The Conversion Of This Small Man Teaches Us Big Lessons
by Dr. Henderson Ward
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Our reflection is on the conversion of a man called Zacchaeus, who was a small man, and we are about to learn some big truths from this small man who also happened to be very rich. All Bible readers will know, almost by heart, the story about this man who, having heard that Jesus was passing that way, climbed up into a sycamore tree so that he might see Jesus. As Jesus walked past he looked up and saw Zacchaeus and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house whereupon the people roundly condemn him for being Zacchaeus’ guest. The gospel narrative is excellently told in Luke 19:1-10 and you should take a few minutes to read the account for yourself.
As we consider this scripture dealing with the conversion of Zacchaeus there are some pertinent factors we should be aware of such as the following.
1. The Bible does not say it is impossible for the rich to be saved but rather it is most difficult since their wealth becomes a mighty hindrance. Saving people is an act of grace and with God all things are possible.
2. Zacchaeus was a thief and extortioner but he was very much a Jew and therefore every inch a son of Abraham. He might have been hated and ostracized by his profession but he was still, like them, one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
3. This was Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem and it was the only time ever that Jesus invited himself to someone’s home. This shows that Jesus will go to the fullest extent to bring to salvation every sincere seeker.
Now let’s contemplate on the conversion of Zacchaeus where we note the following significant truths and we hope that the lessons emanating as we proceed are well learnt and long-lasting.
First we observe that God enabled a temporal confrontation
It is important in acquiring salvation to have an encounter with Jesus Christ for there is no alternative if we are to be saved. Paul did on the road to Damascus; the Philippian jailer did as he guarded the prisoners in jail; the Ethiopian eunuch did as he journeyed in the desert and all believers did as they got saved. And so did Zacchaeus.
We should note that Zacchaeus held a prominent position
This man was no ordinary run-of-the-mill individual for he was a man of high status. In terms of the local situation Zacchaeus was an important man because of his position and wealth and this text puts it like this, “…there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich,” (Luke 19:2)
His job as the chief Roman tax collector nevertheless made him a despised and highly hated figure.
His duties involved exacting exorbitant taxes, paying Rome her share and keeping the rest for his own use as was the custom among tax collectors.
He was regarded as the worst of sinners not just because he was an extortioner but because he worked for the despised Romans.
We perceive that he had a pressing plan
With wealth and privilege many rich people become conceited and proud and pretend they are in need of nothing but not so with Zacchaeus. With all his wealth and power Zacchaeus realized that there was something missing from his life and planned to see who this Jesus was As the scripture declared, “And he sought to see Jesus who he was…” (Luke 19:3a)
Zacchaeus undoubtedly heard things about Jesus which led him to believe that Jesus could do for him what he did for others. This is the beauty of spreading the Gospel so others could hear the good news of salvation.
The moment he heard that Jesus was passing that way he planned to seize the opportunity. Hell will be full of those who had the opportunity to be saved and let it slip. Remember when King Agrippa was listening to Paul as told in Acts 26, he trembled with conviction but turned down the chance to be saved and responded thus, “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28)
Like all those planning to come to Christ it is often the case that they have to face some obstacle or hindrance. In Zacchaeus’ case, as this text shows, it was the crowd, “…and could not for the press, because he was of little stature.” (Luke 19:3b) This is normal and seekers have to be determined to press on and to be strong.
We witness how he hurried to a proper place
People present obstacles when you want to achieve your objective but there are other obstacles and one of the major ones is self esteem that can be imaginary or real. Being a short man in a large crowd could have made Zacchaeus’ plans null and void but he was determined to succeed, “And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way” (Luke 19:4)
Whatever the reasons going through Zacchaeus’ mind he knew this was an opportunity not to be missed. He humbled himself like a little child by climbing up into this tree but he had to do it to overcome the obstacle of the crowd. He was now in the right place to see Jesus and no one could prevent him from seeing Jesus.
It is still true that sinners are allowing the crowd to obscure their view of our Savior Jesus Christ. We encourage all sinners to take a leaf out of blind Bartimaeus’ book as recorded in Mark 10:46-52 for the more the crowd said “hush” the louder Bartimaeus cried out until Jesus heard him and responded. The greater the opposition and the louder the tumult even together are unable to drown out the earnest cry of the sincere seeker.
Then we saw that God extended a typical call
We recognize that God’s call was personal
As Jesus traveled along he came directly to the sycamore tree, looked up and addressed Zacchaeus personally, “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus…” (Luke 19:5b) Jesus knew him by name and did not say “You up there” or “My friend in the tree” but called him by name, Zacchaeus, and demonstrated that God, as always, came looking for us long before we ever thought about looking for him. The call of the Lord, though meant for all, is never a blanket call thrown our way but comes to us personally.
When Jesus called Zacchaeus by name that must have given him the shock of his life! Zacchaeus must have thought; how did he know my name? Just remember that God knows all about you down to the smallest detail.
Just like sinners in a congregation Zacchaeus probably expected to observe Jesus as he passed by, climbed down from the tree and go home a restless man just as before. As you read this reflection and God is dealing with your heart then remember that God is calling you personally. It matters greatly how you respond.
We notice that God’s call was pellucid
There are some people who are wedded to the idea that God’s call to them must be momentous and complex. They think like Naaman the Syrian, the General who thought that the prophet Elisha’s instructions for cleansing him of leprosy was too simple as recorded in 2 Kings 5:11. Naaman wanted ostentation and ceremony but not so with God. When Jesus called Zacchaeus he did so in simple, plain, clear tones that left no doubt as to what he meant as the scripture declares, “…make haste and come down…” (Luke 19:5b)
Make haste means do it right away, act now for this is your moment so seize it.
Come down, come to me, and publicly demonstrate your commitment. This call was as clear as it could be and should be seen in the proper context of acknowledging God openly by remembering what Jesus said. “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33)
We observe that God’s call was preparatory
God always want to do good things for people but not all at once and often in a sequence of steps. Jesus was making this personal call to Zacchaeus to prepare him for what was to follow; the promise was to spend quality time with Zacchaeus, “…for today I must abide at thy house.” (Luke 19:5b) In similar vein the Holy Spirit prepares the heart of sinners to respond to the call of God. No one ever accepts Jesus Christ because he thinks it a good thing and should do it. The Bible is clear on this, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him…” (John 6:44) This is important for just as the farmer prepares his land before he plants seed, God does the same before planting the seed of the gospel in our heart and we need to be aware of what is taking place for our destiny may well depend on it.
If at this very moment God is dealing with your heart then take heed because he wants to do something special for you.
Finally we marveled at how God executed a timely conversion
God’s timely call was instantly heeded
This is every preacher’s delight, every missionary; evangelist and worker in the gospel field know the joy when someone heeds the gospel call. Zacchaeus was obedient to the call of the Savior and did exactly as Jesus instructed, as stated here, “And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.” (Luke 19:6) To be converted all seekers must follow this splendid example shown here by Zacchaeus:
And he made haste, signifying that he made up his mind and he thus gave expression to that commitment.
And came down, demonstrating that the commitment was not just in thought but in deed.
And received him joyfully, showing that he received Jesus not only as a guest to his house but into his heart as Savior and Lord.
All the steps to receive salvation through faith were completed; hear the proclamation, heed the call and make the commitment.
Zacchaeus’ change was highly visible
It is sad that some people claim to be converted to Christianity and yet we do not see any evidence of that conversion. This is wholly inconsistent with the Bible and calls into question the meaning of conversion. The converted Zacchaeus immediately showed the unbelieving crowd the powerful evidence of a changed life as shown in here, “And Zacchaeus stood up, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” (Luke 19:8) The Mosaic Law required that for theft and extortion the guilty had to recompense double the amount, “If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double” (Exodus 22: 4) but Zacchaeus was doing far more; the equivalent of going the extra mile.
This is exactly what happens when sinners get saved, there is always a change and it can be seen. (Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new – 2 Corinthians 5:17)
The confirmation was straight away highlighted
Zacchaeus knew that he was a changed man but Jesus confirmed to him and to all those listening that this man Zacchaeus was now saved for he accepted God’s gift of salvation. This was not an opinion or something to be hoped for but a definite work of grace and this text declares, “And Jesus said unto him, this day is salvation come to this house…for the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)
Salvation always brings with it the witness that it is from above and therefore genuine; the inner witness of the Holy Spirit and the outer witness of a transformed life.
Jesus’ entire mission on earth is wrapped up in these words, “For the son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” What Jesus did for Zacchaeus, and has done for countless others, he can certainly do for any sincere seeker of truth who is tired of the world’s disappointments, frustrations and sheer wickedness and long for something better.
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