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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Born to Save the Lost

Luke 19:1-10

          Faith is something we must struggle to possess.  In his message, “Are You a Sideliner? Lessons from Zacchaeus,” Jerry Brancs drew out six aspects of faith that are found in this passage.

“1) Zacchaeus wanted to see (that's like us today wanting vision)2) Zacchaeus was willing to go out on a limb (he realized he had to get out of the crowd)3) Zacchaeus took action to find Jesus (went to a place where he could see)4) Zacchaeus saw what he sought (he made contact and saw Jesus)5) Zacchaeus took action before Jesus told him what he needed to do.6) Zacchaeus was blessed (salvation came to him)”

          As a tax collector, Zacchaeus was outside the bounds of “polite society.”  His small stature may’ve made people feel like they could disrespect him everywhere but in the tax booth.  The good folks of Jericho undoubtedly thought Zacchaeus was the last person whom Jesus would pick out of the crowd.  In their mind, there were many more “deserving” citizens.  What they didn’t know was...

Jesus was born to seek and save lost people.

CONTEXT = Verse one tells us Jesus was making His way through Jericho, returning to Jerusalem after his mission to the Samaritans.  He had already miraculously healed a blind man outside the city and was apparently intending to pass through the city.  If so, His plans changed upon arrival and seeing Zacchaeus in that tree.  What will follow this is some teaching to fellow pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and His Triumphal Entry into that city.  Jesus had just a few days left to live, but He stopped in his tracks to bring salvation to this despised little fellow.  Why?  Because it was the reason He was born!

1. Jesus came to save Zacchaeus. (1-5)

          What do we know about Zacchaeus?  He lived in Jericho. (1)  Jericho was an important city on a trade route, located east of Jerusalem and north of the Dead Sea.  As caravans passed through major cities, they were taxed, so it makes sense that the CHIEF of the region was located there.

          He was CHIEF TAX COLLECTOR IN THE REGION. (2)  Tax collectors are rarely liked in any culture or time but the Jews had good reason to particularly hate tax collectors.  One, they collaborated with the Romans. They had to spend a lot of time working with the conquering Romans, something that made a pious Jew unclean.  The tax collector had the backing of Roman military might and very little oversight as long as the money came in.

          Two, they were notorious cheats.  The job of tax collecting was awarded on bids.  To get the job, you had to promise the Romans you’d collect a certain amount of money.  High bidder got the job.  A tax collector’s pay was the amount he charged OVER what the Romans demanded, more than what he needed to meet his bid.  It was a system that not only allowed cheating but required it!

          To make matters worse, Zacchaeus was the CHIEF TAX COLLECTOR.  His wealth was based on what his subordinates squeezed out of the conquered peoples.  Matthew was just a local tax collector, maybe one of Zacchaeus’ underlings.  I wonder if Matthew hadn’t told Zacchaeus about Jesus or vice-versa.

          He had become VERY RICH. (2)  While this may have made him a comfortable living, it also put him further out of polite society.  Envious people dislike wealthy people.

          He was “vertically challenged.” (3)  This is a detail that makes Luke’s account so touching and perfect for Sunday School lessons.  With a little imagination, I can also see the crowds refusing to let this lonely and despised little man have a place near the street where he could see Jesus.

          By now, Jesus’ reputation as a teacher and miracle worker was widely known.  People were curious but maybe Zacchaeus had a more noble motive.  He was so desperate to see Jesus, he climbed a tree! (4)  Jericho was known throughout the ancient world for their palm and date trees.  It was a city of wealth and beauty.  Try to picture a short guy dressed in elegant clothes doing something as demeaning as trying to shinny up a tree!  It presents an amusing picture.

          The people of Jericho thought him a NOTORIOUS SINNER. (7)  That’s ironic as his name means “pure.”

          Why did Jesus single him out?  Of all the people who turned out to see Jesus walk through Jericho, why select Zacchaeus for special attention?  Other than his being in a tree, there’s nothing in the text to make him stand out.  The text implies that Jesus had supernatural knowledge of Zacchaeus.  He must’ve known Zacchaeus was ready repent and find faith.

2. The contrast between the saved and the unsaved. (6-10)

          The unsaved folks were displeased and vocal about it. (7)  DISPLEASED = Tax collectors were often lumped in with prostitutes as that society’s “basket of deplorables.”  They didn’t like Jesus being received in the home of NOTORIOUS SINNER.

          The saved folks would applaud, not complain.  Following the teachings of Jesus, they’d be happy to see a NOTORIOUS SINNER repent.

          The saved guy was repentant and Jesus was happy about it. (6, 8-9) Zacchaeus was happy to have Jesus come to his home. (6)  Two indicators:

- He QUICKLY CLIMBED DOWN from that tree.


          Zacchaeus repented of his sin and attempted to make restitution to everyone he’d cheated.  He volunteered to give HALF his WEALTH TO THE POOR.  (This was a gift far greater than what the Law required.)  He also volunteered to repay people he’d cheated FOUR TIMES THE ORIGINAL AMOUNT.  (This was the amount the Law of Moses required in this situation: Exodus 22:1.)  These two voluntary actions indicate a knowledge of the Law of Moses and a willingness to go beyond its demands.

          If we needed affirmation of Zacchaeus’ honesty, we have it in Jesus’ reply in v. 9: “SALVATION HAS COME TO THIS HOUSE TODAY.”  This clearly shows Zacchaeus’ restitution to be in response to his encounter with Jesus on that day. And He added, “THIS MAN HAS SHOWN HIMSELF TO BE A TRUE SON OF ABRAHAM.”  To a pious Jew, there would be no finer compliment.  Being a child of Abraham was a distinction they often used as an excuse for their hypocrisy.

          Jesus exposed that point of hypocrisy in John 6:39-47, as did His cousin, John the Baptist, in Luke 3:8.  John said, “PRODUCE FRUIT IN KEEPING WITH REPENTANCE.  AND DO NOT BEGIN TO SAY TO YOURSELVES, ‘WE HAVE ABRAHAM AS OUR FATHER.’ FOR I TELL YOU  THAT OUT OF THESE STONES GOD CAN RAISE UP CHILDREN FOR ABRAHAM.’  In this way, Jesus approved the salvation of his soul, then restored Zacchaeus to the community of the faithful.

          Jesus explained how Zacchaeus’ salvation and restoration fit with His reason for coming to Earth. (10)  The word FOR links vs. 9+10.  In effect, Jesus said, “This man is saved, and I know, because I came to seek out and save people just like him.”

          Jesus identified Himself as the SON OF MAN.  This title proved His authority to declare Zacchaeus’ salvation.

          Jesus identified His purpose in coming to Earth as twofold.  These purposes are the theme of Luke’s gospel so it is appropriate to find them in this account recorded by Luke only.

          He came to SEEK out LOST people.  He certainly did that when He bid Zacchaeus to come out of that tree and receive Him into his home.

          He came to SAVE LOST people.  Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus while at his home are not recorded, but their effect is measured by the degree of his repentance.  It was not Zacchaeus’ sacrificial level of restitution that saved him, it was the faith that prompted him to give away his wealth.

          Let’s remember what the word LOST means.  It means “out of place.”  When something is not where we expect it to be, we call it “lost.”  Zacchaeus, by numerous bad choices, was not where God wanted him to be.  Jesus’ appearance and conversation with Zacchaeus guided him to repentance and salvation.]

Jesus was born to seek and save lost people.

          Some years ago, a preacher who spoke on this very passage was surprised to see a little girl shoulder her way through the worshipers exiting the church.  She ran up to him excitedly and said, “Pastor, pastor, you talked about me in church today!  I didn’t know my name was in the Bible!”

          The preacher was flummoxed.  “Why, Edith, I don’t believe your name is in the Bible.”

          She was adamant.  “Is so!  You said that Jesus receiveth sinners and Edith (eateth) with them!”

          Good news!  Jesus receives sinners of all names!

          In the previous chapter Luke wrote about Jesus’ encounter with a different rich man.  He and Zacchaeus had entirely different reactions to Jesus (Luke 18:18-30).  The first rich man also sought out Jesus but allowed his wealth to become an impediment to salvation.  Instead of accepting Jesus’ invitation to sacrifice his wealth, he went away sad and unsaved. 

          Zacchaeus, having just the opposite reaction, volunteered to give half his wealth to the poor and use the other half to pay restitution to the folks he’d cheated.  Jesus declared him saved and affirmed him as a “Jew’s Jew.”

          This Christmas will be the greatest ever if we will make a gift of ourselves to Christ.  Act in faith and be confident He will receive you with love and find a home in you.


          Jerry Branch, “Are You a Sideliner: Lessons from Zacchaeus,” retrieved from on 22 dec 23.

          William J. Larkin, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 12, The Gospel of Luke, 2006, pp. 251-254.

Message #267

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