Jesus and Zacchaeus. 19:1-10


In the story of Zacchaeus we are confronted with the truth that faith saves.

The passage

v1. Jericho was a major trading town, serving as the main customs point for all imports into Palestine from the East. It was deep in the Jordan valley, about 30 kilometers east of Jerusalem.

v2. Zacchaeus, as the "chief tax collector" of the area, would take a cut for himself from the taxes he raised for the Roman administration. In today's terms he was a kind of corrupt politician, very wealthy, and hated.

v3-4. Obviously, Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus, a messianic hopeful who associated with social outcasts like himself. Zacchaeus was determined to get to meet with Jesus, a determination that showed that the good news of the coming kingdom had already touched him.

v5-6. Jesus brilliantly reads human nature and he certainly reads Zacchaeus. Here was Rome's local representative willing to degrade himself by climbing a tree to get to meet with Jesus. Zacchaeus' obvious acceptance of Jesus, his faith in Jesus, is rewarded by Jesus' acceptance of him, and as a consequence Jesus invites himself for tea.

v7. The crowd's muttering is typical, cf. 5:30, 15:2.

v8. Zacchaeus, in response to the disapproval of his neighbors, proclaims how his faith has changed him. There is no indication that Jesus has demanded this response, rather it comes out of a changed heart; it is the evidence of "faith expressing itself through love", Gal.5:6. Zacchaeus' offer of half his wealth to the poor is overly generous, as is his willingness to repay fourfold to those from whom he has "unlawfully exacted" taxes. We are reminded that those who are forgiven much, love much.

v9. The messianic salvation hoped for by Israel, evidenced itself in the life and home of a corrupt man. Here was a true "son of Abraham", a spiritual son, Rom.2:28f. Zacchaeus put his faith in Jesus, in God's messiah, and was therefore counted a true child of Abraham, linked to Abraham through his faith rather than natural descent, or obedience to the law, cf. Rom.5 and 6.

v10. The Son of Man came to earth to save sinners like Zacchaeus. Jesus favors the title "Son of Man" because it is an obscure title for the messiah. The title can just mean "man", but for Jesus it represents Daniel's "Son of Man", Dan.7:13. The Son of Man is the glorious "coming" one who "comes to find and restore the lost."

Faith expressing itself through love

On the surface, it looks like Zacchaeus was saved by his generosity, his kindness, his goodness ..., yet his generosity is really a consequence of his being saved. We should always remember that those who are forgiven much, love much.

By grace, through faith, Zacchaeus found himself included in the coming day of salvation when the lost are gathered in, that day when the lost are welcomed into God's coming kingdom. He was included in the "now" for a future fulfillment. His inclusion was not because of his good works, but because of his spiritual standing with Abraham. His association with Abraham was not because of his righteousness under the law, nor because of his natural descent from the family of Abraham, but because of his Abrahamic faith - "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness." In this same sense Zacchaeus is truly "a son of Abraham". He knew of Jesus, believed in Jesus, wanted to "see him", and "welcomed him gladly." In reaching out to Jesus, trusting Jesus for acceptance in the sight of God, he "became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith"; he became a true "son of Abraham." The love shown by Zacchaeus, expressed in restitution and generosity, visibly expresses the salvation that was his through the instrument of faith.

We too can claim Abraham as our father and so stand secure in the day of glory. Such is ours through faith in the risen Christ who promises us an eternal acceptance in the presence of God as a free gift of divine kindness.

As for a thankful and generous heart, this is a natural consequence of the continuing work of the indwelling Spirit of Christ who promises renewal to all believers. If our loving seems stilted, confined, then we need to do nothing more than remember God's love toward us in Christ. Outcasts we might be, but our Lord happily invites himself into our homes, every moment of every day. In the power of that truth we are changed.


Discuss the faith and works issue raised by this passage.

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