The Lord's Day Morning
November 9, 2008
“What Every Businessman Should Know in a Time of Economic Uncertainty — Jesus!”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now turn with me to Luke 19 — the familiar story of Zacchaeus. Before we read the passage together, let's look to God in prayer. Let us all pray.
Lord our God, this is Your word. You caused it to be written. Holy men of old wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. We want to profit from the reading of it, so help us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest by the help of Your Spirit. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Now this is God's word:
“He [that is to say, Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And 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 of 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.’”
Amen. May God bless to us the reading of His holy, infallible word.
Now this is a story of a sudden conversion. Not every conversion is a sudden conversion. Some of you can testify to me that you truly love the Lord: you've known Him from the time you can remember anything; there never was a time in your conscious memory when you didn't love the Savior. But there are others here, myself included, who can certainly remember ‘a time when I wasn't a Christian. And I can certainly remember a time when I was.’ And so with that in mind — I'm not speaking about everybody's experience. All of us need to know the Savior, but not all of us come to the Savior in precisely the same way. Our experience of that may differ.
Now turn back to chapter 18. We just need to catch a little bit of a context — not much, but just a thirty-second little context. In verse 31 of chapter 18, we need to know what Jesus has been talking about. He has been giving the third of His predictions about what's going to happen when He gets to Jerusalem. When He gets to Jerusalem, He is going to be betrayed, He is going to be handed over to His enemies, He is going to be crucified, and on the third day He is going to rise again.
And notice in verse 34 that Luke tells us, “This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Jesus has been speaking clearly of what is going to happen to him in a few days’ time. This is His final entry into Jerusalem. (It will be His final entry into Jerusalem. It will be the so-called triumphal entry.) It has to be borne in mind that as Jesus is passing through Jericho, these things — His betrayal, His crucifixion — are weighing heavily upon His mind. All the more wonderful, then, that in Jericho He has time to stop and speak to individuals like Zacchaeus and a blind man that He has just spoken to in the previous chapter.
I. Zaccheus the tax collector.
Now with all that in mind, let's first of all meet Zaccheus. Zaccheus is a tax collector. He works for the IRS! He's not just a tax collector, but he's the chief tax collector. He's the only one that's called the chief tax collector in the Gospels. Jericho was a trading post. It was the one main stop on the way from Jerusalem to the east. The headquarters of the Roman IRS in Judea was in Jericho. There are a lot of tax collectors who probably work in Jericho, and Zacchaeus is the chief of them. Now you have to understand, as much you perhaps don't like tax collectors… [and there may be a tax collector in the audience this morning, and…. Forgive me — you chose your profession!] [Laughter]
Tax collectors in the first century were sinners. I mean big sinners. According to one of the New Testament scholars — doesn't matter what his name is, but he is a New Testament scholar — you couldn't be a judge if you were a tax collector because you were untrustworthy. You couldn't be a witness in a court of law because you were untrustworthy. Tax collecting in the first century was like pyramid salesmanship. Now none of you will confess to having engaged in any such thing, but you understand that the one who makes the most money in pyramid selling is the guy at the top. The Romans didn't care how they got their taxes from the people, just so long as they got them. So they farmed out the business to people like Zaccheus — and Zaccheus is a Jew, remember — farmed it out to people like Zaccheus who would collect what was owed to Rome and then a little bit on the top for himself. Now, Rome didn't care how much the little bit on the top was, and it varied. And when Luke tells us in a passing by, matter of fact kind of way at the end of verse two that he was rich, you understand he's not just saying he was rich, He was saying he was rich by ill-gotten gains. He was rich on the backs of the people of Judea, that's what he's really saying. This man's a sinner. He's a big sinner. And he's curious about Jesus.
You know, Luke tells us a lot about tax collectors. Luke is the one who tells us that tax collectors went out to hear John the Baptist preach, not a million miles away from Jericho. And Zacchaeus knew a converted tax collector — Matthew, otherwise known as Levi, who met Jesus, you remember, at his booth where he was collecting taxes. You can imagine the water cooler conversation for weeks afterwards because Matthew left his business and went to be a disciple of Jesus. You can imagine there's lots of talk about what Matthew did.
Zaccheus is Curious George now, and news…you know there's no television in Jericho, there's no internet in Jericho. There's nothing to do in Jericho except when somebody comes into town, and when somebody comes into town everybody in Jericho goes out into the streets. And the place is just abuzz with people thronging about this man called Jesus of Nazareth, and Zaccheus, well, he's curious. He wants to know who is this Jesus of Nazareth. Who is it who can claim somebody like Levi (Matthew)?
You can imagine him. He's a little short guy. You can imagine him trying to see Jesus as He's passing through Jericho, maybe his head bobbing up and down, and he can't see anything. And this is his one-time opportunity to see Him for himself, and he runs ahead. [When did you last see a tax collector running, except perhaps to catch somebody who hasn't paid his taxes?] He runs ahead and climbs up a sycamore tree.
You know, God works like that in the lives of people, brings folk and circumstances into the lives of people like Zaccheus to arouse an interest in Jesus. I don't know why you’re here this morning. I know many of you are here because you are members of First Presbyterian Church, but you may be here just in a happenstance; you’re curious about Jesus, perhaps. Wouldn't that be a wonderful thing, if you’re here this morning because you know you’re not a Christian? You've never really believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; He's never changed your life in any way, but you’re curious now, and you’re curious because you've met someone — maybe someone at work who's been converted, or who talks about Jesus all the time. And it's changed that person, and they’re different! They’re kinder, they’re sweeter, they’re lovelier, they’re more attractive now. How can one man change people's lives like that? Maybe you’re here this morning like Zacchaeus.
II. Jesus the great Evangelist.
Secondly, I want you to watch and I want you to listen to Jesus — Jesus, the great evangelist. You notice in verse 5, “When Jesus came to the place….” That's where the sycamore tree was, and Zaccheus is, you know, up in the tree. It's an undignified position, to be sure. Jesus stops, looks up to him and says, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”
Now a couple of things. You remember I told you what was on Jesus’ mind. It has to be on Jesus’ mind, weighing heavily upon Him — His betrayal, His crucifixion. That Jesus actually stops to talk to an individual is itself a most beautiful thing, that He has time to do that because that's His heart. That's the kind of person Jesus is. He has time for individuals like Zacchaeus, like you and me. But, secondly, how did He know Zaccheus’ name? How did He know his name? You know, maybe I'm the only one who asks questions like that, but it puzzled me as I looked at this passage: How does He know his name? “Well,” you say, “Jesus is God, right? So He knows everything. So of course He knows his name!” Well, not so fast. It may be…it may be that the divine mind of Jesus imparted that information to His human mind. It may be. That's an area of theology way too deep for us to go into this morning, and I don't think that was the case anyway!
I think it went something like this: Matthew. You know, Matthew knew Zaccheus, in all likelihood. He may even have worked for him at some point in his life. When you’re a tax collector, that circle is pretty thick, you know? They’re pretty tight. Matthew knew Zacchaeus. And I rather think that when Matthew is making his way along with the disciples and Jesus into Jericho, Matthew says to Jesus something like this: ‘Master, I have a friend — well, he's a kind of a friend. Actually, he was my boss. His name is Zaccheus, and he lives here in Jericho. Master, I would just love it if You would just have a conversation with him, if You’d just talk to him. You know, Master, it would be wonderful if You had lunch with him. Why don't you say to him, ‘Let's do lunch,’ but don't tell him I told you.’ Can't you imagine as Jesus is walking His way through Jericho and the disciples are with Him, and there's this great throng, and Matthew is saying, ‘Master! That's him up in the tree — Zaccheus! (Don't look in my direction!)’ I don't know. I think it might be that Matthew has a burden for Zacchaeus.
Anyway, whatever the truth of that is, He calls Zacchaeus down from that tree and says to him, “Today I must stay at your house.” Now I don't know if Zacchaeus was married…his wife must have had a fit! You know, you bring him home to dinner uninvited, unannounced…you’re bringing home Jesus of Nazareth for lunch! Anyway, I don't know how that went down, but this is effectual calling.
You know something happens. When Jesus says to Zaccheus, “Come down,” Zaccheus just does it. And he received him [end of verse 6] “joyfully.” That's a beautiful thing. I think Luke is saying the man's been converted there and then, up in the tree…or was it on the way down from the tree?
You know, in a moment, in an instant! He was outside of the kingdom, and now he's in the kingdom. He's no longer just curious about Jesus, he has joy and fellowship with Jesus. The man's been converted. He has been effectually called:
“Effectual calling is the work of God's Spirit whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery and enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He doth persuade and enable us to embrace Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”1
Well, you know, that's what's taking place here. Jesus calls him with a powerful, effectual, sovereign call, and Zaccheus responds.
You know, what you have here is the Great Shepherd of the sheep, whose heart beats for lost sheep. Zacchaeus is a lost sheep. He's a lost sheep stuck in a tree. And Jesus’ evangelistic heart… in the midst of the tremendous agonizing thought of what lies before Him in Jerusalem, He has time to stop for individuals like Zaccheus because He came to seek and to save that which was lost. That's a beautiful thing…that's a beautiful thing.
III. Zaccheus’ response to Jesus.
Well, a third thing. What's Zacchaeus’ response? You know, they go to the house. The Pharisees are outside the house, and they are grumbling. They’re saying, ‘He's gone to have lunch with someone who's a sinner, and this just isn't right!’ But you know that's the sort of thing Jesus does all the time. He fraternizes with sinners.
But the thing I want you to note is how do we know…I mean, how do we truly know that Zacchaeus is a believer? Because he repented. Because he repented, because he changed his life, because he turned away from his sins and turned in the direction of Jesus. He gave back that which he had unlawfully defrauded, and he restored four-fold. He applied the “four sheep rule” of Exodus 22. If you don't know it — after lunch today, Exodus 22, first verse. The four sheep rule. If you steal one sheep, you've got to give back four. That's the rule. He's applying that rule. He had stolen gobs of money, and he's now giving it back fourfold. Now that shows a heart that has been converted.
In 1922 and 1923, in Belfast in Northern Ireland, the shipyard company, Harland & Wolfe — they’re still there today…this is the company that built the Titanic, the famous Titanic. And in 1922-23 there was a revival. There was a short-term…just over one year it lasted. It utilized the ministry of one particular Presbyterian minister whose preaching God just blessed in an extraordinary way, just for a period of one year. Hundreds of thousands of people were converted. You can read about it in The Daily Press of the time. There were so many shipyard workers who were converted (and I met one of them one time)…there were so many shipyard workers who were converted in that summer of 1922, that they began to bring back to the shipyard stuff that they had stolen. The shipyard had to build some kind of room, some kind of building, to house all of this stuff, and a notice was given..and you can see it. You can go to a museum in Harland & Wolfe today, and there on the wall…this notice was given telling these shipyard workers to stop bringing stuff back because they had no room to put it.2 It's an extraordinary thing. It was evidence, you see, of a changed heart.
Do you notice what Jesus says to him in verse 9? “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.” Now you know when Jesus speaks like that He's speaking as a rabbi. You know He's speaking as a theologian. There's more to this than meets the eye. You know Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham; he's a Jew, so he's a son of Abraham. His ancestry, his roots, his genes are thoroughly Jewish. His lineage can be traced back to Abraham. But that's not what Jesus is saying. He's saying today this man has become really a son of Abraham. You know Paul talks about that in Galatians. There are sons of Abraham, and then there are sons of Abraham. There are sons of Abraham according to the flesh, and there are sons of Abraham by faith in Jesus Christ, and Jesus is saying here, ‘This man, although he was in a covenant home and he had covenant lineage coming out of his ears, he wasn't converted. He wasn't a believer. But today he is.’
You know, young folk here today…you know we talk about covenant and we talk about covenant seed, and we believe all that. We believe God's promises to covenant families. But you know, being born into a Christian family will not save you. Being born into a Christian home will not be sufficient to cover your sins. You need to believe. You need to trust in Jesus Christ. You need to hear the voice of Jesus Christ calling you, and you need to respond. This is a beautiful thing that Jesus is saying to Zaccheus, a Jew, that that day he has truly become a son of Abraham. He has joined the family of the faithful — of those who believe, of those who trust.
Do you know the story of the young man who did some terrible things, awful things, and his parents threw him out of their home? And he went away, and he was gone for many years until one day he wrote a letter to his parents and said, ‘I'd like to come home. I’ll be on the train next Friday.’ His home was adjacent to the railway tracks as it came into the town in which he lived, and the garden of his home ran all the way down to the railway tracks, and there was an apple tree in full sight of the tracks. And he said in his letter to his parents, ‘I’ll only come if I see a white handkerchief tied to a branch of that apple tree.’ And as he came towards his home, his face pressed up against the window pane of the carriage of the train in which he was traveling, he saw the tree — covered in white handkerchiefs. He was coming home, and his parents were saying to him, ‘It's okay for you to come home. Come home now.’ 3
That's what's happening here to this son of Abraham according to the flesh. Jesus is saying to him, ‘Come home. Come home to Me. Come home in fellowship and in communion with Me.’ You know, that's the kind of Savior we have this morning. He came, Luke says, to seek and to save the lost. He’ll never cast a sinner away — never. There’ll always be a white handkerchief hanging in that tree saying it's okay for you to come home.
I don't know why you’re here today. It just may be in God's providence that you’re here this morning to hear that message, that sinner though you may be, it's okay for you to come home because Jesus bids you come and says, “Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Let's pray together.
Our Father in heaven, we thank You for the Scriptures, and we thank You for the beauty and adorableness of our Savior. We are sinners each and every one of us here this morning, and we thank You that You did not cast us away. Lord Jesus, we pray to You this morning. We pray for lost souls who may be amongst us today, and we pray that in Your sovereign mercy and Your efficacious grace that You would call them down, and call them to yourself, and that they might receive You joyfully, with all the evidence of repentance that follows in its wake. And we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Let's sing together hymn No. 647, How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds.
Now receive the Lord's benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
1. The Westminster Shorter Catechism. Question 31: “What is effectual calling?”
2. W.P. Nicholson and the Revival in Northern Ireland in 1921.
W.P. Nicholson. “The Revival that Healed a Nation's Wounds.” Evangelical Times
3. Richard Pindell. “Somebody's Son.” Choices: 17 Stories of Challenge and Choice, with Units for Mastering Language Arts Skills. Burton Goodman. 1st edition. McGraw-Hill, 2002.
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