Today's message contrasts those who caused problems for Jesus and those who did not. What we will find is exactly the opposite of what we might expect. It was also the exact opposite of what many thought in Jesus' day. We will let the following text speak and then make some observations about it.

"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. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. 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.' So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, 'He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.' 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.' 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.'” (Luke 19.1-10).

One could refer to the above passage and see it as the good, the bad, and the ugly. But, the question is, “Who were the good, who were the bad, and who were the ugly?” And the answer entirely depends upon who answers the question. If you asked the onlookers, they would say that they were the good and Zacchaeus was the bad. After all, it was these observers who “...complained saying, 'He [Jesus] has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner [Zacchaeus the tax collector].'” However, things were not what they seemed! There were several strikes against Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector (and hence stood in opposition to the religious leaders of his day); he was rich, having accumulated his substance from the monies he collected from his countrymen; finally, he was short (just threw that one in for good measure!). Yet, in spite of what the common people and the rulers thought about Zacchaeus, Jesus saw another side, a side that compelled Him to stop and invite Himself to his house.

This contrast is what today's message is all about. What made the onlookers think that they were so much better than Zacchaeus? What gave them the idea that it was all right to place Zacchaeus in the class with other sinners and implicitly exclude themselves from that class of persons? I think had someone asked the critics where they stood in God's sight, their answer would have indicated that God was pleased with them. Definitely had they been asked about Zacchaeus, they saw him on the road bound for hell. Whatever this difference, it was a huge difference. In fact, the difference was so large that Jesus announced to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation is come to this [your] house!”

I want to suggest what may well have been the deciding difference between Zacchaeus and his detractors. Zacchaeus saw himself as a sinner guilty of sins of which he was aware as well as a sinner guilty of sins of which he was not aware. This is what caused him to say that he was willing to restore fourfold to anyone whom he had wronged unknowingly. He openly admitted that he did not know the extent of his own sinfulness. With that, he threw himself on the mercy of the court! His detractors smugly thought they had things figured out and needed no mercy. Zacchaeus needed mercy, but surely they did not!

Jesus' greatest problem was not in dealing with sinners; after all that is all the material he had to work with! Jesus' greatest problem was in dealing with sinners who did not see themselves as sinners!

Questions:

1. What indication is there that the onlookers looked down on Zacchaeus (not on his physical, but on his spiritual stature)?

2. What indication is there of Zacchaeus' humility and penitent heart?

3. How do we know that Zacchaeus did not profess to know the full extent of his sinfulness?

4. Can the rich be saved? If yes, what attitude must they display? How does this attitude differ from the attitude that everyone must display in order to be saved?