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“Taxing Grace: Zaccheus – Saved and Giving”

May 1/16 Lk.19:1-10


We are here because we have all been touched in some way by God’s grace. Whatever other people saw or didn’t see in us, the Lord saw something in us worth saving. It’s all because of His grace.

      Take Zaccheus, for example. What did other people see in him? By externals, he was short, for starters. Luke 19:3 “He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.” The Greek says his stature was “mikros” as in “microscope”. Some might view this as almost a disability, a limitation; but it seems to have developed a resourcefulness in Zaccheus, he was used to looking around at ways to offset his shortness and get the advantage in a situation. V4 “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.” Zaccheus may have been short, but he was not stupid: he had become good at figuring out ways to come out on top – even if it seemed a little exposed, or risky, or precarious. So what if he looked foolish hanging out there on a low limb overhead when the crowd passed by? Zaccheus had gotten over worrying about what people thought of him.

      What else did other people see when they looked at him? Probably someone who could be voted “least likely to be chosen to host a visiting celebrity”. Why? Nothing to do with his physical stature; but because of the way he used people. V2 “He was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.” His resourcefulness had led him to become an agent of the hated Roman government, the occupying alien power. Some of you may have had relatives who in wartime Holland were members of the Dutch Resistance, who risked their lives to thwart the Nazi occupiers. What would your opinion be of collaborators – snitches who informed on those who were in the Resistance, who put the lives of your dear relatives at risk in order to protect their own hides? Politically Zaccheus was an enemy of the common people because he worked to advance the grip of the Romans on the Palestinian population. He was a “turncoat”. And not just a tax collector, but a CHIEF tax collector: head man responsible for a whole division, with other nefarious sub-tax-collectors working under him, farming the well-to-do Jericho trading zone, skimming proceeds off the top with the blessing of their Roman overlords who were happy having local henchman do the dirty work for them.

      People looked down their noses at him – not just physically, but politically, AND morally. In v7 we see him referred to as “a sinner”. Zaccheus, a chief tax collector, was WEALTHY (v2): he had figured out how to milk the system to his advantage. With Roman soldiers at your disposal, who’s going to argue with you if you extort too much money for taxes? They may hate you – call you names and spit at your mention behind your back – but they cannot refuse you or resist you.

      In Canada, when it comes time to pay our taxes, we are blessed to have a system that is basically fair. You fill out your forms, send it in to CRA, their computers crunch the numbers according to previously established policies, and it calculates the amount owing (or maybe even a refund). It matters not whether it’s you or Jane Doe up the street, both are going to end up paying the same amount. But in the case of a tax collector in Palestine in the first century, there was no such protection. It was all up to their whim how much extra they took. And although the system was widely regarded as unjust and unfair, no one could do a thing about it – because it was enforced by sharp Roman steel.

      Zaccheus was short physically; a turncoat, politically; and a cheat, morally. He admits it in his confession in v8, “If I have cheated anybody out of anything...”

      Interestingly, do you know what the root meaning of his name, the word “Zaccheus”, means? It’s from the Hebrew word for “pure”! But in people’s eyes, he was as far away from “pure” as you can get. He had all the purity of a Mafia boss – not just part of a criminally unjust system, but a head official in it.

      All of which makes it very surprising in this story that Jesus singles him out, selects HIM, “a chief tax collector”. Is Jesus making a point here? Is the Lord choosing a sort of “worst-case scenario”? Is God about to prove His grace is sufficient for even the most notorious sort of sinner this world can come up with?

      Jesus’ grace is not blocked by the badness of your condition. Saul was a persecutor of early Christians, hauling them away in chains, throwing them into prison, a violent man, approving of early martyrdoms like Stephen’s. But Jesus changed him around. Later Paul (as he became called) wrote to his protege Timothy, 1Tim 1:14f “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst.” NRSV “of whom I am foremost”; KJV “of whom I am CHIEF”. Zaccheus a chief tax collector; Saul a chief sinner – Jesus’ grace isn’t thwarted by ANY of the terrible things you or I may have done in the past. He delights in coming to meet us when we’re “out on a limb”.


There’s more ways to come up short than just being “vertically challenged”. We see further evidence that Zaccheus is a sort of ‘worst-case scenario’ in v7, “ALL the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner’.” How many of the people? A few? Some? The majority? No – ALL the people. Commentator Robertson acknowledges that Zaccheus was a “notorious sinner who had robbed nearly everybody in the city by exorbitant taxes.”

      So, with such history, people began to MUTTER; tongues began to wag; they complained about Jesus’ choice of host. They were quick to pounce on Zaccheus verbally, to write him off and accuse him as a worthless thief. But in so doing, they were all too ready to rob him and cheat him of any potential. They would have been dead sure nothing good could come of the Master Teacher visiting HIS house!

      Slander cheats others of saving opportunity. Zaccheus may have been a dishonest crook, but everybody else in their hearts dismissed him, discounted him as EVER becoming a person of any worth. In their eyes, he was trash, and they were going to keep him their by the whips of their tongues. The Greek root for the word ‘cheated’ or ‘defrauded’ in v8 is “sycophant” or ‘fig-shower’. The lexicon explains, “At Athens those were "sukophantia" whose business it was to inform against any one whom they might detect exporting figs out of Attica; and as sometimes they seemed to extort money from those loath to be exposed, the name "sukophantes" from the time of Aristophanes down was a general term...to designate, a malignant and base accuser from love of gain.”

      Have you noticed how quick we are, how easy it is, to pounce on others verbally and accuse them based on an insufficient knowledge of the facts? We are so keen to make ourselves look good that our tongues are all too quick to speak ill of others. Accusations and innuendo sell newspapers: the juicier the criticism and more powerful the politician, the bigger the headline. In just the past month, in April alone: the president of Brazil was impeached over charges of using money from the state banks to cover budget shortfalls. The leaked documents from the Panama papers led to the prime minister of Iceland stepping down because he neglected to declare holdings in an offshore company. And right here in Canada, a judge delivered the verdict against a well-known senator, who was under suspicion of falsifying residency and travel expense claims.

      Yes, I’m referring to Senator Mike Duffy. Before the recent federal election, the prosecution against Mr Duffy was such big news that one former Conservative connected to the Prime Minister’s office stated, in his opinion, that party lost the “moral authority” to govern. But – did you notice the outcome of the investigation? On how many of the 31 charges was Mr Duffy found guilty? 27 were dismissed, and the judge found him ‘not guilty’ of the remaining four.

      But what has happened to his name, his reputation, in the meantime? Oh, how we love to accuse others falsely, to judge them without knowing all the facts, to write them off and spurn them as worthless. Col 3:8 “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Titus 3:2 “slander no one...be peaceable and considerate...show true humility toward all men.” Jas 4:11 “Brothers, do not slander one another.” 1Peter 2:1 “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.”

      Who might you be unconsciously trying to keep “cut down to size” by your critical words? Toward whom might God want you to be more appreciative, praiseworthy, giving them the benefit of the doubt?


When others looked at Zaccheus, they saw a short man physically who failed to measure up in every other way, too. When Jesus looked at Zaccheus – He saw something else. He saw someone who could be dramatically transformed by His grace, love, and mercy. He saw another beautiful child of God through faith.

      Vv5-6 “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately.I must stay at your house today." So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.” This is the only case in Scripture where Jesus so directly insists on, invites Himself to, another person’s home! The phrasing is interesting – “I MUST stay at your house today” – sort of as if it’s some divine appointment, a necessity, destined to be in God’s great plan. It must have taken Zaccheus by complete surprise! It certainly took EVERYBODY ELSE by complete surprise – remember, this was the sleazeball universally acclaimed “least likely to be selected to host a visiting celebrity”.

      Jesus sees with eyes of GRACE, not the glare of GUILT. He sees much more in Zaccheus than just the sum total of his past exploitations, his graspings, his complicated compensations trying to seem a “somebody” in spite of his short stature, the long record of his calculating dealings to grab that extra buck (or, denarius). Jesus is looking for, seeking such lost souls, such ‘write-offs’ as others might declare them, in order to save them, redeem them, turn their life around, make them vessels of God’s overflowing grace. Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

      That’s what Jesus is all about. Matthew 1:21 “...you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Luke 5:32 “I have...come to call...sinners to repentance.” 1John 4:14 “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” Ezekiel 34:16 [God the Shepherd of His people declares] “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak...”

      Seeking and saving the lost – spotting and meeting those Zaccheuses dangling precariously out on a limb, ridiculed and rejected by the world at large – is what Jesus is all about, that’s His ‘main mission’. And so it becomes the church’s main mission as well, til He returns.

      We’re in the midst of a capital campaign, and considering certain property needs and possibilities, dreaming about what potential purposes buildings could be pressed into service for. Wherever we end up, serving Jesus must remain at the core of who we are and what we do. If seeking and saving lost people is what He’s about, that needs to be what WE’RE about. There are all sorts of auxiliary programs and outreaches that can feed into that: but our raison d’etre is more than just meeting physical or social needs. The church is the only agency equipped to meet people’s root spiritual needs with the Good News of Christ: that’s a key element no service club or government agency can address. Help people meet Jesus, trust Him, be changed and reclaimed by Him, through faith.


The New Testament is clear: genuine faith has EFFECT, it results in action. James 2:17,26 “...faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead...As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” Zaccheus becomes a model of how felt-grace quickly responds by overflowing in gracious actions to others. V8 “But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’” Wow, that must have been quite a hefty portion of Zaccheus’ holdings! HALF right off the top to the poor. Then, whoever he’d cheated (and judging by the disgruntlement of the crowd, it was quite a few!), he’d repay FOUR TIMES as much out of what was left.

      Not that he had to; the standard for restitution in Exodus 22(1,4) was four times for a stolen sheep that had died, but just two times if the animal was still alive. So Zaccheus was going over-and-above in making restitution. He wanted there to be no question of his new life, he was determined not to skimp on grace toward those to whom he was indebted. He was totally serious about making amends to any he’d shortchanged.

      If you have tasted God’s grace – are you good at “gracing” others? Do you err on the side of excessive loving and giving? Genuine faith is eager to ‘make things right’ with those with whom we may have been “on the outs”. As God has forgiven us, we are to forgive others – a principle embedded at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:12,14f). John the Baptist coached those who were repenting, Luke 3:8 “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” In fact Jesus acknowledges Zaccheus’ official handle has changed from just “chief tax collector” to bona fide “son of Abraham” – his rocky heart has been changed.

      The Apostle Paul coached the early church, 2Cor 8:7 “But just as you excel in everything— in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”


I’d like to close today with a story from our EMC affiliates in Nepal, told by our Global Missions leader, Lou Geense. Listen for how a simple, sacrificial gift rebounds many times over, for God’s glory...

      “...while traveling in Nepal with Pastor Phil Delsaut in 2012...We were invited to speak in a very small church one Sunday morning. After the service, the pastor placed in our hands, five Nepal rupees each. This, she said, was a gift for coming to her church. We were humbled by the gesture and reluctantly took the rupees.

      “We later learned from Tej Rokka, President of the Missionary Churches in Nepal, that this woman was one of several church planters that had no means of transportation for getting around. We asked Tej to convey to her that her gift of ten rupees would be used as seed money for something greater. Soon after, a project of providing bicycles for church planters was born. Many of our churches here in Canada helped to raise the necessary funds. One of the bicycles was given to the woman who had given us the rupees.

      “Tej Rokka was recalling this story recently at a World Partners International gathering in Thailand. He noted that within two years of receiving the bicycle, this woman had a second church with 120 in attendance. This was one of several instances of new churches being planted by the church planters on bicycles. Many people have come to faith as a result.

      “The bicycle project helped to raise awareness of our brothers and sisters in Nepal. When the country was devastated by an earthquake last year, our people responded with compassion and raised funds for the relief effort. Our churches in other parts of the world did the same. The amount raised was significant, but it was like a small seed compared to the tremendous need. This support, however, helped to enable the Church in Nepal to respond effectively to the earthquake crisis in Kathmandu and surrounding villages. Many people have come to faith and have gained new hope for the future. Tej Rokka gained favour with government officials who called on him to help coordinate relief efforts. Since then, the government has lifted many of the restrictions on Christian worship, and many more have begun to follow Jesus.

      “In November 2015, Health Partners International Canada called me to ask if we had any contacts that could use medicines that were designated for Nepal. We have partnered with them previously in the purchase of Health Kits for medical missions and in the training of Traditional Birth Attendants in Haiti. We helped them make the connection with Tej Rokka. Early in January, medicines worth close to a half million dollars (retail) were shipped to Kathmandu for use by the agencies Tej is connected to. Once again, we are thrilled to see how God uses a bit of seed sown in good faith, to produce tremendous results...”

      Zaccheus welcomed Jesus gladly, and demonstrated the joy of excelling in giving as a result of his newfound faith. Being found by Jesus frees us to share His goodness and mercy with others by giving generously in many ways – with abundant fruit resulting! Let’s pray.