Do you ever wonder if the sins of your past will always define you? Do you ever look at others and see the transformation in their lives and wonder how something so radical could have happened? Today our Monday Musings Devotional looks at a story most of us know from Sunday School. One of the things I love about studying the Word of God is that it is fresh for our lives every time we study it, because Jesus always meets us right at our point of need. There are so many great truths in this passage that I had never before considered. This year, in our Feast for Your Soul series, we have been studying the lessons that Jesus taught during feasts in the New Testament.
Interestingly, Jesus invited himself to this feast!
Take a moment and read the passage about Zacchaeus and Jesus from Luke 19:1-10.
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.”
This is such a wonderful story in the gospels. To fully understand the story and cultural context, let me set the scene for you and give you a little background on tax collectors in the time of Jesus.
Jericho was a beautiful, desirable place to live. It was famous for its palm trees, rose gardens and balsam groves. The name Jericho means “the perfumed." It was considered the Eden of Palestine, the fairy land of the Old World.
This garden city of the ancient world was near the Jordan river, a popular resort for royalty and priests and was a busy center of trade and because of this Jericho was one of the most highly taxed towns in Israel.
Tax collectors were despised for many reasons among the Jews. Israel was part of the Roman Empire. The Romans liked to squeeze as much money as possible out of the Jewish people. But the Romans didn’t collect the money themselves. Instead, they found a few greedy Jewish men to do the collecting for them. Zacchaeus was one of these tax collectors. The Scripture tells us that he was rich, a chief tax collector so he would have had others working for him. He would have been corrupt to the core, for Rome would set the tax but the collector could collect anything beyond that and keep it for himself. These men were considered scum, unclean, the lowest of the low, corrupt, rich, cruel and they were utterly despised. A tax collector like Zacchaeus was driven by the love of money. It was his sole motive, even if it cost him everything including friends, respect, and decency.
Interestingly, the name Zacchaeus means innocent, pure, clean and righteous. His parents chose a beautiful name for him, but it is a name that he wasn’t living up to.
Zacchaeus probably knew of Jesus’ encounters with tax collectors. Jesus is on his way through Palestine, on His way to his death in Jerusalem. On His way we have this very unique and wonderful encounter with a little man named Zacchaeus.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
He came to rescue humanity devastated by sin.
He came to rescue men like Zacchaeus.
That word lost in the Greek means to be ruined, to be destroyed.
To save in the Greek means to deliver from danger, save from His wrath and holy judgement.
John MacArthur says, “Once God begins that seeking, once He opens our understanding to our own sinfulness, once He illuminates us as to the glory of the gospel, once He takes away the blindness and the darkness, once He gives life to our deadness, the awakened sinner, the enlightened lost one, the one who has been given life responds by seeking the one who sought Him.”
We are only enabled to seek when God has first sought us. That's exactly what happens in the story of Zacchaeus. Out of nowhere Jesus seeks him and before it's over, his heart responds by seeking Jesus.”
Let’s consider some of the beautiful faith lessons in this story.
1. Jesus sees, but not like we see.
When Jesus sees Zacchaeus, He sees past the choices that he has made, past the sin, the failure, the hatred that others feel for him. He sees past the brokenness, the dishonesty, the greed and sees a man curious and in need of mercy.
When the crowd saw Zacchaeus they saw a man who repulsed them.
Jesus saw a man, crooked and broken who needed to be treated with dignity.
Jesus saw a man who had sold his soul for money, a man empty and alone.
Jesus saw a man ready for salvation, because he no longer wanted to live sinning against God and his own people.
So Jesus invites himself to dinner and tells Zacchaeus that he is going to be his houseguest that very night.
What Jesus sees isn’t dependent on public opinion.
He sees into the depths of our hearts to our need, to our future, and to our potential.
2. To receive Christ in our hearts and homes requires humility.
Zacchaeus had to humble himself to see Jesus.
Imagine this wealthy, short, disliked man running through the crowd and climbing a tree so that he could see Jesus entering Jericho. He certainly wouldn’t have wanted to draw attention to himself in this crowd for he is despised by the Jews, but he risks it, runs, and climbs a tree so he can see the Savior. He is driven by something: curiosity, perhaps a sense of his own depravity, certainly a sense of a need for something or someone beyond himself.
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus for himself. See who He really was, this One he had heard of who was a friend of tax collectors. I think we see from the humility that Zacchaeus displays that there must have been a deep knowledge of his own need for something outside of himself.
A desire for Jesus and a humble knowledge of our own deep need must be at the root of our spiritual life as well.
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.
Other translations call it a sycamore fig tree, a mulberry fig tree. It’s a short stout tree with large leaves that Zacchaeus could have easily climbed, perhaps even hidden himself a bit among the leaves.
I love that Jesus calls Zacchaeus by name, but we have no record of him ever meeting him before. Of course, in His sovereignty Jesus knows exactly who Zacchaeus is.
3. Jesus knows when, where and how you will be saved.
He says, “Today I must stay at your house to spend the night.”
It’s not a request, but is a divine command. Zacchaeus could have never anticipated this. He was considered unclean by the Jews, defiled, but Jesus wanted to see Zacchaeus, to meet with him, dine with him and stay the night.
So in the next verse we are told that he hurried, comes down, and receives him gladly.
The Lord reaches out to this one considered scum.
Look at the response of the crowd in vs. 7 - And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
Here we see the contrast in the heart of the Father and what we unfortunately often see in the heart of his people.
To the Jews, Jesus is defiling himself to be the guest of such a man. To the Jew, to go to the house of Zacchaeus would be to partake of his crimes. But Jesus has a divine appointment with this man for salvation. Jesus came to save the sinner with nothing to commend themselves to Him.
I love Spurgeon’s take on this part of the story. He says,
“Next, I think it was a necessity of His sovereignty. “I must stay at your house.” Here were scribes, Pharisees, and all sorts of people around Him who were saying, “He is a prophet! He has opened a blind man’s eyes, and He must, therefore, as a prophet, be entertained by some notable Pharisee! Some very respectable person must find Him a lodging tonight.” But our Lord Jesus Christ seems to say, “I cannot be bound. I will not be fettered. I must exert My own will. I must display My sovereignty, and though these people will all murmur, I cannot help that. Zacchaeus, I will come and stay with you, just to show them that I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion!”
Jesus says to him, “Zacchaeus make haste.” And he does just that, he receives Jesus.
Then the Scripture makes this dramatic jump when suddenly Zacchaeus wants to give away his possessions to the poor. It’s so interesting that we jump from Zacchaeus receiving Jesus into his house to the evidence of his transformation.
John MacArthur, "Wow, something dramatic has just happened. Whoa! You've got a man who is a professional thief, extortionist who is now become an instant philanthropist. You've got a man who spent his whole life taking who now wants to give. You've got a man who is defined by selfishness now acting in an absolutely unselfish way. Something dramatic has happened here.”
There is no discussion of his conversion, but we don’t need to know those details.We are not given the conviction of sin, repentance, or the conversion discussion in this passage. That is all throughout the gospels. The focus in this Scripture is the evidence of the salvation in the life of the new believer.
McArthur says, “He is one of the lost which He seeks. It is true that he knows he has no eternal life, no relationship with God, no forgiveness of sin, bears a weight of guilt and all of its consequences. Jesus addresses that, talks to him about forgiveness, about repentance, about the kingdom, and he embraces it, by the power of God he embraces it. That's obvious. You say why? Because in verse 9 Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house.”
Zacchaeus makes a dramatic leap to salvation. We see it in the evidence of his transformed life and from it there are more faith lessons for our own journey.
4. Jesus invites himself into our lives in the midst of our mess and sin.
Jesus comes to Zacchaeus before he repents. He doesn’t wait for him to tidy up his life before he comes. It is His loving presence that brings repentance. Remember, Jesus is a pursuer of the lost.
5. Life in Jesus brings repentance and change.
Because of his salvation, Zacchaeus makes a dramatic turn. Suddenly the heart that stole wants to generously give back. ”And Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, 'Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I'll give back four times as much.’ Luke 19:8
6. Life in Jesus has the power to overcome our past.
Surely Zacchaeus cried out in his inner man to experience fullness, completeness. He was rich, but unfulfilled, probably lonely and certainly despised. I would imagine that Zacchaeus had some experience with a crushed life. He was short, probably made fun of as a child and as an adult. We don’t know, of course, but something drove him to live the life he chose as a cheating, hated chief of tax collectors among his people. Something drove him to do anything for more money. But we see in this story the power of Jesus to overcome our past.
7. Life in Jesus brings healing, transformation and freedom.
He is a transformed man. When you are saved, the past, the guilt is closed!
Zacchaeus doesn’t hesitate or get bogged down in the failure of his past or let it excuse him from acting with generosity in his future. He freely gives. His chains are gone!
The power of life in Jesus can overcome our natural tendencies and personalities that we are so quick to excuse.
Zacchaeus had shown no evidence of kindness, generosity, righteousness, yet once saved with Jesus, he is generous and has a desire to be righteous. He is finally living up to his name! Because when he is saved, he can become a new creation in the Spirit of God.
Suddenly the little man, despised, and insignificant in the eyes of the Jewish people was chosen and cherished by the Son of God! Jesus always reached out to those whom others saw as insignificant and unworthy.
The result is a radically changed heart. Zacchaeus gave generously, not out of his leftovers.
The presence of Jesus in our lives and His saving grace should move us to righteousness, generosity and holiness.
Zacchaeus rises, takes a stand and confesses Jesus as Lord.
First he confesses Jesus as Lord and then he gives half of his possessions to the poor, and that’s a lot of possessions! It was radial evidence of the saving miracle in his life, a picture of denying yourself and following Christ.
”If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Luke 9:23.
It’s really a stunning transformation. In one day Zacchaeus goes from being lost to being saved, from being a thief to being a benefactor, from being despised to being cherished!
His transformation hits at the very core of the dominant sin in his life - money and greed.
True righteousness results in true transformation.
And this account of the salvation of Zacchaeus is such a beautiful display of that truth.
It’s dramatic. One day, you’re a new creation! He turns from a greedy man to a generous, gracious giver.
And Jesus said to him, “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.”
Jesus calls him a son of Abraham. He is already physically a son of Abraham as a Jew. He was a son by race, but now he was a son by faith through trust in Jesus Christ, the Son.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost. To the people in that day, the middle Eastern mind, it was outrageous to include this man in the community of salvation. But for us, it is the most beautiful story of God’s redeeming love and grace and the amazing power it has to transform a life.
We all need the Savior, because until you meet him, you too are a slave to sin, full of guilt, living in ignorance and darkness. This is a story of hope for all of us!
Like Zacchaeus, “We need a prophet from God to come and tell us the truth. We need a priest of God to come and give us access to God. We need a King to come and guide, protect and provide. We need a Shepherd to come and feed and lead. The entire complex of man's needs points to the Lord Jesus Christ who makes men alive, who cleanses them, who frees them from sin, who gives them light, instruction, who is their prophet, priest, King, and Shepherd. He didn't come to demonstrate a noble ethic. He came to save people from their sin, from eternal hell, to bring them into His everlasting kingdom and heaven, to make them the possessors of everlasting life.” John MacArthur
Jesus proclaims His mission in verse 10 - "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
That was the consistent heart of His ministry on earth and today, always seeking out the outcast, the lowly, the ones ridden with sin and guilt. We are all like Zacchaeus in one way or another, with no righteousness of our own and in desperate need of the Savior. We all need Jesus, the Savior who gives us life, cleanses us with His blood and frees us from power of sin and the chains of darkness.
Do you know Him as Savior? He is seeking you as well. You too can accept His invitation and receive Him joyfully! (Read Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, 10:9-10, 10:13, 1 John 4:15, John 3:16)
If you are saved it is because in love Jesus sought you and called you by name.
There was also a divine appointment for your life when you were delivered and saved.
Salvation is a gift. The evidence is how we now live and think when we are infused with the life of Christ. It’s good to acknowledge that change within us (and it’s ongoing) and thank the Father for it.
Isn't it great to know that in Christ we aren't defined by our past for we can lean into the power of Jesus right now! Even if your story isn't as radical as Zacchaeus, you too can choose to live a dramatically transformed life.
What is the evidence of the saving, transforming work of Jesus in your life?
Take a few moments in prayer and thank the Father.
Thank you that you sought me and saved me from my sin. Thank you Jesus that you are always the pursuer of the lost, the One who seeks and saves. Lord it is so easy for us to slip back into old sin patterns that you have shown us,
so easy to get caught up in the desires of our flesh when you have done the redeeming work in our lives.
It’s so easy to lose the fire of that first love, that radical transformation. Lord invade us with your presence
and with a passion for you that will lead us to live our lives abandoned to your purpose for us,
not counting the cost. Give us a holy affection for the things and people that you love.
Let us never lose our passion for that miraculous transforming work
within our souls until that day when we see you face to face. May we live generously with kindness and love
so that the beautiful transforming work you have done in our lives is evident to all. And Lord,
we lift up those today dear to us who don’t know you as Savior and Lord. Thank you that you see their need
and you have the power to overcome the past, deliver and bring freedom!
Lord, we ask this day by your Spirit you would remove the blindness
from their eyes that they may behold you as Lord.
In the saving name of Jesus,
Grateful for His saving grace and transforming work in my life,
The Lord is my salvation!
Resources: Teaching and writings by John MacArthur, Charles Spurgeon, Ken Gire, Sally Clarkson, Edersheim, photos Pinterest
Surely this calls for a song of rejoicing - The Lord is my Salvation, by Keith and Kristyn Getty
Join in the youtube video below and praise your Savior.
The Lord is My Salvation by Keith and Kristyn Getty
The grace of God has reached for me
And pulled me from the raging sea
And I am safe on this solid ground
The Lord is my salvation
I will not fear when darkness falls
His strength will help me scale these walls
I'll see the dawn of the rising sun
The Lord is my salvation
Who is like the Lord our God?
Strong to save, faithful in love
My debt is paid and the vict'ry won
The Lord is my salvation
My hope is hidden in the Lord
He flow'rs each promise of His Word
When winter fades I know spring will come
The Lord is my salvation
In times of waiting, times of need
When I know loss, when I am weak
I know His grace will renew these days
The Lord is my salvation
And when I reach my final day
He will not leave me in the grave
But I will rise He will call me home
The Lord is my salvation
Glory be to God the Father
Glory be to God the Son
Glory be to God the Spirit
The Lord is our Salvation!
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