“And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.” — Luke 19:7
Zacchaeus may have been a “wee little man” but he was certainly not short on cash. Used by Romans to collect Jewish taxes and hated by his own people, the Jews, for profiting from such “dirty work,” Zacchaeus probably had few friends.
Alone with his riches and his lofty position as chief amongst a group of despised tax collectors, Zacchaeus was not happy. His conscience plagued him. He knew that he was hated and rightfully so. Not only did He work for the oppressor (Rome), but he profited off the backs of his own people by dishonestly increasing the rate of required tax to line his own pockets.
Somehow he heard of Jesus. Likely, it was through other publicans who often came to hear Jesus (Luke 3:12; 7:29; 15:1) and with whom Jesus frequently spent time (Luke 5:30). Perhaps Matthew (Levi) one of Jesus’ disciples, a former publican, had talked with him or invited him to come to hear Jesus (Luke 5:27-32). Maybe word of the parable of the Pharisee and the publican had gotten to him (Luke 18:9-14).
Whatever the case, Zacchaeus had had enough. His riches and his position were not enough to ease his conscience. He knew he needed something more. And Jesus seemed to be the One.
So, one day he came to see Jesus. But on that day, he could not physically see him, because there was such a crowd and Zacchaeus was short.
Desperate and disregarding how silly he might have looked, he ran ahead and found a sycamore tree. Climbing up into the tree, he hoped to be able to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Well, he caught more than a glimpse.
As Jesus walked that way, he stopped under the tree and looked up at Zacchaeus and said, “…come down; for today I must abide at thy house!” Jesus went home with Zacchaeus that day and his repentance and faith were obvious. He planned to return four times the amount he had unlawfully taken and to give away half of his goods to the poor.
The joy and change produced in Zacchaeus’ life stemmed from meeting Jesus and having His sins forgiven. But first, he had to admit that he was a sinner. He had to acknowledge what many in Israel refused to acknowledge – their sin. They shockingly said, “he is gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner!” (v.7)
Confession of sin is one huge key to salvation. Each of us must admit and confess that we are sinners. We can’t excuse it, rationalise it, or justify it. We have to realise that we all have our own sin that separates us from God. We may not be as bad as our neighbour but neither are we as good as God. We all “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
When we get to the position that we realise we are lost and sinful, then we are ready to receive the salvation and the forgiveness Jesus offers. James came to seek and to save those who are lost (Luke 19:10). The truth is that all are lost, yet few are humble enough to admit it and to call out to Jesus. Those who do will find joy, forgiveness, hope, and salvation!