Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 April 2, 2017
“Was Lost, But Now Am Found”
Text: Luke 19:1-10
This is the last narrative in the Gospel of Luke prior to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As such, today’s sermon is the first in a planned three-sermon respite from our sermon series in 1 Peter. We’ll return to that series, God willing, on Sunday morning, April 23. Easter is two weeks away, Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday is next week, and this week we meet Jesus at Jericho—some thirteen miles east and thirty-five hundred feet below Jerusalem. Let us hear God’s Word.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
One of Jericho’s most infamous first-century citizens, Zacchaeus, figures prominently in this narrative. Luke, as led by the Spirit, though spare on narrative detail, gives us enough to re-create Zacchaeus’s person and character. First, we learn from Luke that Zacchaeus is a chief tax collector. He is no mere entry-level tax collector. He supervises other tax collectors in their work for Rome. Though this represents that Zacchaeus is a man of no little achievement and responsibility, the very fact that he collects taxes from his brother Jews to finance the governance of the hated oppressor Romans earns him the unending hatred of his brethren. They deem Zacchaeus no less than a traitor to their people.
Second, Zacchaeus is wealthy. ‘Tis no wonder—when we consider how tax collection went in those days. Someone in Zacchaeus’s position bid Rome for the tax collection contract. Once Rome awarded the contract to a tax collector, he gave an amount for his subordinates to collect—perhaps an amount well above the contracted amount stipulated by Rome. The difference between collection and levy went into the tax collector’s pocket. Doubtless the subordinate tax collectors could do this on a smaller scale and the citizenry would be none the wiser—yet the citizens would feel the burden of an unjustly high levy. If Jericho’s citizens suspected Zacchaeus of such conduct, then this only fueled their burning enmity toward him.
Third, Zacchaeus is short. Children often are cruel to other children who differ from a perceived norm. Whether the ridiculed child is shorter, taller, smarter, poorer, or different in any number of ways from the perceived norm, the difference only provides the group an occasion to ridicule him. Alas, adults at times are little different. Perhaps the Jews of Jericho, already sore at Zacchaeus for the aforementioned reasons, are all too ready to abuse Zacchaeus for his short stature.
Fourth, Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus. The Holy Spirit, through Luke, does not give us the minute details of the inner workings of Zacchaeus’s soul, but we may surmise easily enough a few things. Zacchaeus is not a pious Old Covenant worshipper of God. If he were, then he would not be a tax collector in the first place. Moreover, Zacchaeus likely returns the hatred of his people with ever more burdensome levies against them. He thus further pads his pockets while inflicting pain for pain. Yet, somehow in God’s good providence, the Holy Spirit has engendered in Zacchaeus an interest in Jesus. It is no mere passing interest, as we shall see presently.
Jesus, having entered Jericho, now passes through the ancient walled city. Zacchaeus, who would see Jesus, cannot see Him because of his short stature. He then does something that will ensure more ridicule directed at him—he runs. No Jewish man of standing runs. More than this, Zacchaeus runs in front of them all. The sight of this must have rendered him ridiculous before his fellow townsmen. Even more ridiculous, Zacchaeus climbs a sycamore tree and waits for Jesus to pass. If anyone is paying more attention to Zacchaeus than to Jesus, then probably he barely can stand from the force of his derisive laugh.
Yet Zacchaeus, the hated liege of Rome and traitor to Jerusalem, does what no dignified man of his time would do—and that to see Jesus. Why? In particular, why does Zacchaeus wish so ardently to see Jesus? Luke (and, hence, the Spirit) does not answer this question explicitly, but we may reasonably infer that the Spirit has moved Zacchaeus to seek Jesus thus because he senses, at some level, deep within himself his great need of Him. No man degrades himself publicly thus over a mere curiosity.
Luke relates something remarkable next. Jesus came very near to the sycamore tree—within easy earshot. Then Jesus uttered astonishing words: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” They perhaps astonish Zacchaeus, for he may well know himself to be the most unlikely and most unworthy candidate in Jericho for such an honor. They astonish his fellows also, for they know this to be true. In fact, they are so astonished that they all grumble of Jesus, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” I imagine Zacchaeus can hear these grumblings; I know Jesus can.
Zacchaeus now utters—and his utterance equally astounds, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” Note three remarkable truths in Zacchaeus’s short speech. First, he calls Jesus Lord. None can do this save through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Something has happened—something wonderful has happened—in Zacchaeus’s soul. Second, he offers half his goods to the poor. The Lord only requires ten percent of Zacchaeus’s increase (Genesis 14:18-20, Deuteronomy 14:22-29, et al.). Hence, Zacchaeus renders five times as much as the Law requires—and that out of the overflow of his heart. Third, he will restore any defrauded taxpayer fourfold. The Lord only requires restitution plus a fifth (Leviticus 6:5). Hence, Zacchaeus renders restitution plus fifteen-fifths, or fifteen times as much as the Law requires—and that, once again, out of the overflow of his heart.
Jesus declares, “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.” Zacchaeus did not gain salvation by his proposed works, but they testify that salvation has come. The Lord changed Zacchaeus’s heart—and Zaachaeus’s eternity. Jesus tells us that, just before he ascends that long, steep road to accomplish our redemption, He came from Heaven to seek and to save lost people here.
Zacchaeus is not the only soul so touched by the Master. Many—including many here in this sanctuary today—could testify similarly. One such soul is England’s John Newton, a one-time slave-ship sailor and later Christian and tireless abolitionist. Impressed into naval service at eighteen, God called him to Himself at age twenty-three after a storm and near-shipwreck off the Irish coast. Some of Newton’s sin died then, and—as God progressively sanctified His servant—he retired from the slave trade at age twenty-nine and began preparing himself for the Anglican ministry. Ordained finally at the age of thirty-nine, Newton served the parish at Olney, sixty miles northwest of London, for the next sixteen years. He lived the rest of his life discharging various Christian endeavors until his Home-going at age eighty-two.
Newton is best-known for perhaps the best-known hymn of them all, Amazing Grace. In it he pens these well-known words that well could be applied to Zacchaeus and to countless others: “I once was lost, but now am found—was blind, but now, I see.” As he lay dying, Newton whispered, “My memory is nearly gone. But I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” What a thing for Newton to remember then; what a great thing for each of us to remember at any time.
The Lord continues to seek and to save the lost. If lostness be your condition today, then cry out to God to be found in Christ. If Christ as Lord and Savior be your desire, then come to Him, for He will never cast out the one coming to Him (John 6:37). If you desire that God rescue a soul dear to you, then cry out to Him for that very thing—and persevere, if God delay His saving action. May our great God—our seeking, saving Savior—be your joy always.
 This fact makes the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) all the more poignant—for the forsaken, abused father, upon seeing the penitent, beaten, spent son, runs to him and pours upon him all the pent-up affection of a patient father long denied the opportunity to love his son at close range.