Do you remember singing this song as a child?
“Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
And 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 have all heard the story of Zacchaeus, but I believe that is has a deeper meaning to those who are incarcerated. As the story of Zacchaeus unfolds, we see this “wee little man” with more money & power than most of us will ever have, transformed into a fully devoted follower of Christ, who is no longer concerned with money or his position in the community.
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. 3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. 5 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.” 6 So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. 7 But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
8 Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”
9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:1-10 NKJV
What is a tax collector?
In those days, the tax collectors job was to collect taxes from the people. That sounds simple enough until you realize that they made their income by tacking on whatever fees they wanted to and it was legal to do so. They may have been wealthy but were not well liked.
Why did Zacchaeus want to see Jesus?
I don’t see anything that indicates that Zacchaeus was what we would call a “seeker.” Instead, I think that he was curious to see just who Jesus was and if all the rumors that he had heard were true. Can he really cast out demons? How does he heal the sick? By what authority does he do these things? He had no idea how his life was about to change forever.
What is the significance of Jesus’ actions?
When He locked eyes with Zacchaeus, Jesus saw a man who needed to be saved. Unlike our society, where we may consider it rude if someone invites themselves to your home; it was an honor for Jesus to do so with Zacchaeus. What an evening that must have been!
Can’t you just see the look on Jesus’ face as the evening unfolds and Zacchaeus not only realizes his need for a savior but also goes a step further to make restitution for all the wrongs that he had done in the course of his career? (See Psalm 41:1, Luke 3:14, Exodus 22:1, Leviticus 6:1-5 Numbers 5:7)
Flashback to the scene on the road when the people were gossiping about Jesus hanging out with sinners (v7). There are two crucial points to consider here. The first is that Jesus was NEVER concerned with other people’s opinions of his actions. Secondly, those who were criticizing Jesus really had no idea who He really was. Otherwise, they would have understood why Jesus chose to spend His time “in the presence of sinners.”
For those in jail, it is important to know that Jesus loves you where you are, not where you might be someday. Jesus met Zacchaeus in the middle of his messy sinful life and still does the same for us today.
*Based on a message that I shared at the McHenry County Jail on Sunday, December 30, 2018.