Zacchaeus the Tax Collector

Luke 19: 1-10

DIG: How does Zacchaeus compare to the young rabbinical student (see Il – The Rich Young Ruler) in his approach to Yeshua? In his response? Why do you think Jesus invited Himself to Zakkai’s house for dinner? Why does this bother others? What impresses you about Zacchaeus? Do you think Messiah’s words in verses 9-10 stopped the people’s muttering? Why or why not? How does Christ confirm Zacchaeus’ salvation?

REFLECT: Where did Jesus first find you: Up a tree? Out on a limb? How did He get you to come down: A little coaxing? A big scare? An invitation you couldn’t refuse? Suppose Yeshua were to invite Himself to your house. If every room is an area of your life, give yourself a grade for each: The library (your mind, the control room of the entire house); the dining room (appetites, desires that you feed on for nourishment); the drawing room (where you draw close to ADONAI); the workshop (where your spiritual gifts and talents are put to work for God); the rumpus room (the social area of your life); and the hall closet (a secret place that is a stumbling block to your walk with the Lord).

As our Messiah traveled and ministered across the Jordan in Perea on His way to the Holy City for Pesach, a large crowd of pilgrims followed Him (Matthew 20:29b). His fame had spread throughout Palestine. Not long before this, He had raised Lazarus from the dead. That happened in Bethany, not far from Jericho.Word had spread, and people were curious about the prophet of Nazareth. Everyone in Yericho who could move lined the streets in preparation for the Master passing through. The city was buzzing and energetic. Was He the Meshiach? Was He coming to defeat the Romans and set up His Kingdom?

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy (Luke 19:1-2). The road from Jericho to Yerushalayim ascends about 3,000 feet in 17 miles. Jericho was an international crossroad, located where the main trade routes north, south, east and west all come together. The customs house there, where taxes were collected, was a busy place.

There were two kinds of tax collectors, the Gabbai and the Mokhes. The Gabbai were general tax collectors. They collected property tax, income tax, and the poll tax. These taxes were set by official assessments, so not as much could be skimmed off the top from these. The Mokhes, however, collected on imports and exports, goods for domestic trade, and virtually anything that was moved by road. They set tolls on roads and bridges, taxed beasts of burden and axles on transport wagons, and charged tariffs on parcels, letters, or whatever else they could find to tax. Their assessments were often set at their discretion, and provided a way to really “stick it to ‘em”!

Mokhes consisted of the Great Mokhes and the Little Mokhes. A Great Mokhe stayed behind the scenes and hired others to collect taxes for him. Mattityahu was apparently a Little Mokhe – “a tax collector” (see Cp – The Calling of Matthew). Zakkai was apparently a Great Mokhe, or the chief tax collector, who was in charge of Jericho’s customs house and hence tried to stay behind the scenes. But everyone knew who he was.

The whole community despised Zacchaeus. Luke 19:7 tells us that everyone called him a sinner. So it seems that not only was he a dreaded tax collector, a traitor to the nation, but this probably meant that his personal character was corrupted as well. That was the case with most tax collectors. But the Savior of sinners had a special love for tax collectors. Luke especially focuses on the numerous times Yeshua encountered them. His theme is the love of our Great Rabbi for the lost, and He repeatedly portrays Christ reaching out to the outcasts of society. Every time Luke mentions a tax collector (Luke 3:12, 5:27, 7:29, 15:1, 18:10, 19:2), it is in a positive sense. These were the untouchables of the religious society – flagrant public sinners – but they were the very ones our Deliverer came to save.

It might appear that it was Zacchaeus who was seeking Jesus, but the truth is that if Jesus had not sought him, he would have never come to the Savior. No one seeks God on his or her own. There is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God (Romans 3:11). In our natural, fallen state we are dead in our transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1), separated from the life of ADONAI (Ephesians 4:18), and therefore totally unable and unwilling to seek HaShem. Only when the sovereign, convincing power of the Holy Spirit, touches us can we move toward Him. Therefore it is not until God begins to pursue us can we respond and seek Him. But rest assured, whenever someone seeks the LORD, He will respond in kind. We love Him because He first loved us (First John 4:19).

Nevertheless, ADONAI invites sinners to seek. Isaiah 55:6 says: Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Jeremiah 29:13 tells us: You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. God declares in Amos 5:4, “Seek Me that you may live.” Messiah declares: Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33) and, Seek and you will find (Matthew 7:7). Consequently, being sought by God, Zacchaeus was seeking.1226

Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus but apparently had never seen Him. The Great Mokhe wanted to see who Jesus was (LK 19:3). The imperfect verb tense implies he was continually making an effort to see Messiah.Why? Curiosity? Probably. Conscience? Surely. Desire for freedom from guilt? Possibly. But more than anything, the reality that he was eventually saved points to the fact that the Ruach HaKodesh had begun a work in the heart of this tortured soul to draw him to Christ. Zakkai didn't seek God on his own initiative, but the Spirit moved his heart. In response, he made an effort to see Yeshua.

Zakkai was an outcast, a hated man, a man whose hands were filled with money he had taken at the expense of poor people. He was a man with tremendous guilt. Yet instead of running and hiding, he desperately wanted to see Jesus. To do this, he overcame a number of obstacles. One was the crowd. Because he was short he could not see over the crowd (Lk 19:4a) because the residents of Jericho were already lining the streets. Add to that his small stature and the little man probably carefully avoided crowds. A short man would have a problem in a crowd to begin with. But a short man who was the Great Mokhes risked getting a well-placed elbow in the jaw, or even a heavy boot on the foot.

But on this day, Zacchaeus was not concerned with such things. He was not even concerned about his dignity. He was so determined to see the Galilean Rabbi that he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way (Luke 19:4b). The sycamore-fig tree was a short, fat tree with spreading branches. A little person could scamper up the trunk, get out on a limb, and hang over the road. And that was what Zakkai did. The tree offered him a perfect seat for the parade. It was not a dignified place for a man of such a high position (no pun intended), but that was not important to him on this day. Zacchaeus only wanted to see Yeshua.

What happened next must have staggered Zacchaeus. Although Christ had never met him before, when Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to him: Zacchaeus, come down immediately. We don’t know how Yeshua knew Zakkai’s name. Maybe people in the crowd pointed him out. Maybe Yeshua knew it through His omniscience. Clearly, however, the Lord had a divinely ordained appointment with the little man, for when He said: I must stay at your house today (Luke 19:5), it was a command, not a request. Zacchaeus’ heart was prepared according to a divine timetable.

Zakkai wanted to see the Prophet of Nazareth, but he had no idea Messiah wanted to see him. So Zacchaeus came down at once and welcomed Christ gladly (Luke 19:6). One might think that such a despicable sinner would be distressed to hear the perfect, sinless Son of God say: I must stay at your house today, but he was glad. His heart was prepared.

The reaction of the crowd was predictable. Both the religious elite and the common people looked down on Zacchaeus. When all the people saw this they began to mutter, “This Nazarene has gone to be the guest of a sinner” (Luke 19:7). They believed, as we have seen, that to go into the house of an outcast was to make oneself unclean. To eat with someone like Zakkai was the worst possible defilement. They placed no value on Zacchaeus’ soul and had no concern for his spiritual welfare. Their self-righteous eyes could only see his sin. They could not understand and would not see in their blind pride that the Savior of sinners had come to seek and save the lost, and they condemned Jesus for it. But in doing so, they also condemned themselves.

We are never told what happened at the house of Zakkai. The bible does not tell us what he served for dinner, or how long Jesus stayed, or what they talked about. Nor do we know what the Chief Shepherd said to bring Zacchaeus to salvation. The method is never the point. But we can be confident that Yeshua confronted Zakkai with his sin. The little man undoubtedly already knew what a great sinner he was. Surely Christ revealed to Zacchaeus who He really was – God in the human flesh. But whatever He said, Zakkai responded.

A curtain seems to rise near the end of their conversation and Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8). When a person confessed to fraud and made a voluntary restitution, the Torah required such a one to return the amount stolen plus twenty percent (Leviticus 6:1-5; Numbers 5:5-7). An apprehended thief had to pay the victim double (Exodus 22:4 and 7). But a person stealing what is essential and showing no pity was required to pay back four times the amount (Exodus 22:1 and Second Samuel 12:6). Zakkai, fully repentant on the spot, not only acknowledged the heartlessness and cruelty of his behavior, but voluntarily imposed upon himself the whole restitution required by the Torah for such acts.1227

Here was a radically changed man deciding to give half of his possessions to the poor it was a radical reversal and clear evidence his heart had been transformed. The taker had become a giver. The extortioner had become a philanthropist. He would repay those he had defrauded, and give back four times as much. His mind was changed, his heart was changed and his clear intention was to change his behavior. Had his heart changed toward people? Yes. But his heart had been changed toward God first. Consequently, ADONAI had changed him from the inside out (see Bw – What God Does for Us at the Moment of Faith).

Jesus said to him: Today salvation (Hebrew: yeshu’ah, which is the feminine form of Yeshua’s own name) has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham (Luke 19:9). So there is a play on words, Yeshua/salvation has literally come to this house. Zacchaeus was a son of Abraham not because he was Jewish, but because he believed in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Romans 2:28-29 CJB tells us: For the real Jew is not merely Jewish outwardly. Then what makes a real Jew? Romans 4:11 says Abraham is the father of all who believe. Galatians 3:7 declares that all those of faith/trust/belief are the real children of Abraham. Zacchaeus was saved by faith, not by works. But his giving half of his possessions to the poor, and repaying four times over those whom he had cheated was important evidence that his faith was real.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). This was seen in Hs – The Parable of the Lost Sheep, and echoed in Ezekiel 34:16, where ADONAI said: I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. As we see in the conversion of Zakkai, the necessary result of God’s saving work is a changed person. When a soul is bought back from the spiritually dead, Christ removes your heart of stone and gives you a new heart so that you are spirituallyalive (Ezekiel 36:26). Implicit in that change of heart is the desire to please God, to obey, and to reflect His righteousness. Zacchaeus had a new heart.1228

Jesus knows our hearts. He knows our sorrows – for He weeps with us. He knows our joys – for He rejoices with us. God knows everything about us, even our weaknesses. In fact, He uses these weaknesses to draw us to Him. He knows that when we are needy we are more open to accepting God’s love. It is in our weakness that we realize that no matter what we have done, God still loves us, still wants to speak to us. He is as close to you as your breath.

When we believe in Him and He changes our hearts, we are filled with joy because only Yeshua can fill that deepest part of our being. It is often the very situation that has caused us pain that most opens us up to Messiah: Like Zacchaeus, our desire for Christ becomes a desperation to be freed from anything that cuts us off from His presence.

Lord Jesus, we invite You into our hearts to change us. Come and fill us with the joy of your salvation. Grant us the freedom to lay at Your feet every possession or desire that we have considered more precious than You. Amen. You are worthy.1229


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