READ : Luke 19:9-10
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Luke 19:9-10 rsv
It’s fascinating to read what Jesus said about His mission in life. The first thing that impresses us is how often He describes His life as a coming. He rarely speaks of having been born for this or that. But again and again, He tells why He came. Think about that. It implies that He didn’t begin to live when He was born. Rather, He came here from somewhere else. It’s as though He had a previous existence, and then decided at a specific point in time to enter our history. His birth was an arrival from another realm. But more about that later.
Think with me now about why He said He had come. He told Pilate when He was on trial, “For this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). That was it – to bring a message, to bear witness, to tell the truth. On another occasion, He said to the Pharisees and Scribes that He had “come to call sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). That is, He came to be a preacher, summoning the rebellious and disobedient to return to God. He said once that He had come “that people might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). He was the Life-giver, the Joy-bringer, the One who fills the cup of all who receive Him. All those announcements shed a welcome light upon His mission. But none of them, perhaps, captures as fully why He came this way as these words in Luke chapter 19, verse 10: “The Son of man has come to seek and to save what is lost.” That’s the heart of His mission. Jesus talks about something lost that He comes to look for and longs to save. Let’s think about what that all means.
First, the part about something lost. In the Bible the image of lostness always makes us think about sheep. They are forever wandering, drifting, straying out of sight. The one who loses them is their shepherd. Jesus’ words here are an echo of language like that in Ezekiel’s prophecy. God speaks about His people as so many lost sheep. He says, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak” (Ezek. 34:15-16). The weak and crippled, the strayed and lost, are people, God’s people. By their own waywardness or by the neglect and cruelty of their human leaders, these people have gotten far from God. They have removed themselves from His care, and are vulnerable to all kinds of predators and dangers. They are lost to His presence and His purposes. They aren’t following Him; they’ve lost their way. Like shepherdless sheep, if they aren’t rescued, if they aren’t found, they are certain to perish.
The lost sheep, the lost soul that Jesus is especially speaking of here in Luke chapter 19, is a man named Zacchaeus. Listen to his story:
He [that is Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it they all murmured, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. [And then come those moving words we read before] For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:1-10).
Zacchaeus, as Jesus notes, is an Israelite, a son of Abraham, a part of God’s ancient flock, but he has wandered far from God. Zacchaeus is looked on by his own people as a turncoat, a traitor. He collects taxes for the hated Roman overlords. That’s bad enough, but he has also become very wealthy in the process. In addition to his wages as a tax collector, he gets to keep everything he collects above a certain sum. The more he can squeeze out of his Jewish countrymen, the more he enriches himself. He must have squeezed hard, because he was very rich.
We get a sense of how the citizens of Jericho viewed this Zacchaeus from their response when they learned that Jesus was going to his home. They murmured, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” They must have known, these students of the Old Testament, that we’re all sinners. We’ve all gone astray. We’ve all turned to our own way. That’s a given. But this man Zacchaeus, they believe, is an especially notorious sinner. His disobedience to God and his heartlessness toward people are well known. He’s a flagrant, red-handed transgressor. That’s part of his lostness. He’s estranged from God. He’s alienated from people. He’s drifting off in the wrong direction, in danger of finally perishing.
Now here’s the marvel of Jesus’ mission. He says that He has come to look for, to seek, people like Zacchaeus! Apparently, no one else in Jericho was looking for Zacchaeus, unless to settle scores with him, to beat him up. The people of that city, especially the most religious ones, want nothing to do with the likes of this tax collector. They would rather die than go inside that scoundrel’s lavish mansion. It would be to compromise their integrity, to defile themselves by fellowship with the morally perverse. Who cares for Zacchaeus? Who’s knocking on his door? Who wants to take him out for coffee? No one!
No one, that is, but Jesus. We’ve just read the story. Zacchaeus has apparently heard about Jesus. Something has piqued his curiosity. He would like to see what the man from Nazareth looks like. But there’s a problem. Jesus is always surrounded by a crowd and Zacchaeus feels disoriented by crowds because he is so short. So this rich man, with his expensive robes, climbs a tree to get a look at Jesus when He passes by. Maybe if you’ve visited this part of the world, you’ve seen some of these sycamore – sycamine – trees. My grandchildren would love to find one. They are great for climbing. The branches start out very close to the ground and they grow horizontally – limbs of great length and girth. I’ve seen some of those trees that a hundred Roman soldiers could have sat in at one time. There he was, little Zacchaeus, as the procession passed by. He wanted to see Jesus.
Even more, Jesus wanted to see him. Beneath the tree He looked up and their eyes met. Jesus called Zacchaeus by name. That must have surprised him. He told him to hurry down out of the tree, because, He said, “I must stay at your house today.” The crowd was stunned. Of all the places Jesus might have chosen for rest, for hospitality, this was the most unlikely. Imagine the great prophet visiting a greedy extortioner! Jesus entertained by “public enemy #1”!
But He was determined to go through with it, despite the heavy disapproval He felt all around Him. He went to Zacchaeus’ house, talked with him, ate at his table, treated him like a friend.
Why would You do it, Jesus? Why would You seek out a man like Zacchaeus? Why would You go looking for the worst man in town? What does that say about Your capacity to size up people? What does it say about Your character, that You want to associate with a man like this? Here’s the Lord’s answer: “The Son of man has come to seek and to save what is lost.” Jesus is out to save Zacchaeus. He wants to rescue him from the doom toward which he’s headed. He wants to restore him as the man he was meant to be. He wants to tell him the truth, to call him to repentance, to give him life, to do all those things He came to do for lost people.
And that’s exactly what happened. Zacchaeus became a new man. If you want to know what it is to be saved, you can find a lot of clues from looking at Zacchaeus after Jesus met him. The first thing we notice is that “he received Jesus gladly.” He did exactly what the Lord said, came down out of the tree in haste and welcomed the Lord to his home. And he did it joyfully. I doubt if Zacchaeus had been a very happy man up to this point. Maybe he gained moments of glee from counting his money. But imagine what it was like to be scorned and hated as he was by all his countrymen. Yet when he sensed the love and acceptance of Jesus, he was glad.
Isn’t that always one of the marks of the forgiven? It’s such a marvelous thing to have your burden lifted, not to need to pretend to hide anymore, to know that you are loved in spite of all. That makes the heart sing.
To many people, religion seems a burden. See them in church and you might think they were attending a funeral or listening to a boring lecture. But where they have tasted what it is to be forgiven, where they have known that, through God’s love in Christ, they are accepted totally, you don’t have to tell them to be happy. Joy comes welling up.
Another mark of a saved person is generosity. Who could have believed that Zacchaeus, money-hungry Zacchaeus, would stand up and say, “Behold, Lord, here and now I’m giving half of everything I have to the poor.” And he was a very rich man. Such liberality was almost unimaginable in Israel. The rabbis sometimes counseled the wealthy that they should give away 20% of what they have. But this man, 50%! Right now, he announces, he is going to write the check, as it were.
Maybe it was because he realized that Jesus’ coming to him, accepting him, forgiving him, was all sheer gift. He was overcome with how the Lord had blessed him and shown him undeserved favor. That unlocked the prison doors of his heart. His long captive sympathies came streaming out. What formerly he had treasured and guarded, now he wanted to give away. It was as though the Lord had said to him what He said to His disciples on another occasion, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8b, kjv).
That’s what grace does. It makes givers out of us. When we know that God so loved the world that He gave His only son, His dearest and best, out of love for us, it moves our hearts and opens our hands. We become extravagant donors.
Here’s another mark of saved people – they engage in restitution. Zacchaeus says, “If I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” There was a provision in the Old Testament book of Leviticus that if you had gotten money dishonestly, you were to give it back with an additional 20%. Zacchaeus had decided to go an additional 300%. He wanted to do what was right. He wanted to act with justice. But he wouldn’t stop there. He was turning from his old ways with a vengeance, determined to become more noteworthy in restoring than he had ever been in demanding.
That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? What all the scorn and censure in Jericho had not been able to do for Zacchaeus, all the hatred and contempt, one encounter with Jesus did. Zacchaeus would never be the same. He was a saved man.
What makes all of this so powerfully encouraging to me is to remember who Jesus is. He is the Son of the Father. He is the Messiah, God’s Anointed One. He comes to do the will of God. His passion to seek and save the lost represents God’s purpose. His mission reveals God’s heart.
We get a hint of that in the words Jesus spoke: “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” That must is a term for necessity. “I have to do this, Zacchaeus. It’s not simply that I’d like to do it. It’s My task. It’s what I’m sent for. It’s what God has purposed for Me.” Realize that, friends, savor it. God sent His Son to seek and save us. Jesus came, lived, taught, suffered, died, rose again for us because God wanted to find us, restore us, forgive us and bring us home.
You may feel like Zacchaeus today. You know you are a moral failure. You feel keenly the disapproval of the society around you. Maybe you are behind bars. You are so despised by others that you scarcely have any self-respect left. Let me tell you today, in God’s name, that He cares about you. It’s precisely for people like you that Jesus came and for whom He died. And if you will receive Him gladly, the miracle of grace can happen for you, too. You can this day be saved and begin a new life.