by Al Maxey

Issue #606 ------- January 31, 2014
Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
A wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree,
The good Lord for to see.

Lessons from a Wee Little Man
Sinner Seeking Savior from a Sycamore
Secures Surprise Supper and Salvation

The public ministry of the Lord Jesus was quickly coming to an end, and He was headed to the city of Jerusalem where He would become the "once for all" sacrifice for the sins of mankind. As that final journey began, He told His disciples, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him, insult Him, spit on Him, flog Him, and kill Him. On the third day He will rise again" (Luke 18:31-33). Even after all the time these men had spent with Jesus, "The disciples did not understand any of this. ... they did not know what He was talking about" (vs. 34). "As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging" (vs. 35). Jesus healed this man, declaring unto him, "your faith has saved you" (vs. 42). The word translated "saved" in this passage is the Greek word "sozo." We dare not overlook the fact that Jesus declares this afflicted individual saved by faith, rather than as the result of any meritorious, righteous work(s) the blind man himself may have previously performed: a truth we shall note again in the course of this present study; a truth quite "inconvenient" to those steeped in legalism and a works-based salvation.

Immediately after this, "Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it" (Luke 19:1). Word had undoubtedly reached the people of the city about how He had healed the blind man and pronounced him "saved," for Luke 18:43 informs us: "When all the people saw it, they also praised God," along with the one who had been healed. Thus, as Jesus and His disciples passed through the city of Jericho, a crowd began to gather around Him (as noted in Luke 19:3). Many would want to be near this powerful man of God, even if only to catch a glimpse of Him. "It is natural to us to come in sight, if we can, of those whose fame has filled our ears; ... at least we shall be able to say hereafter that we have seen such and such great men" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Also, "it was the custom, when a festive band passed through a place, that the inhabitants gathered in the streets to bid their brethren welcome. And on that afternoon, surely, scarce any one in Jericho but would go forth to see this pilgrim band" [Dr. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, book 4, chp. 24, p. 351-352].

One of the residents of Jericho, who also "wanted to see who Jesus was" (Luke 19:3), and who was aware of the commotion taking place within the city as Jesus and His joyous band of disciples passed through it, was a man named Zacchaeus (a name meaning "just, pure, innocent"). This man, according to Luke, was "a chief tax-collector" (a Greek term found only here in the Bible), which would make him the senior official for the entire district, having authority over all the other publicans (tax-collectors), and thus a man "holding a higher office in the Roman tax system than Levi (aka: Matthew) did -- Luke 5:27" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 1007]. Jericho, the "City of Palm Trees," which was about a six hour journey from Jerusalem, was the chief city of all eastern Judea. It was an important center of commerce, through which many caravans passed with their goods, and thus a logical site for the placement of officials to collect taxes for Rome. The chief of these officials was Zacchaeus. As a Jew, who worked for Rome, he was considered by other Jews to be a "traitor" to Israel. He was doubly despised because, as a rule, most of these publicans were extremely corrupt, extorting additional funds (over and above the Roman taxes) from the people to line their own pockets. "In such an appointment it was easy to commit even involuntary injustices. The temptations to such an official to enrich himself at the expense of others, besides, were sadly numerous" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16: Luke, pt. 2, p. 135]. Zacchaeus "had as abundant opportunities for enriching himself as a Turkish pacha, and, as we may infer from his own words, had probably not altogether escaped the temptations of his calling" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 335]. "The business of publican, or tax-collector, in Jericho must have been especially lucrative, for the city was on the main road of traffic between Joppa, Jerusalem, and the country east of the Jordan. So it had been a comparatively easy matter for Zacchaeus, by the use of a little graft, to amass a fortune" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 1, p. 367]. Indeed, Luke confirms that this chief tax-collector "was wealthy" (Luke 19:2). The Greek word Luke uses is "ploutos," which indicates "abundant riches; opulence." Therefore, "it is possible he was one of the most hated men in Jericho" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 5, p. 1027].

If ever there was "a notable subject for the saving grace of God" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 1007], it was this chief tax-collector in the city of Jericho, and that saving grace-faith equation was about to be manifested before an amazed audience. As the Lord passed through the city, "He was not carried on men's shoulders (as the Pope is in procession), that all men might see Him; nor did He ride in an open chariot, as princes do, but He walked among the people as one of us" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Because Jesus was encompassed by this crowd, Zacchaeus was unable to see Him, as this publican was slight of stature. Luke writes that he "wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see Him, since Jesus was coming that way" (Luke 19:3-4). "The fig-mulberry is here meant. It grew in the Jordan valley to a considerable height; the low, spreading branches were easy to climb" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16: Luke, pt. 2, p. 135]. Drs. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown suggest that "curiosity was his only motive" [Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1017] for running ahead of the crowd and climbing up into the tree, for he simply "wanted to see who Jesus was" (Luke 19:3). Thus, "there is no indication that he had personally met Jesus before" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 5, p. 1027], or that he had any special knowledge about His identity or ministry. Nevertheless, his curiosity motivated him to seek a way to overcome the obstacles before him, which was certainly an admirable trait.

"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.' And he hurried and came down, and received Him gladly" (Luke 19:5-6). The Message phrases vs. 6 this way: "Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him." Imagine how stunned this man was, as was the crowd, that Jesus was not only aware of this publican's presence in the tree, but also aware of his name! That amazement was intensified when Jesus invited Himself to the publican's house for "supper and a sleep-over." Zacchaeus was thrilled at the prospect, but those observing this incident clearly were not. "Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, 'What business does He have getting cozy with this crook?'" (Luke 19:7 -- The Message). Literally, their comment was that Jesus had gone to be a guest at the house of "a sinner." Yet, we might ask, who among them was not?! One cannot help but think of the Lord's comment to those who had brought before Him the woman caught in the act of adultery: "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7). The apostle Paul declared, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace" (Rom. 3:23-24). It is because we are sinners that God's grace was made manifest in the gift of His Son; a gift freely given to those who have faith. This is stated unequivocally in what some have called "the key verse in the gospel of Luke" (a verse attached at the end of this incident in Jericho): "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). Certainly, Zacchaeus would be just such a one!

"Jericho was at this time one of the chosen cities of the priests, but our Lord passed over their houses, and those of the Pharisees, in order to pass the night in the house of the publican" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 336]. This certainly added to the angst of the religious elite in this locale. As the Pulpit Commentary points out, "the Jewish spirit of the age was intensely narrow and sectarian, and in priestly Jericho this stern exclusive spirit was especially dominant" [vol. 16: Luke, pt. 2, p. 136]. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), in his commentary on this event, described these judgmental religionists as "narrow-souled, censorious Jews." How dare Jesus associate with such sinners, they murmured! Yet, time and time again in His public ministry it was these very people He sought out, and with whom He enjoyed "table-fellowship."

At some point during our Lord's stay with Zacchaeus, and likely as a result of some serious and substantial dialogue between the two, the latter came to an awareness not only of his own sinful condition, but also an awareness that his guest was the very One who could save him from that condition. Zacchaeus also realized that his new-found faith, if indeed it was to be regarded as genuine by those around him, must be evidenced in acts of repentance and restitution. This he vowed to do. "And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, 'Behold, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will restore it fourfold'" (Luke 19:8). Although some have speculated that this man was speaking of actions he had already taken in his life (the legalists, who advocate a works-based salvation, require such an interpretation), the text discounts such a view. "It seems more natural to see in this the statement of a new purpose than that of an habitual practice" [Ellicott, p. 336]. As a result of this life-changing encounter with the Savior, this chief of the publicans "did not slink into a corner and make half-hearted promises, but made an open confession of his sins and an equally open statement as to his manner of making amends. He promises the Lord to give half of his goods to the poor as a proof of his change of heart, and wherever he has defrauded any man in any manner whatsoever, he is willing to restore the unjust gain fourfold" [Dr. Kretzmann, p. 368]. This is certainly in keeping with the charge of John the Baptist, who said, "Bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matt. 3:8). John then told the Pharisees and Sadducees, "...and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham" (vs. 9). The faith of Zacchaeus led him to vow a radical new way of living, one reflective of faith and love and compassion (the very qualities of His Lord). In this way, his faith would be daily evidenced as genuine!

The promise of Zacchaeus was two-fold in nature. First, he vowed to give half his possessions to the poor. Essentially, he was acknowledging that "his riches are no longer his treasure, but Christ" [Dr. Kretzmann, p. 368]. "Jewish custom was that one fifth of a man's annual income should be given for works of love" [Zondervan, p. 1028], however this transformed tax-collector pledged half of what he had, which is certainly well beyond anything expected by those within his society and culture. "What greater proof of a change of heart!" [Dr. B. W. Johnson, The People's New Testament with Explanatory Notes, p. 298]. Second, he vowed to restore four times over what he had taken from others by fraud and/or extortion. This was essentially, within the Law of God, the restitution required of a thief -- "If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep" (Exodus 22:1). Such a level of restitution was also mandated by the civil government: "The Roman law required this" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, p. 1017]. Zacchaeus had no intention of either circumventing the laws of God or man; he owned up to his sin and sought to make amends, in some ways even above the legal expectation.

Jesus, who looks deeply into the hearts and minds of men, made the following declaration that day: "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham" (Luke 19:9). John the Baptist warned the legalistic elite of his day (as noted above) not to claim Abraham as their father if they were not willing to evidence the faith of Abraham via attitudes and actions in keeping with repentance. In contrast, this transformed chief tax-collector is declared by Jesus to be "a son of Abraham." Yes, Zacchaeus was a Jew, so he was a "son of Abraham" by virtue of fleshly descent. But, that is not what Jesus meant here. He was declaring Zacchaeus a "son of Abraham" because of his FAITH. In his epistle to the Roman brethren, the apostle Paul speaks of the saving faith Abraham possessed prior to his act of circumcision, "that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be reckoned to them;" thus, he is the father of all those "who follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised" (Rom. 4:11-12). Justification and salvation were by faith, not by works, and, indeed, are imparted prior to any act on the part of man, lest we mistake any action on our part as the cause of our salvation. Thus, Jesus declared Zacchaeus saved based on his faith, and He made this proclamation before this believer had performed any specific act of repentance. Jesus knows the heart, and it is here that faith abides. That faith, if genuine, will show itself throughout one's walk with the Lord, but it is the faith, not the works, that embraces God's gift! "Salvation did not 'come to this house' because Zacchaeus finally did a good deed, but because he was 'a son of Abraham,' which may mean because he was a believer, and thus a spiritual descendant of Abraham" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 1008].

Drs. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown observe, with respect to the phrase "son of Abraham," that Zacchaeus "was that by birth, but here it means a partaker of his faith, being mentioned as the sufficient explanation of salvation having come to him" [p. 1017]. Jesus is emphasizing that this man is "a spiritual son of Abraham, born not of the flesh, but of the Spirit" [Dr. B. W. Johnson, The People's NT, p. 298]. "That is to say: a spiritual son -- a son in the highest and most real sense. Zacchaeus was a faithful follower of Abraham in his life and in his faith" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16: Luke, pt. 2, p. 136]. I like what Matthew Henry said in his commentary: "Zacchaeus does not expect to be justified by his works, as the Pharisee who boasted of what he had done (Luke 18:9f), but rather by his good works he will, through the grace of God, evidence the sincerity of his faith and repentance." Thus, this account is a powerful reminder of the truth that it is "by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:8-10). Zacchaeus was saved by grace through faith, and he then (according to his vow) spent his life showing that faith and repentance through his acts of love, mercy and compassion. According to the Clementine Homilies, Zacchaeus went on to become a traveling companion of the apostle Peter, and then later became a bishop in the church at Caesarea. "An unfortunate consequence of the descriptive power of the Third Evangelist is the fact that for many readers the most notable characteristic about Zacchaeus is that he was short" [Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 1406]. It is my hope that this study has helped expand our understanding and appreciation of this man beyond the fact that he was "a wee little man." The greater truth is: He stood tall in faith!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Alaska:

At church this morning it came to light that members of the congregation who have been elected to the Alaska Legislature have asked for prayers for the Legislature. I wonder if the comments you made in your speech at the New Mexico Legislative Prayer Breakfast are available to share with these members of the Alaska Legislature. I did a search and found some of your comments reported in various sources online, but some seemed to contain poor paraphrases. If your actual comments are available to the public, would you please let me know how to obtain them? Thank you, and may God bless you.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Please send us your 2013 Reflections CD in Word format. My check is enclosed. I am so blessed by your teachings!

From a Reader in Texas:

I loaned out my one copy of your book on MDR titled Down, But Not Out before I had even finished reading it, and, of course, it hasn't been returned. Whoever has it must really be liking it! Anyway, I would like to order two more copies of this book, and also a copy of your newest book Immersed By One Spirit, as well as a copy of your special CD titled Reflections: The First Decade Collection. Thanks also for your study on "Christian Hedonism: A Theology of Ultimate Pleasure" (Reflections #605). You are appreciated.

From a Reader in California:

I am a subscriber to your Reflections and I really enjoy them! They have helped me greatly. I grew up in an ultra-conservative Church of Christ. I was always worried about "messing up," or "not getting everything right." I was always wondering why a lot of what was taught didn't really "add up" to me. Now I understand more, and I am so thankful that I have moved on to a more loving and grace-centered relationship with God and my fellow man. One thing that always bothered me, though, was the teaching that "unscripturally divorced" persons were not free to remarry, and if they did then they were "living in sin." I was always taught that in order for them to "live right" they had to separate from their current spouse. I have read your book on this topic: Down, But Not Out: A Study of Divorce and Remarriage in Light of God's Healing Grace, and loved it. It has helped me so much! Recently, I was talking with a family member and the example of the woman at the well (John 4) came up. I pointed out that it stated she had been married five times, so God recognized them as "marriages." I was immediately shut off with the "she was under the old law; we are under the new law" argument. I was just wondering how you deal with this incident, and why this woman is always brought up by the ultra-conservatives in their view of MDR. Just curious.

From a Reader in Massachusetts:

I was viewing your Topical Index (under the heading "Translations") in your Reflections archives tonight, but did not find the studies you had done on the NASB, the ASV, and the RSV. At one time I had found these studies, and had printed them out for future reference, but now I can't find their location on your web site. I have been using your reviews as part of a class I am teaching on "How We Got The Bible" (giving you the credit, of course). My research for this class has included reading some 13 books, and several articles by you and others, so that I might be able to present as complete, and hopefully as accurate, a history as possible. Can you help me locate your studies on those three versions? Thanks, and have a wonderful, blessed day.

From a Reader in Georgia:

I had another "Aha!" moment and wanted to double check it with you. The audience of Hebrews was surely Jewish; it is filled with so much Jewish Law that a Gentile would have been lost by the end of chapter one. In Heb. 9:22 the author makes this statement: "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." That struck a chord with me. The writer of Hebrews speaks of "blood sacrifice for the remission of sin" as though everybody is fully aware of this fact, which doesn't surprise me since the whole Law was based on blood sacrifice for sin. On the day of Pentecost, many Jews were finally convinced by Peter that Jesus was the Messiah. Why, suddenly, given their history and knowledge of the Law, would these Jews NOW regard water, rather than blood, as the avenue to the forgiveness of sin? It doesn't make sense. It would have been contrary to anything they had been taught (Jesus didn't come to change Law, but to fulfill it). Jesus was the blood sacrifice for sin, as Hebrews states, which would seem to give greater credence to the meaning of "because" for the Greek preposition "eis" in Acts 2:38 than "for." It was His shedding of blood, not their immersion in water, that took away sin. Would they really have suddenly understood that it was a common "water ritual" (like the one used, for example, by women after their menstrual cycle) that would NOW be the way to forgiveness of sin, rather than through blood?!

From a Minister in Arkansas:

Thanks for all you do to improve, and to help the rest of us to do the same! I laughed and enjoyed greatly the response from the brother in Georgia (the first letter in the "Readers' Response" section) in your last Reflections as he addressed the polygamy issue. His wit and wisdom were "right on." Yes, it is very difficult to be unbiased, especially with things about which we are ignorant (or even too familiar with). Please keep helping us with objectivity in our studying of the King's message!

From a Reader on Prince Edward Island, Canada:

I really enjoyed your material on multiple wives ("Pondering Polygamy" -- Reflections #604), and I especially enjoyed the many reader responses to that article which you included in your next mail-out. This prompts me to tell you a true story. A good friend of mine went to Papua New Guinea back in the 1960's. A chief wanted to be a Christian, but he had several wives. He was told by my friend that he had to give up all these wives except his first one before he could be baptized into Christ. The chief went away, but came back two months later, again asking to be baptized, saying, "I now have only one wife." When he was asked how he now had only one, he responded, "I had the others killed." When our congregation found out what had happened, they brought my friend (who was a missionary there) home in a hurry. They told him this incident was "unfortunate," but praised him for "standing for the truth." It was after this that I decided never to have anything to do with "our" schools of preaching, especially that "nut house" at Bear Valley.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

I agree with your answer to the reader from my state (which appears at the very end of the readers' section of your last Reflections) who asked, "What do you think missionaries should tell converts in Africa about their multiple marriages?" Like you, I believe God takes us where we are and works in us from that point. However, how do we answer someone who brings up Ezra 9-10 where the Israelites put away their "pagan" wives (and their children) in order to please God? As always, brother, I appreciate you so much for your faith.

From a Reader in Alaska:

In your last readers' section a Minister in Tennessee wrote, "...after serving as a missionary in France, and also being engaged in multiple trips to Russia, Ukraine and the Far East, it seems we go into these fields intending to convert the people to our USA culture, and our 'three songs and a prayer' view of the church." I believe this points to one of our personal and national errors: self-contentedness, not God-centeredness. We have a series of classes we teach here that emphasize mission work as taking GOD to a foreign culture, NOT taking our church practices and the American culture. Missionaries should learn the foreign culture before they begin their mission work of teaching.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

I recently read the book "Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible" by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien. Notice this excerpt from the synopsis on -- "What was clear to the original readers of Scripture is not always clear to us. Because of the cultural distance between the biblical world and our contemporary setting, we often bring modern Western biases to the text. ... The authors identify nine key areas where modern Westerners have significantly different assumptions about what might be going on in a text. Drawing on their own cross-cultural experience in global missions, O'Brien and Richards show how better self-awareness and understanding of cultural differences in language, time and social mores allow us to see the Bible in fresh and unexpected ways. Getting beyond our own cultural assumptions is increasingly important for being Christians in our interconnected and globalized world."

From Max Ray in Kentucky:

Al, your last Reflections article on "Christian Hedonism" was excellent. Jesus came to "proclaim liberty to the captives" and to "set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus' reading was from Isaiah 61, which was a Messianic prophecy based on the Sabbath year: the "Year of Jubilee" (Leviticus 25). Jesus, proclaiming Himself as the fulfillment of Jubilee, came to bring to mankind the blessings of freedom, healing and restoration. The natural emotion arising from freedom is JOY. Everywhere the gospel went there was rejoicing. The Ethiopian "went on his way rejoicing." There was "much joy" in Samaria when Philip preached the gospel to them. In our new book -- "Give Me Liberty: Restoring the Spirit of Jubilee" (available at and also on Kindle) -- Dr. Bill Van Dyke and I contrast the grim bleakness of legalism with the joyous liberty Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue in Nazareth long ago. Thank you for your recommendation of our book to your readers, and for the kind words you had to say about Bill and myself. God bless you in all you do.

From a Minister in California:

Al, I couldn't agree with you more in your article "Christian Hedonism." If "created in the image of God" means anything, it means the very purpose of our existence on this planet is to find peace, joy and love in our relationship with our Creator and His creatures. Eden was a paradise of joy. Heaven will be a paradise of joy. Has this desire of God (that we be filled with joy) changed? No!! Paul wrote an entire epistle to encourage us to rejoice here and now (in this life). At the end of the day, it is all our own choice. The same winds of trial in this life blow upon us all. What makes the difference is how we set our own sails; how we choose to think about our experiences and circumstances. It's about our attitude! Long ago, I chose to be joyful -- and life is much "funner" that way!

From a Reader in Germany:

I am not familiar with Dr. Piper's particular writing about Christian Hedonism, but the first thought that came into my mind upon reading your excellent essay was the "Health/Wealth" gospel that is drawing thousands into a type of hedonism. The advocates of such terrible preaching try to convince their followers that God wants them to have everything their hearts desire.

From a Minister in Texas:

Al, thanks for your thoughts about JOY in our Christian lives. I am now inspired to preach on the joys of Christian living! My perspective is that joy is a state of mind as we understand God's grace and love for us. Certainly, joy, as a gift of the Spirit, is an often unevidenced facet of Christians. In fact, I might go so far as to say that those who express or feel NO joy in their Christianity are not really experiencing Christ. Perhaps we should preach again and again on the joys of a true relationship with God, as Paul twice encourages us to rejoice in the Lord always (Philp. 4:4). Joy in Christ is a wonderful experience for which all Christians should strive. We should be living in Christian pleasure, though not seeking that pleasure solely for our own satisfaction. I view this joy as a by-product of our relationship with God, not the driving force of our lives, just as heaven isn't the reason we want to be followers of Christ. For many Christians, however, they are "Christians" only for what they can get out of it. Thus, it's hard to say we are NOT "Christian hedonists" (in the negative sense) if we are only living to get our "mansion over the hilltop." As always, thanks for your thoughts, brother!

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