God’s Word for You
Luke 19:1-4 Zacchaeus
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, January 14, 2019
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but since he was a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him. And Jesus was about to come that way.
Luke does not record everything that took place between Jesus’ time in Jericho and his visit to Bethany, but suffice it to say that this encounter with Zacchaeus took place precisely one week before the institution of the Lord’s Supper, therefore this was the Thursday before Maundy Thursday.
Jericho was a beautiful place. It was an oasis on the road between the ford of the Jordan and Jerusalem (a 3,500-foot climb over a distance of about 15 miles). There were springs there (known as “the waters of Jericho, Joshua 16:1), including the Fountain of Elisha (so-named, perhaps, because the prophet had dwelt there for a while, 2 Kings 2:18). There were many palm trees there, as well, and gave it the nickname “City of Palms” (Judges 1:16, 3:13; 2 Chronicles 28:15). It was on the rim of a valley-like plain that extended south all the way to the Dead Sea and the city of Zoar which survived the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Deuteronomy 34:3). The edge of this rim was also known as “the slope of Jericho” (Joshua 18:12). A group of priests lived there, perhaps a remnant of the days when this had been the location of a seminary known as the School of the Prophets (2 Kings 2:15).
Jesus entered the city and walked right through, passing by the fountains, the famous sites, and even the palm trees. Why? He wanted to find one man there, and that man had climbed a tree on the other side of the city.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector like Matthew, but he had risen or bribed his way to the position of chief tax collector. This probably meant that he was employed by a Roman official who had purchased the rights to tax this city for Rome, and Zacchaeus had a large group of collectors who answered to him. This had made Zacchaeus and his Roman employer very wealthy.
Whatever his personal scruples about taxing his Jewish brothers, he had also heard about Jesus Christ. Jesus had been preaching and teaching for three years now; his fame and stories about his miracles and his remarkable preaching had gone all through Judea. And as far as we know, Jesus had never been to Jericho before this. Striding past the houses and pools and groups of onlookers, as penetrating the crowd that was fast gathering all around him, Jesus was heading for the very tree that Zacchaeus had climbed.
He was an important man and a wealthy man, but he was physically short; so short that a crowd would block his view of the Savior completely.
How many people in the world don’t know anything about Jesus, but wonder what all the fuss is about? What about those who have read the prophecies about the Messiah, and have been misled to imagine that Jesus is not the Christ at all? What about all those who think that Christianity is only one of hundreds of religions in the world, all of which might perhaps lead to heaven? They don’t know the truth, any more than poor Zacchaeus. Maybe some of them strain to know; some of them climb trees to find out. A lot of them probably give up and don’t try at all. Some of these people are your neighbors. Some of these people are your friends. You and I have “the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Revelation 14:6).
Don’t ever forget the power of the gospel. It isn’t a magical spell that will instantly transform a doubter into a professor of theology. It isn’t a potion that will make an atheist suddenly spout nothing but passages from Romans. What it is, is real power. It is the power of the Holy Spirit. You might not see the results of the seed you sow (1 Corinthians 3:6), but it always accomplishes something for God’s kingdom (Isaiah 55:11). If you come face to face with a doubter, spewing heresy and blasphemy, your simple courage of standing up for the gospel, using the gospel itself, is all that your Lord wants you to do. If you encounter someone who is in despair and you don’t know what to say, let the word of God speak for you and through you. Open your Bible and read. Someone in despair needs to be encouraged, and there is infinite encouragement in the Psalms, especially those in the first half of the book (Psalms 107-150 are primarily Psalms of praise). Someone who doesn’t think God cares about sin needs to hear a list of sins, and the Ten Commandments, or one of Paul’s lists of sins (like the one at the end of Romans 1 or in the middle of 1 Timothy 1 or at the end of Romans 13), or almost any chapter in the prophets will help you find what to say. You don’t need to win any debates. You only need to share the word of God, and it will work. Your Zacchaeus is scrambling to see. Show him Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith