Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
Today I want to share with you something that I shared with my Sunday school class a few weeks ago. It has been a message that has continued to resonate with me, and I know that many of you will relate to it, as well.
There are a lot of times when I’m working my way through a book of the Bible and a story just gets stuck in my heart and I keep coming back to it. And that’s what today’s episode is all about. It’s a story that got stuck in my heart and, as I reflect on it and process it, another layer reveals itself. Or should I say, God reveals Himself in a new way.
The story I’m talking about is that of Zacchaeus, found in Luke chapter 19. And what we’re going to do is just take it verse by verse and see what God has for us today.
Now before we jump in, I just want to ask you, are you ready to hear what God might have to say to you today? So many times we come to God’s Word not expecting to hear from Him, and friend, I want to change that. I want you to expect to encounter God—through the Bible, through prayer, through daily life.
So, are you ready to hear what He might have to say to you today? I hope so. Let’s jump in.
Luke chapter 19 verse 1 (NLT) says, “Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town.”
I don’t want to dwell super long here, but I do want to point out the place where this story takes place and the history it carries for the people of God.
When you hear “Jericho,” you probably think of Joshua and the battle of Jericho and how the walls come tumbling down. You might even sing the song in your head.
And yes, Jericho is the first city in the Promised Land that the Israelites conquer. It is right next to the Jordan River, and on the other side of the river is Mount Horeb, where God took Moses up on the mountain to show him the Promised Land. But God told him that Moses would not be going there himself. And Moses died on that mountain before the Israelites traveled over the river.
Once Joshua and his army conquered the city, Joshua actually put a curse on the person who might come along and rebuild it (Joshua 6:26). And that’s exactly what happened. During King Ahab’s reign—who was an evil king, by the way—a man named Hiel rebuilt Jericho. And as he laid the foundation, he lost his oldest son, and when he set the gates to the city, he lost his youngest son, just like Joshua said (1 Kings 16:34).
So people begin to fill the town again, and at one point, Elijah and Elisha make their way there. In fact, Elisha’s first miracle was when a group of leaders from Jericho came to him and said their water was bad, which was causing their land to be unproductive, and they asked Elisha to help. So he threw some salt in the spring that fed the town’s water and after that, the water was clean and pure.
After the exile, when the Israelites return to Jericho, both Ezra and Nehemiah record that there are 345 people who live there. It likely grew over time, so by the time Jesus travels through, it’s a bit bigger.
Luke 19 verse 2 says, “There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich.”
Jericho is where Zacchaeus lives and works. And he works as a tax collector. What do we know about tax collectors? They’re corrupt. Even Jesus called them corrupt in His teaching and parables. They collected the tax from the people, but they added extra charges to it and kept that money to themselves, and that’s how they became so wealthy.
These tax collectors were despised by God’s people. They were outsiders. And Zacchaeus, he’s not just a tax collector, but a chief tax collector for the entire region, with other men working under him.
Can you think of anyone else in the Bible who was a tax collector? One of the disciples named Matthew was. In fact, he was sitting at his tax collector’s booth when Jesus passed by and said, “Follow me.” And Matthew did.
Luke 19 verse 3 says, “He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd.”
Now, we don’t know Zacchaeus’ history, but he knew enough about Jesus that when he heard Jesus was in his town and about to pass by, he knew he wanted to get a look at Him. There’s this curiosity. And as we see in his actions, almost a desperation. “I’ve just got to get a look at Him.” There was something drawing him there. And he couldn’t leave without seeing Jesus.
We see a similar desperation in some others in the Bible.
There’s a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, and nothing could help her. She had tried it all. And when Jesus came by her, she knew she just had to get to Him. “I’ve just got to get to Jesus. Just touch the hem of His robe.” And she fought her way through the crowd and reached out her hand and just touched Him. And she was healed.
In Mark 2, there are four men who have a paralyzed friend, and they know they have to get him to Jesus. But Jesus is in a house, and there’s a crowd around the house and they can’t get inside. But they have to get to Jesus. So they fight their way through the crowd and climb up on the roof and cut a hole and lower their friend down.
And in Mark 10:46-52, we see blind Bartimaeus on the side of the road. And he hears that Jesus is going by, and he knows he has to get to Jesus. “I’ve just got to get to Jesus.” But he can’t see. He doesn’t know where Jesus is at. And so he starts calling out His name. “Jesus! Jesus!” The crowd tells him to be quiet, but he doesn’t let that stop him. He just shouts even louder. “Jesus! Jesus!” And Jesus hears him and calls for him to come. And Jesus heals him.
We see that same desperation in Zacchaeus. For whatever reason, he just had to see Jesus.
Have you ever been in that place where you just had to see Jesus? You just had to get to Jesus. It could be after the diagnosis of a terminal disease. Or after you heard about the death of a loved one. Or it might even just be in your daily life where you are so hungry, so desperate, just to be with Him.
But for Zacchaeus, and for the others we just read about, there was something that got in their way. There were obstacles.
For one thing, there’s a crowd. In every one of those Bible stories, there’s a crowd of people surrounding Jesus and these people—the bleeding woman, the four friends, Bartimaeus, and Zacchaeus—have to figure out how to work around that.
For Zacchaeus, we also see that his size prevents him from seeing over the crowd.
What prevents you from getting to Jesus? Maybe it’s distractions—both from outside of you, like people needing you or kids running around, and inside of you, like worries and frustrations. Maybe it’s that you are too busy, and while you intend to have quiet time with Jesus every morning, it all too often gets pushed to the side once you get this other thing done.
Zacchaeus doesn’t let the crowd stop him. He just has to get a look at Jesus, and he’s not going to let anything stop him.
Luke 19 verse 4 says, “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.”
Zacchaeus can see which path Jesus was on, and he runs ahead so he can see Him.
Do you realize that in Bible times, it was completely undignified for a grown man to run? Little boys? Yes, of course they run. But grown men? It was unheard of.
It makes me think of David dancing for joy in the streets when the ark of the covenant was returned to the city. His wife chided him for being undignified in his dancing.
It also reminds me of the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, or the Lost Son, whatever your Bible calls it. When the father sees his wayward son coming back home, he doesn’t wait at his house for his son to make it all the way there. No, he runs to him. Completely undignified. Just like God runs to us.
We see that running here. Zacchaeus doesn’t care how undignified it is or what others think about him. He has to see Jesus. So he runs ahead and climbs a tree—something else that was undignified.
And then Jesus passes by. Luke 19 verse 5 says, “When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. ‘Zacchaeus!’ he said. ‘Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.’”
What I notice here is twofold. First, Jesus sees Zacchaeus. He sees him up there in the tree. And He knows him by name.
Our God is the God who sees. He gets that name in Genesis, when Hagar and her son are out in the wilderness and God sees her and comes to her. And she calls Him, “El Roi,” the God who sees.
My friend, God sees you wherever you are at. He sees you. He knows you. He knows your name. He knows your heart.
Second, when Jesus calls out to Zacchaeus, He doesn’t immediately judge him or tell him to repent. No, He invites him into fellowship.
How many times, when we come across someone who doesn’t seem to be following Jesus, do we judge them for their sins and tell them how wrong they are? And God has reminded me that it is Holy Spirit’s job to convict them of their sin, not mine. Yes, there are times when we need to have loving and honest conversations with them, but instead of saying, “You’re sinning,” would it not be far more effective to say something like, “You have no idea how much freedom and life I have found in Jesus. And you can have it, too. You’re missing out on so much.”
Jesus chooses to stay at the home of a tax collector. Not a priest. Not a synagogue leader. But a tax collector. In fact, He often was drawn to those that society considered unworthy.
And how does Zacchaeus respond? In verse 6 and verse 8, we read, “Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy… Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”
In Zacchaeus’ response, we see that God has already been working in his heart, already drawing Zacchaeus to Himself. He excitedly, joyfully, leads Jesus to his house. And he proclaims to restore that which he has damaged.
In the Old Testament, there are some laws of restitution that state that if you steal something from someone, you are not only to pay them back in full, but also 20% above that. Sometimes even double.
Zacchaeus doesn’t have to be told to give the money back. He proclaims for all to hear that he will give back not twice as much, but four times as much. His heart has changed.
My friend, as people encounter Jesus, as they truly encounter Him, they will be changed. We don’t have to convict them of their sin. God will do that.
So that is what I have been thinking about from the story of Zacchaeus. I think about the desperation of needing to get to Him. Of just being in His presence. Of just touching Him. Of just seeing Him, even. Just get a look at Him.
Are you in that place today? What’s getting in the way? What’s stopping you from getting to Jesus? And how can you take inspiration from Zacchaeus, and Bartimaeus, and the bleeding woman, and the four friends, and find a way to get to Him?
I invite you to take some time to just sit with this story with God. Take a walk outside. Find a quiet place in your house. And just bring whatever connected with you before Him and see what He has to share with you about it.
And know that I am praying for you.
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- Story of Zacchaeus: Luke 19:1-10
- Jericho references: Joshua 2-6; 1 Kings 16:34; 2 Kings 2; Ezra 2:34; Nehemiah 7:36
- Bleeding woman: Luke 8:43-48
- Bartimaeus: Mark 10:46-52 (note, this story also takes place in Jericho)
- Four men with paralyzed friend: Mark 2:1-12
- David: 2 Samuel 6:12-16
- Prodigal Son: Luke 15:11-24
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