Once upon a time, there was a wee little man who climbed up in a sycamore tree and was never the same again. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Maybe when you were young you even sang a song about him. His name was Zacchaeus. The day he met Jesus he was changed. That’s what Jesus does to people. Jesus changes us. Brennan Manning once said, “Every Christian knows that God loves them. But that fact often remains just a tenant of the mind. Until it gets in your heart, it remains information. Once it gets into your heart, it results in transformation.”
That is the story of Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus lived in the wealthy and important town of Jericho. He probably fancied himself as a wealthy and important kind of guy, too. Jericho was one of the greatest taxation centers in Palestine and Zacchaeus was a tax collector. He worked for the Romans who oppressed the Jews by taxing them dishonestly for personal profit. Zacchaeus and tax collectors were symbols for the worst kind of people and the Jews despised them. Zacchaeus probably oversaw a large tax district and had other collectors working for him. He was selfish. He was greedy. He was a cheater. And Jesus was about to chase him down because Jesus loved Zacchaeus.
When Jesus was passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus wanted to see Him. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead recently less than 15 miles away and Zacchaeus would have heard all about it. The Bible describes throngs of people surrounding Jesus in Jericho. There was talking and shouting and pushing as people gathered around Jesus. Since Zacchaeus was only about two feet tall (according to the hand motions of the song), there was no way he could get a good look at Jesus. Climbing a sycamore tree seemed to be the answer to his problem. It may have been the most humbling thing Zacchaeus had ever done. It wasn’t every day someone would see a proud Roman government employee lift up his robe and climb up into a tree. Maybe as God was coming toward Zacchaeus, God was moving Zacchaeus’ heart to come to Him. Zacchaeus would have been staring into the crowd coming down the road. Maybe his heart skipped a beat when Jesus stopped under his tree and looked up directly at him. When Zacchaeus looked down into Jesus’ eyes, he was forever changed by the unconditional love of God. That’s why when Jesus told him to get off of his lofty perch and take Him home, Zacchaeus did it.
As the onlookers grumbled, the Bible tells us that Zacchaeus rejoiced as he walked to his home with Jesus. Sitting before Jesus, Zacchaeus quickly became aware of his dark heart and deeds.
He announced he would give half of his possessions to the poor and pay back four times the amount of anything he had cheated others. Jewish law required a return of 1/5 restitution for money pocketed by fraud. Zacchaeus went above and beyond that amount. He had new riches. His love of money was replaced by his love for the Lord. Jesus answered Zacchaeus, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Once upon a time, there was you and there was me. We were also lost in the pursuit of our own selfish plans. We were all perched on some lofty place our pride put us. Even in the midst of all this, Jesus chased us down and looked into our hearts saying, “Let me in. I want to be with you on this very day.” Opening the door to our heart, we were never the same again. Because no person is too little to be loved by Jesus.
We are chased and we are changed by the love of Jesus.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.-2 Corinthians 5:17