Luke 19:1-10 is the sole biblical record of Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus. The man was a rich tax collector. Little kids know about him. They sing about him and call him "the wee little man" that climbed up in a sycamore tree. He was blessed to have the Master come into his life and into his house on the same day.
There are at least three things in the text of Luke 19 that show Zacchaeus’ attitude toward Jesus: (1) He sought to see him, (2) He made haste to do what He told him, and (3) He received Him joyfully. Before briefly looking at these three thoughts, consider some background on the man Zacchaeus.
Being a publican (tax collector) would not have made Zacchaeus popular with many of his fellow Jews. A great number of Jews looked down on those that collected taxes for the Roman government. For one thing, they were working for the Romans, whom most Jews counted as heathens that had no right to rule over them in their holy territory. In the eyes of many, Zacchaeus and those like him had sold out to the enemy. Second, publicans were considered to be dishonest, cheating their fellow countrymen. Yet, Zacchaeus’ occupation and background did not hinder him from being interested in meeting Jesus.
While it is true that Zacchaeus would not have had the respect of a lot of people because of his job, surely there would have been some who would have envied him. Why is that? The man was not only a tax collector, but he was "the chief among the publicans" (Luke 19:2). Plus, he was rich (19:2). For some, no doubt, Zacchaeus’ position and riches would have been appealing. Having such a position and such wealth would have caused some to snub their nose at Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter by trade in His former days. Many of "the high and mighty" of our day do that very thing. Yet, despite the temptation to trust in or devote himself to riches and his position, Zacchaeus wanted to see the Master.
(1) Zacchaeus showed his attitude when he "sought to see Jesus who he was" (Luke 19:3). When Jesus walked and worked among the people, He often created great interest and drew huge crowds. Some came to where the Christ was and brought their sick for healing (Matthew 4:24,25). Others followed Him for possible free meals (John 6:26). There were those noble folks that "pressed upon him to hear the word of God" (Luke 5:1). Human nature being what it is, we can certainly imagine that some wanted to see him simply out of curiosity, to get a closer look at this One Who was raising such a ruckus and about Whom "there was a division among the people" (John 7:43).
What about our man Zacchaeus? The text says that he desired to see Jesus to see Whom He was (Luke 19:3). People of our day can see Whom Jesus is. We cannot see Him face to face as the chief tax collector did, but, we can see Him by faith. The first four books of the New Testament give us convincing evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (John 20:30,31). They show Him as the Creator (John 1:1-3), Savior (John 4:42), and Judge (John 5:22).
If I want people to see Jesus, I am not going to recommend that they watch a movie. I am going to encourage them to go to the Book, the only source that is 100% accurate in the information that it gives mankind about the Son of God. Zacchaeus was greatly blessed to get to meet Jesus. It all started with his attitude toward Him. Again, he "sought" to see our Lord. You and I need to be busy telling the saved and unsaved alike about Jesus. Thank God for those honest and good hearts that seek Him and His truth (Luke 8:15).
(2) Zacchaeus showed his attitude when he "made haste and came down" (Luke 19:6). Zacchaeus got himself into a position to see Jesus by running ahead of where he thought He would be and climbing up into a tree (Luke 19:4). When Jesus got to the place where Zacchaeus was, He told him to do two things: "Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down" (19:5). What was Zacchaeus’ response to what the Master told him to do? The very next verse tells us, "And he made haste, and came down . . ." (19:6). Let us never make light of obedience, even in the smallest matters. Life is made up of decisions. It is always right to choose to obey the Lord, and to do it like Zacchaeus did: he obeyed promptly.
A person’s attitude toward the Lord is indicated by his/her attitude toward what the Lord says. No one can rightfully claim allegiance to Jesus while at the same time disregarding what He says. The faithful servant will do the bidding of his/her master. Jesus said it this way: "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). Zacchaeus had been excited about the prospect of getting to see Jesus. Now, in phase two of this story, when he actually met Jesus and heard what it was that the Lord wanted him to do, he did it. He was on the right track, was he not?
(3) Zacchaeus showed his attitude when he "received him [Jesus] joyfully" (Luke 19:6). Jesus had told Zacchaeus that He was going to stay at his house (19:6). Zacchaeus was most glad to have such a wonderful Guest.
There is another sense in which the Bible speaks about "receiving Jesus." Colossians 2:6 says, "As ye therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him." Now that those saints were in the Christ, they needed to walk in harmony with His will, to keep on walking in the light (1 John 1:7). In their past, there was one point in their lives when they had "received" Jesus. That was when they had been delivered out of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the Christ (Colossians 1:13). The greatest transition in their lives took place when they "received" Jesus. But, since being in the kingdom or church is the same as being in the Christ (1:13,14), then whatever they did to get into the Christ, that is what they did to "receive" Jesus. One gets into the Christ by being baptized into Him (Romans 6:3).
Remember, on the day that the church was established, those that "gladly received" the apostles’ message were baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38-41). When they received the word, they received Jesus. It is also clear that "preaching the word" and "preaching the Christ" are the same (Acts 8:4,5). It is also true that "rejecting the word" and "rejecting the Christ" are the same. So it is with "receiving Jesus" and "receiving the word." One receives Jesus by receiving, that is, obeying, what He teaches.
A person’s attitude is so important. On the single occasion that we get to see a glimpse of the life of Zacchaeus, he showed a worthy attitude toward Jesus. What he did after this occasion in the rest of his life, the Bible does not say. Would we not be wise, though, to imitate the attitude that we see in Zacchaeus in the record of Luke 19?
-- Roger D. Campbell
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