You may remember that most Jews despised tax collectors in Jesus’ time. Not only did they work for the occupying foreign government, Rome, but they also made themselves very rich by overcharging their own countrymen. Zacchaeus was no different than any other tax collector of his day: selfish, greedy and dishonest.
However, he heard that Jesus was visiting his town of Jericho, and people were mobbing this well-known teacher and miracle worker as He walked through. Being short, Zacchaeus climbed a tree down the street so that when Jesus passed by, he could catch a glimpse of Him.
But God had more planned for Zacchaeus than just a glimpse of Jesus. He wanted Zacchaeus to know Jesus personally. And was Zacchaeus ever shocked when Jesus stopped, looked up at him, called his name and told him that He must be a guest at his house that day. Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and excitedly led Jesus to his house.
But finding himself in Jesus’ loving and holy presence, Zacchaeus became even more conscious of his own sinfulness, and he realized how uncomfortable he would be with pure and holy Jesus as his guest. What would he do? Unlike most wealthy people whose god is money, Zacchaeus decided to change, making Jesus his Lord. Because money would no longer be his god, he immediately changed his attitude and actions concerning it.
This story illustrates a very important point about salvation. Jesus said that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’s home that day after Zacchaeus repented. That is, Zacchaeus admitted his guilt and changed his ways. Beyond even that, he promised to make restitution to those he’d wronged.
Repentance is an essential part of salvation. In fact, there is no true salvation apart from repentance. Too many people think they’re saved because they’ve prayed a prayer for salvation, but they’ve never truly repented, but have continued living their same old sinful lives. How do you think Jesus would have responded if Zacchaeus had said, “Jesus, I accept you as my Lord and Savior. However, I’m going to continue being greedy and dishonest”?
Q. How did Jesus know Zacchaeus’s name?
A. The Holy Spirit must have revealed it to Him. That is an example of the gift of the Spirit called “the word of knowledge.”
Q. In order to be saved, is it necessary for us to make restitution to people we’ve wronged, like Zacchaeus did?
A. No. We must repent, which means changing our attitude and actions from that point onward. Usually there is no possible way we could make restitution to everyone we’ve wronged before our salvation. However, it is a good idea to try to make as much restitution as is reasonably possible, as a way of showing others that you’ve changed and as a way to gain an entrance to share the gospel with them as well.
Application: The crowds grumbled about Jesus wanting to be a guest at the house of a notorious sinner. But Jesus came to save sinners, and God, knowing the hearts of all people, led Jesus to reach out specifically to Zacchaeus. He knew that Zacchaeus was on the verge of repentance and that a visit from Jesus would be all he needed to nudge him to make the right decision. Let’s pray today that God will also lead us to people who are ready to repent.