Everyone is unique, thus Jesus draws us to himself uniquely. While each of has an individual story of straying and thus God will reach out to us in individual ways, there are often many common themes all of us experience on the road to reunification with God. One such story that depicts the path nearly every conversion is that of Zacchaeus.
It’s interesting to note that in the passage just before Zacchaeus’s conversion, Jesus heals the sight of a blind beggar. Luke 18:41-43 reads:
What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.”42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.
It seems that sometimes the more crazy your life, the more likely your conversion. On the surface, this poor beggar could not be more different than Zacchaeus. The beggar had testimony people would come and listen to. But Zacchaeus’s story has none of those flashy details people like to hear about. He was suburban, he was wealthy, and he was comfortable. In other words, Zacchaeus was common.
Common people surely have less immediate reasons pulling at them to find Jesus. As Revelations 3:16-17 explains:
So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
Zacchaeus seems to be captured in Revelations 3:17. The most at risk person of damnation is the lukewarm man or woman. And the majority of us are this. We all should be hot for Christ, but if we are cold, living dramatically apart from him, our desperation is often our greatest lifeline to the Savior. Rock bottom is so often the foundation of a new life in Christ. Many of us never get there. Our common comforts are actually Satan’s most deadly poison.
But God loves all of us, crazy sinners and “common” sinners like Zacchaeus, like most humans, like you and me. God saved Zacchaeus, and his path to conversion is us all.
Jesus Was Just Passing Through
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.” (Luke 19:1)
At some point in life, the Bible states that every human has the opportunity to be exposed to God’s truth. Even for those who have never heard the actual gospel or the name of Jesus, the Bible states that God’s creation bears witness to him and if people call out to know more, God will answer their call and reveal Jesus to them (Romans 1:18-20, Deuteronomy 4:29).
But there are times in each of our lives where the opportunity to personally meet Jesus Christ is right in front of our face. God often calls us with a louder voice during seasons of grief after the death of a loved one. God may be knocking on our door through burning questions we have about the meaning of life. Or perhaps the loss of a job is creating so much anxiety when you think about how you will now be unable to provide for you family that it’s as if God is waving his hands and yelling, “I’m over here! Just seek me and you will find me!”
The sobering and scary truth to acknowledge, however, is that these seasons of intensity never last. Jesus was simply “passing through” Zacchaeus’s town. Yes Zacchaeuswould have the opportunity for conversion after Jesus left the town and God would receive him. But Zacchaeus would never have an opportunity as good as this to meet the true Savior of the world.
There are times in life when we really do have a greater opportunity to know Jesus, to have our questions answered, to trust Jesus in faith so he can produce miracles in our times of need, to have that pastor over for dinner who might be able to show you what you’ve been looking for your whole life.
These times of deep need for God and exposure to his truth often leave us just as quickly as they came upon us. Yes Jesus would always be available to Zacchaeus, but not like this, not ever again.This was the last time Jesus was going to walk through Jericho in Zacchaeus’s lifetime. Zacchaeus could have missed this opportunity at conversion and his life would never have been the same, or perhaps more accurately, his life would forever be the same.
We must be sober minded and take advantage of the times in life when God is giving us a greater chance of knowing him more deeply. We must not waist our pain, our questions, or the efforts of people reaching out to us with the gospel. Don’t ignore the burning inside. Don’t leave that pew without taking the pastor’s invitation. Don’t miss your chance to be changed forever by Christ. If you already know Christ, don’t throw away your opportunities of growth during seasons of intensity.
Jesus was just passing through. Don’t let him pass through your town without ever meeting him.
There’s Always an Obstacle
And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature.” (Luke 19:2-3)
There were obstacles to Zacchaeus’s conversion. Both inborn and self-imposed. First off, Zacchaeus wasa wealthy tax collector – two big strikes against you if you are dealing with a crowd. Most people don’t like rich people, and almost all people don’t like rich people who extract money from their very pockets in questionable ways. Zacchaeus wasn’t just a tax collector, but chief of the tax collectors. In other words, he was the chief target for the people’s dislike. So them making room for him to see Jesus was laughable.Secondly, Zacchaeus was “a wee little man.” He was born in such a way the hindered him from see Jesus clearly.
This text seems to beg to be used as a metaphor for own our difficulties in seeing Jesus. We all have both natural, inborn dispositions that make it difficult to see Jesus in a crowded world. We constantly meet people, circumstances, and our own lifestyle that push and shove us away from a true experience with Jesus Christ.
Maybe you just love money and the idea of sacrificial love scares you so much you turn the other direction when you see Jesus coming towards you in your own life. Or perhaps you were born with a very skeptical, critical nature; so the idea of there being a God at all, let alone a God who came down in the flesh, is just too big a mental hurdle. Or perhaps you were born in a part of the world where Christians are the enemy, and to convert like Zacchaeus would be to abandon your family religion and tradition. Or perhaps you have your identity in being such worldly cuss, you fear you would lose the respect of your beer chugging friends if you converted to Christianity.
Zacchaeus’s conversion is us all because we all have obstacles trying to keep us from Jesus.
There’s Always a Solution
So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.” (Luke 19:4)
While there are always obstacles blocking our conversions and sanctification, like Zacchaeus, there are always solutions available. There is never an obstacle too great to keep us from Christ, and God will always clear the way for us to meet his Son if we desire to see him like Zacchaeus did.
The tree was pivotal to Zacchaeus’s conversion. A quick reading of Scripture may result in Luke 19:4 seeming insignificant in the greater plot between Zacchaeus and Jesus’s meeting. But when you remember the whole of Scripture, and you remember that God is really in control of every molecule that has ever moved this way or that, it becomes apparent that tree was there by no accident.
Imagine the chain of events that led to that tree being planted in that spot. On the third day of creation, God created plant-life (Genesis 1:9-13). From there one tree after another kept producing seeds. Birds took them here and dropped them over there. People planted, winds carried the seeds, and somehow a million different chain reactions led to a perfectly sized tree being planted right there, perfectly placed, with braches just in the right spot for climbing,all for Zacchaeus to use on the exact day when Jesus would be walking through that location for just a few moments in humans history.
God put that tree there for Zacchaeus. Without it, Zacchaeus would never have been able to see Jesus. Yes, God could have brought about Zacchaeus’s conversion in a different way. But this was the way he planned to do it. He made a way for Zacchaeus despite all the obstacles, and God always makes a way for us too.
No matter what the natural or self-imposed limitations are which are hindering our conversion or growth, God has already planned your path to salvation and ongoing sanctification. You are reading this blog, on this day, at this exact moment in human history because there is a God who loves you and has planned for you to encounter him. Whatever doubts you have, whatever idols that hold you, or whatever natural limitations you have that are blocking your view of Jesus, God will bring a solution. But you have to look around.
Zacchaeus could have just shrugged his shoulders and went home, “O well. I tried to see him but it just wasn’t meant to be. People don’t like me and I’m too short.” But that’s not what Zacchaeus did. He looked around. He tried to figure out a solution to the problems that were hindering him from seeing Jesus. We must intentionally seek if we hope to find (Matthew 7:7).
Zacchaeus also had to swallow his pride. Climbing a tree is a very boyish thing to do. For the chief tax collector to do this – a man whose effectiveness in his career would be greatly hindered if people lost respect and fear of him – his desire to see Jesus had to be greater than his fear of people. Surely his stature was a running joke around town, and to see wee little Zacchaeus up in a tree would have been softball material for the jokers in the crowd. He knew this, but he climbed anyway.
Zacchaeus took God’s olive branch that was in the form of sycamore tree. It may not have been the solution that Zacchaeus would have wanted, but he accepted it nonetheless, and it was the most pivotal decision of his life.
Have you looked around lately? Have you identified what your issue is that is blocking your view of Jesus and have you asked God for a solution? We should never fake our faith. But when we realize our faith is lacking we should cry out to God like the father of the young boy in Mark 9:23-34, Jesus said, “All things are possible to him who believes!”and immediately the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”
We must cry out to God for solutions to the barriers which block our view of Jesus. Before the foundations of the world were established, God already planned on how he would provide the solutions you need to meet with his Son, Jesus Christ. You just have to look around and intentionally climb the tree he provides. Then he will call you down from your precarious position onto solid ground with him, face to face with Jesus Christ.
It’s All About Personally Meeting Jesus
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.” (Luke 19:5-6)
While problems are endless and individual bridges to Jesus are uniquely build by the Architect of each true conversion, the real solution to every problem is found in one place only – Jesus Christ. The sycamore tree was only useful because it aloud Zacchaeus to see Jesus clearly. Jesus, not the tree was the real solution. Likewise, whatever means are used to draw us to Jesus are only that, means. Jesus alone is the end goal of those means God puts in our path.
Christ alone is the convincing argument for the skeptic. Christ alone is the healing for the wounded heart. Christ alone is the alleyway for the orphan into the family of God. Christ alone is the enlightenment for a darkened soul. Christ alone can make the scales drop from calloused eyes. A personal encounter with Christ alone is what we all need at the moment of our conversions and throughout every moment of our lives.
When Zacchaeus met Jesus, everything changed forever. But Zacchaeus’s conversion was not merely an exercise in mental, emotional, or relational aspects of his life. It affected the way he lived. The first words out of Jesus’s mouth to Zacchaeus were all imperatives, commands to be followed that would visibly and practically be shown in his life and that directly affected his life. Zacchaeus did what Jesus said.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
Zacchaeus came alive when he did what Jesus said. He found joy like never before. An unstable life was suddenly made secure through Jesus Christ. His soul was now complete, and he quickly gave up what he spent his life securing.
Pleasing Christ Despite Persecution
And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” (Luke 19:7-8)
After Zacchaeus’s conversion, the obstacles of seeing and following Christ did not end. As soon as he had a life changing encounter with Jesus, the people began to grumble. This was a direct assault against Zacchaeus’s joy.
Nothing is buzzkill like the complaints and grumblings of other people. Like Zacchaeus, after our own conversions, we should expect immediate persecution and temptation to come against us in an effort to steel what God has just granted us.
The ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend suddenly calls you out of the blue. Your best friend at work suddenly asks you to participate in unethical behavior. Your kids get expelled. Your spouse thinks your nuts for converting to Christianity. Whatever it may be, it is safe to assume that all of us will experience trials and temptations upon our conversions. For as Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (john 16:33).
The people grumbled and assaulted him verbally, labeling him like a piece of trash. But what did Zacchaeus do?
And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:7-8).
He kept on the path of repentance. He kept going! If we want to be the good seed and soil, we must actively fight against becoming the rocky soil, or the plants choked out by thorns, or the seeds plucked up by birds, or a plants roasted by the sun without water. Zacchaeus’s conversion was not only marked by a changed life, but by a changed life in the face of adversity.
This will be the road of every true Christian, or the path of destruction for every false convert.
Jesus Came for the Lost, Therefore He Came for Us All
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)
O how Jesus comes to us through the midst of the trials and temptations. I love how Zacchaeus and Jesus both respond to the people’s grumbling. They ignored it. They don’t complain about the complainers. The don’t judge the judgmental. They don’t slow down for the those eternally stuck. They keep moving. They don’t stop following the plan just because other people don’t approve of it. Jesus had plan for Zacchaeus, and despite the persecution and disapproval of the world, they were both going to push forward together and accomplish that plan.
We must take in the words of Jesus in Luke 19:9-10. We must desire these words to be spoken over our own lives. We must let them take root into our hearts:
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Jesus came for you. He came for me. He came for us all. Zacchaeus was an individual with a unique story, but in many ways his story is all of us. Obstacles, unlikely solutions, a sovereign God writing the minutia of each detail on the pages of our lives, encounters with the right people and just the right time, personal meetings with Jesus that change everything, more obstacles, new persecutions, more direction from Jesus, and ongoing interactions with Jesus himself.
Jesus came to save the lost. He came for us all. Zacchaeus’s name could have been replaced with anyone of our names. His conversion story is a picture of our life. May we climb whatever trees God has placed in our paths that we may see Jesus clearly. May we meet Jesus and accept his invitation to our house. May we be found by Jesus and follow Jesus all our lives. For this is why he came. He came for us all.