Jesus enters the city of Jericho. The stunning miracle of sight to the blind recorded in the closing verses of Luke 18 has ensured that Jesus’ already considerable entourage has become a large boisterous crowd. It is only six days to the crucifixion. And that is no mere passing observation, but utterly relevant to the providential intersection of the paths of these two men, Jesus and Zacchaeus. For what is to be accomplished in the life of Zacchaeus by Jesus of Nazareth is but a cameo of the larger accomplishment of Jesus in Jerusalem, for all mankind, but a few days hence. And there is no doubt that our Lord clearly recognised that fact.

Verse 2 makes the introduction: “And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus…”. “Behold” is the arresting injunction. Pay attention. And Zacchaeus is introduced. He is a troubled man, unhappy with the course of his life. A man utterly successful by worldly standards, rich, influential but borne down by what has become a deep sense of dissatisfaction. He has it all: his personal balance sheet shows a huge surplus, but it is not enough. So let us “behold” the unfolding drama, for a splendid drama it surely is. And let us recognise that this is a record of conversion. It is a record of salvation. And that by the very hands of Christ himself. Every word therefore is precious.

We need, too, to see our own circumstances in this record. Perhaps if our self examination is sufficiently acute, we might admit to a similar sense of unease oft-times, a sense of dissatisfaction with our progress in the Truth. And with it, like Zacchaeus, a yearning for Christ, a desire to seize hold of this man, to grasp something of his holiness, his courage and his faithfulness.

Zacchaeus was “chief among the publicans”, not just a publican, one of the hated excise men, but chief among them. The expression carries echoes of Luke 15 and the opening verses which introduce the parables of “the lost”. “Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” A chief publican must surely have been then a chief sinner; the terms to the Jews were virtually interchangeable. It is surely no coincidence that the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9–14) is similarly juxtaposed with this Luke 19 record.

Zacchaeus, too, is a rich man. And we know that in the previous chapter Jesus has made comment about riches as a potential barrier to salvation (Luke 18:22–25). Well, it seems poor Zacchaeus has very little in his favour at all!

We know this much, he has an utter determination to see Jesus. “He sought to see Jesus who he was.” So he is a seeker, driven both by curiosity and a consciousness of his own need. He has heard much about this man; now he has the chance to observe him first hand and make his own assessment of him. At least, that’s his plan. But he has a problem: a man of small stature (though he is about to grow), he cannot see Jesus through the crowd. Quickly working out the direction of the crowd, he runs ahead and clambers up into a sycamore tree so he can watch and observe Jesus as he passes.

Surely we can picture the scene. Zacchaeus in his hidden vantage point in the tree, the noise of the crowd, the dust, the crowd coming closer, Zacchaeus straining to see, until yes, there, in the midst, the centre of attention, that must be Jesus. Coming nearer now, right to the tree—and Jesus stop—a hush as the crowd becomes silent. See the descriptive terms in verse 5: Jesus came to the place… he looked up… he saw him—he spoke. Jesus looked and saw. A similar word is used in relation to the blind man in Luke 18:41–43: “receive sight” An amazing thing—the blind can see!—but Jesus can really see! And now that penetrating gaze is fixed on Zacchaeus.

“Zacchaeus”, says the Lord, a stunning moment for Zacchaeus. How? How can he know my name, how did he know I was there? But John tells us: “he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out” (10:3). And Jesus adds: “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep…” Jesus knew Zacchaeus, and he knows us too: each one of us, every day, in all aspects of our life, he knows us. Our name, everything about us, every secret thought, though sometimes we might wish it were not so.

David vividly expresses his awareness of God’s intimate knowledge of all his ways. “O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off” (Psa 139:1–2). Such constant Divine oversight is almost too overwhelming to contemplate. “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” But by the end of his meditations in this Psalm David invites his God into his heart and into his life. “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (verses 23–24).

“Make haste and come down…” Hurry up, Zacchaeus. This is a matter of great urgency. Christ bears a message of life or death import. He will brook no delay. Moreover for Zacchaeus, as for us, response to Christ comes in the bright light of day in the presence of the crowd. We may not slink sideways into Christ’s presence. There will be public recognition for Zacchaeus, and public embarrassment too.

“For today.” This is the same word we will come across in verse 9, “this day.” It was said of Winston Churchill in the dark days of World War Two that he required all matters needing his decision to be set out on a single page. And having decided on the course of action, he would note this, and add the words: “Action this day!” So for Zacchaeus, Jesus was going to bring him to the point of decision—“today!” Jesus will not permit Zacchaeus to be a mere observer, a curious bystander. Nor can we adopt that posture. He wants active participants in the Truth. He seeks a deep involvement. He wants our heart and our mind and our willing hands. He will not let us hide in the branches and watch.

“I must abide at thy house.” There were many houses in Jericho, but Jesus (Yahoshua) picks out just one; the house of the chief publican (sinner). When, at an earlier time, another Yahoshua entered the land, his spies too came to just one house out of many, and that the house of a ‘chief sinner’, Rahab the harlot. Nor is this the only allusion in this story to that earlier conquest of Jericho.

Verse 6 records Zacchaeus’ response: “And he made haste and came down.” The command of Jesus in verse 5 is matched word for word by the obedience of Zacchaeus in verse 6. Sinner though he may have been, when Jesus spoke, Zacchaeus immediately did precisely what he was told to do. Can that be said of us? Zacchaeus was obedient; he did hurry. He is an energetic man, remember verse 4, “he ran before…” It is a notable scriptural characteristic of God’s greatest servants that they run to serve. See Abraham, in Genesis 18:2 “he ran to meet them…”; verse 6, “Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah…”; and verse 7, “And Abraham ran unto the herd…” This by an old man on a hot day! Re-read the record of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 and note how often David ran in this great contest. Examples could be multiplied. God’s servants are not dilatory; they obey, and get on with the work.

Zacchaeus “received him joyfully”. The expression “received him” has the sense of receiving into his house. It is compelling to note that of the four occurrences of this word in the New Testament, two have relation to sinners of Jericho. Zacchaeus here in Luke 19, and Rahab in James 2:25: “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” We should mark well that though Rahab showed her faithfulness, eschewed her former life, accepted the Abrahamic faith, was received into the nation of Israel and, not least, was singularly identified by name in Matthew’s gospel as one of the outstanding mothers in Israel in the great line of Messiah, she still bears in James’ writings and in Hebrews, too, that shameful designation: “the harlot Rahab”. Why do not the New Testament writers in view of her sterling conversion, draw a discreet veil over her former life? Surely, “they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come,” that we might learn this great truth: God ever seeks the lost, who will respond to Him! And Scripture will never let us forget that. Truly, it will be our great honour in the kingdom to know Rahab; yes, and Zacchaeus too.

So Zacchaeus with great joy invited Jesus home, that there they might speak “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend”. And when they saw it, those in the crowd with the Pharisee mentality, “murmured”. Ah wretched human nature, that will not be contained. They murmured. The expression comes straight from Luke 15:2: “the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” He was “a man that is a sinner”, they said; but Zacchaeus could only say in his heart, with the publican of the parable, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

How disappointing our petty behaviour is to Almighty God. As wayward bickering children cause their parents to sigh with distress, so we can cause displeasure for our God. Surely the reverse is our earnest desire. Were any more wonderful yet more simple words written as a caption for a life, than those penned by Paul concerning Enoch: “he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Heb 11:5). Let murmuring cease.

There is possibly a break in the record between verses 7 and 8 as Jesus spent the night in Zacchaeus’ house, opening up the word to his delighted host. The Concordant Literal New Testament translates verse 7: “And perceiving it, all grumbled, saying that with a man who is a sinner he entered to put up for the night.”

After an exhilarating time of hearty fellowship and wonderful teaching from the Master, it is a new creature who steps forward to declare his repentance. So amid joy in heaven a sinner repents. We all know that joy. We have felt it for ourselves and for many beloved brethren and sisters. We love baptismal meetings, not only to rejoice with a new found brother or sister, but because the very joy of it revives us too, and reminds us that newness of life was both our promise to God and God’s promise to us.

So Zacchaeus makes his voluntary public vow: “the half of my goods, I give to the poor…” In the previous chapter Christ’s injunction to the rich young ruler was to “sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven…” (Luke 18:22–23). Zacchaeus goes further, to promise restitution to those whose goods he may have “taken by false accusation…”. The sense is to oppress under pretence of law—and he clearly had behaved this way. His new conscience in Christ compels him to make good.

And now Jesus concludes the matter. “This day [repeating his expression ‘today’ from verse 5] is salvation come to this house.” This is the only time Christ used this expression of an individual! One house, and one household out of all Jericho, is singled out for salvation: a clear reminder of Rahab and the record of Joshua chapter 2. Moreover, the Lord gives his reason: “forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.” This designation was claimed by the Jews in John 8:33 and 39, but Jesus statement is that it is a title reserved for those who “do the works of Abraham”. And Paul adds that Abraham is our father if we follow his steps (Rom 4:12). Whoever in Jericho, before this day, saw in that despised tax collector a son of Abraham? But Jesus saw the potential there, saw a son of Abraham just waiting to step forward, wanting only a preacher of righteousness to bring him to the birth.

In verse 10 Jesus states his mission. “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” We saw in verse 3 that Zacchaeus was seeking Jesus, and that was important. More important by far was the fact that Jesus was seeking him. As Jesus crossed the Jordan and came by the way of Jericho, with an ‘exodus’ to be accomplished at Jerusalem, his mind was engaged with that exodus so long before. He saw in its circumstances a foreshadowing of his greater work, the “salvation” of both Zacchaeus and Rahab, to him but a cameo of that great salvation which was his life’s mission. It was only a couple of days later that Christ declared to the rulers of the Jews, “the publicans [Zacchaeus] and the harlots [Rahab] go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matt 21:31).

We were all like Zacchaeus, utterly lost. Jesus has sought us out and found us; his mission—to seek and to save that which was lost. He has spoken to us through the Word. We need him in our homes and our lives every day. Let us “make haste, and come down, and receive him joyfully.”