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Lost and Found

Jesus' encounter with Zacchaeus is a fulfillment of his mission.
This sermon is part of the sermon series "The Heart of Christ". See series.


Some of you may have heard of Anthony Bourdain. He has a reality show on The Travel Channel called "No Reservations." He's a chef who travels around the world and eats different foods. How many of you would like that job? So there's one episode when he's in Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East, and he's sitting with some guys from the UAE around a low table. There's one common dish loaded with meat, rice, and yogurt. Everyone sticks their hands into this dish, balls up some of the rice, grabs some of the lamb, and eats it with the yogurt. They all share the same dish.

That's so much closer to the way they ate in Jesus' day than the way we eat in Western culture, where everyone has his own plate, knife, and fork. People don't like to share their own food. In Jesus' day, you'd break some bread off of a loaf and use it to scoop food out of the common bowls in the middle, much like they do in Dubai.

In Jesus' day, when you ate with people, you really ate with people. And it wasn't just about food; it was about friendship, acceptance. Who you ate with said something about you, and likewise, who you refused to eat with said something about you.

So Jesus is traveling. He's on the move. When he passes through a town, he picks someone to eat with. In this story, Jesus is traveling down to Jerusalem with a crowd to celebrate the Passover feast. Of all the houses in Jericho, of all the people who Jesus could have picked to stay with, he chooses a guy who others would avoid, and causes a scandal. Jump into the story with me here in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 19.

Zacchaeus encounters Jesus.

As Jesus enters Jericho with the crowd, the camera angle shifts and focuses on a tax collector in the town. Tax collecting was like legalized extortion. Everybody hated the tax collectors, because they broke you. So the camera shifts to Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector. He's high on the food chain as far as tax collectors are concerned. And he's probably one of the richest people in the neighborhood.

Verse 3 says, " [Zacchaeus] was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature." Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus but can't because of the crowd, so "he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way." This is astounding. In this culture, being a person of wealth gave you the right not to run—the right to mosey—yet Zacchaeus runs. More than that, he climbs a tree like a 12-year-old. But he doesn't care. He sheds his dignity, because he just wants to see Jesus.

This is where the story gets weird. Not only does Zacchaeus see Jesus, but Jesus sees Zacchaeus. Jesus looks up, sees this fully grown, wealthy man up in a tree, and he calls him by name. He says: Zacchaeus, come down. I'm going to stay at your house. Zacchaeus is ecstatic to open his home to Jesus. And a visit from Jesus means a meal with Jesus. They're going to sit together and break bread together. Believe me: this causes quite a scandal.

This story is a good story to know for those mornings when you wake up and acknowledge that you're not the person you wish you were. On those days when you feel you're far from God's grace, just knowing that Jesus points to Zacchaeus and calls him by name can offer you hope.

This story also partially reveals what kind of behavioral changes you might anticipate when God moves in. What happens to Zacchaeus through this encounter? When you open your life to God's movement, what are some behaviors and attitudes that might shift, and what might be ignited?

A third reason why this is an important story to know is that I have a feeling that we're in danger. It seems like many growing Christians increasingly spend their time only with other Christians. But Jesus seems to have this pattern of spending quality time with people who, to me, appear far from God. Letting this story change your heart might shift around some patterns in your life. What if having a heart that beats with Jesus' heart means demonstrating genuine love for people whose lifestyle choices you vehemently disagree with? What does genuine love look like? This story shows us what genuine love looks like.

We hear three different reactions to what Jesus chooses to do in this story. The first voice is the voice of the people who are simply shocked. The second voice is the voice of Zacchaeus and how Jesus affects him. The third voice is the voice of Jesus as he speaks of his mission. We're going to explore these three voices.

The voice of the observing crowd

The first voice is the voice of the people who are watching. Verse 7 says, "And when they saw it, they all grumbled, 'He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.'" The first voice is a voice of genuine confusion. Jesus is going to dip bread with someone far from God. These people are shocked.

Let me tell you what I would have said if I had been there: "He has gone to in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." I assume I would have said that, too, because had I lived back then, I probably would have found myself in the same religious rut these people were in. It's important that we not place ourselves above the characters in the Bible who we see are getting it wrong. Had we been there, we would have had the same reaction to Jesus' behavior.

Before the Romans had come to Israel, Israel had been invaded by the Greeks, who had brought a Greek standard of morality and a set of Greek gods. A group of Israelites rose up and called themselves the "separated ones." They determined not to bow to the Greeks, but rather to uphold God's laws. They made a distinction between what God called clean and what was unclean, and they avoided the unclean. They also determined what people they considered clean or unclean. If you were one of the separated ones, you would never dip bread with someone who was unclean, or you would become unclean by association. Eating with people like Zacchaeus just wasn't done. People like Zacchaeus were the compromisers.

What the crowd sees when Jesus goes to Zacchaeus' house is simply that Jesus has gone to be the guest of a sinner. They react with confusion, because of all the people to eat with, why would Jesus be associating with Zacchaeus—someone who is unclean?

You see, when you encounter an individual who loves life and beauty, who loves honesty but also mercy, who reflects truth but also offers grace, who heals and restores, something powerful is bound to happen. The crowd of people senses that power; they just don't know how to make sense of it.

The voice of Zacchaeus

There's a point during Jesus' meal with Zacchaeus when Zacchaeus stands up with an announcement. His is the second voice we hear in this story. Verse 8: "And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, 'Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.'" This is the voice of genuine movement.

This is what happens when God moves in. Zacchaeus' perspective on life is significantly altered through his encounter with Jesus. His life is no longer about just him. His life is not about his house, his clothes, himself. That is the heartbeat of true, biblical generosity.

Zacchaeus' voice is also the voice of restitution. He clearly has some broken relationships, and he recognizes his need to repay what he has taken. When you give your heart to Christ in a new way, anticipate these things to bubble up to the surface. Expect a new heart of generosity, and expect a heart of restitution—a heart that wants to make things right. Making things right might mean getting in touch with people from your past—people you may rarely see anymore. You just know you have to say you're sorry. This should be normal behavior for people who are following Jesus.

The voice of Jesus

A third voice that we hear in this story is the voice of Christ. After Zacchaeus stands up and makes his announcement of generosity and restitution, Jesus says, "Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."

By calling Zacchaeus a "son of Abraham," Jesus is saying the Zacchaeus is indeed in the line of promise—the promise God had made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier. Zacchaeus is in the line to receive all of the blessings promised to Abraham and his children. He is not cut off, despite the poor choices he had made.

Jesus also says that he came to seek and save the lost. He came to restore the lost, like the shepherd seeks to save the lost sheep, or the woman who loses a coin searches her house until she finds it, or the father welcomes home his son who has wandered far in rebellion.

Jesus is in Jericho, headed to Jerusalem, and this story takes place a week before the Crucifixion. This is one of the last things Jesus does before he goes to be crucified. I think that when Jesus says, "the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost," he is speaking not only to Zacchaeus but to everyone around. That is the mission he is on—to search out and restore the lost.

Two dangers we face as Christians

As Christians, it seems, we are in danger of one of two things—things that can prevent us from experiencing the type of life change that Zacchaeus experienced with Jesus. The first danger is when those who are growing as Christians only live life alongside other growing Christians. They are kind of quarantined. I call this extreme separation. If I ask you to name a person you genuinely love who is far from God, there ought to be some people who come to mind. As we see in our story today, Christ sought out and spent time with people who had been living life far from God. We are called to do the same.

Some of you are thinking, That is totally not my problem. All my friends are hell raisers, and I'm happy with that. I blend right in. But that is the second danger. There should be something distinct about the Christian life—something distinct about how you handle yourself, your vocabulary, your sexual habits, your habits of generosity, your extensions of grace. If you're a follower of Christ, you should stand out as being different.

These are extremes. One danger is extreme separation from the world outside of the church; the other is blending in, where you become so much a part of the world that you lose all the distinctions of Christ. How can we live somewhere in the middle of these two extremes? How is it possible to be pursuing the Christ life and to be at home with people who are not? How can we view people as they are without defining them by their behavior? It's a dance, and many of us are just beginning to learn the steps.

Jesus danced this dance of grace with Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus wasn't just a tax collector. He was a man with a name and a house and a story and a life. Jesus looked up in the tree and called him by his name. Jesus was not afraid to see Zacchaeus for who he really was and to reach out to him. Yet Jesus did not blend in. He ate with tax collectors, but he did not become one.


Something powerful happens when we encounter someone like Jesus—someone who loves life and beauty, who loves honesty and mercy, who reflects both truth and grace, who heals and restores. We will be changed like Zacchaeus was changed.

Jeff Manion is the senior pastor of Ada Bible Church in West Michigan, where he has served for over 30 years.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Zacchaeus encounters Jesus.

II. The voice of the observing crowd

III. The voice of Zacchaeus

IV. The voice of Jesus

V. Two dangers we face as Christians