As Jesus traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem, He went through Jericho on the way. This was a standard travel route, down along the Jordan River, then over through Jericho before ascending up through the narrow pass of the Wadi Qelt in the Judean wilderness.
It’s here in Jeeicho where we find Zaccheus. What do we know about him other than that he’s “a wee little man?” Well, we know he’s influential. Zaccheus is the Chief Tax Collector. All the other tax collectors report to him, and he skims off the top. Sort of a first century pyramid scheme. This makes Zaccheus very rich. But Zaccheus is not influential in a good way. He’s corrupt. He takes what isn’t his. He cheats others out of their hard earned money. Zaccheus is probably the most hated man in Jericho!
When Jesus calls Zaccheus out of the sycamore tree he’s climbed in order to see Him, Jesus says, “Zaccheus, quickly come down, for I must stay today in your house.”
I’ve always imagined that Jesus went to Zaccheus’ house for a meal. That would be bad enough, right? Eating in the home of the most hated man in Jericho!
But did Jesus just eat with Zaccheus? Jesus said “stay today.” And then the people start gossiping, “He went in to lodge with a sinner!”
Did Jesus actually spend the night in Zaccheus’ home? It appears so. And wouldn’t this make sense. Think about it…
It takes several days to walk from Galilee to Jerusalem. Jesus would have to spend the night in several homes along the way, or sleep under the stars exposed to the elements. Jericho would be the last city to lodge at before ascending up through the wilderness (really a barren desert) toward Jerusalem.
Doesn’t the image of Jesus sleeping in the home of the most hated man in Jericho deepen the scandal even further? What a profound statement Jesus makes!
Jesus is a “friend of sinners.”
And consider this event in contrast to Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Ruler. That young man believed he could somehow earn God’s favor. “What must I do?” Zaccheus knows he can’t earn God’s favor. He knows he’s a sinner. He hears it every day from those he’s extorted.
When Jesus said it was hard for a rich man to inherit eternal life, He didn’t mean impossible. That’s what His disciples heard. But now here is Zaccheus, a rich man, befriended by Jesus. Zaccheus confesses his sin. He wants to be right with God. And Jesus tells Zaccheus and all who are listening, “Today, salvation has come to this home!”
“With man, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”
Zaccheus is living proof!
And then Jesus makes an even more stunning declaration. I’ve never made the connection of the story that follows until now.
There in Jericho, at Zaccheus house, Jesus tells the parable of the man of noble birth who appointed 10 of his slaves to manage his wealth while he was away. One increased his master’s wealth he’d been entrusted with by 100% and was blessed accordingly. A second increased his master’s wealth he’d been entrusted with by 50% and was blessed accordingly. A third hid his master’s wealth he’d been entrusted with so he wouldn’t lose it. He increased it by 0% and was punished accordingly.
So what does this have to do with Zaccheus that I never saw before today? Telling this story in Zaccheus presence after he’s just repented of his sin and embraced Jesus as Savior would be Jesus’ not so subtle rebuke of those who self-righteously judged Zaccheus and thought God would accept them because they weren’t a “sinner” like him. Like the slaves who increased their master’s wealth 50% or 100%, Zaccheus was acting on his faith. The self-righteous townspeople weren’t exercising faith in Jesus. Their attempts at rule-keeping righteousness made them slaves of the law. They were like the slave who “kept” what was given but failed to do anything with it.
Is Jesus not only telling the crowd that Zaccheus has received salvation, but also that Zaccheus (the most hated, corrupt man in Jericho) will be blessed more than all of them? What a stunning development! Can’t you imagine how incredulous this made everyone.
Wow! When Jesus saves a notorious sinner, He really shakes things up. Zaccheus, the Apostle Paul, the “worst of sinners” become trophies of God’s grace!
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