. In the case of Jewish tax collectors, they were seen as allying themselves with the evil empire of Rome. Not only that, when they collected taxes, they would often up the charge a bit just so they could line their pockets.
One interesting aspect of this is that Jesus had disciples that would be considered zealots and eager to overthrow the establishment of Rome, yet at the same time, he had the tax collector Matthew. There was definitely more tension among the disciples than we see presented in the gospels.
In this case, the tax collector is a man named Zacchaeus who was wealthy, which shouldn’t be too much of a shock. He wishes to see who Jesus was, but is short, so he runs ahead of the crowd and climbs a tree just so he can catch a glimpse of Jesus.
It’s always amazing the sinners loved to see Jesus but the righteous didn’t.
If the church is to be the body of Christ on Earth, shouldn’t sinners love just as much to see us and the holier-than-thous want nothing to do with us?
Jesus has the real surprise though. He tells Zacchaeus to come down for Jesus must stay at his house today. Zacchaeus does not hesitate to come to Jesus. (Do sinners today hesitate to come to the church?) Now we have the good and holy crowd around Jesus talking amongst themselves. “He’s gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
No parallels to this today of course.
Zacchaeus is immediately repentant. He says that he gives half of his possessions to the poor and if he has cheated anyone out of anything, he will pay back four times the amount. This being said in a crowd, we can be sure that he would be held to it to maintain his honor in this society.
Jesus points out then that he came to seek and to save that which was lost.
When we read the New Testament, we can often overlook passages that do point to the definite pre-existence of Jesus. He came willingly into the world to seek and to save that which was lost. Jesus lived knowing he was on a mission and that mission in part was to seek and to save that which was lost. (I say in part for in other places in other gospels, he gives other reasons.)
And of course, Jesus’s mission is tied into his identity which is what this is all about.
As we go through the gospels, let us keep this point in mind. Christ came into this world for a purpose.