1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And 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.” 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.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
For a long time, the residents of Jericho had watched as Zacchaeus climbed the ladder. Though Zacchaeus was small (lit. mikros), he had a big gig. The little runt of a man was the chief tax collector in the lavish, Palm Springs-esque vacation destination of the royal family, Jericho. He would make his way through the city fleecing taxes from the citizens. In all likelihood, only Zacchaeus knew how much the empire wanted in taxes from Jericho. Rome expected tax collectors to earn their wages by collecting more than was owed.
You can imagine the citizens’ disapproval as they watched, year after year, Zacchaeus’ house getting bigger and fancier, his gardens plusher, and the catering ridiculously expensive. Zacchaeus had made a pretty good life for himself at the expense of his neighbors. All the residents of Jericho knew that it was their hard-earned money that was paying for those luxuries, and they also knew that they couldn’t do a blessed thing about it.
Anyway, Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was. But it was going to be hard for him to get a view. Everyone hated him, so they weren’t going to let him get close to Jesus. And Zacchaeus was short so he couldn’t get a view from the back. [You know of course that Zacchaeus isn’t the shortest person in the Bible. Some think it is Ne-High-Miah, but they are wrong too. The shortest person in the Bible is in the book of Job, Bildad the Shuhite.]
Anyway, trying to get close to Jesus would be too risky for Zacchaeus. A huge crowd is thronging around the Man who had just healed the blind (Lk. 18:35-43). The hustle and bustle surrounding Jesus would be an opportune time for someone who was sick and tired of watching his money pay for Zacchaeus’ life of luxury to jab a knife into the chief tax collector’s back. By the time the crowd thinned out, Zacchaeus would be deader than dead and no one would care.
So Zacchaeus tries Plan B. He runs ahead of the crowd to the other side of town, finds a sycamore tree, which had branches low enough for the little pipsqueak to reach, and climbs into it. As Jesus exits Jericho, He looks up into the tree and spots Zacchaeus. The Savior looks at Zacchaeus. Though Jesus was initially passing through Jericho, Jesus invites Himself over, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down. I must stay at your house today.”
So Zacchaeus does. He hurries down and receives Jesus joyfully. The rest of Jericho hates this. Jesus goes in to be the guest of the most deplorable resident of Jericho. The whole town is grumbling. But in his house, Zacchaeus gives his little speech about how he is going to give away his wealth. Half of his goods he will give to the poor, and if he has defrauded anyone (and he certainly has) he will restore it fourfold. For as much money as he had, Zacchaeus wasn’t very good accountant because this would have been impossible.
Jesus closes out the text, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
So what do we do with Zacchaeus? Do you teach our kids to be like him? Should you seek after Jesus and then make sure you do good works?
Today, our congregation is focusing on missions. But today the church also celebrates the Reformation. The Reformation was certainly a rediscovery of the Gospel. But it was more than that too.
The Reformation was also a rediscovery of how difficult it is to be saved. You see, the church in Luther’s day taught her members to be like little Zacchaeus. They taught that Jesus was nice, but to be saved, you had to get to work. Put your money in the right place. Buy this indulgence to get yourself or someone you love out of purgatory. Make a pilgrimage. See these relics.
The Reformation rediscovered the truth of the Scriptures. You cannot work your way to God. You cannot climb your way up to Him. The Reformation rediscovered that with man, salvation is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God.
Sinner, the more you realize that you cannot do anything to make yourself right with God the more comfort you receive in what Christ has done for you. The story of Zacchaeus isn’t about Zacchaeus; it is about Jesus.
Zacchaeus got more than he bargained for. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but Jesus decided He was going to be Zacchaeus’ Savior. Zacchaeus climbed to try and get a glimpse of God, but he couldn’t get any higher than the branches. But Jesus had already descended to save sinners like Zacchaeus and sinners like you.
Zacchaeus climbs down from his tree, but Jesus will climb up to Jerusalem and ascend another tree. Look up into that tree because on that tree, Jesus will bear Zacchaeus’ sins and your sins. On the tree of the cross, Jesus died for all the thieving and conniving of Zacchaeus as well as for all your sins.
Salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house because Jesus – the way, the truth, and the life – was there. Zacchaeus gets to host Jesus because Jesus invites Himself over. Jesus always ends up being the true host.
Jesus invites Himself here today. The Gospel says that Jesus has come to seek you. Salvation comes to this house today as Jesus absolves you and removes your sin as far as the east is from the west.
Jesus will leave Zacchaeus’ house and walk up the steep and dusty road to Jerusalem. The grumbling of the residents of Jericho, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner,” will soon change to, “Crucify Him. Send Him out of the city to die with the rebels.” Which is precisely what Jesus came to do.
“The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Jesus has come to seek and to save you. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.