What kind of “lost” was Zacchaeus?

The TV series, Lost, was a fast-paced, suspenseful, and surreal series about a group of people who survive when their commercial passenger jet, Oceanic Airlines Flight 815, crashes on a remote island in the tropical Pacific.

That is the kind of lost many of us fear.

We do not want to be in a situation where we have no idea where we are, like getting lost in the forest.

When I was growing up, we would go off on driving adventures with my dad taking every little pig trail he could find.

When my mother would become anxious, he would say, “I’m not lost; I just don’t know where I am.”

The creator of the tv series said, “Very early on we had decided that even though Lost is a show about people on the island, really, metaphorically, it was about people who were lost and searching for meaning and purpose in their lives.

Evangelical Christianity has made the idea of lost sinners into this type of lost.

When we say they are lost and without hope, that is what we mean.

They are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives.

A few weeks ago we looked at a different kind of lost—things that are lost.

We looked at the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.

In the gospel reading for today from Luke 19, Jesus concludes His encounter with a little man named Zacchaeus by saying,

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Luk 19:10

QUESTION—which kind of lost comes to mind with this statement from the Master?

Is poor Zach just a wandering soul who has no idea about the verities of life?

Or, is he a soul who belonged to someone but had been misplaced?

Let’s consider the entire story as Luke tells it.

This story is found only in Luke’s account of the gospel.

As Jesus was passing through Jericho, He encounters Zacchaeus.

And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.
Luk 19:2

As chief tax collector, he was the superintendent of customs or tribute in the district of Jericho, where he lived.

This means he was probably the supervisor of all the other collectors, and he drew a percentage of their collections.

We know that tax collectors were despised among the Jewish population, because they served the government of Rome.

Among the Jews, tax collectors were considered major sinners as we saw last time in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

Apparently, though, Jesus did not carry this same prejudice.

Zach, being such a little guy, could not see Jesus because of the crowd, so he climbed up a tree on the road Jesus was taking.

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him,
“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”
Luk 19:5

I doubt that Zach was wearing a name tag.

How do you think Zacchaeus felt when Jesus called to him by name?

Our name is important to us.

And when someone of importance calls us by name, there is a certain feeling of importance that happens to us.

Somebody noticed me.

My mother was president of a local Englebert Humperdinck fan club.

As such, she usually got a backstage pass to any of Humperdinck’s shows.

As she got older and the fan club sort of dissolved, she didn’t make it to his shows as often.

There was a span of 20 years before Englebert came to Biloxi, MS and she was able to go.

When she went backstage, Englebert turned, saw her, and exclaimed, “Lorraine! How nice to see you!”

That was an important milestone in my mother’s emotional healing.

When Zacchaeus heard his name called by Jesus, I think he had the same emotion.

So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.
Luk 19:6

It is no small thing when someone invites you to their home to eat.

It is a sign of respect and trust and was highly regarded as such in Bible times in the Middle East.

Jesus turned it around and invited Himself to the house of Zacchaeus.

“You wanna eat with me?!? Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, but you want to come into my house?!?”

Luke tells us that Zach received Jesus joyfully.

That visit probably included the small band of disciples with Jesus.

Of course, not everyone was excited about this opportunity.

Jealousy and scorn raised its ugly head.

And when they saw it, they all grumbled,
“He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
Luk 19:7

We know of the prejudice, but I think there was probably also some jealousy involved.

Why him? Why not me?

But Jesus had a reason for doing this.

So Jesus said to them,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord,
but only what he sees the Father doing.
For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
Jhn 5:19

This was something that was on the Father’s heart for this lowly man who was despised by his neighbors.

The recognition by Jesus sparked something in the little man’s heart.

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.”
Luk 19:8

We could look at this as being somewhat proud and boastful.

Zach stood and declared how righteous he intended to be for all to hear.

However, we could also take this as a sign of repentance like John the Baptist called for when he said,

Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.
Luk 3:8a

Zacchaeus was stating what he would do to demonstrate his repentance for defrauding anyone.

We should take note of the fact that there is no record of what Jesus said prior to this.

There is no record that the Master said anything to him.

As far as the story goes, this may have happened almost immediately after entering the house.

Jesus didn’t tell him to quit sinning or to quit any extortion he may have been guilty of.

Jesus didn’t ask Zach to believe that He was the Messiah.

If we take this story literally and at face value, we will conclude that Jesus said nothing more prior to this point other than His self-invitation to the house.

If that is indeed the case, what are we to make of Zach’s sudden change of heart?

What caused this turnaround?

Paul gives us a clue which we can apply to the story.
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience,
not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
Rom 2:4

There was a kindness extended to this man that he had probably not experienced before.

Jesus declared what was happening when He said,

Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.
Luk 19:9

In our ordinary way of understanding how the gospel is to be presented and how people are to be saved or born again, this story poses a challenge.

There is no asking for a decision.

There is no pointing out the need for a savior.

There is no pointing out any sins.

There is no call for repentance.

Yet Jesus declared that salvation was given.

What happened?

What made the difference?

Love and kindness made the difference.

Love and kindness is what will make the difference in anyone’s life, especially those who have hardly ever experienced either.

This is what Peter tells us.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
1Pe 4:8

Jesus did not point out or reveal any of Zach’s sinfulness.

He simply threw a love cover over him.

May we also go and do likewise.


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