Taxes--we all hate them I suppose. The wealthiest of us pay upwards of 37% of our income in taxes, but many folks in Europe pay over 50%. People have been taxed by their governments since history was recorded.
But when Christ lived,, the Romans taxes people in the countries they conquered, such as Israel, exorbitantly. These taxes went directly to Rome and the Jews had no say in how the taxed money was spent.
Those that collected the tax were dishonest and unethical. Tax collectors would harass people wherever they could, and they would tax them on the spot. So, even if a different tax collector made you pay taxes on your way home, you could be taxed again by another collector just hours or minutes later before you got to your house! They would also place an inflated and fictitious value on property or income in order to get a higher percentage of tax. Finally, they would give loans to people who couldn’t pay the tax, and then charge high interest on this private debt.
Any wonder why the Jewish people hated the tax collectors. Tax collectors were backed by the authority of the Roman Empire, and they were accompanied by Roman soldiers. So how did the Jewish people treat tax collectors? The only recourse that the Jewish people had was to ostracize them—they despised these men.
They placed tax collectors alongside “murderers and robbers”.
The rabbis taught that tax collectors were disqualified witnesses in court, societal outcasts, and utter disgraces to their own family.
They were excommunicated from the synagogues.
Tax collectors weren’t allowed to exchange their money at the Temple treasury
The rabbis even considered it lawful to lie in almost any conceivable way to avoid paying tax collectors
So what good Jew would want to be a tax collector. No one except the lowest, most corrupt and greediest of the Jews.
This is why it is so scandalous when Jesus went to the house of Zacchaeus for a meal or when He picked Matthew (a tax collector!) as one of his closest disciples. His choice of Matthew as a close friend and to eat with Zacchaeus was actually used as evidence against Him when He was convicted by the Sanhedrin!
“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10, NIV)
Because the lucrative production and export of balsam was centered in Jericho, Zacchaeaus’ position would have carried both importance and wealth. According to Luke, he planned ahead and arrived before a crowd gathered, so that he could see Jesus, who was passing through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem. He was a short man he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree along Jesus' path. He wanted to see the Messiah. When Jesus reached the spot, for some reason He stopped, looked up at the sycamore tree, called Zacchaeus by name, and told him to come down, for he intended to visit his house. The crowd was shocked that Jesus, a religious teacher/prophet, would sully himself by being the guest of such a well-known sinner.
So, once again, he was a tax collector. Zacchaeus is mentioned only in the Gospel of Luke. A descendant of Abraham, he was an example of Jesus' personal, earthly mission to bring salvation to the lost. Tax collectors back then would make the IRS look like the Red Cross today. The Roman tax collectors were despised as traitors (working for the Roman Empire, not for their Jewish community), and also as being corrupt. They could demand what was owed, in taxes, and then pad the invoice to cover their own greed—and there was nothing the Jews could do about it. And here’s Zacchaeus—-the chief tax collector, being talked to as if “he mattered”. Jesus sure knew how to pick the winners—didn’t He! He had a habit of turning the tables on the common opinion on the value of corrupt officials, or prostitutes, women in general, thieves on crosses in particular, and even the babbling little children. He did not do things like the other religious folks did—and neither should we….
So Jesus associated and befriended the very people we would find ourselves despising, when you think about it. Zacchaeus worked for the imperial government—-like any other politician—-and he was quite wealthy because of it. And when you think about it, there aren’t many people in high positions in our government that pinch pennies! The last thing these good, common Jews wanted was for a man like Zacchaeus to get any attention—let alone salvation! They were hoping God would send a plague on his house—-not the Messiah to his house!
But of course Zacchaeus knew that he was hated. He might have hid behind his emotions behind his wealth and status with the Romans, but he knew who he really was and how very little others regarded him—-perhaps he regarded himself even less than they did. That’s the reason I think he wanted to see the Messiah. He recognized how wrecked and wretched his “affluent life” was—and he had seen death and was wise enough to know that there would one day be a reckoning with God for his treason and treachery.
The people all saw how Jesus was kind to sinners—-Jesus did this in a very public manner. The crowd mumbled and muttered as people do when someone whom they despise is treated well. Mankind has not changed at all over the past 2000 years. We still want the other guy to get what he or she deserves….but for our lives and sins, we want mercy and grace. You will know that the Holy Spirit is present and thriving within your soul when someone that doesn’t merit good things it gets much better than he deserves….and you are happy for him. (Are you there yet?)
So Jesus came into the home of a man who was despised by his neighbors and every Jew in Palestine. Can you imagine how surprised Zacchaeus must have been! Why was he so quick to accept the invitation and so happy Jesus saw him, called him by name and asked to be received in his home? Because the most important man in the city (and in fact the universe) said, “I see you, I know your name, I want to be close to you….” Consider the joy and feeling of worth that must have overcome Zacchaeus!
How does Zacchaeus respond to this surprise celebrity visit? He inexplicably announced that he would give half of all that he had to the poor and pay back four times whatever he took improperly in taxes. Is it not astounding to see all that Zacchaeus would return after a life of stealing or cheating? And nothing in this narrative leads us to doubt that he did in fact follow through. Jesus told those watching that “salvation” had come to this man.... (Luke 19:1-10, NIV)
Zacchaeus’s response to Jesus attention was immediate and profound—he became a changed man. Think about it:
First, he did what he should have been doing all along—he helped the poor—with half his wealth! This is what happens when Christ comes into your heart. He sets things right in regard to charity, how we see possessions and compassions in heart towards those that are less fortunate than us…things we should have had all along!
Next, Zacchaeus made restitution for his sins against others by returning what he took wrongly—-but times four! His chicanery and selfishness was replaced with transparency and a preparation to make things right. Jesus taught us “to leave our gift on the altar” if we are reminded of an offense we have made—-go back and make it right! Zacchaeus did this. He not only confessed, he made restitution for his sins. Now you and I cannot make all things right that we’ve done wrong, but the Holy Spirit will compel us, as time and opportunity permit, to “return times four”—-if we are really listening to the Spirit. And of course if those that have hurt you or cheated you invite Christ into their homes, they might come calling on you in an attempt to make things right. Be merciful and receptive to them! Allow them the blessing and joy of being able to make restitution! Don’t stand in the way of how God is leading them to be generous and remorseful!
But listen to Jesus’ reaction to this man’s actions of repentance and proof a new heart? “Today salvation has come to this house….” The proof of his salvation was his good works and new heart towards others.
Why did Jesus waste the afternoon at the home of one of the most despised men in Jericho? “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Why should you and I waste time helping the alcoholic, the criminal, the illegal alien or foreigner, the ill-behaved/bad-mannered little boy or girl? Because like Zachhaeus, Jesus would have come to their homes, eaten with them, healed them——and loved them. So should we.
So here’s the whole message today: Jesus came into this man’s home and that man was changed forever. That’s the gospel. Young people: No girlfriend, boyfriend, academic award or athletic achievement is going to give you the joy, peace, purpose, assurance and recovery from the stain and corruption that Jesus provides when that time comes when you ask Him into your home. All the good things the world offers pales in comparison to what Jesus gives!
Again, consider his joy and the joy that could be yours right now.! Imagine Jesus telling you that He is coming to your home right after this service! If you accept that invitation…if you truly open the door….if He comes into your home….you will never the same again…. and others will see it and wonder what happened to you.
Has He come into your heart and house? If not, why have you not accepted His request?
And if He has come to your home, what were are your resolutions to Him? Regardless of if they as magnanimous and profound as Zaccaheus, did you mean what you said to Him then and are you honoring it now? I have no doubt that Zacchaeus was a changed man—-FOREVER—but are you and I?
It’s a sad and sober fact that quite a few folks declined His offer when He walked on the earth and even now—they offered up excuses. “The house is a mess”, “I have more important meeting that I simply can’t miss”, “Let me check with my wife (husband) first”, or maybe, “Jesus, I’m worn out and just need some time alone this afternoon.”
Zacchaeus is a contrast of character with the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18–23). Both Zacchaeus and the Rich Young Ruler were wealthy men, but one was self-righteous and would not give up his possessions, while the other gave half of his possessions to feed the poor.
By asking the Messiah into his home Zacchaues understood what it meant. The Holy One from God does not come into an unholy place and leave it unholy—-He comes to make things new. You were not saved from eternal damnation to maintain the same outlook, habits, customs, habits and behavior. You were redeemed to be holy, for goodness sake! So was Zacchaeus! He knew that and was dead-set, such as it was able for him, to make things right and set a new path in his life.