Luke 19:1-10.
True Faith Changes Lives.

"How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?"  (You are free to substitute Baptists with any identifyable group of people.)  This riddle was recently posed to me by a friend who wanted to make a point about the difficulty people have with changes in their lives.  We were discussing programming for a Baptist association, hence the use of Baptists in this riddle.  As I was trying to formulate an appropriate number for this riddle, he declared his answer:  "Change?"  The implication is that people do not perceive the need for change at all.

Most people do seek some form of self-improvement, and as long as we are imperfect people who earnestly and honestly seek such improvement, change must be inevitable.  Without change, there is no improvement.  We find this need for change when we take that earnest and honest look at our own lives, and when we do, we find something lacking.  Those who have not placed their faith and trust in God face a significant dilemma when they know in the deep recesses of their hearts that there is something tragically missing from their lives.  They attempt to fill their lives with that which brings them happiness, only to find that those things never bring the peace and joy.  The world teaches the lost to rationalize away the truth so that they will not feel the guilt of their unrighteousness, but such teaching falls short when the Holy Spirit begins to speak to one's heart.  Those who place their faith in God do so from the context of their own culture and their own world view, often bringing with them many attitudes, beliefs, and actions that are not in the best interest of the individual or of the gospel.  Growing in the faith involves identifying those areas in our lives that need change, a response of repentance, and submission to the changes that God brings into our lives that bring us closer to him.

Yet, change comes hard when we have well-established value systems.  How does meeting Jesus effect one's value system?  Each individual forms a complex system of beliefs as one grows from childhood to adulthood.  Most of the attitudes and behaviors that characterize a person come from that set of beliefs that is often referred to as a "world view."  This view includes a set of values that define for each individual what is right and wrong, and what is appropriate and what is inappropriate behavior.  Since each person's set of influences is different, each persons views are also unique.  The social culture of one's formative years, seminal experiences, and the influence of others all serve help shape one's world view.  Most people form their set of values utilizing influences that are worldly and self-centered.  When God is not in the picture when one's values are being established, one's values will always be opposed to godly values, (Rom 3:23) making the acceptance of the gospel message both difficult and dramatic.  Consequently, when one comes to faith in God through Jesus Christ, their set of values must dramatically change.  The apostle Paul refers to this as the "renewing of the mind."

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.  (Romans 12:2). 

"Proving" that which is good and acceptable is the result of a clear and truthful assessment of the full spectrum of beliefs in one's values.  When we look at that which defines us, do we find all that we are and all that we do to be good, acceptable, and complete?  Or, do we find that there are areas of shortcomings, areas of self-centeredness, or areas in our lives that we have not given over to the Lordship of Christ?  Is our personal value system a fully good, fully acceptable, fully complete mirror of God's will for our lives?  If not, there is a need for change.

However simple it may seem, real and substantive change often comes with great difficulty.  We are comfortable with the status quo.  We may fear the sacrifice that change could bring.  Because change is so difficult, it is nearly impossible for an individual to make significant changes in their own power.  Likewise, people cannot typically have much influence in changing other people.  However, God is in the life-changing business.  When God works on the heart, He can bring about the changes in us that are consistent with His will.  The writer of the gospel of Luke introduces us to an individual who experienced a very radical change in his set of values when he met Christ:  Zacchaeus, the tax collector.  His experience can serve as an example to us of God's changing power.

Luke 19:1-2 

And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.  2And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. 

Who is Zacchaeus?  Some background information might be helpful as we seek to more fully understand the events that are about to take place.

The vocation held by Zacchaeus speaks volumes about the manner of person that He was.  The Roman government, upon conquering a foreign country, was predominantly interested in maintaining peace in the conquered region and collecting tribute (taxes) from its people.  Rome placed local residents into government service in order to accomplish these ends, leaving its presence predominantly in the form of the Roman soldiers who maintained the occupation under a few Roman officials.  This government structure employed local residents in almost every facet of government, much as they would be employed if they were self-governed.  This method of government was largely successful in most of the cultures that Rome conquered, but was not easily accepted by the Jews who traditionally demanded theocratic self-rule.  Consequently, any Jew who worked for Rome was highly despised by other Jews.  As a tax collector, Zacchaeus worked for Rome.

The tax collection process was simple.  Each tax collector was given a sector of land within which taxes are to be collected.  Rome dictated the amount of tribute that was to be exacted from that area, leaving the tax collector with some autonomy in determining how the tax would be collected.  Rome would be satisfied simply if the amount of required tribute was remitted, leaving the tax collector to keep as income any excess tribute that he collected.  Consequently, tax collectors tended to be quite wealthy as they considered this extra taxation as their rightful due.  Jews who served as tax collectors were doubly hated since they worked for Rome and also because their wealth indicated that they cheated their own people for personal gain.  We will find that Zacchaeus had made himself quite rich by cheating the people in his region. 

Tax collectors were often organized as an administrative pyramid.  One person could not manually approach each individual in the region and collect the tribute.  The chief collector would have a group of intermediate collectors under him, and each of these would have a group under them.  This pyramid structure would continue to expand until there are enough publicans to make personal contact with each family in the appointed region.  Each time the tribute would be handed up the "chain of command" the administrator at each level would keep some of the income for himself.  Luke introduced us to Levi (Matthew) in 5:27 ff who was working in a tax collector's booth as a tax collector at the bottom of this pyramid of command.  The frequent reference to the disdained as "tax collectors and sinners" points to both the proliferation of individuals employed in this capacity, and the hatred that the people felt toward them.

Though this organization is effective in collecting the Roman tribute, it is also a very simple task to become very rich by exacting more taxes than are required by Rome.  Zacchaeus is described as that chief of the publicans who sits at the top of the pyramid.  He made income off of the taxes he collected both from the public in his assigned area and from those subordinate publicans who turned over their tribute share to him.

How could a Jewish man, raised in the Jewish culture that was so entrenched in its hatred of foreign occupation, take on such a task?  The answer to that question speaks volumes of the nature of the system of values held by the publican.  To serve in this capacity, the Jewish man has to "surrender his righteousness" under the law.  In today's worldly culture, we understand what it means to "sell your soul to the devil."  In ancient Israel, the "devil" in this metaphor is Rome.  That same individual in today's culture would be one who is willing to give up all respectability, and all "righteousness" in order to achieve gain without regard for the injury that such gain causes others.  Once one has made this commitment to greed and has consummated that commitment with great wealth, it is almost impossible for such an individual to turn to God in faith.  (Matt.  19:24).  This is Zacchaeus.


Stambaugh and Balch, in The New Testament in its Social Environment, report that the major fixed taxes in the era of Augustus were the tributum soli and the tributum capitis.  The first was a tax on property, which was assessed at the rate of 1 percent per year.  The second was a head tax on adults, set at one denarius per person year.  In ancient Palestine this applied to every person between the ages of 14 and 65.

The most painful taxes may have been collected in the form of customs duties set at about 2 1/2 percent.  These were collected at the borders of provinces and districts, and additional taxes might be collected at the juncture of major highways and at city gates as the collectors would simply assess the products passing by.  At the gates of cities even produce or firewood was taxed, supposedly to collect Augustus' 1-percent sales tax.

While these taxes seem low to us, we must remember that most of the land was owned by the state, the king, or by large land owners, so the average person paid some 40 percent of his income in rents.  In addition a head tax and tithe were owed to God, and paid to the temple or synagugue.  Also, the local Roman ruler, one of Herodís offspring in our period of study, also collected his due.  Taken together all these expenses laid an unimaginably heavy burden on the average working man, and help to further explain the hostility felt toward men like Zacchaeus. 

Luke 19:3-4 

And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.  4And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. 

Jesus' ministry had been going on now for about three years, so His name and accomplishments were well-known.  Jericho was a large city in the region between Judah and Perea, and Jesus' appearance there was no little event.  Crowds gathered wherever Jesus went, and now, due to the larger population of the city, the crowds were large.  Zacchaeus' sought to get a glimpse of Jesus, but could not see over the crowds of people.  We can perhaps understand why Zacchaeus was unable to push through the crowds to find a spot where he could see Jesus.  He was not only short but, recognizing him, the people were undoubtedly unwilling to part to let him through.

Zacchaeus' determination is illustrated by his ascension of a nearby tree.  One might visualize the narrow dirt street with people pressing on every side, and as Jesus passes under the tree he would look up and see this man, dressed in the garb of a wealthy man looking back at him.  So, Zacchaeus went out on a limb in order to see Jesus.  He was a man who lived with the social rejection, probably planning on retiring somewhere else with his stored riches.  However, God's word is evident to all people (Rom 1), and it caused him guilt.  It was a guilt that had no real solution.  His life revolved around money and had no other purpose.  In Jesus he saw the truth: Jesus taught forgiveness, and he was ready for it. 

How many people go through their daily lives, carrying with them the baggage of guilt?  Like Zacchaeus, those who have not placed their faith in God first know of God's righteousness and their own unrighteousness (Rom. 1).  They know of the sinful acts and attitudes that so characterize their lives, seeking the peace that comes with resolution.  The sale of self-help books is a multi-billion dollar business.  People seek to find the catalyst for change in secular counselors both in the media and without.  Just as people are drawn to that which may bring them a promise of change, Zacchaeus was drawn to Jesus when he had heard of his coming to Jericho. 

Perhaps the hardest message to convey to those who are in need, is that their real need is for God.  It is God who has the power to change people's lives, giving them a permanent release from the burden of guilt and shame that sin brings.  There is no other name under heaven by which people can be saved from their sin, but the name of Jesus, the Messiah, the Creator and Judge who dwelt with us for the purpose of our redemption.     

Luke 19:5-7 

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.  6And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.  7And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. 

As Jesus came to the tree where Zacchaeus was waiting, He stopped and looked up.  One can only image what immediately went through Zacchaeus' mind.  Rejected and despised by all of the Jews, was he about to receive a public thrashing at the hands of this Jewish teacher?  Jesus knew Zacchaeus' name, and addressed him directly.  The sound of his name coming from Jesus would have been astonishing and could have been quite frightening.  Jesus knew Zacchaeus' heart, and his desire for forgiveness, and of his willingness to believe in Him, again a very unusual occurrence for the rich.  Likewise, God knows the name and need of every one whom He has created.  God has that same ability to call every one of us by name and to speak to the very specific needs of our life.  God knew Zacchaeus' need.  While the rest of the crowd was trying to see a spectacle, or maybe see a miracle, or hear some teaching, Zacchaeus simply needed Jesus.

Jesus' request to stop at the personal home of Zacchaeus was probably amazing to both Zacchaeus and to the crowd.  Zacchaeus and those in the crowd would surely expect that, while visiting Jericho, Jesus would be invited to a meal with one of the most respected members of the community.  It is no surprise that Zacchaeus scrambled down from the tree to meet Jesus.  This time the crowd would have parted to let him through.  However, many in the crowd were indignant that this "sinner" would be so treated by Jesus. 

If change were not hard enough by itself, it is unfortunate that submission to positive change so frequently finds resistance by those closest to us.  Just as we tend to attempt to maintain the status-quo, so do those around us, and we will receive no shortage of advice and counsel on how we are OK, and there is no need for change.  The world resists that profession of faith in God, and the evil one will put up a fight in the hearts of those who do not know God in an attempt to dissuade one's faith.  Often, we like the crowd around Zacchaeus will look down upon others, despising them for the "sin" in their lives, considering them unworthy, of little value, and unredeemable.  However, Jesus does not look upon anyone that way.  Jesus knows the potential of a saved heart, and He knew that Zacchaeus was ready to come to faith. 

We often think of Jesus' statement of Matthew 18:6, referring to the casting of one into the sea with a millstone around their neck as an appropriate judgment upon one who would cause a child to lose their faith.  However, the teaching is not limited to a person of young age, but refers to one who is young in the faith.  Jesus saw the potential in Zacchaeus, and Christians can see the potential for salvation in every person who is lost.  While the world shouts words of condemnation, people of faith have the resource to pray for one like Zacchaeus, and earnestly seek their salvation.  God does change lives.  Even Zacchaeus can be saved.

Luke 19:8.

And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. 

What was Zacchaeus' response at Jesus' call? His quick response exposes the nature of his heart, and that the burden of his guilt had been sorely felt for some time.  He saw himself honestly, as he now knew that Jesus did also.  He decided to make a significant change in his lifestyle. 

Was Zacchaeus paying restitution or penitence? His voluntary restitution went far beyond what was expected by law.  First, he promised to give half of his goods to the poor.  This offer is independent upon whether the source of those goods was honest or not.  As a rich man, this could be a substantial amount, and would have a significant impact on meeting the needs of the poor in his community.  Perhaps this was an appropriate gift, considering his lack of his gifting to the poor up to this point.  Then he addressed those goods that he had inappropriately taken from others, promising to restore them fourfold, twice what was required by law.  Though this promise was not necessary for his salvation, for Zacchaeus it was a fundamental first step in his expression of faith and his commitment to repent of his sinful past. 

What we see in Zacchaeus is a dramatic change in values; a change in his world view towards that which was most important to him in the past.  Up to this point in his life, the most important thing was the appropriation of wealth at the expense of others, most notably the poor.  However, as he was gathering is riches, he knew in his heart that his behavior was sinful, and he found himself alienated by the very community he belonged with.  We see in Zacchaeus both confession and repentance, voiced not in the privacy of his home, but in front of the entire crowd of witnesses. 

All it took for Zacchaeus to make the transition from a miserable and greedy man to one who became generous and faithful was an encounter with Jesus.  No person could bring this change for Zacchaeus because no person could forgive his sin and offer him a new start.  God is in the re-booting business as he gives every one of us an opportunity for a fresh start.  It is that fresh start that gives every individual an opportunity for real and substantive change.

Luke 19:9-10. 

And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.  10For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. 

Jesus' proclamation eliminates any doubt of the nature of Zacchaeus' profession of faith.  This is the last conversion to faith that Luke records prior to Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the first act of His Passion.  It might be noted that Jesus' ministry was framed between the conversions of two tax collectors, Levi who worked at the bottom of the pyramid, and Zacchaeus who worked at the top.  In the conversion of Zacchaeus we see an illustration of many of the teachings of Jesus as they relate to the struggle that people have when they are drawn away from faith by the things of this world.  Jesus taught that one cannot love God and love the things of this world, and Zacchaeus is an example of one who lived for the riches he could attain with little or no regard for the consequences on his resulting set of values.

There is a stark contrast between the values of this world, values that are self-centered and ungodly.  The values of this world promise immediate gratification of the senses, a lifestyle of consumption and material gain.  However, what is the value of gaining the entire world, if at the end of life one is eternally separated from God, separated to an eternity in Hell?  (Luke 9:25).  Jesus offers to all people an opportunity for riches that quickly sweep away the attraction that this world offers:  the replacement of the short-term sensations of "happiness" that comes from consumption with true, complete, and eternal peace and joy that comes only from having a relationship with God.  Salvation brings the true peace and joy that people seek for in the things of this world but never find.  Like one wandering in the forest looking for a way out, we are searching through the indulging pleasures of this world looking for that which will fill the emptiness in our soul.  We try to fill that hole with power, possessions, physical gratification, or any other thing that can give us pleasure, only to find that we are still lost, wandering in the forest, doomed to never find a way out.  However, Jesus came to save those who are lost by offering His simple gospel:  God loves you and desires a relationship with you, a relationship that is not prejudiced by the sin in your life, but initially prevented by it.  Jesus taught that we must simply turn from our worldly desires and turn to Him as Savior and Lord, the One who has paid the penalty for the sins of those who turn to Him in faith. 

How does one turn from their worldly value system and meet Christ?  Some may misunderstand how the power of the Holy Spirit works in this scenario.  Jesus did not demand that Zacchaeus "clean up" his life before a relationship with him was offered.  Jesus did not demand that Zacchaeus change his life prior to scrambling down from that tree.  Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus while he was still in the tree, still an unrepentant sinner who did not know God.  Zacchaeus' desires changed after he turned to God through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is the renewed mind (Romans 12:2) that the Holy Spirit engenders that opens our eyes to the futility and powerlessness that characterize the sinful things of this world.  Upon salvation, Zacchaeus saw clearly how he had cheated people, and immediately sought to reconcile the dilemma he had created.  Likewise, we come to Christ with all of our sins and imperfections, and upon turning our hearts to him, the Holy Spirit then opens our eyes to see the truth of the gospel, the power of the salvation of God, and the futility of sin-based values.  It is then that God empowers us to turn from the things of this world, and turn to Him.  Though change still comes hard, the Holy Spirit can communicate His truth to us as we seek to be obedient to Him, and by that obedience, we continually submit ourselves to the small changes in our lives that over time result in a tremendous change in our world view, from that of one who seeks the world, to one who seeks God.

The message we see from the salvation experience of Zacchaeus, and of many others, is simple.  Come to God as you are, and He will give you the power to change your life, and He will impart on you the values of the Kingdom of God.  There is nothing in this world that can compare with the value of that gift.