The Lonely Tax Collector:
Probably most of us have had times in life when we have felt unloved, lonely or rejected, but can you imagine what it must have been like to be a tax collector for the Romans in Biblical times? Zacchaeus by very nature of the occupation he had chosen – to work for the Romans as a collector of taxes, must have felt that whole range of vibes – all the time. He would have been despised and feared among his peers. Despised because he was a traitor – a turncoat – he worked for the Romans rather than his own, Jewish community, and feared because as a tax collector one of his perks allowed Zacchaeus to extract taxes a rate of his own choosing. For example, if Rome charged a rate of five percent, Zacchaeus could charge ten percent or even more if he chose, and pocket the rest. This means that he was considerably wealthy. But it was at the expense and heartache of his community.
Tax Collectors in the Church
I wonder, as I sit here thinking about Zacchaeus, what sort of person agrees to take up such an occupation in the first place?
What sort of person makes a career out of leeching the life out of his fellow citizens for the enemy?
As I thought about that, the thought occurred to me that there are “tax collectors” in our churches.
This morning I read a Tweet, sent out by a Christian, tearing another Christian to shreds. After the character assassination the Tweet said “retweet if you agree”. “How awful”, I thought to myself, as I’m sure you’re thinking too. But then the thought struck me; what’s the difference between what that person did, and me saying or thinking something unkind or nasty about someone in my own church fellowship?
Many of us behave as “tax collectors” within our own communities without even realising it. I have done that very thing on many occasions.
Every time I think in my head “he/she did this or that against me – (whether they did or not). that’s “taxing” my fellow believers – it’s taking something from them; it’s siding with the enemy, who is “the accuser” Revelation 12:10 “he who accuses them and keeps bringing charges [of sinful behavior] against them before our God day and night.”
When you or I do this, we are doing Satan’s dirty work for him – not that different to Zaccheus really.
He Recognised His Need For Jesus
Zacchaeus, along with everyone else in that area, had heard of Jesus; the one who was going about the region healing people. And at least on some level, he must have believed that the message Jesus was preaching had truth to it. Why else would a wealthy, well dressed government official throw dignity to the wind, tuck up his clothing and clamber up a tree to see over the crowds?
I’m guessing there was a gnawing emptiness inside Zacchaeus. Why? Because it’s there in the heart of every person who tries to do life without Jesus. Deep down, a sense of “what’s the point in all this?” No matter how powerful, rich or successful we are, without Jesus all of us are are nothing, and life is empty ( see John 15:5 )
Zacchaeus may not have even understood what was happening in his own heart in those moments; perhaps he disguised his actions as simple curiosity, but deep down this man had a desperate need for forgiveness, love, acceptance and real, God given life purpose. I believe his move towards Jesus was genuine, because of Jesus’ response. Jesus always sees though fake and pretence into the deepest recesses of the heart.
He Was Willing To Let Go of Pride
Something else that stands out to me is this: the crowd was in the way of Zacchaeus getting to Jesus – literally, because he was small in stature. So Zacchaeus put aside his pride – his very dignity- and climbed a tree, risking ridicule. I mean, what sort of man who wants to be taken seriously by his peers climbs a tree?
This shows me a man who was desperate to see Jesus. He wasn’t going to let the crowd stand in the way. Either literally or by any scorn that might come because of his actions.
How often do we let the crowd stand in the way?
When you feel the Lord leading you to do something that will bring you closer to Him – maybe it’s as simple as raising you’re hands in worship in church, sharing a prophetic word, or something even more personally stretching – do you fear what the crowd will think? Or are you so desperate to “see” Jesus that no crowd is going to stand in the way? I have to admit, I sometimes hover behind the crowd, rather than push forward and climb the tree. We can learn something from this plucky and tenacious tax collector.
Maybe the “tree” some of us need to climb is that of pride. Do you need to go back to that church you left in a huff 5 years ago and make right with the people who were hurt? Do you need to let go of the pain and anger in your heart held for so long towards your ex wife or husband? Perhaps even tell them you forgive them?
Look at what God promises: Jeremiah 29:13: “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”
Jesus Saw Him
Surrounded by throngs of people, some pushing and jostling to get a better view of Him, some wanting to touch Him, hear Him speak, maybe even see a miracle, Jesus spots Zacchaeus in the tree and calls Him by name. He looks up at him and says . “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”
I think Zacchaeus was probably as amazed as everyone else, but he responded immediately and “took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy”
We aren’t privy to the whole conversation that took place at Zacchaeus’ house between Jesus and Zacchaeus but we can clearly see that there’s been repentance a life turnaround through the encounter.
Whatever Jesus said to him, whatever encounter took place between them, changed him deep in the inside and made him want to live differently.
Everything changes when you know you’re loved.
For years, Zacchaeus had cheated and swindled people out of money. Now, we see at the end of this story how Zacchaeus promises to give back four times the amount he had taken and to give half of his wealth to the poor.
The law only required that you pay back double what was stolen, so four times was not required. This shows how Zaccheus’ heart had changed – softened and healed. Zacchaeus had woken up that morning a taker and he went to sleep that night a giver.
Only a personal encounter with Jesus can do this.
Jesus knows your name. He sees you in your tree
Just as Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, He calls you.
He says to you “Today when you hear (My) voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness. Hebrews 3:7-8 – Hebrews 3:7-8
Wherever you or I are ‘at’ right at this moment, Jesus sees us. He knows all our secret fears, hurts hopes and the sins we think are hidden. In Isaiah 30 we are told that God waits to be gracious to us.
This requires an action on our part. Zacchaeus climbed a tree – it wasn’t so much that Jesus wouldn’t have seen him through the crowd. Jesus was God incarnate, He was Immanuel “God with us” – If Zacchaeus had been hiding at the back of the crowds and Jesus had decided to call him out, he could have done so. But an important lesson we can see in this beautiful encounter is that Jesus responds to our moving towards him. Zacchaeus wanted to know who Jesus was, so he took action. And Jesus respond in love.
Therefore the Lord waits [expectantly] and longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; Blessed (happy, fortunate) are all those who long for Him [since He will never fail them]. Isaiah 30:18 (AMP)
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