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God’s Word for You

Luke 19:5-10 of sycophantasy

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, January 15, 2019

5 When Jesus come to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay at your house today.”  6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.  7 When all the people saw this they began to grumble, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

It was no accident that Jesus happened to look up. He had come to find this man and to dine with him. He said, “I must (Greek “it is necessary for me to”) stay at your house today.” Jesus knew this man’s faith. Zacchaeus already believed in Jesus, just by the things he had heard about him. He set aside even his pride to climb a tree to see the Savior; he threw dignity away, not caring what anybody might think of a grown man and a chief tax collector edging out along the branch of a fig tree like a little boy. After Jesus welcomed him, he welcomed Jesus. Faith follows the Savior’s call.

Look back at the call of Jesus in verse 5. Zacchaeus had heard things about Jesus, enough that he had faith that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior. But Jesus—who had not preached in or traveled through Jericho before—called Zacchaeus by name. This was evidence of Jesus’ omniscience, the Godly attribute that Jesus showed many times, especially by reading what was in men’s hearts (Mark 2:8; Luke 5:22, 6:8).

The grumbling of the crowd didn’t surprise anyone. They knew who Zacchaeus was, and they weren’t happy that Jesus had chosen this sinner to be his host. They totally missed the significance of hearing Jesus call Zacchaeus by name. But what happened next surprised everyone.

8 But Zacchaeus stood up before them and said, “Look! Half of my possessions, O Lord, I give to the poor. And whatever I have cheated anybody out of, I will pay back four times the amount.”

The word I’ve translated “stood up before them” is statheis from histemi (ἵσητμι), which means to take one’s stand, stop, stand still, or make an appearance before a group. The scene that Luke has condensed is that we are already at the home of Zacchaeus, which was implied in verse 6 where the tax collector “welcomed him gladly.” Now, at the sound of the grumbling evident in his home, Zacchaeus makes two offerings that show his Christian faith. The offerings are in line with the Old Testament sacrifices, which of course could only be brought by a believer. The first is a thank offering, spontaneous and from the heart, with no prompting from Jesus at all. He wants to give “in such a way that it would be accepted on his behalf” (Leviticus 22:29). He does it in the presence of all the people (Psalm 116:17-18), and he does it out of faith, not out of any sense of social justice. He presents his offering to Jesus, calling him “Lord,” fulfilling Psalm 56:12-13, “I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank offerings to you, for you have delivered me from death.” Jeremiah prophesied that thank offerings given spontaneously to the Savior would be one of the marks of the New Testament Church (Jeremiah 17:25-26).

On top of this, Zacchaeus gives another offering: “four times the amount” of anything he may have cheated anyone out of. This is a confession of his guilt, and a promise—a vow—to make restitution. In Greek, his confession “If I have cheated” (NIV) is given in a tense (the aorist) which expresses a fact. It’s not that he’s saying “Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t,” but “I did—and whatever it was, I will repay four times.” I have tried to bring this out in the translation above. Under the law of Moses, a guilt offering for someone who had sworn falsely or cheated someone as Zacchaeus had done was to be a payment of the value taken plus twenty percent, “a fifth of the value” (Leviticus 6:5). Zacchaeus does not offer twenty percent. Instead, he offers four hundred percent of what he had taken. His was truly an act of faith, and perhaps an example of what repentance should look like from the wealthy.

Zacchaeus’ word for “cheated” is a remarkable choice, perhaps brought out by Luke so that we will see the complete change in his heart. The usual term for cheating is apostero (Mark 10:19; 1 Corinthians 6:7-8, 7:5). But Zacchaeus says “I committed sycophantasy” (ἐσυκοϕάντησα). We use the word sycophant for someone who fawns before a powerful person to gain their favor, but in Greek it means to commit extortion or some other form of robbery for dishonest gain. It’s the word used in the Greek translation of Ecclesiastes 4:1 for “oppression,” and in other places (Psalm 119:122, 134). It’s related to the word sycamore, which is how our story began. Zacchaeus had climbed the sycamore tree to get a look at Jesus, and now he had climbed down from his sycamore and also down from his sycophantasy, and he was now a follower of Jesus, rescued from what he was doing, repentant, and forgiven.

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

There was no point in calling Zacchaeus “a son of Abraham” in the sense that he was a Jew. Zacchaeus had always been a Jew, and had always been a son of Abraham. But now he was a true son of Abraham, a man of faith. Jesus was saying that Zacchaeus was now a Christian. It was Jesus’ ministry to “seek and save what was lost,” like this man Zacchaeus. Maybe nobody else in Jericho was as hated as Zacchaeus. This city was caught up in the politics of the Roman Empire. Marc Antony had given the taxes of Jericho to his lover, Cleopatra. In turn, Cleopatra had given Jericho’s income to King Herod the Great, who paid her a considerable fortune to make the gift permanent and claim all future revenue. Herod built a palace in Jericho and it was the place where he died. As chief tax collector, Zacchaeus was not only a hated man because of his financial oppression, but also because he was hand in glove with the Romans and their allies like that Egyptian witch, Cleopatra.

Now think of a shamed sinner in Jericho. Jesus came and told that man, Zacchaeus, that he was “a son of Abraham”! The thought would be there for every crushed heart: If Jesus can forgive Zacchaeus, then Jesus can forgive me, too. By going to the worst man and rescuing him, Jesus paved the way for all of Jericho to follow—everyone who put their faith in him. Everyone who believes in Jesus will have eternal life (John 3:15; John 6:40). “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). “Everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:10). The rescue of Zacchaeus was the most powerful sermon Jesus could have preached in Jericho, and he did it with nothing but a handful of words and his infinite compassion. He has shown the same compassion to you.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.



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