Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content


Home > Sermons

The Testimony of a Tax Collector

I want to begin reading at verse 1: "Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and saw him, and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.' So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, 'He has gone to be the guest with a man who is a sinner.'

"Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.'

"And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.' "

I want to talk about the testimony of a tax collector. Those of us who grew up in the church remember that rhyme that has eternally embedded Zacchaeus in our minds:

"Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
And a wee little man was he.
He climbed up into a sycamore tree,
For the Lord he wanted to see.
But as the Savior passed his way,
He looked up in the tree,
And he said,
'Zacchaeus, you come down,
For I'm going to your house today.' "

I've always wondered what drove Zacchaeus up that tree. It is out of the ordinary to see a well-dressed, well-educated, high-profile, wealthy man in broad daylight, climbing a tree, and crawling out on a limb.

What made him throw embarrassment, shame, and ridicule to the wind, to do something as uncharacteristic as climbing a tree for all to see?

Zacchaeus takes a hypothetical journey through the Bible.

In order to answer that question and many others, I invite you on a journey. We have traveled to the backside of the Roman Empire, in the sweltering, fly-infested land of Palestine. We have tracked our way across the difficult terrain until we came to the fragrant field city of Jericho. For this is the home of the despised man, Zacchaeus.

We arose early in the morning and traveled with this man to observe what he has encountered as he endeavored to collect taxes. As he traveled, he pulled out his Day-Timer to check the names and addresses of the people he planned to see that day.

It wasn't long before he arrived at his first stop. He noticed that it was an unkempt little shanty in need of paint and repairs. But those things didn't matter to Zacchaeus. The only thing that mattered was the word UNPAID stamped by the person's name that lived there. He knocked on the door. With the eerie sound of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, the door swung open. On the other side was a frail, blind man.

The blind man said, "Who's there?"

And the answer came: "Zacchaeus. I'm here to collect the taxes you owe the Roman government."

In a trembling voice the blind man began to explain his inability to pay his taxes. He said, "I have no family. I don't receive any pension. And there's no society to help the blind. I want to pay you, but I'm not able. But, Mr. Zacchaeus, if you'll give me thirty days, I don't know how, but I'll find the money."

Zacchaeus was caught between money and mercy. He said, "That's not usually my style, but you have thirty days. But blind man, when I get back, if you don't show me the money, you'll be blind and homeless." He turned, and as he walked away he thought, Maybe I'll have better luck next time.

It wasn't long before he came to the second house. He knocked on the door. As the woman opened the door, Zacchaeus saw that there was a problem. The woman was completely yellow, as if there was no blood in her veins. Her hair was matted. Her face was wet with tears. Her speech was slurred. She said, "I know who you are and why you've come. But, Zacchaeus, I don't have any way of paying my taxes. You see, for twelve years I've had a blood disorder. In that time, my insurance was canceled, my husband divorced me, and my inheritance was spent. I need thirty days."

Zacchaeus was caught between greed and grace. He said, "For some reason I feel benevolent today. You've got thirty days. But when I get back, I want my taxes." And as he walked away he thought, Maybe I'll have better luck next time.

On Zacchaeus walked, and around a bend in the road stood the third house. In front of the house stood a woman, listless. She stared off, not seeming to recognize that he was getting closer. He tried to speak to her, but there was no response. Suddenly a blood-curdling scream came from behind him. Zacchaeus whirled to see who screamed. On the hillside, running nude between the stones in the graveyard, cutting himself, was a cross between a man and a wild animal.

Suddenly the woman spoke: "That used to be my husband. He was a good man. I'm praying that one day he'll come back home. I ought to move on with my life, but I love him. He's the father of my children. I don't know if it will ever happen; no man can tame him. No man can bind him. He calls himself Legion 'cause he's possessed by many demons."

Not anxious to dialogue with demons, Zacchaeus began to backpedal. Before the woman said anything about the taxes, he said, "I'll be back in your area in thirty days."

As he hurried away, with his heart still palpitating, he looked in his Day-Timer: one more house to visit. When he arrived, there was a spray hanging on the door, suggesting that someone had died. He knocked anyhow. A grieving woman, veiled and dressed in black, answered the door. She said, "I know who you are and why you've come. Zacchaeus, my son died yesterday, and I'm on my way to the funeral. I had to use the tax money to bury my only son."

Zacchaeus said, "I've already given some of your neighbors thirty days. So I'll be back in thirty days."

Thirty days later, Zacchaeus learns of the power of Christ to transform lives.

The thirty days passed quickly. Zacchaeus left home at the crack of dawn, as he did every day. He opened his Day-Timer and noticed that this was the day he was to return to those four homes—those houses that represented the most nonproductive day in his career as a tax collector. He squared his shoulders and started to walk. He resolved No sob story will dissuade me today. They will either pay, surrender their property, or be thrown in prison.

At the first house he noticed a change. The grass had been manicured. The house had undergone renovation.

He knocked on the door. A man with piercing eyes and authority in his voice answered. Zacchaeus said, "I'm sorry, Sir, but I'm looking for the man of the house."

The man said, "I am the man of the house."

Zacchaeus answered, "No, I was here thirty days ago, and the man I spoke with was blind."

He said, "I'm that man. I was blind. Mr. Zacchaeus, let me tell you a story.

"One day a man told me that Jesus was coming to town. And I ran uptown. I knew it might be my only chance to meet him. When Jesus was passing by, I heard all of the commotion. I asked, 'What's happening?' They said, 'Jesus is passing by.' And I yelled, 'Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!' The townspeople, the mayor, and the council said, 'Hush, you're being a nuisance. You're embarrassing the town.' But I said, 'Jesus! Son of David, have mercy on me!' They tried to push me in the background, but I knew this was my only chance. 'Jesus! Son of David, have mercy on me!' "

The man said, "Zacchaeus, do you have time? Sit down and let me tell you about it. This is the way it was: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found. I was blind but now I see."

As Zacchaeus walked away, he thought, This is some day. A man who was blind, but who can now see. One day I hope I meet Jesus. Maybe Jesus can do something about my condition. That man said that this world's god has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. I hope I can see Jesus someday.

He came to the second house. He knocked on the door, and this beautiful woman, radiant with joy, answered. She had color in her cheeks. She had a new hairstyle. Her nails had been freshly manicured. "Mr. Zacchaeus," she said. "It's good to see you."

Zacchaeus said, "I'm looking for the woman of the house."

She said, "I am the woman of the house."

"Wait a minute. Do you know your blind neighbor down the street?"

"Yes, I know him. But he's not blind any more."

Zacchaeus said, "I know. He paid his taxes today."

She answered, "He didn't tell you? He sold his seeing-eye dog."

The woman said, "Zacchaeus, when I told you to come back thirty days ago, that was nothing but a ploy. I was confident that in thirty days I would be dead. In fact, I had been praying to die. I thought that only death could deliver me from this unbearable existence. But a friend told me that Jesus was coming to town.

"I elbowed my way through the suffocating crowd. When I got close enough, I stretched out and was just able to touch the hem of his garment. And the moment I touched him, the blood that had been flowing for twelve years immediately dried up! But not only was my body healed, my soul was made whole. Even though my faith was inadequate, he made it sufficient."

Zacchaeus said, "I don't know how much of this I can take. A blind man who can see. A dying woman who's full of life."

She said, "Zacchaeus, I know it's hard to believe, but I need to tell you about it. I've had some good days. I've had some hills to climb. I've had some weary days and some sleepless nights. But when I look around and think things over, all of my good days outweigh my bad days. I've made up my mind I won't complain.

"Zacchaeus, I haven't had to pay those doctors any more. I've been able to save a little money. Like my old ex-blind friend, here's the money for your taxes."

Zacchaeus whirled and headed toward the third house. He thought, This is an unusual day. I wonder if I can ever meet Jesus. Like that woman, I've had some long-standing problems. I've had some painful experiences. Maybe Jesus could do something about my problems.

Soon he was in front of that third house. He looked for the woman to be standing out front. But she was not there. When he knocked on the door, the woman answered. But before they could start talking, this handsome, young man walked out from behind her. Zacchaeus's first thought was, I'm glad this woman got a new man. She should have kicked that old grave dweller to the curb.

About the same time, the woman spoke up: "Mr. Zacchaeus, I want you to meet my husband. You haven't met this man, because when you were here thirty days ago, his home was in the graveyard. But look at him now. Doesn't he look good? He's clothed and in his right mind. Mr. Zacchaeus, I owe you an apology. Thirty days ago I told you that no man could tame him. But that was before Jesus. When Jesus walked in, the demons walked out. And look at him! He's a new man.

"Mr. Zacchaeus, if you want to be a new man, meet Jesus. He'll give you a new relationship with your family, with yourself, and with God. Old things are passed away, and behold all things have become new. He met Jesus and it changed his life—"

The man cut in. "Wait a minute. That's good for her to tell it, but she didn't experience it like I experienced it. I want to tell it for myself. Sit down, Zacchaeus. You can't stand up and listen to this."

As Zacchaeus left he thought, A blind man who can see, a dying woman who's full of life, and a demon-possessed man who has been delivered. I've got some demons hounding at my heels. Maybe if I met Jesus, I too could get delivered.

At the last house he thought rather sarcastically, I wonder what surprise they have for me.

When he knocked on the door, the cutest little 12-year-old boy opened the door. Zacchaeus said, "I'm sorry. I'm at the wrong house. The house I'm looking for has no little boy. In fact, thirty days ago the woman of the house was on her way to bury her only son."

The boy said, "Are you Mr. Zacchaeus? Mama's been looking for you all day. She said that you'd be back in thirty days. And Mama said you're never late collecting the taxes."

Zacchaeus said, "Wait a minute. In the house I'm looking for, the little boy is dead."

The boy said, "Mr. Zacchaeus, I'm that boy. I died. My mama's worst fear was that the disease that took my daddy and my older brother would someday take me. And thirty days ago my mama's worst fear came true. I got real sick. And my mother prayed for me. She stayed by my bedside all day and all night. But God chose not to heal me, and I died. My mother saved the money to pay you, but she had to use that money on my funeral.

"As the mourners led the procession out of Nain, there was another procession going in. And the procession of death collided with the procession of deity. Now, Mr. Zac, you know that death and deity cannot occupy the same space. You know that Jesus never attended a funeral. He never preached a funeral. Every time he showed up, he transformed the funeral into a resurrection. And there we were at the gate. Death and deity.

Jesus laid his hand on me. And something began to move in my body. I came back to life, Mr. Zac! When I sat up in the casket, it scared the undertaker so bad that he pushed me on out of the casket and gave my mother her money back. Mr. Zac, here's the money for your taxes."

By the time the little boy finished talking, his mama came out. She said, "He's just 12. He knows a little bit because he's been through it. But let me tell you like only a mama can tell you. You got a little time? Sit down, Mr. Zacchaeus."

He said, "Tell me about it."

She said, "Great is thy faithfulness, O God, my Father. There is no shadow of turning in thee. Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not. As thou hast been, thou forever will be. Great is thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed, thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me."

Zacchaeus closed his book. On his way home, he passed a friend. "Hey, Zac, have you heard?"

Zacchaeus answered, "I've heard all I can handle for one day."

His friend said, "You heard that Jesus is in town?"

"Yeah, I heard."

The man said, "You'd better hurry. He'll be leaving soon."

And as his little feet began to pitter-patter along the dusty road, his life began to flash before his eyes. I wonder if I can meet Jesus. All of my life I've been a successful failure. I've been a paradox, an oxymoron. I'm rich in the things of this world, but poor in the things of God. Maybe Jesus can do something about the emptiness that fills my soul.

So he ran uptown. When he got there, he couldn't see over the crowd. So finally he decided to run ahead of Jesus and the crowd. That's when he saw that tree.

I've been wondering what drove him up the tree. It was his shortage in his relationship with God. It was his being a successful failure. It was seeing all of the things that Jesus had done in the lives of other people. And he thought, I know Jesus is no respecter of persons. What he's done for others he can do for me.

And he was up that tree. And Jesus came by, and saw him and said, "Zacchaeus, come down, for I'm going to your house today."

Zacchaeus slid down and decided for the rest of his life that he was going to walk with Jesus. He thought, First I've got to invite him home with me, because Jesus makes a difference when he goes home with you. In fact, if he doesn't go home with you, he doesn't go at all—because he knows that who we are at home is who we really are.

If you have Jesus when you get home, he'll make a difference in your life and the life of your family, the life of your church, the life of your community, the life of this world.

I heard Zacchaeus say as he walked away with Jesus, "Jesus saves to the utmost. He will pick you up, and he'll turn you around. Yes, Jesus saves."

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?

Related sermons

The Transforming Word

Preaching as discipleship

Drafting Buddies

Spiritual friends set the pace for one another, they stick by each other, and they speak faith into each other's lives.
Sermon Outline:


What made Zacchaeus do such a thing?

I. Zacchaeus takes a hypothetical journey through the Bible.

II. Thirty days later, Zacchaeus learns of the power of Christ to transform lives.


Jesus will make a difference when he goes home with you, too.