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Luke 19:1-10 – Zacchaeus the rich tax collector

The story of Zacchaeus is a great story, but it is also the culmination of a few passages that have gone before. Notice the order of events:

  1. A parable of two men who prayed – a Pharisee and a tax-collector. The tax-collector went home justified.
  2. Jesus said that unless one became like an infant, that is dependent, one could not enter the kingdom of God.
  3. A rich ruler (of a synagogue) cannot give away his wealth and become dependent (like an infant). According to Jesus it is impossible for a rich man to be converted in this way and be saved – but what is impossible for men is possible for God.
  4. Now Jesus encounters a rich ruler of tax-collectors. (The word ‘chief’ is actually the same as ‘ruler’ in the previous story).

Jesus has taught that tax-collectors can be saved but rich rulers can only be saved by an act of God. So, Zacchaeus makes us wonder what will happen.

Jesus, coming to the sycamore tree where Zacchaeus is, looks up – he has a divine appointment to fellowship with Zacchaeus. Notice the reversal that he as the guest calls the host! Zacchaeus receives Jesus with joy – contrasting with the previous rich ruler’s sadness.

Zacchaeus’ repentance is characterized by a compete change in his mind and behavior – instead of taking he gives. Half of his possessions are given to the poor – the very thing the previous rich ruler could not do. He returns to those from whom he has stolen fourfold.

The law of Moses required a person who had stolen and was caught but no longer had what was stolen in his possession to pay fourfold – but that was not Zacchaeus. Or a person who stole, was caught and did have what was stolen in his possession had to pay twofold – but that also was not Zacchaeus. If a person stole but confessed, then he had to return what he stole plus 20% – that was Zacchaeus. But Zacchaeus takes it upon himself to pay the maximum penalty of the law even though it did not apply to him. Unlike the Pharisees he did not seek loopholes or minimal obedience. Zacchaeus had repented and joyfully gave away both halves of his wealth making himself dependent like an infant.

So, Zacchaeus is the proof of what Jesus had saidhow a tax-collector rather than a synagogue leader could become justified. And how a rich ruler could be saved by God (who is this story is Jesus). Thus, Jesus says, “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.”

The last sentence shows Jesus is a shepherd who seeks and saves the lost – an echo from Jesus’ stories about the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son (Luke 15).

The above flow of stories not only validates Jesus’ words but also highlights why sequential reading through a book of the Bible is the way to read the Bible.