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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Wee Little Gutsy Guy

What happens when encouragement strikes.

Encouraged and Encouraging (3)

Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” Luke 19.8

Small and despised
Can you picture the situation? Jesus is passing through Jericho, and the people line the road to see Him. There was a great crowd of perhaps mostly ordinary folk, a few Pharisees and their cohort, and maybe some sick or lame people, hoping for a cure. There was bustling and jostling and huzzaing aplenty, we can imagine.

And then there’s Zacchaeus. Everybody knew him, and no doubt everybody despised him. He was a tax collector. He worked for the Romans. Jews who worked for the Romans, collecting taxes from their neighbors, were looked upon with scorn and disgust. The fact that Jesus ate with tax collectors was used to paint Him in an unfavorable light (Matt. 9.11; Lk. 15.2).

Zacchaeus was rich. Everybody knew he was rich, because he had the best home, the best clothes, and threw the best dinner parties. It’s not unlikely that some of that wealth was skimmed from surcharges or overcharges of taxes from his neighbors. People would have despised him for that as well.

And he was short. Too short to see over the crowd. The crowd, it seems, was not inclined to part like the Red Sea and let him through to the front. Rather, I can imagine that, wherever he tried to break through, the crowd stiffened and delighted in blocking him out. “Serves him right, the little jerk” they probably thought among themselves.

Zacchaeus was getting no help and no encouragement in his desire to see Jesus.

But he was not going to give up. So the wee little man ran ahead of Jesus and his entourage and climbed up to the lowest branches of a sycamore tree. Spiritual energy was stirring in his soul. Rich guys don’t climb trees. He was determined to see Jesus.

He could not have imagined what would happen when the spiritual energy from Jesus struck like a lightning bolt of encouragement in his quickening soul.

Surprised and shamed
Let’s look carefully at Luke’s report. When Jesus arrived at the place where Zacchaeus was sitting in the tree, “He looked up and saw him” (v. 5). That is, Jesus acknowledged Zacchaeus by stopping and looking him in the eye. No one in the crowd had done that. They wouldn’t dare act like they noticed him, much less look him in his face; he was, after all, a Roman official. So they acted as if he wasn’t there, even as they blocked him out and refused to let him come through.

But Jesus stopped and looked. Well, that must have been very satisfying to Zacchaeus. Certainly more than he hoped for. He only wanted to see Jesus. He didn’t expect that Jesus would see him, much less stop in front of him, and look deliberately at him. Can you feel Zacchaeus beginning to sweat a little in his soul?

Then, incomprehensively, Jesus spoke his name: “Zacchaeus.” Zacchaeus was perhaps familiar with people greeting him by name. They’d pass him on the streets and maybe bow a bit and say, “God be with you, constable Zacchaeus” before spitting as he passed. Being called by his name wasn’t a big deal.

Until now. “How does He know my name?” must have been his first thought. Not only had Jesus acknowledged him by looking at him. Now He was actively attending to Zacchaeus by initiating communication with him. Before Zacchaeus could think too much further, Jesus did the unthinkable: He affirmed Zacchaeus by coming over to his side and inviting Himself for a visit in Zacchaeus’ house! No respectable Jew would be caught dead in the house of a tax collector (v. 7). But here was Jesus, inviting Himself over for dinner and who knew what else.

Once at the house, apparently arrested and advised by nothing more than his now-active conscience, Zacchaeus – ashamed by Jesus’ Presence? – resolved to give half of his goods to the poor (v. 8). Had that thought been throbbing in his conscience for some time? Had he been under conviction by the striving of God’s Spirit (Gen. 6.3)? Did the very Presence of Jesus encourage him to proffer this unrequested offer, as an act of repentance and penance?

And, just for good measure, knowing the Law of God as he surely did (Ex. 22.1; Lev. 6.5; Num. 5.6, 7), Zacchaeus submitted to the justice of God in promising to make restoration if he had taken anything from his neighbors under false pretense. That if looks more like pretty sure to me.

Acknowledged, attended to, and affirmed by the Son of God, and advised by His Word, Zacchaeus acted courageously, in a manner probably no tax collector in his day ever acted. He acted like Jesus would.

Lost and found
Notice how Jesus agreed with Zacchaeus and his chosen course of action: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham…” (v. 9). Zacchaeus had been among the lost sheep of Israel. Far from acting like a son of Abraham, he had been acting like the enemies of God’s people – a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The word about what Zacchaeus would begin to do must have spread through Jericho like a brushfire. His was a courageous act, a step into the unknown, the uncertain, and the difficult. He had experienced a new courage in his heart to do something right and loving, even though it would cost him personally. How would his neighbors receive him when he came to repay what he had stolen? Would the poor even accept his gifts? What would his fellow tax collectors say ? Would they threaten him? Disown him? And the Romans! What would the Romans do once the word got out concerning what Zacchaeus was doing?

Didn’t matter. Jesus had encouraged the wee little scoundrel, and now he had become a new man, with new resolve, and new inward energy to do that which was according to the Word of God and the example of Jesus. Zacchaeus would undertake a gutsy path of penance and renewal; he would bear any scorn, derision, isolation, or punishment to carry out what he had become encouraged to do by Jesus.

And when we are truly encouraged, or when we encourage others, we and they will act courageously as well.

For reflection
1. Why do you think Zacchaeus was so eager to see Jesus?

2. How would you describe the “spiritual chemistry” that transpired between Jesus and Zacchaeus?

3. Why do we say that Zacchaeus’ course of action was courageous? What should we learn from this?

Next steps – Transformation: Wait on the Lord to search your soul for any lingering sin. Do you need to take any courageous action of repentance or penance today?

T. M. Moore

Our new book What in Heaven Is Jesus Doing on Earth? can help you in setting your mind on Christ. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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