Tag Archives: zacchaeus

Commentary on Luke 19:7-8

But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”[Luke 19:7-8]

Over the course of three years, Jesus had amassed a large following. Undoubtedly the vast majority of people who had gathered in that crowd had heard of him in some way or another. We know that he had healed all the sick from whole villages, thousands of people, and so that would have brought him a large degree of infamy. To this end, the biggest name in ancient Israel at the time just declared publicly that he MUST stay at one of the house at one of the most hated names. They all complained. They grumbled. The parallels to the prodigal son, again, are staggering. The Father just welcomed the son home, greeting him and kissing him and rejoicing. And when they saw it, like the older son, they began to grumble. They never got it. People of Israel never got it. All the way to the end they’re holding on to their vile, damning self-righteous religion while Jesus is saving sinners. This scene shows the difference between the heart of God and apostate first century Judaism.

When they saw this scene, they did not thank God for showing his grace, but became upset that God was showing his grace to someone they feel didn’t deserve it. This is absolutely predictable. The mentality was that no self-respecting Jew would ever expose himself to such severe pollution by staying at the house of the chief administrator of taxation, the most corrupt of all tax gatherers and then to eat a meal with him and to sleep at his house. It was an absolute outrage.

Though I do wonder if perhaps this should have come as a complete shock. After all, Jesus had a history of this. He healed lepers, told stories of tax collectors being justified before God prior to this, and had become to be known as a friend of sinners and prostitutes. Though not all would have known these things, so they justifiably upset. Not only that, but  there were more than likely people in the crowd who were merely looking for some action on the part of Jesus to take them on the last few steps to being convinced that He’s the Messiah, and instead He does something that would literally undo all of their previous idea that He would be the Messiah by defiling Himself in this way. It’s against the grain of everything that was a part of their religious thinking.

And yet he declared his intention to associate with Zacchaeus publicly. He said that openly. Jesus knew that that was a serious breach of Jewish expectation. If they thought He was the Messiah, if they thought He was the man of God, if they thought He was the prophet of God, if they thought He was holy and righteous, if they had any inkling along that line, this would utterly and completely floor them because you didn’t go to the house of a man like that and you didn’t say overnight at the house of a man like that. In fact, that action was tantamount to sharing in his corruption. Zacchaeus was a sinner. They were not. And that is why they grumbled.

Look at Zacchaeus’ reaction to the criticism and shame he is bringing on his guest. First, he stands up, indicating probably that he had fallen to his knees before Jesus. He was bowed down, weak in the knees so much that they had apparently buckled. He was prostrate, overwhelmed with emotion, but now he stands. It is the overwhelming unbelievable joy of an aching heart, of an empty heart having a meeting with someone who represents God. He was eagerly joyous though he must have been stunned. It doesn’t say he received Him with fear.

Next, he offers to give half his possessions to the poor. The rich young ruler in Luke 18 had  trouble disposing of his wealth, but not Zacchaeus. In one stroke he pledges half his possessions to help the poor. Here is a fledgling disciple who does not love money, but has his priorities in the right place. Immediately the transformation showed itself up right in the realm where his sin was most dominantly manifest. He became like the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8, generous to a fault. Zacchaeus’ acts of repentance were both genuine and required if he is to remove from Jesus the shame of associating with him. And so what does he do? He confesses him as Lord. The first words out of his mouth were  Behold, Lord.” This detail is foundational in understanding what has taken place here.

His next words are promises of generosity and restitution. he wasn’t making up arbitrary numbers and amounts in his head. Instead, he would have gotten it from Numbers 5 “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 6 “Speak to the children of Israel: ‘When a man or woman commits any sin that men commit in unfaithfulness against the LORD, and that person is guilty, 7 then he shall confess the sin which he has committed. He shall make restitution for his trespass in full, plus one-fifth of it, and give it to the one he has wronged.’“  This was pretty much the Jewish standard. Twenty percent, one fifth, would have been what was necessary in restitution.

If you stole something from somebody, or defrauded them, you were required to return what you had taken plus twenty percent, which would cover something of the lost interest or accumulation that could have been gained by whatever it was you stole. Zacchaeus then could have offered that twenty percent and under any law that would be sufficient.  Or he could have done it another way. He could have based it on Exodus 22, which in the case of an ordinary robbery, you paid back double. Zacchaeus could have decided to pay back two-fold. That would have been more generous than twenty percent, as now you’ve gone to two hundred percent.

So why did Zacchaeus say fourfold? Because in the first verse of Exodus 22, it states “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep”. That is,  if you robbed someone with violence and destruction, a fourfold response was required. Zacchaeus  went to the max.He didn’t cower and quibble and try to respond with them most minimum requirements he could get away with, but rather was so aware of his sin that his offer was tantamount to saying “I accept that my thievery and sins are the worst, so let me perform the maximum demonstration of obedience to show my repentance.” It was an acknowledgment of his actions and his desire to make it right.

There wasn’t any law that said give half of everything you have to the poor. He would have probably given more, but he needed to keep half because he was going to give back four hundred percent of what he had defrauded people of to the maximum of Old Testament allowance. This is the kind of obedience that marks the one who has denied himself, taken up his cross and followed Christ and doesn’t live on the minimal but lives at the maximum level of obedience. He acted as if every illegitimate defrauding taxation was destruction, violent, devastating. No protestations. No excuses. No attempts at self-preservation or to maintain a degree of pride and rightness.

Only a mark of great and holy repentance.

Luke Commentary 19:5-6

And 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.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. Luke 19:5-6

There is an actual road to Jericho that he is traveling. Jesus talked about it in Luke 1o,  when he says “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…” The road is  about seventeen miles long, and the road literally drops about 3,000 feet along that seventeen mile stretch. It can be walked to in about 8 hours. So Jesus is making his way up the path, on towards Jerusalem. He knows he’s going there to die. That reality has been set in motion before the world began, and this is the last city that he will travel through. And so there are crowds present, pressing in all around him. He’s walking the familiar path through the city, when he comes to “the place” where the tree rests, and he sees a man in the tree.

Jesus makes contact with Zacchaeus and calls him by name. This would have been a shock to the man, and yet it demonstrates the omniscience of Christ, in that he knew not only Zacchaeus’ name, but eventually we will see that he knew the state of his heart. This is not unique to Jesus however. We saw it earlier, in Mark 9, where he interacts with the scribes and the Marcan account relays “But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” Zacchaeus would have been floored to have heard his name, but then what came after would have been even more surprising. I imagine that it is possible that Jesus would have known who the chief tax collector for the region was. Or perhaps  he picked it up from angry whispers in the crowd about the man Jesus was peering up at. He would have been the most despised man in the region, and so I think what is even more surprising to Zacchaeus, moreso than Jesus knowing his name, was the request for Jesus to stay at his place. That is three stunning events. First the eye contact. Then the name. Then the request to stay at his place.

The request, of course, is unheard of. Tax collectors in ancient Judaism were social pariah’s- the equivalent of child molesters and rapists. There would have been untold hatred, disgust, rage, and vilification directed towards him. So when Jesus gives him the imperative. Not a request, but a divine command. There is an immediacy to the whole affair. He tells him to make haste- to hurry up, because it is of the utmost importance that Jesus stay with him. Jesus clearly saw this as part of his divine mission- he must save this sheep. God not only knows who He will save, He knows when He will save and where He will save. This man WILL be saved this day. Not tomorrow. Not in the near future, but rather Christ has ordained this encounter and has determined that it will happen today.

Far from being offended at the presumption of Jesus that he must stay at his home for dinner, Zacchaeus is overjoyed. Here he was, a social outcast being offered the opportunity to host one of the most famous men in the country. Of course, he is happy. He scrambles down the tree and welcomes Jesus. Jesus has invited himself for dinner at this man’s home. Not out of hunger, but because he knows something about the desire and earnestness in this man’s heart. Jesus can see that he is wealthy. His clothes betray that easily. Be he can also see the man’s longing and his faith, and he knows the state of his heart. Zacchaeus never could have anticipated anything like this because he knew he was a defiled person and no one who considered himself righteous or clean would ever come near him, let alone near his house, and worst of all, eat a meal with him which was tantamount to affirmation and partnership. Yes, Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was, but far more than that, Jesus wanted to see Zacchaeus.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of people surrounding him. There are good men and righteous men. There are evil, unrighteous men. There are sinners to varying degrees, pressing into him from all around. And yet in the midst of that, Jesus hones in on one man- a single man out of the multitudes. There were people there not so different from Zacchaeus. And yet the Son of Man knew who he was seeking. One man out of thousands.

For Zacchaeus, after the imperative command, it would have been the first time any righteous, clean, noble, respected person had come to his house. This harkens back tan earlier parable that Jesus told. Here is the Lord, like that father, throwing his arms around a stinking prodigal son, kissing him all over the head and reconciling him and embracing him, such as happened in Luke 15.

Jesus goes to his house because He seeks to save this lost man. He is on a divine mission, established by divine sovereign grace and a divine timetable. He knows exactly who he is though he’s never met Him. He knows his name though he may have never heard it. And he has an appointment with salvation.

Of course Zacchaeus  received Him gladly, profusely, because he was so overjoyed. I cannot imagine the joy that Zacchaeus would have felt. I don’t imagine that in that moment he was thinking about the stares, mutters and whispers. He was experiencing  not mere happiness, but the joy of salvation. He didn’t receive him joyfully simply because Jesus wanted to stay at his house or because for the first time in years he was acknowledged with by a “non-sinner” with something other than contempt. Rather, this seems to be the moment where he literally “received Him joyfully” The inception of his salvation. The moment of faith and believe in Christ. What an explosion of emotion and gratitude to the Lord.

It’s no surprise then, what happened next with the people in the crowd.

Commentary on Luke 19:3-4

And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. Luke 19:3-4

Here we see the man Zacchaeus seeking to see Jesus. It is likely that he would have heard of Jesus, and had an idea of who he was. Zacchaeus was a powerful man in his own right- well connected and as chief tax collector [an accurate translation would be commissioner.] he would be in the position to know certain things. Though its not like any of it was secret. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead a short distance from there. He had spent the last three years making a name for himself across all of Judea, healing and performing miracles, inflaming the religious leaders and so forth. In fact, this whole encounter with Zacchaeus was recorded a few days before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where the multitudes wept and shouted “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” I doubt there was a person who had not heard of Jesus of Nazareth, and Zacchaeus would have been no exception.

In fact, Jesus performed his last miracle right before he came into Jericho. We see in the previous chapter that as he was coming into town, he healed a blind man. If that blind man was a fixture on that road, as many of them would have been with limited mobility, it is plausible that word had gotten to the town before Jesus arrived, which would have been the catalyst that sparked his interest in an immediate way. At the time, his profession excluded him from membership in the people of God who would benefit from Messiah’s coming.” The Pharisees had categorically excluded all publicans, and it could be that Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus’ calling the publican Matthew to the apostleship, or perhaps of Jesus’ compliment paid to the penitent publican in that parable of the Pharisee and the publican. These might well have been stimulants prompting his curiosity to see the Saviour.

Regardless of the reason, we know that he was seeking to know who Jesus was. We don’t know why and we are not told why. It could have been in interest regarding  the miracles, a curiosity to see the man for himself, or perhaps he was aware that he has a dissatisfied heart. He knows he’s alienated from God. He knows he has no eternal life. He knows that he’s overwhelmed with guilt and sin, and perhaps he believes that this man can do something about that. As it were though, it was not a passing interest. The word ” sought” in Greek  is zeteo, which means “to devote serious effort to realize one’s desire or objective” In other words, Zacchaeus really, really wants to see him.

But he had two problems. One was that the crowd was too large, and the second that he wasn’t tall enough to see past them. Throngs had come to see Jesus. We know from prior stories that these crowds could be massive. Whole towns would come out to see him. In Mark 3 Jesus had to get off land and start preaching from a boat because the crowds were pressing in on him so tightly. If the people were looking for healing, which they often were, you can imagine that the desire  for his touch would have lent a dangerous air to the whole affair. Desperate men will do almost anything at times. They could be crushing, almost mob like at times. This was essentially the zenith of his notoriety and of his infamy. The crowds would be massive.

At the same time, Zacchaeus was a small man, so much so that he could not see past the crowds to see Jesus. Keep in mind that he would have been a notorious man too, but for different reasons. As the chief tax collector, his social status in that time would translate in our time to being a known paedophile. For this reason, it is unlikely that he would expose himself to large crowds very often,  not wanting to take the abuse that came to him because of who he was. Crowds would not be his friend. The people despised his soul. And yet on this day, driven by need, a need to seek and know Jesus, he braved the crowds anyway. When he discovered that he could not see Jesus, could not see the throng, he did not give up and go home. His need was so great that instead of admitting defeat and going on his way, he came up with a plan.One evidence of his earnestness and purpose is the fact that he runs ahead to where he knows Jesus will pass. How did he know where Jesus would pass?  He knew the route. Having his house in that area, he would have know the path that is through the street, up the hill, and on to Jerusalem.

Once ahead, he finds a large tree and therein establishes a reconnaissance outpost where he will be able to see Jesus without attracting unwanted attention. Its creative, which speaks of his need. His climbing feat is similar to the four men of Capernaum who climb the roof of a house in order to bypass the crowd gathered around Jesus and lower their paralytic friend to Him for healing [Mark 2:1-12] So it’s ingenious, but also potentially embarrassing. To attain the chief tax collector position Zacchaeus probably would have been an older man, and climbing trees was relegated to something that children do. If people saw him, it would have given them more ammunition to shame him and mock him. And yet it also speaks much of how desperately he wished to Jesus, so much that ultimately he was untroubled by any concern for dignity, and climbed it anyway.  As for the tree itself, the sycamore-fig tree  is a robust evergreen tree that grows to about 40 feet  high, with branches spreading in every direction. Their many branches make them easy to climb, and as it is springtime, and almost passover, new leaves would have appeared among the old foliage of the tree so that he would not have too difficult a time climbing up and setting up a vantage point.

Thus the stage is set for the encounter with the Savior.

Commentary on Luke 19:1-2

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. [Luke 19:1-2]

I love this parable because there is so much depth here. Not only in content and theology, but there is so much happening in the background as far as context and bringing out the life in the passages, and that’s what I want to primarily focus on.

Verse 1. Jericho in this period was quite different from the OT city which was destroyed by God’s judgment, and had changed a fair amount. Herod the Great had obtained Jericho from Caesar Augustus and proceeded to build aqueducts, a fortress, a hippodrome [a stadium for horse racing and chariot racing], and a massive winter palace. The palace was especially monumental and contained huge pools of water. [in one of which Herod probably had his own son drowned]. Jericho boasted a tropical climate and excellent access to water for agriculture. Not only that but with how it was geographically positioned, it would have been a massive hub where many trade routes collided and converged. It was a center with highways traversing through and near the great city. The highways would go north toward Damascus, Tyre and Sidon. West to Jerusalem, headed for Caesarea and Joppa, which were also great trade centers on the Mediterranean Sea. South went to Egypt and East into Moab and the far east from which all kinds of products came and went. In short, Jericho was a major toll collection point for goods passing through, and this city would have had many, many tax collectors. Not only that, but because the city was so prosperous and had so much activity around it, It would pretty much demand that those inside and near the city would be no stranger to taxes, even inordinately high ones.

Verse 2. In the Old testament, The entire theocratic kingdom of Israel was basically functioning by a very carefully laid out taxation system in which every Jewish person paid essentially twenty-three and a third of their average income to the kingdom in order to fund the government. This was not a huge amount, but it was still significant. Because of this, Israel would have been no stranger to paying taxes, and would not have had a problem with taxation perse. Jesus never had a problem with the people who collected tax because He never had a problem with tax as such. When he was asked if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus responded with “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” and in Romans 13 Paul would say “Custom to whom custom is due, tribute to whom tribute is due, tax to whom tax is due,” So while taxation is fair, the nature of Roman taxation was corruption, dishonesty, crime and separating people from their money illegitimately by use of physical force and cruelty, which is what the tax collectors in the ancient world did.

When Rome conquered a people, Rome did not treat the people in the same way as the Assyrians or Babylonians did. You’ll remember that the Assyrians and Babylonians carried people captive to other lands, and then brought some of their own people in to populate the conquered land. But when the Romans conquered, the left the people where they were and simply demanded two things from the population: taxes and loyalty. Rome collected its taxes through Jewish tax collectors,  which had several advantages. 1]  The tax collectors knew their communities better than the Romans did. 2] Because the taxes were very high and the Jews resented paying them, Rome wanted the hostility to be directed against the tax collectors rather than against the Roman government. [Though note, Tacitus, the Roman historian, said that in one community he visited, the people had an honest tax collector: and they ended up erecting a monument to his memory.]

But third and probably most importantly- simple logistics. The Roman empire collected taxes through a system called tax farming. This was the practice whereby the burden of tax collection was reassigned by the Roman State to private individuals or groups. In essence, these individuals or groups paid the taxes for a certain area and for a certain period of time and then attempted to cover their investment by collecting money or saleable goods from the people within that area. We also need to remember that tax farming is speculative, meaning that the private individual or group must invest their own money initially to pay off the tax debt, against the hope of collecting a larger sum subsequently [hence "farming”.]

So what the Romans would do is that every few years they’d auction off the right to collect taxes for a particular region, based on how much taxes they thought the region was worth. The payment to Rome was treated as a loan and the tax collectors would receive interest on their payment at the end of the collection period. In addition, any excess tax collected over their bid would be pure profit for the collector. The main risk in the tax collecting business was that the tax collected would be less than the sum bid, but the main benefit, again, was that if they were only obliged to collect a set amount, and they collected more, that was theirs to keep. This resulted in the collectors finding all sorts of shady ways to tax, and seeing as how the people didn’t know how much revenue Rome pegged their region as being worth in taxes, they didn’t know how much they were supposed to pay.

Now in all fairness there were a few foundational taxes. They paid a large tax to the Roman government. They paid a provincial tax. There was a “ground” tax of sorts, where they had to give one tenth of all grain or something the equivalent of grain, one fifth of wine, and one fifth of oil. There was a kind of income tax which was about one percent of a person’s income, and on top of that, they also paid a temple tax levied by the priests. [though that would not have been very high]. So while there were some fixed taxes, which even then the collectors would take more than they owed, the tax collectors could go further and could tax anything that they could get away with taxing. They would tax everyone’s commerce by taxing every wheel, every axle on their cart, taxing every animal pulling the cart, taxing every product that they bought and sold, every way imaginable. And so tax collectors became rich because what they paid Rome was only a portion of what they actually collected. To break it down into even simpler terms and use low figures, it’s like they bid 110 dollars for the right to collect 100 dollars from a certain region, and they would collect 140 dollars from a region, give 100 to Rome, and keep the other 40 for themselves, with a profit of 30 dollars.

They also became despised and hated. Not only for their greed, but because they were helping the conquering armies brutalize and profit off of their people. As such, they couldn’t attend the synagogue. They couldn’t have any social relationships with people because the people wouldn’t get near them because they were considered unclean and anybody who came near one of them would be polluted. The only people they could associate were the people who were also unclean, and so they were the collection of people called the tax collectors and sinners that we meet so often in Jesus’ ministry, the very people that God loves to save. “He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” [Luke 5:32] In fact, Jesus spent so much time with the scum and the riff-raff, the tax gatherers and their assorted criminals, that they called Him in “a friend of tax gatherers and sinners” In Luke 7:34.

There was a general attitude that publicans were a special breed of sinners, far worse and far filthier than lepers. They would have said that with such disdain you couldn’t imagine it. And it’s also why these people thought that Jesus represented Satan because He spent so much time with the people that they thought belonged to Satan. And lastly, Interestingly enough, the name Zaccheus means clean, innocent, pure and righteous. It was a custom in ancient times to name your child what you hoped he would become, or according to the circumstances surrounding his birth. His parents hoped that he would live up to his name, and yet in his life he defies the intent of his parents and becomes unclean, guilty, impure and unrighteous.

So that’s the setup. A despised, hated man, in a rich and prosperous city, who made himself wealthy beyond compare by breaking the backs of others and by unjustly heaping upon his own people burdens that they could not bear. That’s the context and background for Jesus coming, and doing a miraculous work in the life of this man. In later chapters, when the people were grumbling and upset that Jesus was hanging out with sinners, it wasn’t just…like…an average sinner. And by that I mean that Zaccheus wasn’t just a bad guy who was unsaved and who was the town drunk who only hurt himself, or a prostitute who wiled away the willing, or even a Samaritan. But rather a man who in his greedy, selfish, depraved darkened heart, purposefully and deliberately chose to steal the livelihood and lifeblood of tens of thousands of people. By a man who bled people dry at the expense of their own businesses- of the health and safety and provisions of their families. By a man whose insatiable desire for wealth caused many to go hungry and starve to death; people who were worn down and killed from exposure to the elements because they couldn’t afford both a home and the taxes. Not only this, but this man utilized the Roman soldiers who would be commissioned to accompany him and protect him, and used force and cruelty to ensure that all paid whatever he deemed, all in the name of a pagan empire that had crushed and dominated and subjugated their nation. I don’t want to overstate the fact, but I know of no modern equivalent to the social status and stigmas that would be associated with this man. The closest thing I could think of that would be socially comparable would be a serial child molester who was living next door.

This would be the man that the Father loved, and whom Jesus would go out of his way to save and to redeem. This would be the man whom the Father would in his infinite mercy choose to love. This would be the man whom the Father would give to his Son to save, though this man had nothing in his life to commend him to Christ. This passage is a beautiful example of absolute sovereignty of Christ to pick the worst sinner from a crowd of even more sinners, and say “You. I am saving you today.” I love the book of Luke, and I love this little story, and I cannot wait to unpack and expound on the rest of these verses in this chapter over the week


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