What Does Zacchaeus Do Right?

He gets curious enough to climb a tree.

Luke 19:1-10 (ESV)

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 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.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 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.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Think about Zacchaeus’s steps to salvation.

  • He climbs a tree. — He doesn’t believe; he just wants to take a look. But don’t miss the backstory here; he had to have heard something about Jesus. That something made him curious enough to climb a tree. Remember this when you encounter someone who doesn’t know Jesus. You don’t need to convert them. If you make them curious enough to want to take a look, you’ve accomplished a lot.
  • Jesus calls him. — This isn’t our job. Conversion is always supernatural.
  • He repents. — Something in Zacchaeus snaps and he doesn’t want to be the person he is. Remember, even if Zacchaeus never cheated anyone*, his riches are still other people’s money that he “collected.” That’s why everyone hates him and doesn’t want him to be saved.

*Zacchaeus had to have cheated someone.

The takeaway here is that salvation is mainly the job of the Holy Spirit. Sure, evangelism was different while Jesus was walking on earth, but we still tend to overstate our role.

This can make us antsy when sharing the gospel. We act like conversion is our responsibility. That’s nuts.

The “preparing the soil” stage of evangelism is precious. You rarely know where someone is on the path to salvation and most of the time they’re not ready to receive Christ today. But they’re always in a position to be made more curious.

Think about what might have happened to make Zacchaeus curious about Jesus. It wasn’t some canned presentation; it was people chatting about their own curiosity.

It could have even been people explaining why they thought that Jesus is not the Messiah. How ironic is that? Someone can do effective evangelism by opposing Christ. We’re on the right path any time the topic is, “Who is this guy?”

Just be yourself.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:


Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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