Zach in a Tree

March 22, 2015

The crowd surged
toward the road, pushing and shoving to get a better look at the man called Jesus.  The city was Jericho and it was wall to wall
people, each one of them eager to get a look at the young carpenter from Nazareth
that everyone was talking about.   It was
his first time to this historic city but obviously his reputation had preceded
him.  The people had come out in mass to
see this man who had made the lame to walk and the blind to see, to see the one
who could speak and make the winds die down, who could command and see the
demons flee.

Not that Jericho was
a stranger to the holy and the awesome. 
It was at Jericho that Rahab the harlot hid the spies of Israel, it was
at Jericho that Joshua was commanded to take off his sandals because he was
standing on holy ground, it was Jericho that the people of Israel marched
around seven times and when they shouted to God and blew their trumpets it was Jericho
that came crashing down.   It was going
into Jericho that Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus, and it was on the road from Jerusalem
to Jericho that the Good Samaritan came upon the unfortunate traveller who had
been robbed and left for dead. 
It was a rich city,
referred to some as the city of palms, while the Jewish historian Josephus
called it “a divine region”.  And so it
was through Jericho that Christ came on his last visit to Jerusalem. Jericho
which had the largest tax base of any city in Palestine.  It was the perfect place for a corrupt little
tax collector to live, a corrupt little chief tax collector named Zacchaeus to
be exact.
The bible tells us a little bit
about Zach in Luke 19:2 There was
a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and
he had become very rich.
1) Zach Was A Tax-Collector
Now that doesn’t say
a lot but we need to recognise the fact that Zach wasn’t everybody’s favourite
person, as a matter of fact Zach wasn’t anybody’s favourite person not even his
mother’s.
That may seem more than
a little unfair but Zacchaeus was a tax collector and Jericho was a city of
great wealth and one of the greatest tax bases in the area, and it was from the
wealth and the poverty of the people of Jericho that Zacchaeus amassed his own
personal fortune.  You have to remember
that Palestine was an occupied country under roman rule and so even if the tax
collectors weren’t notoriously dishonest they had taken service under the Romans
and because of that they were considered both renegades and traders by their countrymen.
Let’s take a moment
now and have everybody visualise Joe Oliver our illustrious Minister of Finance,
if you thought it was Jim Flaherty you need to catch up on your news.  Ok, If you don’t know what Joe Oliver looks
like here you go, you got that picture in your mind?  Now add to that the amount of tax you had to
pay this year on everything except the air that you breathe, right?  Now multiple the distaste you feel for the
right honourable Mr. Oliver by 7.6543 and you may be close to how the people of
Jericho felt about our hero.
The tax concessions
were like franchises.  The Roman’s
assessed the area and what they felt the tax should be, and then they sold the
right to collect those taxes to the highest bidder above that amount.  The trick being that anything the tax
collector collected over the set fee was his cut that was how he paid the
bills.
If you think that
our tax load is high there were four distinct and separate taxes levied in Palestine
at the time.  First was the stated tax
and that was paid for everyman between 14 and 65 and every woman from the age
of 12 to 65 and that was a flat rate that you paid simply for the privilege of
being alive.  The second was the ground
tax, you got it; that was the tax you paid on the ground you lived on
regardless of whether you owned, rented or borrowed it.  The third tax was income tax and I’m sure I
don’t have to explain that to you and the last tax was something which they
called duties and it basically taxed everything that hadn’t been taxed up to
that point.  It paid for the use of
roads, harbours, the market etc.  For
example there was a tax levied on a cart and it was based on a set fee for each
wheel as well as for the number and types of animals which pulled it. 
In duties there were
purchase taxes and import taxes and export taxes.  A tax collector could stop you on the road
make you unpack your load and then charge you tax on what you were carrying in
your bundles.  The rabbis spoke of
robbers, murderers and tax collectors in the same breath.  Do you recall that whenever the Pharisees
became critical of the company Jesus was keeping they always spoke of “tax
collectors and sinners” at the same time. 
That was part of the reason that tax collectors were barred from the
temple.  And Zacchaeus wasn’t just any
tax collector he was the chief tax collector.  
In every sense of the word he was the man everybody loved to hate.
Luke
19:3
He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he
was too short to see over the crowd.
2)
Zach Had a Problem   
Now somewhere somehow this tax collector had
stumbled unto news of Jesus of Nazareth, a Godly teacher who associated with
sinners and tax collectors.  What type of
man was this?  Why was he willing to be seen
in the company of those whom polite society shunned?
And now he hears
that this Jesus fellow is right here in Jericho!  And so as the crowd surges forward toward the
road way to catch a glimpse of the one whispered to be the messiah, Zacchaeus
joins in the attempt to view the carpenter from Nazareth.  And I’m sure that as Zach tries to get through
the crowd that people begin to recognise who he was and they begin to push him
this way and shove him that way..  And
even as they struggle to see the prince of peace they took the opportunity to
vent their frustration on poor old Zach.
You see Zacchaeus
had a major handicap, he was short.  Not
that being short is necessarily a handicap, unless of course you are standing
on the sidewalk trying to watch a parade. 
Now to be truthful we don’t know how short he was, but it must have been
short enough for Luke to feel like he should mention it.
Every one of us has
a handicap of some sort that can keep us from seeing Jesus.  Maybe it’s a cultural handicap.  If you were brought up Jewish or Muslim then
you would have a predefined concept of who Jesus was and that could prevent you
from seeing him for who he really is. 
The same would apply if you were brought up in a home that was hostile
toward the gospel and the church.  If you
are only hearing the name of Christ as a curse, and always hearing that the
church is this or that, it would colour your opinion and become a handicap to
you accepting the gospel.
Sometimes it’s just
the opposite.  It’s unfortunate but true
that while many Christian parents are very adamant about making their kids
religious they are very lax about making sure that their kids have the
opportunity to become Christians.
Years ago I read a
statement that warned Parents about the dangers of inoculating our children
with small amounts of Christianity so they never catch a dose of the real
thing.  And so what happens is that if we
have been told about Jesus Christ all our lives but our parents have never
taken the opportunity to introduce us to him we may not be able to see him
because we think we know all about him.
Here is a little
aside for the parents of children at home, the person with the primary
responsibility to lead your child to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is not Deborah
and her team in the Nursery, or Marilyn and her team in junior church or Ben
and his team in youth or Denn Guptill in church.  The person with the primary responsibility
for leading your child to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is you.  You see at some point in your child’s life
you will experience a relationship where they will exhibit the utmost trust in
what you say, now that may only last for twenty minutes, but it’s at that time
that you as a Christian parent have an obligation to lead your child into a
personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Now if your response
is “I’ll wait until they get older and let them decide for themselves” realize
that every year they go without accepting the lord increases the chance of them
not accepting him and going to hell. 
Like when was the last time you let your kid’s wait until they were
sixteen to decide if they should go to school, or go to the dentist.  “I’ll let them decide for themselves whether
or not they want a job and teeth when they are adults”.
Zacchaeus had a handicap that
kept him from seeing the Lord and in that he was somewhat like each of us.  And so he decided that if he was going to
overcome his handicap he would have to take matters into his own hands and so
we are told in Luke 19:4 So he ran
ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to
pass that way.
3) Zach Was a Risk Taker
I love this picture,
here’s short little Zacchaeus gathering all his robes, and probably very nice
robes, remember how rich he was, 
gathering all his robes up and racing madly down the street.
Now I might be
making some unfair assumptions but I would suspect that Zacchaeus was probably
very dignified and superior acting in keeping with his position.
Now I like being
tall and when I want to make an impression I use every one of my 187 cm to make
that impression.  But I would suspect
that Zacchaeus used his air of dignity to accomplish the very same thing.  Somehow though the picture that comes to mind
of Zacchaeus racing as fast as he can, picking up and putting down those short
little legs, his robes gathered up in his arms. 
Is not real dignified is it?
So he gets down the
street and he still can’t see Jesus but he sees the crowd surging toward him
and he suddenly realises that it don’t matter how fast he runs that when the
crowd gets there he’s still gonna be too short to see over them.  Off to one side he spots a sycamore tree and
he rushes over, lifts his robes and starts to shinny up this skinny little
tree. Ladies and gentlemen pause if you will and try to imagine yourself
climbing a tree in an evening gown, quite an image isn’t it.  That was what Zacchaeus had to do in his
robes.
You see in order to
overcome his handicap, Zacchaeus had to first overcome his pride.  I don’t know what keeps you from seeing Christ
as saviour, but if’n I was a gambling man I’d bet dollars to donuts that a lot
of it was pride.  Don’t let pride stand
in your way because there won’t be a lot to be proud of in hell.  The story is told of Harry Ironside, one of
the great bible teachers of the last century, as a child.  One evening after the family came back from
church Ironside confessed to his mother that during the invitation to come
forward to accept Christ that he had felt to go but was afraid that his friends
would laugh at him.  His mother told him,
“Harry, your friends may laugh you into hell but they will never be able to
laugh you out of hell.”  Your pride may
get you to hell but it won’t do you much good when you get there.
So there he is in all his
dignity the chief tax collector of Jericho up in a tree watching the parade and
Luke tells us in Luke 19:5 When
Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!”
he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”
4) Jesus Found Zach
I love it, it was
because Zacchaeus was willing to break with tradition and go against the flow
that something wonderful happened.  Jesus
came to his house for lunch.
I’m sure if Zacchaeus
had any friends that they would have said “you can’t do that Zach”  “what will people think” “it’s never been
done like that before”  “what will people
say if you fall out of the tree?”, “this Jesus fellow is going to think that
you are some kind of nut case” as luck would have it though Zacchaeus either
didn’t have any friends or there weren’t any around.  I once saw a bumper sticker that sums up my
approach to life, it said and I quote “no guts, no glory.”  Now I know that doesn’t sound real spiritual
but if we’re going to get anything done for God then we are going to have to
take a risk. And I get sick of little churches and little pastors who bemoan
the fact that they never see any growth or any action in their church but they
wouldn’t know a risk if they fell over one let alone took one.
When Jesus calls
people he calls them out of mediocrity and into risk taking.  If the twelve hadn’t been willing to take a
risk then the gospel wouldn’t have spread throughout the holy land, and if Paul
hadn’t been ready to take a risk then the gentiles would never have heard the
gospel.  And if Luther hadn’t taken a
risk we would still have a pope and if john Wesley hadn’t taken a risk then we
would still have the archbishop of Canterbury.
And if folks hadn’t
taken a risk then there wouldn’t be a Cornerstone Wesleyan Church.  And if Zacchaeus hadn’t been willing to take
a risk he would never have met Jesus.
Listen to Luke 19:9-10 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for
this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came
to seek and save those who are lost.”

5) Zach Found Jesus

Salvation has come to your house, praise God Zacchaeus got saved.  The chief tax collector, one of the most
hated men in Jericho had opened his heart to Jesus and Christ had washed that
sin stained heart whiter then snow.  But
why Zach?  Because Jesus said that he had
come to seek and to save what was lost. 
You don’t need to save those who are already saved, you don’t have to
give sight to those who can already see or heal those who are already well and
those who are already found don’t need finding.

Zacchaeus was a sinner but then
again according to Paul in Romans 3:10 As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one.
One of the hardest
steps in finding the saviour is admitting that you need a saviour, but the fact
of the matter is that everybody has as much of a need of Jesus as did Zacchaeus.
Luke
19:8
Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the
Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have
cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

Ain’t it great?  They say a leopard
can’t change his spots, well if he gets saved he’d better.  Not only was Zach a saved man he was a
changed man as well.  Wealth was
everything to Zach and he gave half of it away to the poor, and then he used
the other half to right any wrongs,  he
told people, if I cheated you out of $100.00 then I will repay you $400.00

You never realize
how much things mean to you until you have to get rid of them, when we were on
our way to Australia I couldn’t understand why Angela was getting so upset over
selling some old furniture, well I discovered a few flaws in my character when I
sold my car and my motorcycle within seven days of each other.  My neighbour summed it up when he said “Denn
you’re living in an empty house and driving a borrowed car.”  I realised then just how I’d been building
bigger barns and I knew that if I learnt nothing else from my decision to move
to Australia that it shed a whole new light on what things I owned and what
things owned me.
The truth of the matter is that
Zacchaeus was a changed man because his priorities had changed.  How about it, does 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that
anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a
new life has begun!  Apply to you?