Luke 19:1–10: the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on . It is the second in a series on hospitality.
The total length of the recording is .
Before the recorded part of the talk Paul and two lads from the church sat round a table in front of the congregation and read the Bible passage. Paul provided them with hospitality in the form of crisps and drinks. The lads stayed there during the talk and occasionally answered questions.
Luke 19:1–10 New Living Translation
Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.
When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”
Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.
Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”
Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
(New Living Translation (NLT))
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We’re calling this message surprising hospitality. Firstly, because the Sunday Club lads are with us, and I was meant to be in those two places at once, and that was a bit of a surprise. Secondly, because in our series on hospitality, we see a surprising way of hosting Jesus, but as we shall see, it is not only a story that we learn in Sunday School, about Jesus being nice to a short man, there’s much more going on. Perhaps much more than we learn even in Sunday School.
Let’s establish some facts. By the way, boys, I might be asking some questions as I go through, and I might expect an answer. Is that all right? Grand. They don’t know what’s coming up. It’s not that bad. Boys, you’ve got the answer written in front of you. What’s the name of the place where Jesus is? Jericho. Correct. 10 points, if I was giving points. Jericho. We also know that Jesus is on His way to the holy city, Jerusalem.
If we read just a little bit further on in Luke Chapter 19, we read that Jesus is planning to go to Jerusalem, the holy city, only about 20 miles away, but over rocky, dangerous roads. You’ll probably remember the story of the good Samaritan, and that is set on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a dangerous road. The verses after we read today talk about that.
The first thing I wonder about this passage is whether or not Jesus was planning to stay in Jericho, or whether He was going to motor on through to get to Jerusalem, because that was His mission. To me, this is a bit of a watershed moment, to go over to Jerusalem or stay, because – It seems to me, maybe Jesus knew Zacchaeus, or maybe He just had some Godly inspiration, because Jesus knew Zacchaeus by name. “Zacchaeus, I am coming to your house.” It could well have been a surprise for Zacchaeus, but we’ll come back to him in just a moment.
A bit about Zacchaeus in a moment, but more about Jesus now, because the book of Luke is full of Jesus eating meals. He’s so popular that He is invited to someone’s house all the time. Tim Chester’s book, A Meal With Jesus, very good, very readable, helps explain a number of these occasions.
In our evening Bible studies, we’re going through the book of Luke at the moment. At the end of Chapter 5, beginning of Chapter 6, Jesus is being invited to a party of another tax collector, this time named Levi, who we know as Matthew. Here there’re a lot of people, including Pharisees, the people who want to keep the religious rules right on track. They asked Jesus then, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” That’s the New Living Translation version. “Why do you eat with them?” Other English versions translate this word sinners, because it sounds much more acceptable.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is always in trouble when it comes to food. His predecessor, John the Baptist, got in trouble for not eating and drinking. In Luke Chapter 7 and Verse 34, we have the famous words of Jesus, “For John came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say he’s a demon. The son of man came eating and drinking, and you say he’s a glutton, and a drunkard, a friend of sinners and tax collectors.”
It seems that Jesus doesn’t get it right, He doesn’t get the balance right, between what the Pharisees want Him to do, and the people who just aren’t hung up on the religiousness of things. In our story today, the people around him are surprised by Jesus calling Zacchaeus down from the tree. Boys, any ideas why it was a surprise that Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the tree? Any thoughts? Maybe Zacchaeus thought he was bad, or everyone thought – Yes. Maybe everyone thought Zacchaeus was bad, because he was the worst of the sinners, maybe?
Let me explain that, because I think you’re actually right there, Matthew. This man, although he was small in stature, might also feel small socially. Tax collectors today are unpopular. If paying tax today is unpopular, and it means that we don’t always see our tax go from our pensions, or our pay, or however it goes. It just goes through our bank accounts, or somehow. Think how it must’ve been for somebody to sit in a tax booth all day, collecting money from people. It was never great to be a tax collector.
The next thing we notice about Zacchaeus is that he was a chief tax collector. These officers would’ve been known as publicans, not because he ran a pub, but because he held a public duty. Tax collectors would collect taxes from anything almost that moved, imports, exports. If you’re living by the coast, harbour taxes.
Zacchaeus would collect duty from anything that moved, anything that he thought was worthy of having a tax put on it. He has risen through the trusted ranks into a high position, which draws a nice, healthy salary with benefits, of which the greatest seems to be defrauding people. Chief tax collector Zacchaeus, to make things worse, is also a Jew. His name, according to my research, says that his name means pure, and to those who hate paying taxes, he’s siding with the employers, the despised, hated Romans who occupied that area, so he is anything but pure.
Tax collectors, especially the chiefs, were associated with ideas of the oppressed, the oppressor, with injustice. I guess in short, Zacchaeus was really unpopular. As a tax collector, he was the worst of the worst. You were right there, Matthew. Having money, and taking money from Joe Average was the most oppressive thing. For Jewish people, if you touch the money, or the tax collector, you became defiled.
For me, the surprising key to opening this story isn’t that Jesus calls a short man down from the tree, it’s not even the surprise that Zacchaeus was chosen by Jesus to be a guest, although we’ll return to that point in a moment. The key to understanding this whole story is how the people responded, and its application about how we respond. The sinner in this case, Zacchaeus, is the outcast. Zacchaeus is the hated outsider. Jesus sees him and tells him He’s coming to stay.
Tax collectors would be screwing the system all the time. It seems incredible that Jesus would invite Himself to the outsider’s house for tea. Zacchaeus, the outsider, surprisingly goes to offer hospitality to the Messiah, the Chosen One, not because Zacchaeus offered, but because the Messiah chose the one who was not good enough, the one who was shunned by society, the one who, perhaps for his own safety, would sit by himself in his tax booth every day. The Messiah chose him.
You see, when people tell us things, even untrue things about us, the words and the sense of feelings attached to them, they’ll stick. Things like, “You’re not good enough, you are an accident, you never fitted here, you’re not welcome,” those sort of things. Maybe we have believed those hurtful words, and we start to build up a negative view of ourselves, and we start to become those things that we have been told, and we feel shunned, we feel judged unfairly. Perhaps we climb a metaphorical tree, or sit in a metaphorical tax booth alone.
Here’s the next question, boys, why was Zacchaeus in the tree? So he could see Jesus? Yes. Absolutely. Well said. Why couldn’t he see Jesus? Because he was a small man. Thank you very much indeed, Luke.
Zacchaeus was in the tree because he was short and he wanted to see Jesus. There’re times in our lives when maybe we feel small. Those times, perhaps in school, where someone always shouts out the answer first, so it makes you feel a little bit silly, because your brain doesn’t work maybe as quickly as someone else’s. Maybe Zacchaeus was in the tree because he wanted to get a better view of Jesus, but didn’t want to get involved.
Perhaps he thought that Jesus wouldn’t see him there. Perhaps that was the real reason that Zacchaeus was in the tree, because people didn’t like tax collectors, and by staying out of people’s way, Zacchaeus wouldn’t be standing by the roadside alone. In a tree, Zacchaeus wouldn’t feel small, he will be head and shoulders above the rest.
Maybe that’s like you or me as well. Maybe, in places, we don’t feel welcomed, not because you’re short, but for maybe other reasons. Maybe you’re on your own, maybe you don’t feel holy enough to come to Jesus, maybe you feel a little bit like Zacchaeus, up a tree, which is code for being lonely, or excluded, or by yourself. Maybe wanting to see how things pan out, but not wanting to get involved. Perhaps you are in the tree because you feel judged by somebody else.
When someone says, “I actually want to spend time with you. I want to spend time with you,” Jesus is pointing to you, Zacchaeus, He invites you to spend time with Him. He invites you to join Him. He invites you to come down. He wants to spend time with you. Yes, you, yes, today. Jesus is pressing His desire for you to be hospitable towards Him, Him and nobody else.
You see, that’s the difference between the party in Luke Chapter 5 or Luke Chapter 6 with Levi, the tax collector. Jesus is the one invited, and there are others there, wanting to ask questions to Him about His food, about His drinking, and enjoying the party with others, but now Jesus is the host, He is offering to be the host at Zacchaeus’ house. He is offering the hospitality. That’s a surprise. No preparation needed. Just come home. He’s inviting Zacchaeus to spend time with Him alone, one to one, because, Zacchaeus, you’re that special.
When Jesus invites us to join Him, to come home, because that’s another translation of the word repentance, according to my friend, Andrew Emison. When we were invited to come home, transformation occurs. Zacchaeus experiences that transformation. He promised he would change his life of stealing money from people, he promised Jesus. There’s something amazing about Jesus that changes people’s lives, and then it’s that transformation that people see and glorify God, because that’s what it says in Matthew Chapter 5, “Shine like stars.”
The people standing by, nearby to Zacchaeus, would be absolutely gobsmacked. They would be indignant, annoyed, frustrated, angry, perturbed, confused by this invitation of Jesus who invited him to come – He invited Himself to come to the tax collector’s house. They weren’t ready to come home that day. Their hearts weren’t ready for repentance. For they believed they were already home, spiritually speaking, but Jesus knows the whole story.
You said salvation has come to this home today. For this man, Zacchaeus, has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham, for the son of man came to seek and save those who were lost. You see, Jesus knew Zacchaeus’ heritage. Often, it’s people who aren’t of the club, aren’t Jewish, that Jesus just kind of spends time with.
He knew how hard it must’ve been for him to have taken the job as a tax collector, how easy it would’ve been for Zacchaeus to have fallen into, perhaps, dodgy ways of defrauding his fellow man. Yet Jesus makes no judgment about how the tax collector runs his life. He simply invites Zacchaeus to come home, and because of this invitation, something more miraculous occurs.
Zacchaeus’ transformation involves giving half his wealth to people who have nothing, and he turns away from his fraud, offering back four times as much as he had taken. Jesus didn’t tell Zacchaeus to do that, but out of a heartfelt transformation, something surprising occurred. Jesus loved people purely because they were people. Jesus loved people purely because they were people.
If I stand to follow Jesus, I must choose to love people because they are people. Isn’t it surprising, how an insignificant story is actually a really big story? How that little but big story changed one person’s life, but it wasn’t just about one person’s life, because it was a story that someone thought was really important, enough to write into their account of Jesus, and that people are even talking about and thinking about today.
When we talk about surprising hospitality, we’re not just talking about smiling at people, we’re talking about going deep. We’re talking about really investing time to find out how others tick. We’re investing in that Kingdom life that loves people for who they are, no matter where they’ve been or what state they’re in. Taking time over food is the perfect excuse to do that, because food, apart from fast food, takes time. It means that we slow down, we eat, and we enjoy company, and we share. Food helps us to go deep.
That’s why I believe our hospitality here at Main Street, that’s where it begins, but it never ends, around a brew, or a cake, or a sandwich at lunchtime, because actually, it’s about relationship, and it’s about sharing our walk with God. That’s just an excuse, t he food is just an excuse to be with someone, because when that happens, we find, and we offer, and we receive hospitality.
When Jesus sits around the table, there’s always something deeper going on. That’s the heart of hospitality, is going deeper, it’s sitting with someone, sometimes talking and learning, sometimes being in the silence, in the pain, in the tears. There’s trust in that time spent together. That’s the surprising hospitality which Zacchaeus encountered.
The challenge for us today, as we close, is how do we offer deep hospitality? Not just to one another, but as we saw earlier, to the world. How do we offer deep hospitality to one another and to the world? Let’s pray.
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Scripture quotations marked NLT are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.