(J C Ryle)
“And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. 4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. 6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. 8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. 9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost”(Luke 19: 1-10).
These verses describe the conversion of a soul. Like the stories of Nicodemus, and the Samaritan woman, the story of Zacchaeus should be frequently studied by Christians. The Lord Jesus never changes. What He did for the man before us, He is able and willing to do for any one of ourselves.
We learn, firstly, from these verses, that no one is too bad to be saved, or beyond the power of Christ’s grace. We are told of a wealthy tax-collector becoming a disciple of Christ. A more unlikely event we cannot well imagine! We see the camel passing ‘through the eye of a needle,’ and the rich man entering the kingdom of God. We behold a plain proof that ‘with God all things are possible.’ We see a covetous tax-gatherer transformed into a liberal Christian!
The door of hope which the Gospel reveals to sinners, is very wide open. Let us leave it open as we find it. Let us not attempt in narrow-minded ignorance, to shut it. We should never be afraid to maintain that Christ is ‘able to save … to the uttermost,’ and that the vilest of sinners may be freely forgiven if they will only come to Him. We should offer the Gospel boldly to the worst and wickedest, and say, ‘There is hope. Only repent and believe. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool’ (Isa. 1: 18). Such doctrine may seem to worldly people foolishness and licentiousness. But such doctrine is the Gospel of Him who saved Zacchaeus at Jericho. Hospitals discharge many cases as incurable. But there are no incurable cases under the Gospel. Any sinner may be healed, if he will only come to Christ.
We learn, secondly, from these verses, how little and insignificant are the things on which a soul’s salvation often turns. We are told that Zacchaeus ‘sought to see who Jesus was; and could not …, because he was little of stature.’ Curiosity, and nothing but curiosity, appears to have been the motive of his mind. That curiosity once roused, Zacchaeus was determined to gratify it. Rather than not see Jesus he ran on before along the road, and ‘climbed up into a … tree.’ Upon that little action, so far as man’s eyes can see, there hinged the salvation of his soul. When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.’ From that very moment Zacchaeus was an altered man. That very night he lay down a Christian.
We must never despise ‘the day of small things’ (Zech. 4: 10). We must never reckon anything little that concerns the soul. The ways by which the Holy Spirit leads men and women to Christ are wonderful and mysterious. He is often beginning in a heart a work which shall stand to eternity, when a looker-on observes nothing remarkable.
In every work there must be a beginning, and in spiritual work that beginning is often very small. Do we see a careless brother beginning to use means of grace, which in time past he neglected? Do we see him coming to Church and listening to the Gospel after a long course of Sabbath-breaking? When we see such things let us remember Zacchaeus and be hopeful. Let us not look coldly on him because his motives are at present very poor and questionable. Let us believe that it is far better to hear the Gospel out of mere curiosity, than not to hear it at all. Our brother is with Zacchaeus in the tree! For anything we know he may go further. Who can tell but that he may one day receive Christ joyfully?
We learn, thirdly, from these verses, Christ’s free compassion towards sinners, and Christ’s power to change hearts. A more striking instance than that before us it is impossible to conceive. Unasked, our Lord stops and speaks to Zacchaeus. Unasked, He offers Himself to be a guest in the house of a sinner. Unasked, He sends into the heart of a tax-collector the renewing grace of the Spirit, and puts him that very day among the children of God (Jer. 3: 19.)
It is impossible, with such a passage as this before us, to exalt too highly the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot maintain too strongly that there is in Him an infinite readiness to receive, and an infinite ability to save sinners. Above all, we cannot hold too firmly that salvation is not of works, but of grace. If ever there was a soul sought and saved, without having done anything to deserve it, that soul was the soul of Zacchaeus. (… to be continued)