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It’s great when Jesus just comes out and states the Big Idea of the story so there is no doubt about the message He wants to communicate. God is in the business of seeking and saving lost sinners. God is the one who takes the initiative and draws unworthy sinners to Himself. It is the sovereign grace of God that accomplishes our salvation. Zacchaeus might look like the seeker early in this passage. But it quickly becomes abundantly clear that Jesus was on a mission to seek out Zacchaeus.


A. (:1) Itinerary of Jesus = Passing Through Jericho

“And He entered and was passing through Jericho.”

– Find out Who Jesus Is

– Find out Where Jesus Is

– Find out What Jesus Is Doing

Lenski: At that time Jericho was a city that was rich and prosperous indeed, was watered by the Fountain of Elisha and other springs, the whole oasis being green and flowery, rich in balsams, myrobalanum, honey, etc. – the city of fragrance, the city of roses, “paradise of God.” It was the place to make a halt before the final ascent from a location 1,000 feet below sea level to 2,400 above, to the heights on which Jerusalem rested.

MacArthur: Pilgrims from Galilee and Perea, priests who lived there and served there, traders from all lands, it was one of the high density trading centers, there were routes going north, east, west and south, it was a busy, busy place, full of good people in a human sense, full of the wretched, the worst who occupied places where there was lots to steal. The robbers were there en masse. The great caravans came through there. There was ample supply for those who stole, as well for those…as well as for those who bought and sold. Soldiers were there, courtiers were there, the worst of everything, the best of everything. Tax collectors had a high profile there because it was one of the three regional tax centers in the land of Israel, the northern one being Capernaum, the central one on the coast being Caesarea, the southern one being Jericho.

B. (:2) Introduction to Zacchaeus = a Lost Sinner

1. Identified by Sex

“And behold, there was a man”

2. Identified by Name

“called by the name of Zacchaeus;”

Meaning “pure” or “righteous”

Bruce Hurt: Zacchaeus is derived from a Hebrew verb zakak which means to be bright, clean, pure, innocent (cf “make yourselves clean” – Isa 1:16). Thayer says Zacchaeus means “pure, innocent.” What an ironic name, because tax collectors were considered anything but pure, and in fact were treated as “unclean” by the Jews, and certainly an unlikely candidate for salvation!

3. Identified by Occupation = His Work

“and he was a chief tax-gatherer,”

In charge of the local branch of tax collectors

Donald Miller: According to the Judaism of that time, his calling excluded him from membership in the people of God who would benefit from Messiah’s coming. He was, therefore, kept away from Jesus not only by the pressure of the crowd, but by religious ostracism (vs. 7). He may have heard of Jesus’ gracious dealings with fellow tax collectors (5:27-32; 15:1-2) and, desirous of seeing a rabbi whose attitude was so different from that to which he was accustomed, would let nothing stand in his way (vs. 4).

MacArthur: In order to have a tax franchise, you had to buy it from Rome. So you were a traitor from the very outset to your own people who were occupied by the Roman idolatrous and despised pagans. Rome would set a certain amount that the tax gatherer had to pay. Whatever else he could collect, he could keep; a formula for corruption for sure. And there were so many ways to tax. The people had no idea what they were supposed to pay. Yes, there were some sort of foundational taxes. There was, for example, an individual tax, kind of a poll tax for men from 14 to 65 and women from 12 to 65 and they paid that tax. There was a ground tax they called like a property tax, one tenth of all grain or something the equivalent of grain, one fifth of wine and oil. So there were some fixed taxes; even a kind of income tax which was about 1 percent of a person’s income. So they had those that were fixed. But beyond that, you could tax anything that you could get away with taxing. You could tax everybody’s commerce by taxing every wheel, every axle on their cart, taxing every animal pulling the cart, taxing every product that they bought and sold, every way imaginable. And so tax collectors became filthy rich because what they paid Rome was only a portion of what they actually collected. They also became despised and hated. They couldn’t attend the synagogue. They couldn’t have any social relationships with people because the people wouldn’t get near them because they were considered unclean and anybody who came near one of them would be polluted. So the only people they could associate were the people who were also unclean, and so they were the collection of people called the tax collectors and sinners that we meet so often in Jesus’ ministry, the very people that God loves to save. “He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” In fact, Jesus spent so much time with the scum and the riff-raff, the tax gatherers and their assorted criminals, that they called Him, Luke 7:34, Matthew 11:9, “a friend of tax gatherers and sinners.” They would have said that with such disdain you couldn’t imagine it. And it is really why they thought that He represented Satan because He spent so much time with the people that they thought belonged to Satan.

4. Identified by Economic Class = His Wealth

“and he was rich.”

Cf. 18:24ff regarding the difficulty of the rich entering the kingdom

C. (:3-4) Intent of Zacchaeus = Trying to See Who Jesus Was

1. (:3) Obstacle = Crowd Blocking His Vision

“And he was trying to see who Jesus was,

and he was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature.”

Not just trying to see Jesus; but trying to understand His identity and the implications on his life

Brian Bill: He wanted to figure out what it was that made Jesus different from everyone else.

There will always be obstacles that must be overcome in trying to connect with Jesus

Lenski: All that follows shows that his desire was far more than the curiosity of the crowds who merely run to gaze on some famous man. His was a far more serious desire which impelled him also to go far beyond what curiosity alone is able to produce.

MacArthur: He has a dissatisfied heart. He knows he’s alienated from God. He knows he has no eternal life. He knows that he’s overwhelmed with guilt and sin. He knows the kind of man he is. I don’t know exactly what was going on in his heart, but he was after Jesus for more than just curiosity because the Holy Spirit made sure he was in the right place at the right moment for Jesus to look at him and speak to him.

2. (:4) Overcoming the Obstacle = Climbing Up Into a Sycamore Tree

“And he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way.”

o Sense of urgency – ran on ahead

o Willingness to take extreme measures – climbed into a sycamore tree

o Focused on the goal of seeing Jesus – in order to see Him

o Realizing that the opportunity is fleeting – for He was about to pass through that way

Geldenhuys: He was so eager to see Him that, although he was a wealthy leader among the “publicans”, he did not even shrink from doing something that would make him look ridiculous in the eyes of those present.

Deffinbaugh: While this rich little man is quite different, in many respects, from the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, he is also similar to him. Both men wanted to see Jesus. Both men would not be stopped by hindrances. And both men were rewarded by the Master. The difference between the two was that Bartimaeus called out to Jesus. He wanted to be noticed and summoned to come to Jesus. Zacchaeus, on the other hand, may have wished to remain unnoticed. It was not a very dignified thing he did. We might even say it was child-like (cf. 18:15-16).


A. (:5) Jesus Invites Himself Into Zacchaeus’ Life

“And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him,

‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’”

Look at how Jesus calls him by name; personal knowledge

Anyabwile: The Lord knew Zacchaeus before Zacchaeus knew the Lord. That’s the case with us all.

Lenski: At that moment Zacchaeus knew that Jesus had read his whole heart even as Nathanael knew it and confessed it when Jesus uttered that one word to him about being under the fig tree.

Salvation is always based on Sovereign Grace where God is the Initiator;

Today is the day of salvation – you can’t put it off for another day

Morris: He did not say, “I would like to stay at your house,” but “I must stay.” This is a strong expression. Jesus saw His visit to Zacchaeus as part of his divine mission.

B. (:6) Zacchaeus Eagerly Receives Jesus

“And he hurried and came down, and received Him gladly.”

The response of eager faith and acceptance is key

Look at the emphasis on hurrying and urgency throughout this story; everything is speeded up; there is no complacency


A. (:7) Association with Sinners Criticized

“And when they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying,

‘He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’”

Anyabwile: Let us be careful of ever daring to assess whether someone is worthy of meeting God. When we feel someone is unworthy of God, we actually insult that person and God. When we think someone is unworthy of God, we throw that person away long before God ever would. At the same time, should God welcome them, then we put ourselves in a position, like the crowd, of questioning God. We ought to concern ourselves with our own unworthiness if we find ourselves condemning others. What’s true of Zacchaeus is true of us all: we’re all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).

B. (:8) Evidence of Transformation

1. Evidenced by Voluntarily Relinquishing His Wealth to the Poor –

Out of Compassion for the Needy and Obedience to the Lordship of Christ

“And Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord,

‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor,’”

Look at the contrast with the rich young ruler

Anyabwile: In a world where riches choke out the word and strangle faith, to give to others signifies genuine repentance. . . Zacchaeus is not buying his salvation. No amount of money can buy salvation. No, he’s showing by his giving the change of heart he’s had. When a person is truly repentant, it affects how they view and use money. At the very least, money is no longer their god – Jesus Christ is. They don’t look to cheat people for money; instead they look to bless people with their money. They become givers rather than takers because they’ve been set free from greed and idolatry. A converted man is a generous man.

2. Evidenced by Generous Restitution to Those He Had Defrauded —

Acknowledging His Sin and Making Things Right

“and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”

There were probably many instances of having defrauded people; this is why he didn’t give away all of his money to the poor; he needed a great sum to make restitution to all these people he had wronged

Morris: Where voluntary restitution ws made the Law required no more than the original amount plus one fifth (Lv. 6:5; Nu. 5:7), so that Zacchaeus was cheerfully agreeing to do more than was necessary.

Geldenhuys: Whosoever accepts Jesus whole-heartedly in his life and become personally acquainted with Him receives real salvation, a salvation which brings about an effective and practical revolution in his life, inwardly and outwardly. When Jesus comes into a person’s life, and gains authority there, selfishness and dishonesty are irresistibly eradicated.

C. (:9) Affirmation of Salvation of Zacchaeus

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house,

because he, too, is a son of Abraham.’”

Significance of “house” – involves more in the family than just Zacchaeus

“Son of Abraham” – means a son of genuine faith (Rom. 4:12); a member now of the family of God and of God’s kingdom; not just a Jew by nationality

Jesus provides assurance of salvation


“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Story starts out looking like the lost sinner is doing the seeking; in actuality we find out that Jesus is the Prime Seeker

But the sinner must actively respond in repentance and faith –

– Respond with haste

– Respond with eagerness

– Respond from a sense of being lost and a conscience that is convicted of sin

– Respond with obedience

– Respond with joy

Donald Miller: set forth his mission in religious rather than political terms. He had come not to establish an earthly throne from which to rule the nations. He had come “to seek and to save the lost.”

Anyabwile: Spiritually, we are all lost apart from Christ. We cannot determine how we got where we are or how to get back where we’ve been. We are surprised at our spiritual location. And it may be that we’ve been lost so long that we don’t know where home is. We can be so separated from God that we forget we were made to be with God in his kingdom, face-to-face in his love.

Lost people are people who cannot find their way to God because of sin. They have lost their way, and they are lost to God. But the Father sent his Son to find them – not only to seek them but also to rescue them and bring them back safely home.