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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:Salvation comes to the house of a tax collector
Text:Luke 19:9,10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Liturgy from the 1984 Book of Praise

Psalm 149:1,2

Psalm 119:17

Psalm 40:4,5,7

Psalm 73:8

Hymn 62:3,4

Read:  Luke 18:9 – 19:10.

Text:  Luke 19:9,10.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What does it take to get a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle?  What does it take to get a mammal that is more than 2 metres high and weighs 400 kilograms through a hole that is designed to be just big enough to allow only a single hair of that camel to go through?  The very idea of the largest animal in Israel passing through the smallest of holes is ridiculous: humanly speaking, it can not be done.

But the disciples got to see their camel go through the eye of a needle.  They witnessed the impossible come to pass.

In Luke 18 Jesus had said,

“How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!  For 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.”

The disciples had answered Jesus and said,

“Who then can be saved?”

To which our Lord Jesus responded and said,

“The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

And in Zacchaeus, the disciples saw that this was indeed true.  Zacchaeus was the lost of the lost, the outcast of Israel and the sinner supreme.  He was not just any old tax collector but the chief tax collector of Jericho.  And he was a rich man.  But concerning Zacchaeus our Lord said,

 “Today salvation has come to this house.”

The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.  Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus, but Jesus saw him.  Jesus went with Zacchaeus to his house, and Zacchaeus was never the same again.  He was saved from being a slave to Mammon, to money, to become a new man in Christ.

And the good news that I may proclaim to you today is that if God could do the impossible with Zacchaeus, if His Son could seek and save the most lost man in all of Jericho, then He must also be able to seek and save you and me.  Then by His power we too can be saved and God’s full salvation – and all that this salvation brings – can be ours as well.

I preach to you the Gospel of salvation under the following theme:

Salvation comes to the house of Zacchaeus though the coming of the Son of Man.

1.    The Son of Man came to seek.

2.    The Son of Man came to save.

1. The Son of Man came to seek.

The encounter that took place between our Lord Jesus and Zacchaeus happened on His final entry into Jerusalem.  In Luke 18 our Lord had told His disciples that soon He would enter Jerusalem to be mocked and killed.  In Luke 9:51 already, Jesus had steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and now He had come to Jericho, about 20 km from His destination.

Jericho was the gateway to Israel.  This was the city that Joshua and all the men of Israel had marched around and saw the walls come tumbling down.  This was the city that God wanted for Himself. The first fruits of the spoils of war, all the goods of Jericho was for Him.  The city of Jericho had been rebuilt in the days of king Ahab and when Jesus passed through it, it was beautiful and prosperous.

In many ways Jericho was the place to live.  Being a long way below sea level, its climate was almost tropical, and it was the City of palms, a little paradise.  It had Date Palms and sycamore trees, the most exquisite flowers and the sweet smelling, lucrative Balsam plantations.  Herod the Great had built himself a large winter palace there, and Antoni had given Cleopatra the revenues of the Balsam plantations.  (Balsam was used to make a fragrant and soothing balm that was very popular and very expensive.)  Jericho was also along the trade routes to Damascus, Tyre, Sidon, Caesarea, Joppa and Egypt.  It was a wealthy and bustling city: commercial prospects were good.  And with so much industry and businessmen and travellers about, you can be sure that the tax office was a busy place.  The city had a main tax office, and Jericho was a good place for a tax collector to live.

Now word soon spread that Jesus was entering the city.  As He was making His way towards Jericho, there had been a blind man who sat by the road begging.  Upon hearing that Jesus was about to come by, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  And Jesus stopped, spoke to the blind man, and instantly healed him.  The blind man glorified God, and, Luke 18:43 says,

“all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.”

 And then Jesus entered and began to pass through the city of Jericho.  This was a big day for the city.  Jericho would have been used to cavalcades of dignitaries and other processions going through their streets.  The town’s population would have had many opportunities to look, to gape at and even rub shoulders with the rich and famous.  But on this day in Jericho, the procession was something special.  Jesus, the one people called the Son of David, the one that some people were asking if He was the Messiah, was coming to town.  What would He do there?  What would He say?  Would He heal someone?  Would He have a fiery exchange with the religious leaders?  Would He perhaps stop at the house of someone to eat and sleep?  And so as Jesus entered Jericho, the crowds would have swelled and choked the narrow streets.  People may well have said to one another, “We want to see Him!  We want to know what Jesus looks like!  We want to touch Him, hear what He has to say.  Should He become an even greater man in the future, we want to tell our children that when Jesus went through Jericho, we were there!”

But of all the crowds, of all the people who had come out to see the Lord, Luke introduces us to one man:  Zacchaeus.  From his name we can conclude that Zacchaeus was a Jew, a child of Abraham.  We don’t know who his parents were or what they had hoped for their child when he was born, but by naming him Zacchaeus, they gave him a name that meant “the just one” or “the pure one”.  We don’t know, but we can imagine that on the day Zacchaeus was circumcised that his parents prayed to God that he might live up to his name, that he might grow up to be just and pure.

But as Jesus walked in to Jericho, the terms “just” and “pure” would have been the last ones that people would have ascribed to Zacchaeus.  Verse 2 of Luke 19 says that Zacchaeus was “a chief tax collector” and “he was rich”. 

Now Zacchaeus is not the first tax collector we read about in the gospel according to Luke.  Already in Luke 3, tax collectors had come to John the Baptist asking what they should do now that they wished to repent.  And in Luke 5, Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi (who was also called Matthew) and told him to come and follow Him.  When Levi did so, he invited his friends, many of them fellow tax collectors, to enjoy a feast with Jesus.  This was the first time in Luke that the Scribes and Pharisees complained asking, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  To which Jesus replied and said,

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  (Luke 5:31,32)

And the ministry of our Lord Jesus to tax collectors bore fruit.  Luke 15:1 says that

“all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.”

And then in Luke 18 we read a parable where Jesus goes so far as to contrast a self-righteous Pharisee with a repentant tax collector with the conclusion being that the tax collector was justified but the Pharisee remained in his sin.

But now in Luke 19 there was one more tax collector that Jesus wanted to see.  And this was not just any tax collector:  this man was the chief tax collector of Jericho.  He was the one controlling all the tax collectors beneath him.  He was, as one commentator put it, at the top of the food chain, head of the entire tax district of Jericho.  And not only that:  he was rich.  And from the words of Zacchaeus himself we can conclude that he did not get all of his riches from honest means.  He had not acted in a way that was just and pure:  he was a swindler and a cheat and in many ways had been a traitor to his own people. 

But now Jesus was coming.  And Luke 19:3 says that Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector of Jericho “sought to see who Jesus was”. 

Why did Zacchaeus want to see Jesus?  Was it from curiosity?  Was it because he had heard that Jesus was a great man?  Had He heard of the miracles that Jesus had performed and did he want to see one for himself?  Or had he heard (as no doubt he did) that Jesus was different, that He actually welcomed tax collectors, that many tax collectors, also those under him, had come to Jesus and had been changed?  Was the Holy Spirit perhaps pricking his conscience, telling him that he was not just, that he was not pure, that he did not act righteously?  Had he concluded that things were not right in his life, that he just could not keep going in this way?  That he needed to change, and that the only hope of that ever happening was for him to see Jesus?

We do not exactly know what was going through the mind of Zacchaeus, but his desire to see Jesus was more than mere curiosity.  There was a measure of urgency in his desire to see Jesus and he was not going to miss this opportunity for anything.

But Zacchaeus had a problem.  As the children’s song puts it,

Zacchaeus was a wee little man,

A wee little man was he.

And, as any child will tell you, when you are short it is hard to see over the backs and shoulders of the people in front of you.  But being short in stature was only a part of  Zacchaeus’ problem:  he was also short in significance.  Although he was rich and influential in the circle of the tax collectors, no room was made for Zacchaeus.  Nobody was prepared to give up his coveted place in the front of the crowd to allow Zacchaeus to squeeze through and be in a position where he could both see Jesus and be seen by Him. 

But this was not going to stop Zacchaeus!  His desire “to see who Jesus was” was more than a case of mere curiosity.  And so, upon observing which way Jesus would be going, he lay his dignity aside and like a little boy he ran ahead until he reached a sycamore tree.  A sycamore tree is a large tree, related to fig and mulberry trees, that has low branches.  It was an ideal tree for a short man to climb; from here he would be sure to see the coming Messiah. 

And there sat Jericho’s chief tax collector, perched like a bird on the branch of a tree.

And if we had been there, and if we had known Zacchaeus, had even been fleeced by him, we might have jeered.  “Hey, Zacchaeus!  What are you doing, little man?  Have you lost your mind?  Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!  Get back to your tax office, you grubby sinner!  What have you come out to see?  You are in the wrong place!  You are in the wrong crowd!  Get down from that tree and go home!”

But our Lord Jesus Christ did not do that.  Verse 5 –

“But when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”

Zacchaeus had climbed a Sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, but Jesus ended up stopping and seeing him.  Zacchaeus, the lowest of the low, a chief tax collector and a dishonestly rich man, was seen by Jesus.  And Jesus commanded him to get down and to receive Him into his house. 

This was not some chance encounter, the combination of luck and clever positioning on the side of Zacchaeus.  Do you remember the story of the shepherd with the 100 sheep and the one that was lost?  Well here is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the One whom Ezekiel 34:16 speaks,

“I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick”,

here is Jesus on His way to Jerusalem.  But seeing Zacchaeus, he stops.  The eyes of Christ fasten on Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus looks back at Jesus, and Jesus says, “Zacchaeus!”

Zacchaeus!  Jesus knew who he was!  Jesus even knew his name!  It was as if Jesus had always known him, had known him from eternity! (Which, of course, He had!)  And now Jesus calls his name.  “Zacchaeus, you come down, for I’m going to your house today.”

And this is where the impossible becomes possible.  In John 6:44 our Lord had said,

“No one can come to Me unless the Father draws him.”

And here we see the Father drawing Zacchaeus into the embrace of Jesus Christ.  Zacchaeus could never have invited Jesus into his home – let alone his heart!  He was rich, he was an outcast and he was a sinner.  But without being asked, our Lord Jesus stopped and spoke to Zacchaeus.  Without being asked, He offered Himself to be a guest in the house of a sinner.  Even more, He insisted on entering the house of Zacchaeus.  Without being asked, the Good Shepherd picked up this lost sheep to bring him back home to the bosom of Abraham.

And Zacchaeus made haste.  He shimmied down that tree and received Christ joyfully.

The proverbial camel was about to go through the eye of a needle.  What is impossible for man is about to become possible with God.  The Son of God had become a man for us and our transgressions.  The Son of God took upon Himself the true human nature and became for us the Son of Man.  Jesus Christ was on His way to Jerusalem to suffer, to die, to open the way for the camel to go through the eye of a needle.  And on His way to Jerusalem He stopped to receive some of the first fruits of His ministry.  He stopped, He saw, and He called Zacchaeus. 

And today He’s still the same.  He’s still the same Saviour.  He still seeks out the lost.  He’s still the loving shepherd of His sheep.  He called Zacchaeus to come down from the tree and, miracle of miracles, Zacchaeus came down and received Him joyfully.  That’s the miracle of it all.  That the Son of God could become the Son of Man, born in human flesh, to seek a sinner such as Zacchaeus.  That the Son of God could become the Son of Man, born in human flesh, to seek a sinner such as you  . . .  and me!

2. The Son of Man came to save.

You would think that by now the crowds would have understood something of Jesus’ ways.  When the Lord Jesus healed the man born blind on the way in to Jericho, all the people gave praise to God.  (Luke 18:43)  But now that Jesus declares that He will stay in the house of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector of Jericho, they all complained saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”

The people were upset.  Of all the people He could pick, how could Jesus stoop so low as to choose to stay at the house of that little man Zacchaeus,  that money hungry, Roman loving, traitor of a sinner? 

But the response of the crowds was more an indictment on themselves than on Zacchaeus or on our Lord Jesus.  The grumbling and murmuring of the crowds demonstrated that many of them were not yet at the place that Zacchaeus was at.  In Luke 18 we read the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, where the Pharisee praised himself before God for being not like other men, especially not like a tax collector.  The Pharisee told God how good he was.  The Pharisee did not need help; he did not need Jesus for he did not need a Saviour who would go to Jerusalem to die on a cross and then rise again on the third day.  And it was this attitude that would cause our Lord in Luke 19:41 to weep when He approached Jerusalem for the last time before His death.  For the grace and peace that we receive in Jesus Christ was hidden from their eyes.

But the tax collector in Luke 18:13 knew he was a sinner, he knew he was lost.  And so did Zacchaeus.  We know this because of how Zacchaeus responded.  Filled with joy he climbed down from the tree and received Jesus.  He did not simply receive Him as a guest in his house, but he received Him as his Lord and Saviour.  When the crowds complained about him being a sinner, Zacchaeus did not defend himself, nor did he thumb his nose at them.  Rather, he stood and said,

“Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore four-fold.” (vs8)

Zacchaeus could never make up for his past sins, he could never pay his way out of them.  But that is not what he is doing here.  Rather, his life, his priorities and his desires are turned around because of his new-found relationship in Jesus Christ.  Zacchaeus openly admits that he was not just and pure, but had been a swindler and a cheat.  But  now he has changed, he’s a new man from the inside out!  No one was telling him to give half his goods to the poor; the most anyone else would have given was 20% of what they had.  And the law did not stipulate that he should give back four times what he might have stolen.  Leviticus 6:5 only added one fifth as punishment for the crime of cheating, lying or extortion.  It was only for the crime of stealing cattle and sheep that one was to pay back four times the amount stolen.  (Exodus 22:1)  But in this promise Zacchaeus is confessing that he was the chief of sinners, but now that he had changed, he had changed completely.  The love of money had separated Zacchaeus from God and from his own community, the children of Abraham.  But now he gives up his riches, he counts them as nothing, and he surrenders himself completely to his Lord and Saviour.  In Luke 18  the Lord had told a rich man to sell all that he had, give it to the poor and have treasure in heaven.  That man was filled with sorrow for the price to pay was too great.  But by the grace of God Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector of Jericho, was both willing and able to do so.

And that leaves us with the sometimes uncomfortable question:  who am I like?  The rich young man or the rich tax collector?

What often keeps people back from becoming a Christian and then following Jesus Christ, loving God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind, is what they have to give up.  It means a new way of life.  It means saying you are sorry and accepting the consequences of what you have done.  It means choosing a different lifestyle and, perhaps, different friends.  It means dealing with your addiction and it means acknowledging the persistent sin that is in your life.  Salvation in Christ is a free gift.  But when we embrace that salvation then we surrender ourselves in complete submission to our Lord and Saviour.  We can not hold on to Jesus as our Saviour and at the same time hold on to our sin.  And in that sense being a Christian is costly.

But it is not as costly as saying “no” to Jesus Christ.  Luke 9:25,

“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?”

And finally from the story of Zacchaeus we learn again who Jesus Christ is and what He had come to do.  Christ had come to seek and to save that which was lost, and He rejoiced for He was able to seek for and to save Zacchaeus.  In Luke 3:8 John the Baptist had told the multitudes,

“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”

And that’s what happened with Zacchaeus.  Due to his profession, his love for money and his sin, Zacchaeus had been separated from God and separated from the children of Abraham.  But now that he turns to Christ in repentance, our Lord restored him and gave to him the full rights of a child of the covenant.  Salvation had come to Zacchaeus, and not just to him, but to his whole house.

For this was what the Son of Man had come to do.  Jesus Christ had come into the world.  He was born as the Son of Man and He lived among us.  He came to seek and to save.  As one commentator observed,[1] if He came to condemn, there was no point for we were condemned already.  If He came to destroy, He would not have come in the weakness of human nature.  But “we find that everything He did, every word He said, and ever tear He shed, all the pain and sorrow of life that He embraced, all the unjust opposition of sinful men He endured, all the wrath of God that He accepted in our place while He died on the cross, all was for this:  to seek and to save.”

And He is the Saviour, Jesus the Christ, whom I may preach to you this morning.  He is the One who calls your name, who commands you to leave all to follow Him.  It is a call that He makes even to the greatest sinner.  It is not easy to leave everything behind and to come and follow Jesus.  But that is what He calls us to do.  It is impossible to do it on your own.  You need to ask God for His grace and the Holy Spirit.  Ask Him for the power and the grace to repent and follow Jesus with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, keeping your eyes firmly fixed not on Jericho but on Jerusalem, where Christ suffered and died on the cross.  Hold on to that and believe that Christ came and He did that as much for you as for all those whom He came to seek and to save.  Amen.

[1] Richard Phillips in Encounters with Jesus, P&R publishing.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2011, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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