Author: Ron Graham
Zacchaeus is a familiar figure to Sunday School children, who sing and learn about him. Since they are short people, and most of them like to climb trees, I suppose they identify with Zacchaeus. However, Zacchaeus has a lot to teach us grown ups, especially about true repentance.
Before you study the lesson you might like to read the true story of what Zacchaeus did, Luke 19:1-10.
Zacchaeus was socially somewhat on the outer. First, he was a rich man, and the implication is that he became rich by collecting taxes with rather too much commission, that is to say he was corrupt. Therefore he was probably not well liked. Secondly, he was a man of short stature, so short that he found it necessary to climb into a tree in order to see Jesus, because the crowd around Jesus blocked his view. Zacchaeus was probably more surprised than anybody when Jesus stopped under the tree and honoured Zacchaeus by inviting himself to be a guest in Zacchaeus’s house.
When Zacchaeus heard the people around him grumbling that he was a sinner unworthy of having the Lord as his guest, then "Zacchaeus stopped". He didn't scurry away from his accusers. He stopped, and he faced up to his sin before them all. And "Zacchaeus stopped" in another sense. He could no longer "go on sinning wilfully" (Hebrews 10:26). Zacchaeus had to "awake to righteousness and stop sinning" (1Corinthians 15:4). Right there and then, to his credit, that's what Zacchaeus did .
Zacchaeus didn't try to justify himself in the face of this public condemnation. Instead, he changed himself. He "put off the old" Zacchaeus who was "corrupt according to the deceitful lusts" and he "put on the new" Zacchaeus "created according to God in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24). This turning, this change, is called "repentance" which means to undergo a change of heart resulting in a change of ways. That's what Zacchaeus did.
Zacchaeus did not say, "Well folk, I'm going to start with a clean sheet. I am forgiven, and you all have to forget about the evil I've done." No, Zacchaeus did not try to get out of making amends for his wrongs. Nor did he try to minimise his responsibility. He announced that he would pay half of his riches to the poor, whom he had neglected. With the other half, he would pay back all money he had taken wrongly, giving back four times what he had taken, to return not only the stolen money but also the profit he had made on it. Zacchaeus did this joyfully, because he understood that the grace of God does not excuse us from doing all that we can to right our wrongs, and to "bring forth fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:7-8). That's the Zacchaeus principle, and that's what Zacchaeus did.
Jesus said that Zacchaeus was saved because he was "a son of Abraham". This had nothing to do with him being a Jew, or another of Abraham's descendants. The salvation of any person "is of faith that it might be by grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only those who are of the law, but also those who are of the faith of Abraham who is the father of us all" (Romans 4:16). It is having the "faith of Abraham" that makes one a son of Abraham (Galatians 3:6-7). It is true faith that is behind the Zacchaeus principle. People whose faith is living and true, and who are justified by their faith, are those who make personal sacrifice in order to devote themselves to righteousness. Salvation came to Zacchaeus because that's what Zacchaeus did.