The Gospel According to Zacchaeus
by Pastor Jim Jester
November 19, 2023
SCRIPTURE READING: Luke 19:1-9
And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. 4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. 6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. 8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
This sermon will be a little different for me. I do not consider myself a story teller. But Jesus told stories: we call them Parables, and He used them to illustrate something or teach a lesson.
Someone has said that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. At first glance of my subtitle, one might wonder if there is such a book as the Gospel According to Zacchaeus. Perhaps among the lost books of the Bible? No, there isn’t! But if there were, the narrative would probably go something like the following.
A parable may or may not be true. But in the case of Zacchaeus, I believe it is true. Now, what I’m about to tell you is pure speculation, but not without historical evidence from the Gospels.
How many of you remember hearing the story of Zacchaeus as a child in Sunday school? Maybe you sang the song: “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a Sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see. And as the Savior passed that way, He looked up in the tree, and he said, ‘Zacchaeus, you come down, for I’m going to your house today, for I’m going to your house today.’” We don ’t know much about Zacchaeus. We only have this one account, from the Gospel of Luke.
Everyone in Judea had heard about Jesus: the things He said and did were unbelievable! Many hearing the reports would brush them off saying, “These tales are exaggerated and couldn’t be true.” But something must have happened to Zacchaeus to stir his curiosity. So, what had happened previously to bring him to this point in life? Let me paint you a picture from a part of the life of one called, Zacchaeus.
ACT I: INTRODUCING ZACCHAEUS
I first saw Zacchaeus on a hot blistery morning, outside his residence in Jericho. He stood freshly washed and clothed with the coolest garments that he could find to preserve him in the heat that always permeates the city of Jericho there below sea level.
I saw him as he looked down the dusty streets, and smiled with scorn as little children mocked and laughed at him and then ran the other way. I saw the beads of perspiration first appear upon his brow when he saw the adults spit in the dust and turn their backs and cross the street, rather than to meet him as they passed.
He started down the road on his way to his place of business. And even the animals of Jericho seemed to hate Zacchaeus, for he was the chief of the Publicans. That means he was in charge of the office of the tax collectors. There aren’t very many people who like tax collectors. So the Judeans hated one of their own race, who had become a traitor to them by collecting taxes for the Roman government. And so, they spat and called him names and turned their backs so as not to face him.
He had not gone very far before he stumbled and kicked over the blind beggar that was lying beside the wall of Jericho. And with a curse, he walked on down the road, shaking the dust off his robes again and entered into the place of business.
SCENE 1: THE TAX MAN CHALLENGED
Zacchaeus sought out his particular office, the placebuilt so it would catch the slightest breeze that might perchance blow into that inner sanctum. He went where he would have a little peace and quiet to count the spoils of the week and see how his men were doing on the circuit, and stopped in horror when he saw that all the tax collectors were in the office, rather than out on the street. And with a sneer on his lips, he looked at them and asked, “What are you doing here?”
They all sort of nodded their heads. Finally, one of them got brave enough to face up to the matter and said, “Zacchaeus, things are awful out there on the street today. And there is no way we can collect money. People are in a state of depression. They don’t have enough money for food. There’s nothing left over for taxes. And it’s about to take the heart out of us to demand and evict them out of their homes and collect the money that we know they must have for their children who are starving to death.”
Then Zacchaeus just looked at them with a scowl on his face and said, “You’re getting soft. You’ve got no heart left for the job. Why, when I was an ordinary tax collector, I never came in without the days’ receipts.”
And one of his men said, “Yes, but you don’t remember how it is. You’ve been too long in your cool office; too long off the street.”
Zacchaeus let out with a laugh and said, “Huh, I could do it again any day of the week!” And then, when he saw every face break into a smile, he realized that he had just backed himself into a corner.
The men said, “All right Zach, prove it to us!” And Zacchaeus turned and stalked out of the office and stepped into the street, as he watched little children playing in the shade of the lone Sycamore tree. His journey took him down beside the wall of Jericho. The poorest people lived in those small dwellings that were built into the wall, which was the first line of defense in case of attack.
ACT II: OUT IN THE STREETS
SCENE 2: The Man with Palsy and the Crippled Beggar
Looking along the wall, Zacchaeus spied a little stairway that rose to a house built high on the wall and noticed the weeds growing out of the cracks. Starting up the steps, he pulled out his collection book and flipped through it until he found the right name for the house. And looking at the name and at a door that hung rather loosely and ill-fitted into the wall, he walked with determined steps to the top and rapped upon the door. Before the door opened, he heard a peculiar squeaking sound from inside and wondered, probing his mind, trying to find something that would identify that peculiar sound.
Not being able to recognize the sound, he waited until the door swung open, and almost had to catch it as it nearly fell from the hinges. There stood a woman whose hair was awry, whose face was dusty, whose cheeks were stained with tears; as he peered over her shoulder into a darkened room at the emaciated form of a man lying on a rope bed and shaking so badly that the ropes squeaked across the frame of the bed; thus cataloging the new sound into his consciousness.
Zacchaeus looked into the face of the woman as she said, “What do you want, sir?” And He said, “I’m Zacchaeus.” Hearing this, she cringed and took two or three steps backward into the room and began to weep again; knowing having turned aside the tax collectors many days in the past, nowshe was facing the chief tax collector. And he said, “I’ve come for the taxes.”
She said, “But Zacchaeus, you see my husband.” And Zacchaeus diverted his eyes and looked the other way because he didn’t want to look upon the form of a man that could no longer feed himself; a man who shook with palsy so bad that he was not able to take nourishment; a man whose body was in the last stages of dehydration and dying. And she said, “You see my husband, and I’m not able to work, I’m only able to take care of him. We’ve got very little left in the house.”
A scowl deepened in his eyes and then he said, “Look, I’ve come for the taxes and I’m going to have the taxes! I don’t care what you say.”But he said, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you one week from today to get the taxes.”
And with her weeping, he turned and stomped down the steps and shook his robes again as he walked down the street, cursing under his breath: “The vile people you have to put up with in this kind of business, I just don’t know how much longer I can put up with it.” And in his haste, he stumbled over the same beggar that he had earlier stumbled over. So he snatched him to his feet, shook him like a dog would shake a smaller animal, and demanded from him money that the old beggar didn’t have. Turning him loose, the beggar fell in a crumpled heap upon his crippled legs and said, “I don’t have any money.”
Zacchaeus searched him and found a little pot that he collected money in, and not finding anything, cursed him again and said, “Listen here old beggar, either you have the money next week — I know you’re hiding it somewhere —either you have it next week or you are going into the debtor’s prison!” And giving him a final kick, he stomped off down the road.
SCENE 3: The Leper
It wasn’t very long before he came to a little house where the weeds had overgrown the garden. There was no door on the little cottage and the fence was missing a number of slats. He looked at the place with disgust and started to go through the gate when he heard the tinkling of a little bell, and realized that he was on the premises of a leper.
He called with a raucous yell that would almost sent chills down the bones of a corpse, and demanded that the occupant of the house come out. And stepping through that doorway came a man with cowl over his face to hide features that were no longer there. The hands were gone: that dread disease of leprosy that slowly eats away the nervous system until there is no feeling, and all kinds of accidents and things happen. While looking, Zacchaeus demanded the tax money.
The leper said, “But man, you see who I am! My family has thrown me out, and I found this little deserted place to sleep at night and keep the rain off my head. I get my food from the garbage dump. I don’t have any money!”
Zacchaeus shook his finger and said, “Listen here, you either have the tax money next week, or we’ll throw you on the garbage dump with what you’re eating! We’ll burn the house. We’ll sell the land. We’ll have the tax money!” And turning on his heal like a military general, he stole on down the way.
SCENE 4: Blind Bartimaeus
Some distance down the road Zacchaeus heard the cry of someone saying, “Alms, alms, alms for the poor.” And following the voice, he found crunched down into the shadow of the wall near the street, trying to escape the blistering heat, a blind man by the name of Bartimaeus, holding his little cup with nothing in it, pleading for alms from anyone that would pass by. Zacchaeus looked and there was no one else on the street, and yet this wretch of a man was crying for alms.
Zacchaeus approached him much like he did the cripple down the street, shook him roughly, told him who he was, demanded of him the tax money that was collectible on anything that he collected, and searched him. And then in disgust, threw him back against his little corner of the wall and said, “We’ll have the tax money next week, or along with the old cripple that I just accosted up the way, you will go to debtor’s prison too until we can collect it.” Bartimaeus dropped his head between his knees and softly wept to himself.
SCENE 5: The Dead Son
Zacchaeus went on his way down the road. He came to another house that was painted and in good repair, the gates hung square upon the fence and the door fit good in its place. And yet from inside of that place he heard another peculiar sound: the sound of weeping, the sound of wailing. And he listened for a little bit and thought, “Well, this place looks a little prosperous, I suppose I should stop here.”And finding the name in his collection book he marched up to the door and roughly and rudely knocked on the door, only to find it immediately open to the face of a young lady that pled with him to please knock softly. And she asked him politely, “What is it you want, sir?”
When he told her his name and the reason for coming, she bade him again to please be quiet, and said, “The little widow that lives here has lost her only son. He is now lying in the inner bedroom dead. They were preparing now to go to the cemetery and bury him. And would you please keep your voice down? The widow is in such great sorrow.”
And Zacchaeus said, “I don’t care what sorrow it is.I don’t care who’s crying. I don’t care who’s dead. I’m the tax collector and I’ve come for the taxes!” Finally at her insistence, he said, “Well, I’ve told everybody else I’d give them a week. I might as well do the same for you. But I’ll be back in a week. We’ll collect the taxes, or else.” Turning on his heels, he looked at the sun and started back toward his office.
Arriving late in the afternoon and stepping into that cool office again, where the breeze was blowing, Zacchaeus found all of his men, still sitting and waiting for him to come back with all the taxes. He walked into the room, not like he started that morning fresh and clean, but now dusty, tired and perspiring from every pore of his body. And one of those impertinent young men said, “Where’s the money, Zacchaeus?”
Zacchaeus holds back the harsh curses he felt rising in his throat and said, “You’re right, it is a desperate situation out there, but I didn’t come away empty handed. I have extracted a promise from every one of them, that a week from today they’ll have the tax money, or else.” He said, “I wasn’t soft like you fellas.”
ACT III: A NEW DAY
SCENE 6: The Man Who Had Palsy
A week later we take up our story again, and find Zacchaeus leaving his office with garments fresh and no evidence of perspiration. There’s a slight breeze blowing, as he pulls out his collection book. He goes down the road to the wall, and looks with dismay in what he thought was the right address. Now he is confused: There are no weeds growing in the cracks, the steps have been swept, there’s a little pot of red geraniums on the porch, and the door is hanging square to the frame. He checks his book again; yes, this is the right number. No, that’s not the right place. And so, no longer do we see the demanding steps of the chief tax collector as he goes up the steps with a puzzled frown on his face. Looking at the door, listening for the sound of ropes inside, and not hearing the ropes —he wonders if he has lost his taxpayers and someone else has moved into the house.
Knocking with a bit of timidity on the door, it swings open to reveal a tall man who looks him in the eye and says, “Zacchaeus, come in.” Zacchaeus said, “Who are you? How is it you know my name? I don’t know your name.”
And the man glancing down, sees the book and says, “You’ve got it right there in front of you. There’s the address. There’s my name. Come in — the wife’s got water on heating and we got a little fresh bread today —come in, we’ve got the taxes ready and we want to pay you all.”
Zacchaeus stepped back about two steps and looked at the man and says, “Who are you?” And he said, Zacchaeus don’t you remember me? You looked at me last week, and by the way you stared, I thought my image would have been engraved upon your memory forever and ever.”
And Zacchaeus turning just a little pale, says, “What do you mean, I looked at you?” And he said, “Well, there’s my bed; I was lying there last week!”
Zacchaeus said, “What are you talking about? What’s going on here?”
He said, “Zacchaeus, all these years, I’ve been dying with the palsy, not able to eat, not able to hold a cup to my lips.” And he said, “Zacchaeus, after you came by last week, my friends came running over and came in and told me there was a man down the street by the name of Jesus. And if I could just get over there that he would heal me of my palsy.”
Zacchaeus said, “I don’t, I don’t understand. How could you even go?”
He said, “I couldn’t. But those four crazy men picked me up, bed and all, took me down the steps and down the street and across the way. When they got to the house where Jesus was, we couldn’t even get in. So they went up to the roof and tore part of the roof off and let me down right into his presence.” Zacchaeus started backing down the steps and away from this fellow who said that they let him down into the presence of Jesus.
He said, “Zacchaeus, wait a minute! You didn’t get the taxes yet. Zacchaeus wait, I want to tell you about Jesus.” And then, having to cup his hands to his mouth, he yelled at the fleeing figure down the street, “Zacchaeus, if you ever get a chance to see this Jesus, you ought to look him up.”
SCENE 7: The Former Cripple
Zacchaeus was conscious of time passing, and conscious of the fact that down that little street was the discolored area because of the poor cripple. Not finding the cripple, Zacchaeus turned as he heard his name from across the street, and a man walking across to greet him. Zacchaeus asked, “Who are you?”
And he said, “Who do I look like? After the shaking you gave me last week, and searching me clear down to my bones, don’t you even know me, Zacchaeus? I’m the cripple that laid here beside the wall all these years.”
And Zacchaeus, backing off, like he was backing away from a leper, says, “What are you talking about? You’re not the same man.”
He said, “Yes, I am, Zacchaeus. Last week there was a crowd that came down the street, and a man by the name of Jesus came to where I was and asked me what I wanted. Hey, Zacchaeus, where ya going?”And as he fades out of sight, the former cripple yells, “If you ever get a chance to go where this Jesus is, you ought to look him up; it’ll be worth your while.”
SCENE 8: Bartimaeus Can See
Zacchaeus, in his haste to flee, misunderstanding and not knowing what was going on, ran pell-mell into a little caravan that was coming into the city. He bumped a man and landed underneath one of his donkeys and stumbled out trying to shake the dust off, and said, “Why don’t you watch where you’re going?”
The man greeted him:“How are you doing, Zacchaeus?”
Zacchaeus said, “Who are you?”
And he said, “I’m Bartimaeus. I’ve got a job. Look at my caravan, and loaded with goods. I’m on my way to market.”
Then Zacchaeus said, “You blind liar, all these years you’ve deceived the people. You’ve begged all this time. I ought to have you thrown in jail. You’re a fraud.”
But Bartimaeus said, “Zacchaeus, that’s not the way it is at all. You know I was blind. I was blind from my childhood and was never able to hold a job, but Zacchaeus, I've got the tax money.”
Zacchaeus said, “Wait a minute, if you’re Bartimaeus how can you see me now?”
Bartimaeus said, “I have a wonderful story to tell you. Zacchaeus come back and let me tell you the rest of my story! Zacchaeus, if you ever get a chance to see Jesus, you better look him up!”
SCENE 9: The Former Leper
Next, Zacchaeus stopped at the gate of a place that a week before did not have a gate, nor were slats missing from the fence where weeds had overgrown the garden; to see a freshly tilled garden, the fence freshly whitewashed and the gate hung in place. And to hear the voice, a full-throated voice of a man calling out, “Zacchaeus, there’s bread on the fire; the water is hot for tea.”
And Zacchaeus said, “Who are you? The leper used to live here and we have ordered him to be evicted if he didn’t have the tax money. And if you have illegally taken possession of this place, we’ll throw you out because this belongs to the revenue service and the managers.”
The former leper said, “I know you, Zacchaeus. I’m not who you think I am. I’m the one you saw last week on the way to the garbage dump to collect my food. Well guess what? A man came down the street, and wonder of wonders, he walked right up to me and touched me.”
Zacchaeus asked, “Was his name Jesus?”
And the former leper said, “Yes, wonderful, precious name of Jesus. Zacchaeus come back! If you ever get a chance to see Jesus, you ought to look him up. It will certainly be worth your while.”
SCENE 10: The Widow’s Son Raised
The last stop on his journey that day was the house that was painted. He knocked on the door to find it swinging open almost before he knocked. And a tall young teenager invites him in. Zacchaeus looked at him and said, “Who are you?”
He said, “Why, I’m the son of my mother who lives here. She’s well-known in the area and I’m her son.”
Zacchaeus said, “You can’t be her son! She only had one son and he died last week! They were on the way to the funeral when I was here.”
And a smile broke across the young man’s face as he said, “Oh Zacchaeus, that’s the wonderful story we want to tell you. And we want to pay you the taxes, because I've gotten a good job and we’ve made a little money and we can pay the taxes.”
Then Zacchaeus said, “Don’t tell me, don’t tell me, let me guess!”
And you know the story. How the funeral procession was on its way and Jesus touched the open coffin as the procession stopped, spoke to the young man, saying, “Arise,” and the young man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother whole again.
Then, from the book of Luke you will find those strange words:
And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see Jesus,who he was.(Lk. 19:2-3)
I wonder if any of your neighbors, any of your acquaintances, any of your brethren, are trying to find out who Jesus is and what He’s all about.
Y’know, I once had the “palsy.” I was not able to feed myself. I was not able to control my body. I could not discern which way to go. Someone else was leading me along. Someone else was feeding me things that were not always good. I was infected with the palsy of sin. But one day I met Jesus Christ and he healed the palsy of my heart. Then I was able to direct my own way; the way that leads toward God.
One day I was “crippled.”Downward I went in a direction I didn’treally want to go, with no way to stop because I was crippled. But one day Jesus came, and since then I’ve been able to stand on my own two feet. Now I can dare to be different. I was crippled, but he healed me of my limits and spiritual handicaps.
And once I was “blind,” but Jesus touched my eyes and I was able to see spiritual things.
Yes, I was a “leper,” bound with the leprosy of sin, a disease that corrodes and eats away at your nature and common sense. And when you think you would never do such things and become: an alcoholic, a drug abuser, a race mixer, a thief; within yourself, you’ve got every possibility to allow leprosy to eat away your heart. But Jesus came while I was on my way to the garbage dump to get something to feed my mind, and He stopped and healed me.
And yes, I was a young man, on my way to the cemetery, because the Scripture said that I was dead in trespasses and sin. But Jesus stopped the funeral procession and gave me a new life and returned me to the home of those who loved me, the church.
Good news traveled fast in Jericho. Zacchaeus found out that wherever Jesus went, lives were changed. It may not always be a physical change, but it will always be a spiritual change when people meet up with Jesus.
What psychology drove Zacchaeus to be such a terrible person? Did it start with him being small? Was he persecuted as a child because of his size? Could it be he chose his job as tax collector because he wanted to feel big and important? He treated others so terribly with no hint of remorse or guilt. But, the Holy Spirit got through to him by the simple witness of others. The example of those around Zacchaeus stirred his curiosity enough for him to climb up a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus. The Holy Spirit was speaking to his heart because he was of the seed of Abraham. Underneath the facade of a notorious sinner was a heart soft enough for the working of the Spirit. God does not “draw” just anyone, for some have no heart to draw. God works within the covenant promises made with his people. And how many children sitting in Sunday school hearing the story of Zacchaeus are told he was from Abraham? Chances are, slim to none! And if so, they are taught he was a good “Jew.” What a shame!
Zacchaeus was in search of Jesus, but really, Jesus was in search of him. “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him…” (Jn. 6:44) If two people are looking for each other, it should not take long for them to find each other.
In this simple story lies a profound emphasis on the Christian Identity message and God’s covenant. After Zacchaeus repented, the Lord said, “This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.(Lk. 19:9) Abraham was pre-Israelite and pre-jewish. Abram was a White man from Adam. The lesson of this story is that the blessings of God came to the Zacchaeus household, and who knows how many generations this continued?
According to ecclesiastical tradition, Zacchaeus eventually became bishop of Caesarea in Palestine. (Cyclopedia of Biblical Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature) Another tradition says Zacchaeus planted flowers around that Sycamore tree, no doubt to show his gratitude to the Lord. It also served as a reminder to those in Jericho of the changed tax man.
Thanksgiving reminds us of the great love of our heavenly Father in providing the great salvation we know today, both physical and spiritual. This realization ought to bring us tears of gratitude for the extreme suffering of our Savior, Jesus the Christ.
Each of us has our own Christian experience and story to tell of how we submitted ourselves to God, and came to the truth of our identity. It may not be the same as Zacchaeus’ experience, but it should be similar in basic ways: sorrow for sin, willingness to correct our way, and a continued walking in the light that we have by the Spirit’s leading. There’s no telling what you will become or where you will go with Him.
Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory. Amen.
Paralytic healed — Luke 5:17-26
Man born blind healed — John 9
Blind Bartimaeus healed — Mark 10:46-52
Widow’s son raised — Luke 7:11-17
Jesus calls other tax collectors (Publicans) — Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 5:27-32.