Sermon: Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man

Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man
Luke 19:1-10
30 October 2016

On Sunday, February 5, 2005, the New England Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 42. Three days later there was a championship parade in downtown Boston.  I got permission for my son, fifth grader Benjamin, to miss school for the day.  We drove up to Quincy, MA and took the MBTA to Park Street in Boston.  When we got there, there was a wall of humanity all crammed along the parade route, and we couldn’t see over the heads or the backs of most of the people.  Fortunately we were able to climb a snow bank and onto a small cement platform that housed a gigantic light pole.  We held on to the metal pole, and we were able see over all the people.  We had a great view of the Patriots players on the duck boats as they passed by.  It was uncomfortable, but it was worth it.

Today’s gospel story was similar to our experience. It was a parade story.  The dwarf Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but could not because there were too many people in the way.  So he climbed a sycamore tree and after that his life was never the same.

My text is Luke 19:1-10: 19
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
This is the Word of the Lord.

The main character in our gospel lesson is Zacchaeus. As chief tax collector in the region, Zacchaeus was the richest man in town.  He amassed his wealth by employing other men to do his dirty work.  He hired them because they knew the language and the customs of the people; they knew all the tricks that the people would use in not paying their taxes.  Picture this:  Whenever there was a major religious holiday, tens of thousands of people would make their way through Jericho to go to the temple.  Zacchaeus and his men waited at the toll booths on the way to temple, and they were not afraid to use strong-armed tactics.  The people had no choice but to pay the outrageous amounts of money, most of which went into Zacchaeus’ pockets.  Because of these abusive tactics, Zacchaeus was looked upon as a thief and conman, a first rate scoundrel, a political untouchable, a skunk, and the worst of the worst type of sinner.

Back in those days, as Jesus traveled through Jericho, he was treated as a superstar. Thousands wanted to see and touch him.  And since Zacchaeus was short of stature, he had no choice but to climb the sycamore tree.  The question that I would like us to ponder is this: Why did Zacchaeus want to see our Lord?

Was it curiosity? Was it spiritual hunger?  Did he sense there was something missing from his life and didn’t know what it was?  Did Zacchaeus know there was a void in his heart and had a sneaky suspicion that Jesus had the answers?

Even today, if people are honest, they will have to admit that there is more to life than just a career, a family, sports, a vacation or a good retirement package, but often times they just don’t know what it is.

Once there was a man named Juan Chavez who was on Mexico’s Most Wanted List. And for many years, Chavez seemed to be beyond the reach of the law.  Every effort to catch him proved unsuccessful.  Then one day, without warning, he showed up at a Satillo, Mexican courthouse and announced, “I am Juan Chavez.”  The presiding judge was aghast.  The name was only too familiar to him.  The judge asked, “Who brought you in?”  Chavez held up a Bible and said, “This book brought me in to pay my debt to society.”  He then explained, “When I got back from one of my raids, I found this book among the loot.  At the time, I was hiding in a cave and had nothing to do.  So I began to read it.  I couldn’t get away from it.  The Bible has changed my life.”  Juan Chavez was now a different person.  Once a hardened criminal, he had found the peace and fulfillment that only Christ could give, similar to what happened to Zacchaeus.

All of us have this God-given need for spiritual fulfillment. We don’t have to be a hardened criminal or hit rock bottom, but if we are open, our spiritual void can be met through a personal relationship with the Lord.

In Luke19:10, Jesus said. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Jesus came for Zacchaeus, He came for Juan Chavez, and he came for you and me. Jesus is still on a search and save mission today; He seeks out those who look for spiritual fulfillment.  When the opportunity comes our way, we need to respond; we need to make our own profession of faith.  When we have the Lord in our life, He provides this key to our happiness.

Along these lines, there was a Japanese criminal named Tockichi Ishii. Ishii was a dangerous man; his long career of crime included murder.  Eventually he was captured by Japanese police, tried, convicted, and placed on death row.  The turning point in his life occurred when two Canadian Christian ladies came to visit this notorious prisoner.  Ishii was so mean, he would not even speak to them, but just glared and made faces like that of a wild beast.  Before the ladies left, they gave him a Bible with faint hope that he might read it.  But read it he did.  It was the story of Christ’s crucifixion that resonated with Ishii, and he gave his heart over to the Lord.  When it was time for him to die, the commandant came to bring him to the gallows.  But to the commandant’s surprise, he saw someone who was at peace with himself.  Ishii had a nice smile and countenance that was nothing like a hardened criminal.

Again, the reason for this transformation was that Tockichi Ishii had found the Lord. He found the same spiritual fulfillment that Zacchaeus had experienced.

Verse 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said, “Here Lord. Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody, I will pay back four times the amount.” 

We cannot help but notice, that in this story, Zacchaeus was a new man. He was transformed from greedy to generous, from selfish to selfless, from thievery and extortion to a thankful heart.  Jesus didn’t just come into Zacchaeus house, but he entered his heart and that is what changed him.

For Zacchaeus, it was a drastic change, not only did he pay back what he stole, but gave an additional 400%. On top of that, he gave ½ of his goods to the poor.  That is a huge change in financial generosity.

When you think about it, no one is ever going to be changed into a thankful and generous person, unless Christ gets into his or her heart. This has happened to many of us.  It is Christ’s presence that makes the difference.

It is Christ’s presence that makes all the difference in the world. It made a difference to Zacchaeus, Juan Chavez, Tockichi Ishii and hopefully you.

Let me close. There is a well-known legend that bears repeating.  We are told that the little dwarf Zacchaeus lived in Jericho to a ripe old age.  Every morning at sunrise he would go out for a walk, and when he returned he always beamed with joy as he began his day’s work.  His wife had become curious to learn his secret and one day followed him.  Zacchaeus went to the old sycamore tree that he climbed when Jesus first saw him.  He took a pail and proceeded to pour water on its roots.  Then he pulled out the weeds.  When he was finished with that task, he folded his hands, stood reverently, and said, “Thank you Lord.  Thank you.”  And smiling Zacchaeus went about his tasks for the day.

I don’t know if that legend is true or not. But it sounds about right.  Zacchaeus had a lot to be grateful for.  And his salvation experience in or on or next to that sycamore tree forever changed his life.

You may not yet know the Savior, but you too can meet him. Your relationship can be just as real and vibrant as it was for Zacchaeus.  My prayer for you is if you are looking for the satisfaction and spiritual fulfillment that Christ provides, that you may find it.