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 his way he looked up in the tree ~ and he said, “Zacchaeus, you come down, for I’m going to your house today.”
One of my favorite children’s song. Forget the fact that it teaches you almost nothing about the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. It’s catchy and a lot of people know it!
According to the children’s song here is what we learn about the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus:
- Zacchaeus was short, “a wee little man”
- Zacchaeus could climb sycamore trees
- Zacchaeus wanted to see the Lord
- Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down so he could stay at his house
That’s it. There’s no more to the story … according to the kid’s song. However, there is plenty more to the story if we look and listen.
Jesus is passing through Jericho. Now Jericho is stranger to the presence of the LORD. Jericho is where Rahab lived and hid the Israelite spies. Jericho is the city that Israel marched around for seven days, blew some trumpets and then watched the walls fall down. Today, Jericho will see another miracle and claim another testimony of salvation. Wouldn’t it be great if every time someone heard the name of our church and immediately equated it with a mighty work of God? That would be something else.
Today, Jericho is home to the world’s most popular chief tax collector, Zacchaeus. You think tax collectors are hated now you should have seen it then. Tax collectors worked for the enemy. They were traitors; they betrayed their people and their God to make a quick dollar. Zacchaeus’ name doesn’t mean “dirty rotten scoundrel.” In fact, his name means pure. It seems that money didn’t help him fulfill the meaning of his name. Don’t forget, Zacchaeus is not only hated, he is very rich.
For whatever reason, on this day, Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. Perhaps he had heard all kinds of stories. Maybe he thought Jesus hadn’t paid his taxes yet. Who knows? There was only one problem, someone in the story was simply too short. It may have been Zacchaeus who was too short. However, being a tax collector was a rather rough occupation and it would be to your benefit to have some size and bulk to you. Then again, he might have simply had a couple of large cousins, Lenny and Guido, who did all his dirty work.
It might also have been Jesus who was too short. The prophet Isaiah tells us that the Messiah was not necessarily pleasant to the eyes.
See, my servant will prosper; he will be highly exalted. But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. – Isaiah 52:13-14, NLT
This might even make Zacchaeus’ desire to look upon Jesus make more sense. I suppose that it hardly matters, save that our mental images of Jesus should match our theology.
Whatever Zacchaeus’ motivation was to see Jesus it worked. He ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree, which is no small tree, especially if Zacchaeus was the “wee little man.” I think this part of the story often appears incidental to us, of no consequence. We see it merely as narrative fluff that paints a picture of the scenery. However, I wonder how many of us would run ahead and climb a tree for Jesus. What am I willing to do to see Jesus?
This next part must have blown Zacchaeus’ mind! Jesus looks up in the tree, right at Zacchaeus, and tells him, “Zacchaeus, hurry, come down, for I must stay at your house today.”
He knew his name. He planned to eat with him and be his guest. As chief tax collector Zacchaeus didn’t have many friends. Keep that in mind; Zacchaeus didn’t have many friends.
The first sign of salvation, obedience – “Quickly he came down and welcomed him with joy.”
Zacchaeus’ joy is lost on his neighbors, though. Instead of responding with joy they grumble. This isn’t the first time God’s people have grumbled. In fact, God’s people have a long tradition of grumbling and complaining. How silly, really, to complain about who Jesus chooses to be friends with. I mean, we would never complain about certain kinds of people coming to our church because Jesus draws them in. That would be ridiculous. But then again, Zacchaeus is a “sinful man” and we were never one of those. (My cynicism bites me as hard as it bites you.)
The only command Jesus has given is to come down quickly. The command to let Jesus in, though, seemed to carry with it more than a simple door opening ceremony for Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus’ heart is strangely warmed and he finds new life, new strength to be who he was created to be, Zacchaeus the pure and not Zacchaeus the sinner. He immediately begins giving away half of his possessions and pays back fourfold those he has wronged. In one fell swoop Zacchaeus goes from being a rich sinner to a poor saint with noting left but Jesus’ friendship.
“Salvation has come to this house today; to this child of Abraham!”, says Jesus. But Jesus brought more guests than that with him. Jesus brought generosity, forgiveness, a changed heart, friendship, joy and more. When we receive the salvation of the Lord we not only receive the Lord but all the kingdom resources that are his. Zacchaeus didn’t need to worry about giving away his wealth because he now belonged to a new kingdom with a good king who would take care of him.
Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He came for you and me. If Jesus is calling you out of that tree right now don’t hesitate. Obey and know at once the joy that changed Zacchaeus the sinner into Zacchaeus the saint.