Zacchaeus, a dramatic conversion

In this post, I want to talk about perhaps, one of the most dramatic conversions in the New Testament. It is the story of a man of small stature but with a big heart for God, Zacchaeus. Luke, the only gentile writer of the Gospels narrated Zaccheaus’ story of conversion in the 19th chapter of his book. It is indeed a heart warming story of Christ’s great love and compassion for those longing for God’s forgiveness.

The Man
Luke introduced Zacchaeus as a “chief of tax collectors who was very wealthy”. Tax collecting in the New Testament was the most hated of all occupations. Tax collectors were Jews who were employed by Roman contractors called publicans to collect money from their fellow Jews. Tax collectors were extremely corrupt in their practice. They gathered more taxes than what were required and the excess collection went into their own pockets. In one of his sermons, John the Baptist rebuked them for committing such a great crime for over taxing their own countrymen. The Pharisees and religious leaders pungently avoided the tax collectors all their lives. They did not even dare to talk or mingle with them to avoid getting “contaminated” with sin. All Jews categorically labelled tax collectors as “sinners”, viewing them like mercenaries working for the tormenter of their race.

The Encounter
Zacchaeus learned that the Lord Jesus Christ was on His way to his hometown of Jericho. While Jesus was on his way, Zacchaeus eagerly inched his way to the crowd and tried his best to see Jesus. But because of his small stature, he failed. He then ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree when he saw Jesus coming toward that direction. Then the unexpected took place. Jesus looked up and called him by name saying “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). As he was going down from the sycamore tree, I just imagine what his thoughts were after Jesus called him by name and told him He wanted to stay in his house.  Maybe it was something like, “oh, how come this Jesus knew my name’? If he knows my name, surely he knows my life. He surely knows that I am a great sinner! How could he come and stay in the house of a sinner like me?”

The Restitution
Immediately after Zacchaeus went down from the sycamore tree we will read that they were already in the house of Zacchaeus. He was standing before the Lord and saying “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:5). Now that’s an evidence of true repentance! Zacchaeus did not only repent from his sins but initiated restitution for every transgression that he has committed against his fellow Jews. Such was a proof of genuine conversion. Zacchaeus put his knowledge of the Lord in action and he received forgiveness from sins. Jesus Christ said to Zacchaeus later:

Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham (Luke 19:9-10)

The Lessons
The life story of Zacchaeus teaches us that the Lord is ready to forgive those who genuinely repent regardless of the magnitude of sin. He will not by any means drive away those who wholeheartedly seek Him. David said “a broken spirit and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. The Lord Jesus Christ knows not only our names but our whole life. There is none that is hidden to Him. All He needs is for us to recognize that we have fallen short before His glory and ask for His pardon. It is an assurance from His words that if we confess our sins, ‘He is faithful and just and will forgive us from our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

We can learn a lot from Zacchaeus, and if needed we can show the same determination like he did.

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