Zacchaeus a Wee Little Man
A Sunday school teacher was telling Junior the story of Zacchaeus. When it came to the part where Jesus looked up into the sycamore tree and saw Zacchaeus, the teacher asked Junior, “What did Jesus say to the little man?” Junior replied, “Do not climb trees!”
When we think of characteristics of Zacchaeus, we immediately think of his small stature. Indeed, he was a small man physically (Luke 19:3), which required extra effort on his part to see Jesus. Moreover, he was a small man in the eyes of the Jews, because not only was he a publican, but he was “the chief among the publicans” (Luke 19:2). The Jews hated publicans for collaborating with the Romans regarding outrageous taxes, which they would procure from greed and extortion. Moreover, he was chief in that other publicans were under him. Of course, the Jews possibly despised him because Luke also describes him as being rich (Luke 19:2). Of course, the Bible does not condemn being wealthy (i.e., Abraham, Job and such like), but it does warn of the dangers that money presents (1 Tim. 6:10). Furthermore, he was a small man in the eyes of God. In other words, he was little spiritually in that he was a sinner (Luke 19:7). This was the appraisal of the people, and they were correct. However, by the end of the story, this small man rose to new heights and became big.
What principles can we learn from the account of this man? First, we should not condemn people in groups. It is true that most publicans were bad. However, Matthew (Levi) was not, and Zacchaeus was not as bad as most would like to think. Consider the fact that he desired to see Jesus (Luke 19:3). In fact, he not only desired to see Jesus, but he made the extra effort and determination to see him (Luke 19:4). Many people do not share this same desire and determination. We often have to beg and plead with others in the world to learn about Jesus and the gospel. Some who do desire to see Him possess the desire for the wrong reasons, such as Herod the Great who deceived the wise men and said, “Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also” (Matt. 2:8), and Herod Antipas who wanted to be entertained when he “hoped to have seen some miracle done by him” (Luke 23:8). Moreover, Zacchaeus was not as bad as one might think because he was hospitable (19:5-6). He was probably surprised, but nonetheless happy, that Jesus was coming over to his house. We are to be “given to hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). He was willing to show genuine penitence and benevolence (19:8). Consider his words: “…and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation…” (Luke 19:8), which is translated from the Greek ei tinos ti esukophantesa. AT Robertson comments on this, “It is a condition of the first class (ei and the aorist active indicative) that assumes it to be true. His own conscience was at work. He had extorted money wrongfully as they all knew” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Concise Edition, Holman Bible Publishers: Nashville, TN, 2000, p. 167). William Burkitt adds that when he states, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor,” Zacchaeus is stating the readiness of it—not that he will at a undetermined time in the future where he may possibly forget, but that it is done—he has resolved in his mind to do it, beginning right there. Therefore, we should avoid blanket remarks to group of people (cf. Acts 10:34). Not all lawyers are crooks, not all politicians are liars and not all publicans were beyond the ability to change their lives.
Second, problems may be the beginning of blessings. The problem that Zacchaeus had was his height, which was not his fault, but this led Jesus to notice him. The apostle Paul said his bonds helped him further preach the gospel (Phil. 1:12-13). The psalmist declared, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Ps. 119:71). Most have heard the axiom, “When life deals you lemons, make lemonade!” Thus, we can overcome handicaps and problems; when a door closes, another one usually opens.
Third, one can be wealthy and still have an empty life. Money cannot buy happiness—the late Howard Hughes and so many others illustrate this. Jesus taught, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). While the church in Laodicea were “…rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing,” Jesus revealed rather that they were “…wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17).
Fourth, praise God that Jesus is a friend of sinners! People were shocked that Jesus would even associate with this man (Luke 19:7). I am thankful that he did, because I now know he will associate with me (Rom. 5:8). We are all sinners (1 John 1:8; Rom. 3:23). Thus, we should be careful not to rule out someone because we might think he/she is “too bad.” With regards to this “wee little man,” Jesus succinctly stated, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
In conclusion, here was a short man who rose to new heights. Jesus offered salvation to him (Luke 19:9), as he offers it to everyone. It will raise us to new heights as well, if we will only obey God. Jesus wishes to abide in our house, but not everyone receives him gladly as Zacchaeus did. How far will we go and how high will we climb to see Jesus? (Rev. 3:20).