Zaccheus; A Story of Grace

Understanding the Red Letters   Part 4

In Matthew 19 and Luke 18, we have the story of the rich young ruler that we discussed last time.  It was a story of Jesus giving an old covenant answer to an old covenant question and a reminder that eternal life is only found in Jesus.  It is interesting to compare this old covenant interaction with Jesus’ encounter with another rich man in the next chapter of Luke’s gospel.

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich.  Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature.  So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way.  When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’  And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly” (Luke 19:1-6).

Zaccheus was looking for Jesus.  We don’t know exactly why.  Curiosity perhaps?  But Jesus was also looking for Zaccheus.  So much so that He indicated to the tax collector that “He must” come to his house today.  And Zaccheus received Jesus gladly.

Now, we have very little of the conversation between Jesus and Zaccheus recorded for us.  We really don’t know much about their interaction.  But we can make some assumptions and there are a few things we do know.

Zaccheus was a chief tax collector and we can assume quite the opposite to the young man we met last time in regard to keeping the commandments.  In fact, the Jews made a big deal about Zaccheus’ status as a “sinner”.  “When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner’ “ (Luke 19:7).  So I think it is safe to say that Zaccheus did not approach Jesus as someone who thought himself righteous and worthy.

But to this sinner, this lost person, Jesus brought grace; Jesus brought salvation.  “And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost’ “ (Luke 19:9-10).  Jesus came to save sinners.

Now here is the fun part.  When the rich young ruler came to Jesus seeking to be justified by the law, the command to give it all away left him sad and unable to do it.  But look at the grace response of Zaccheus.  The very thing that the rich young ruler could not do, Zaccheus did.  And we have no suggestion that Jesus required this of Zaccheus.  I think it was just a beautiful response to the grace of God.  “Zaccheus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much’ “ (Luke 19:8).

Zaccheus is a picture of a generous response to the grace of God.  And it is a picture of us as new covenant saints; generously responding to the grace of God, unburdened by the weight of the law.