He entered Jericho and was passing through. and behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. he was a chief tax collector and was rich. and he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. so he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. and 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.” so he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. and when they saw it, they all grumbled, “he has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” and Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “behold, Lord, the half of my goods i give to the poor. and if i have defrauded anyone of anything, i restore it fourfold.” and Jesus said to him, “today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Luke 19:1-10 (esv)
Children love to sing about Zacchaeus - the wee little man who climbed a sycamore tree. He wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passed through town. I preached about him recently and God showed me so much more than those sweet lyrics about a somewhat diminutive little fellow sitting in a tree.
The town of Jericho was teamed with extremely rich people as well as the poorest of the poor. It was also home to the desert and the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. Jericho also was the location for the palace of Herod the Great with its opulence, power, and ugly political rulership.
Zacchaeus lived in Jericho among the rich and stole from the poor. He was a tax collector and the chief one on top of it all. He would have been the one with the condo and the fine food at his table. He would’ve been accepted by the elites of the day. One can only imagine what his house might have looked like in the secluded suburbs of Jericho.
More than likely, Zacchaeus knew all about those great Sycamore trees. He tasted their delicious yellowish-brown dry fruit many times. He knew well how they offered the best protection against the howling wind storms which brought a barrage of sand in from the surrounding wilderness. These trees also had formidable limbs. He could have used them to build his child’s dream tree-house. From there they could see the throngs of beggars lining the streets outside, waiting for the crumbs of bread to fall from the rich man’s table.
In Luke’s account, Zacchaeus is in a predicament—he is up a tree! Hard to imagine a man of such wealth perched on a tree limb to see what all the hullabaloo in town is about.
But that’s where Jesus found him.
When Jesus arrived, all the zones of Zacchaeus’ life seemed to intersect. There was an underlying purpose being played out, even though he had no clue what it was all about. How could he still be searching and yet so well taken care of? To Zacchaeus, those pitiful crowds clogging the streets below were just a nuisance. They despised him for being a government stooge. But Jesus was another story. Zacchaeus had to find out about this man, but because his height hindered his ability to see over the crowds, he found himself up a tree.
At least he could hide somewhat behind the huge tree branches that seemed to yawn all over the people who hung on Jesus’ every word. While Zacchaeus sat there, he probably reminded himself over and over not to lean too far forward lest he fall. How embarrassing it would be for such a well-to-do man to find himself plonked in front of the very ones who made him so well-to-do.
Then, Jesus stopped. Right under the limb where Zacchaeus was perched. How in the world did He know?
He looked up at the poor fellow perched in the tree and told him to come down. It was only after they had dined together at his house that Zacchaeus must have realized Jesus could easily have settled all his problems back at the tree. But Jesus chose not to.
Zacchaeus wouldn’t understand the depth of who Jesus was until he said yes to climbing down from the tree. Jesus had to enter his life first. The one with a pocket full of money and an empty heart, acted in faith when he said to Jesus, “Here I come.”
How kind of Jesus. He sure could have settled this man’s issue on the spot and in front of everyone. Besides Zacchaeus must have nearly suffered a heart attack when Jesus stopped and brought the entire universe’s attention to bear on public enemy number one hiding in a tree. Jesus not only told him to come down, but also insisted on coming to his house to share a meal.
Sinners matter to Jesus. This is why He would soon go up to Jerusalem and be crucified by them and for them. So, what does this teach us about Zacchaeus? When we find Zacchaeus, we find ourselves.
Regardless of our station in life, our sin always presents us a tree on which to sit. Jesus demands a re-positioning. Zacchaeus had to remove himself from his tree in order to start a new life with Jesus Christ. Jesus knew Zacchaeus’ heart, and most likely, Zach would have preferred to meet with Christ on his terms. Following Jesus, though, begins with a simple yes—yielding to His authority. Obedience is the defining action of our faith.
When Jesus finds you, follow His instructions. And if He finds you perched on the limb of a tree, don’t wait. Climb on down before your opportunity for salvation passes you by.
serves as Senior Pastor at First Baptist Spartanburg, SC. Dr. Wilton’s ministry has been hallmarked by his strong expository preaching of the absolute truth from God’s Word. He also served as Dr. Billy Graham’s pastor for many years. Dr. Wilton and his wife, Karyn, have two married sons, a daughter, six grandsons, two granddaughters and two daughters-in-law. He enjoys reading, golfing, fishing and watching football, rugby, and cricket. He loves spending as much time as possible with his family