Expository Sermon on Luke 19
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 5/30/2020
©2020 by Maylan Schurch
To watch the YouTube broadcast of this worship service, click this link. The sermon starts at the 51:35 mark:
Please open your Bibles to Luke chapter 19.
If you’ve been tuned in to my last couple of sermons, you remember that they’ve been about some ways to deal with loneliness God’s way. We talked about Joseph and Job, who were made lonely through no fault of their own. And then last week we talked about Jacob, who was lonesome for God but didn’t know it!
Earlier this week I started reading through the gospel of Luke, looking for comments Jesus may have made about loneliness. As I was reading along, I suddenly came to Luke chapter 19, and there I realized I had another “loneliness” sermon.
If this were normal Sabbath, and you were sitting in one of these pews with your Bible in your bulletin, you would be able to open up that bulletin and see that today’s sermon title is “The Man Who Was Lonesome for Jesus.” The first 10 verses of Luke 19 tell the story of this man, who was Zacchaeus.
I know I’ve mentioned before a dog our family owned when I was in my upper elementary school years back on a farm in South Dakota. I don’t know where my dad got this dog, and I don’t know why he brought him home to us. I don’t remember longing for a dog, and I never heard my siblings beg for one.
But somehow, we got Poochie. Poochie was very dark brown, and was a mix of dogs, but mostly a boxer, a dark brown boxer.
Poochie was a very serious dog. I don’t think he had a sense of humor. He never frolicked and played, he never happily followed his master – me – when I walked through a pasture. It never entered my mind to throw something and see if Poochie would fetch it. Poochie just wasn’t that kind of dog. I think he considered himself a farmhand, with special portfolio to keep the farm clean of rats. We never saw a rat on that farm. Poochie never brought us rats as gifts, the way some cats bring mice to their owners. Poochie just took care of those rats, and we were never bothered by them.
But Poochie had one soft spot, as far as I can tell. He looked forward to us kids coming home from school every day. When we got home, he never leaped joyfully around us, barking with happy relief.
No, Poochie just watched for us. My brother and sisters and I would often walk home from school, which was a distance of about 2 miles. Poochie knew roughly when we would appear over the eastern hill. So right about then, he would take his place on the sidewalk beside our house, and stare fixedly eastward. And when we finally showed up, he waited for us, and when he saw we were safely in the yard, he went off and did some more rat reconnaissance.
In today’s story we find someone who was very earnestly looking forward to when Jesus would arrive. Even though Zacchaeus probably wouldn’t have put it this way at first, Zacchaeus was lonesome for Jesus. Probably the way he himself would’ve put it was that he was curious about this teacher and healer.
Anyway, let’s look at this famous story, scene by scene.
Luke 19:1 [NKJV]: Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.
Where is the Savior coming from? We are not sure – the Bible doesn’t clearly say. But we know – and He knows – exactly where He is going. In the previous chapter, starting with Luke 18:31, Jesus spells it all out for His disciples.
Luke 18:31 – 33: Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
The next verses say that his disciples don’t get it. They can’t process this horrible news, or don’t choose to. But that’s where Jesus going – up to Jerusalem, to the showdown.
It’s interesting to think about what just has happened. In the last part of Luke 18, just outside Jericho, Jesus heals a blind man. And the last part of verse 43 says, “And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.”
So as Jesus enters into the city, the crowd is probably still buzzing with the story.
Luke 19:1 – 2: Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.
A key point to keep in mind is that Zacchaeus wasn’t just an ordinary tax collector. He was a chief tax-collector. According to research I did this week, this meant that he would have had under him several subcontractor tax collectors, and they would route the collected taxes to him, and he would skim off a portion for himself before handing the money onto the government. And this was working pretty well for him, because the last part of verse two says, “And he was rich.”
And you may already know that tax collectors were despised by the rest of the Jewish people. That’s because the tax collectors were working for the enemy. They were taking the citizens’ hard-earned money and giving it to the occupying Roman government. And the chief tax collectors like Zacchaeus were naturally hated more intensely than the regular tax collectors, because the Zacchaeuses just got richer and richer off the backs of the citizens.
So, just by what he’s doing, Zacchaeus is a lonely man to start with. Naturally, he has all his tax collector friends he can hobnob with, but they feel lonely too. It’s interesting that back in Luke 5:27 and 28, Jesus recruits the tax collector Levi Matthew to be a disciple, and in the next verse, Matthew gives a feast in honor of Jesus. And guess what? Verse 29 says that there were a great number of tax collectors there at that feast!
So anyway, back here in chapter 19, Zacchaeus is not in his expensive mansion counting up his money. Instead, he is trying vigorously to shoulder his way through a large group of people.
Verse 3: And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.
Now it’s pretty likely that, if Zacchaeus hadn’t been a chief tax collector, he could’ve simply said, “Excuse me . . . pardon me . . . if I could just get through,” and a path would’ve been opened for him. The article on tax collectors in The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary says that tax collectors were considered “Jews who made themselves as Gentiles.” So if this Jericho crowd believed that Zacchaeus was selling them out for profit to the Romans, and he’s just as good – or just as bad – as a Gentile, and therefore should be shunned and spurned as just as unclean. So naturally they’re not going to let him get up close to them.
But here is an interesting point, I think. Zacchaeus was lonely because he has chosen a very unpopular profession. But this crowd, as we’ll see in a little bit, was just as lonely.
Zacchaeus – though he doesn’t know it at the moment – is lonely for Jesus. And the people in the crowd, though they don’t know it, are lonely for Jesus, even though He’s right there.
The verse says that Zacchaeus desperately wants to see “who Jesus is.” Why is he so interested? We don’t know. Maybe the news of the healed blind man has traveled to his ears, and he wants to see who could possibly do such an amazing thing. Or maybe it’s something more.
But one thing we are sure of. Zacchaeus is very interested in getting a look at the Man who has drawn such a crowd. So this very wealthy man – who probably is normally a very dignified man – throws away his dignity in a flash.
Verse 4: So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.
I wonder what the crowd thought as they caught sight of the chief tax collector trying to heave himself up onto the lower tree limbs, slipping and scrabbling, his sandals flopping off and dropping to the ground. Maybe everybody burst into derisive applause, and shouted insults at him.
So there’s Zacchaeus up there in the tree. Each of his fists has a death grip on a nearby branch. His muscles are trembling with all this unaccustomed exertion. But now he can see Jesus.
And now the Teacher is just half a block away. The crowd is immense. Zacchaeus recognizes several of the faces. Some of those people glance up at him again and make dismissive gestures. Some mocking voices are heard.
And if Zacchaeus felt alone before, now he really feels alone. It’s the kind of loneliness you feel on a school playground when all of the other kids are teasing you or bullying you, and you don’t have a friend in sight.
What makes it even worse is that Zacchaeus knows just what’s going to happen. The Teacher probably won’t even notice Him because of all the questions people are asking Him about the healed blind man.
And if the Teacher does happen to glance up, somebody beside him will hiss in His ear, “That’s the chief tax collector,” and the Teacher will shake his head in disgust keep going.
But suddenly, Jesus shatters Zacchaeus’ loneliness with an earthshaking act.
Verse 5: And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus . . . .
Zacchaeus’ fingers start to slip from the branches he’s holding onto. Desperately he grabs hold to keep from falling. This Teacher knows his name! “How does He know my name?” Zacchaeus is probably thinking to himself. “But wait! Of course! I am Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector – and I’m about to get severely scolded for doing what I’m doing, right here in front of my victims! I’ll be lucky if I escape stoning!”
But Zacchaeus realizes the Teacher is continuing to speak.
Verse 5: And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”
And right there, Zacchaeus’ loneliness must have vaporized. The Teacher actually wants to step across the threshold of this Jew-turned-Gentile’s home! He wants to sit down at a table with the chief tax-collector! This Teacher, this Healer, wants to be friends!
Let’s pause for a moment while Zacchaeus tries to process this staggering news, and ask ourselves, “What does this have to do with me?”
Well, one thing we could ask ourselves is, “Have I put a distance between myself and Heaven because of what I have done, or what I am still doing? Can I really summon up the faith-gumption to believe that God could ever look kindly on me? I feel lonely from Him – but it’s most likely that He prefers it that way. Maybe I make Him so sick that there is no use of ever daring to think I could be His friend.”
We can take great courage from Zacchaeus’ story. And we can take courage from the story of Paul the Christian-killer. And we can take courage from knowing the kind of people Paul welcomed into Jesus’ family.
Over in 1 Corinthains 6, Paul reads out a list of some horrible sins, and it sounds as though he is going to offer no hope to those who do these things. But then he drops a bombshell.
1 Corinthians 6:9 – 10: Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
Wow. Was that a door slam, or what? But Paul takes a breath and continues:
Verse 11: And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
Those who practiced these evil things were saved from these sins, not saved in these sins. Zacchaeus was sort of a thief, sort of an extortioner, but Jesus looked up at him and took away his loneliness.
And how does Zacchaeus respond? Well, in verse five, Jesus said to him, “Make haste and come down.” And verse six says he (Zacchaeus) “made haste” and came down. Jesus said “make haste,” and Zacchaeus followed His advice to the letter. That’s that same Greek word for “haste,” and in exactly the same form.
So let’s take a cue from Zacchaeus. Jesus says, “Hurry up, Zacchaeus, I’m inviting myself to your house!” Zacchaeus hurried up. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus makes a similar statement to the Laodicean church: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”
If it had been Zacchaeus in that Laodicean house, he would have made haste, hurried to the door, swung it open, and invited Jesus in. And there’s no reason for you or me not to behave with exactly the same rapidity. Here is our Creator, our Redeemer, our Friend, offering us His society for eternity. Why would anyone delay in seizing on this invitation with the almost tearful relief and absolute giddy delight of a Zacchaeus.
Luke 19:6: So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.
It’s too bad the story didn’t end happily ever after. It’s too bad that the crowd didn’t suddenly burst into applause at Jesus’ mercy to a sinner. Unfortunately, things went the other way.
Verse 7: But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
Back when I took Greek in seminary, the teacher took great delight in teaching us the Greek word for “grumbling” or “complaining.” It’s the word gongguzo, in the teacher would say it over and over a few times and say, “Doesn’t that sound like grumbling?” And here in verse seven, it’s not just gongguzo, but diagongguzo. That “dia” on the front gives it more of a punch. This crowd was really grumbling.
Though they’re all bunched together grumbling in unison, this crowd is chillingly lonely for Jesus. Why are they lonely? Zacchaeus was lonely because it was clear to him that he had no place in God’s plans. But suddenly he realized that, rather than him having to scramble desperately up toward God, Jesus knew who he was and had come to visit him.
But this crowd is in a far more perilous loneliness than Zacchaeus ever was. Sure, this crowd is following Jesus enthusiastically – probably because of the miracle they’d seen Him do, and maybe because of the other miracles they’d heard that He did.
But they are as lonely from Jesus as if he were already 12 miles away in Jerusalem. Why were they lonely from Jesus?
Here is the very important answer to that question. They are a long distance from Jesus because they were disobeying commandment number two of the 10 Commandments. They had created God – in this case, created Jesus – in their own image. They did not really know the Jesus they were jostling close to on that Jericho street.
They were assuming that He was the kind of Messiah they wanted Him to be. They were assuming that He agreed with them – agreed with them that chief tax collectors like Zacchaeus weren’t worth His time and attention. They were assuming that Jesus would glance up at Zacchaeus in the tree, and roll His eyes, or give a humorous, dismissive chuckle, and then follow them obediently along to their welcome party.
Instead, Jesus stops, looks up, and invites Himself to the home of Jericho’s least desirable person.
And now, while the crowd stands there going gongguzza- gongguzza- gongguzza to each other, let’s pause to think about ourselves. One of the most dangerous things you and I can do is to let our eyes drift away from real Matthew-Mark-Luke-John print, and reinvent Jesus in our own image. We need to remember that man or woman does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of Jesus. In John 6:63, Jesus earnestly told His disciples, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”
I mean, the real Jesus probably knew ahead of time who Zacchaeus was, and that Zacchaeus was very curious about Him. And it was probably no surprise at all to see this wealthy man clinging to a tree.
And it’s dangerous for us to paint Jesus into a corner. It’s even dangerous for us to paint Jesus as a handsome, Scandinavian-looking man with long brown hair. One of the good reasons God didn’t permit an image to be made of Himself was that the instant that image or painting would be shown to people, God would instantly be limited—limited to one ethnicity, limited to one height, limited to one facial expression.
And Jesus refused to be limited by the preconceived ideas of those Jericho citizens. He had His own agenda, and He refused to be distracted by theirs.
And the absolutely adoring Zacchaeus understood Jesus’ agenda with crystal clarity. This chief tax collector knew exactly how he needed to respond. And notice who he speaks to—not to the crowd but to the Christ:
Verse 8: Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”
Zacchaeus knows perfectly well that being accepted by Jesus calls for a whole-hearted response. Zacchaeus could have responded to Jesus’ offer to come to his house with a polite nod and a “Well, thank you very much. It will be a privilege to host you,” and after Jesus left town, go back to doing just what he was doing before.
Instead, Zacchaeus knowingly or unknowingly understands what a disciple of Jesus does. Devote everything you have—and if necessary, leave everything you have—for Jesus. Levi Matthew was actually sitting at a toll booth collecting taxes when Jesus tapped him on the shoulder. Matthew just stood up and walked away from his business, and followed Jesus. The other 12 disciples did the same with theirs. And in the middle of the previous chapter, Luke 18:28, Jesus promised that it would be made up to them.
Even earlier in Luke 18 we see the story of the rich young ruler, who grew faint-hearted when Jesus asked him to give all he had to the poor. And that’s when Jesus talked about how hard it was for rich people to enter God’s kingdom.
But here’s a man—Zacchaeus—who shows how it can happen. It happens not by being lukewarm toward Jesus and His challenges. It happens by remembering who you are—a sinner whom, amazingly, Jesus loves. It happens by remembering that there’s a better way to live than selfishly. And it happens by remembering who Jesus really is, and what He really came to do.
Jesus mentions this as He responds to Zacchaeus’ statement. And He also makes a very interesting statement. Remember how I mentioned earlier that in one of the study sources I looked at, how the average Jewish person considered that tax collectors were so contemptible that, in effect, they had gone from being Jews to being Gentiles?
Well, listen to what Jesus says after Zacchaeus makes his financial promises:
Verses 9 – 10: And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
I used to read that and say, “Wait. Does this mean that only Jewish people—the descendants of Abraham—can be saved?” No, that’s not what it means. It means that even though the Jewish people considered Zacchaeus and people who did what he did to not be Jews any more, but Gentiles, Jesus says, “No, this man is a son of Abraham.”
And in the last few verses of Galatians 3, Paul goes even further:
Galatians 3:28 – 29: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Would you like to be a spiritual descendant of Abraham? Would you like to leave off any loneliness, any estrangement, you might have from God or His Son?
Would you like to accept Him into your heart the way Zacchaeus did? If you do, why not raise your hand right there where you are.