We’re nearing a holiday, here in the Northwoods. While most of the country calls it Thanksgiving, it’s known around here as “gun season”. In the next month, a good number of us will take aim and fire. Will we hit the mark? We’ll see, won’t we?
Luke 19.1-10 is an account about a man who never misses. Only, this man, the Lord Jesus Himself, aims to bring about new life for others, even as He prepares to give up His own life.
Jesus seeks Zaccheus (:1-7)
When Jesus enters Jerusalem, we’re told He’s “passing through” (:1). Whether He intends to stay or not is for Him alone to know. Since His overall mission, that includes death and resurrection, mystifies His disciples (8.34), His seeking of the sinner Zaccheus will likewise confuse His disciples.
In verses 2-4 we meet Zaccheus, along the road Jesus is walking. Yes, he’s short, ” … a wee little man.” But we need to check ourselves from thinking that we fully understand this account, just because we can sing the children’s song. Like a great epic (think C.S. Lewis’ Narnia), there’s a surface level to this story that children can grasp, but there’s also a deep level that puzzles even thoughtful adults.
Luke describes Zaccheus further. We’re told he’s a “chief tax collector.” In other words, he’s rich. We’re told that he was … seeking to see who Jesus was. This means he wants more of Jesus. And, as we know, we’re told that Zaccheus is short. This is why he runs ahead to climb the low, sprawling sycamore tree. He’s putting himself in the right place to encounter Jesus.
You know the story. When Jesus comes under the tree, Jesus has got His man. Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today (:5). Appropriately so, this is the high point of the children’s song, where all the children, quoting Jesus, shout, “You come down!”
Notice, Jesus is in full control here. With all the people around who need the Savior, Jesus chooses his own host and calls out Zaccheus, who hurries and receives Jesus joyfully (:6).
Jesus seeks and restores the lost (:8-10).
Next, there’s a time gap, between verses 7 and 8. Zaccheus hosts Jesus. They recline together at table. Probably, Jesus talks about Himself, the Son of Man, and the Kingdom of God. Somewhere in there, Zaccheus is saved.
When we come to verse 8, Zaccheus springs to his feet with resolve. Behold, LORD, the half of my goods I give to the poor. Contrast Zaccheus here with the Rich Ruler of 18.18-30. That man passed on Jesus, because he valued his wealth more than the Savior. Zaccheus, now that he has Jesus, has everything he needs. And now that he has Jesus, his attitude toward everything else becomes an expression of his new identity as a disciple.
And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold, he goes on (:8b). Where does he get his numbers? Well, in the Old Testament (Ex 22), thieves were to restore 4 times what they’d stolen. Zaccheus becomes a model of redemption. Even as he is redeemed, he’ll now make restitution for what he’s taken. Jesus declares Zaccheus “saved”: Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham (:9).
Notice that Jesus doesn’t declare Zaccheus a good law-keeper. And Jesus is not interested in the restoration of Zaccheus’ stuff. Jesus is interested in the restoration of Zaccheus. Then, Jesus connects Zaccheus’ restoration to His own mission: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (:10). Sure, Zaccheus climbed the tree, received Jesus joyfully, and responded rightly in repentance. But, Zaccheus isn’t the hero of the story.
Jesus is the hero of the story! And, when Jesus seeks a man, woman or child, He doesn’t just have a license to hunt. (Jesus’ seeking isn’t the kind of seeking we do when we don’t know what we’re looking for.) Jesus always gets his man, his woman, or His child. Jesus never misses.
As we’ll come to know more fully at the revelation of the apostles in the New Testament, Jesus’ mission to Jerusalem is all about securing the salvation of all those who will believe and respond to His call.
Jesus seeks lost people who will be restored to the Father.
But, how does this work today, when Jesus doesn’t just walk under the tree you’re climbing? How does Jesus seek and call us, today?
This is where we remember that we live between Jesus’ two comings. And, while we press toward His second coming, we declare that Jesus did make it to Jerusalem. And there He did everything He promised—He died for us, and arose to new life. (Look to 1 Corinthians 15.3-5 for a summary.)
Declaring what Jesus did in the gospel is the “gospel call”. This good news is what we share over the fence with a neighbor, in the break room at work, at the bedside of a child, or on a walk with a friend. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 10.14-16 reminds us that the preached word is necessary for salvation: How will they call on hi in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!”
And yet, many respond to this gospel like the Rich Ruler, and now like Zaccheus. What’s the difference today, in this time when we relate to Jesus through His Spirit.
These are deep things, and I don’t propose to solve them here, but there’s another kind of calling. Some have called it “effective” or “effectual” calling. Consider the following verses:
John 6.44—No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up at the last day.
Acts 2.39—For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our Got calls to himself.
Acts 16.14—One who heard us was a woman named Lydia … The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
1 Corinthians 1.2—To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ …
1 Peter 5.10—And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
2 Peter 1.3—His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.
Now, that not the gospel call that many reject. These verses talk about the “effective” call that is the work of the Spirit of God and goes in tandem with the preached word.
Jesus gets His man, woman, or child every time. Do you understand this completely? Neither do I. But, even as I seek to be faithful to declare the gospel of the finished work of Jesus, I ask the Lord to call men, women, and children to Himself.
And, you know, He does.
“Zaccheus. You come down. For, I’m going to your house today!”
Here’s some thoughts to consider as you read Luke 19.1-10 with others.
- Probably, we all think we’ve “got” this story, because of the song. But, what new and profound things have you learned from your most recent reading of the Zaccheus story?
- How does Zaccheus put himself in the right place to encounter Jesus? How can you do the same? How can you encourage others you care about to put themselves in the place to be changed by God through His word?
- There’s a lot of sides to this account. Among them is the way that redeemed people respond to wealth. Consider 1 Timothy 6.17-18, and consider how Zaccheus modeled the right way to apply this passage that Paul would write some years later.
- What do you think about the way we’ve discussed the “gospel call” of Romans 10.14-16 and the “effective call,” described by the other verses listed? Which of these is our responsibility? Why is it necessary that God opens the mind of sinners to understand His gospel? How does this change the way you feel about all that takes place when the gospel is preached?