Jesus’ dramatic encounters with “little children” continue in this passage, the climactic salvation encounter in Luke’s gospel.
Jesus has arrived in Jericho, just 24 kilometres from Jerusalem. There, He meets Zacchaeus. We are told two things about this man. First, he is a tax collector. Luke’s gospel mentions tax collectors in association with sinners, because the two were indistinguishable in Jesus’ day (Luke 5:30, 15:1). Indeed, when Zacchaeus takes Jesus home for lunch, the crowd says, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner” (v. 7). But Zacchaeus isn’t just a tax collector; he’s the chief tax collector. Here in Jericho, Jesus meets the chief of sinners.
Secondly, Luke tells us that Zacchaeus is rich. He is the second rich man we have met in the space of a few verses, and Jesus has just said that it is hard for the rich to be saved. As we are about to see, though, our God is the God of the impossible (Luke 18:27).
Zacchaeus climbs a tree in an attempt to see Jesus—but, really, who is seeking whom? Jesus, without having laid eyes on this man before, knows that he is up the tree, and knows all about him. He announces to Zacchaeus that He must stay at his house (v. 5). “Must” conveys the idea that He has been sent by God to meet this chief of sinners.
Jesus and Zacchaeus have a meal together, an expression of the Lord’s forgiveness and acceptance of a man whom the world despises. He announces that Zacchaeus is a true child of Abraham. Earlier, a rich ruler could not let go of his wealth (18:18–25). Now, the rich Zacchaeus demonstrates that he has found salvation by spontaneously giving away half of his money and making restitution to the people he has wronged. Zacchaeus has become completely dependent on Jesus, who can meet all his needs. He has become like a little child.
It is good to be reminded that those whom the world despises are loved by God. How encouraging: if God can save someone like Zacchaeus, then there is no one beyond His power to save. It is important to remember these truths as we pray for people.
What do we learn about true repentance from Zacchaeus’ actions?
Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (v. 10). If this was Jesus’ priority, how should that impact your life and the life of your church?