Zacchaeus: A special invitation and a drastic change

How Jesus inviting Himself to dinner changed Zacchaeus the tax collector’s life forever – and how his response can change ours, as well.

Zacchaeus: A special invitation and a drastic change

Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree

In Luke 19:1-10 we can read the story of the chief tax collector Zacchaeus, who promptly accepted Jesus’ personal call to give meaning and direction to his life, even if that meant serious changes in his lifestyle. In this way he became a shining example of what God can do in a human being who accepts this invitation and personally takes Jesus’ words to heart.

There are probably still many people like that, who also sit up in their “sycamore tree,” having heard that Jesus is in town and wanting to see what signs and miracles He is doing. They are observers but have no personal connection to what Jesus preaches.

But Jesus stopped under the sycamore tree and told Zacchaeus to come down quickly, as He was coming to stay at his house. Now Zacchaeus had to make a personal choice. Until then he had merely been a spectator, but now it had become personal. He had to decide where he stood concerning this request—and thank God, he made the right decision!

A personal invitation to you

You can ask yourself what relevance this is supposed to have for us today. There is no Jesus on our path who stops beneath our “sycamore tree,” saying that He wants to come and stay with us. Well, maybe not literally like that, but the Master Himself says in Revelation 3:20, “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.” This is very similar to what He said to Zacchaeus.

In this sense, Jesus is inviting people today just as He did then, to open the doors of their hearts and accept Him as Lord in their lives. These verses in Revelation were Jesus’ call to someone in the church in Laodicea who was lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – so that Jesus felt like spewing them out of His mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked …” Revelation 3:15-18. So you can say that this person was not in a better position than the chief tax collector Zacchaeus, who had been sucking money out of people’s pockets. And yet, Jesus was standing at the door of both of them, inviting them to repent and live a wholehearted and happy life for God.

In the case of Zacchaeus, this invitation fell on fertile ground. May it be the same with us, that we understand the words that Jesus is addressing to us personally—as if He were addressing us by name.

The prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 50:4, “He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned.” Zacchaeus also had this open ear for Jesus’ words, and upon hearing His voice, he immediately followed Him. It was crystal clear to him that Jesus had addressed him personally. In John 10:3, it says that the sheep hear the voice of Jesus the shepherd, and that He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. That is how He did with Zacchaeus and that is how He wants to do with all of us, if only we are willing to listen to His voice and His invitation.

A lifelong love

It must be said that the beginning of Zacchaeus’ life of faith was extremely successful, and according to an old saying, “Well begun is half done.” When people feel a special love for another person who really means a lot to them, then this love can release such positive energy in them, that they are able to do things that otherwise would be extremely difficult or even impossible to carry out.

This phenomenon could also be seen in Zacchaeus. The love he received from Jesus ignited such a strong reciprocal love in him, that it was no trouble at all to clean up his life within a few days and put things right where he had harmed or taken advantage of other people. He even gave half of his possessions to the poor and repaid fourfold if he had cheated anyone.

In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, Paul describes this phenomenon like this: “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”

The Bible does not say much about Zacchaeus’ life after this. We can hope that he retained this enthusiasm and love for his Lord and Master until the end of his life, as it says in Hebrews 6:11-12, “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Have you been forgiven much?

There is also something else to learn from the story of Zacchaeus: how to deal with people when you want to win them for the gospel or Christ. Zacchaeus the tax collector was probably quite surprised that Jesus met him with so much kindness, despite him having so many scams and sins on his conscience. He would probably have expected a severe lecture rather than these good and kind words. So if we want to be a successful “fisher of men,” we should take the words in Romans 2:4 to heart, where it says that “the goodness of God leads you to repentance.” Zacchaeus was a clear example that this method can be significantly more effective than only accusing and reproaching someone and acting as a disciplinarian and taskmaster.

The sinful woman in Luke 7 who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, anointed them with fragrant oil and dried them with her hair probably had a similar experience: “… her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” Luke 7:47.

We can learn a lot here from our Lord and Master: how He treated people, even though, according to our own sense of justice they hadn’t “deserved” such love and so much goodness due to their past behavior. And we can also learn from Zacchaeus the tax collector or the sinful woman, that we too have been personally forgiven much and that we therefore should express our gratitude and love to Jesus and God accordingly, just as these two did!

Did you enjoy this article? Check out more in our People in the Bible series
. Here are some specially picked out for you:

Joshua and Caleb: A spirit of faith

Esther: Stepping outside the comfort zone

Mary and Elizabeth’s absolutely proven guide to friendship

Read the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus the tax collector in Luke 19:1-10.


Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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