Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

November 19, 2017 Sermon

Click HERE for an audio version posted on our Facebook page.

Luke 19:1-10

Dear Friends in Christ,

Every once in a while, you hear a story on the news and your response is “What! Who would do that?” Usually it’s a bad thing, like the story about the person who stole the model car from a young girl’s 4H display at the fair; or a story about someone stealing a specialized bike from a disabled child. But, sometimes it’s a story about a good thing someone did. Maybe they paid someone’s medical bills; or played secret Santa and passed out thousands of dollars to strangers. We wonder, “Who would do that?” because we realize that we couldn’t, or wouldn’t be as generous.

In this story about Zacchaeus the tax collector there are a number of things that make us ask, “Who would do that?”

The first thing that makes us want to ask the question, “Who would do that?” is Zacchaeus climbing a tree. If your dad or grandpa suddenly climbed up a tree it would be surprising wouldn’t it? Tree climbing is for kids, not grownups. If someone with an important job who is rich and powerful climbed a tree it would be surprising. It’s not something you would expect them to do. Zacchaeus was the chief of the tax collectors. He was an adult, old enough to have advanced through the ranks of the tax collectors until he made it to the top. Considering the culture of the day, he must have been at least 40 and probably older. And he was rich. Why would he climb a tree?

The Bible tells us some of the reasons. He wanted to see Jesus and he was too short to see over the crowd. But, then why didn’t he just give up, or try again another day? He wanted to see Jesus bad enough that he didn’t want to wait another day. He didn’t care what people thought. He didn’t care if they thought climbing a tree was undignified for someone as rich as he was. He didn’t care if people thought he was too old to be climbing trees and should be acting his age. He wanted to see Jesus so badly because he knew that he needed him badly. He knew he was a sinner. He knew that he had used his power as a tax collector to cheat people and enrich himself. He knew that he had been very selfish, keeping as much as he could for himself, refusing to help others. He had been a real Scrooge! He knew he needed Jesus if he was going to have any hope of forgiveness and salvation.

Would you climb a tree to see Jesus? Would you go out of your way, would you do something people would consider a little crazy, just to see Jesus? When it comes to confessing your faith, in a situation where you know people are going to think that you are crazy or brainwashed if you say to them, “I stand with Jesus. I agree with what God says in the Bible,” do you say it? Or are you too worried about what people might think of you? Are you ashamed to be identified with Jesus, to let people know you are a Christian? Too often Jesus is not important enough for us to climb a tree, to go out on a limb for Jesus.

When that’s the case, it’s probably because we don’t really see ourselves as sinners – Oh, we might admit that we sin, but deep down we think that we really aren’t that bad, lots of people sin more than we do. But when God’s law truly hits home and we realize that we are so sinful that we deserve God’s eternal punishment and our only hope is to see Jesus, then we will be like Zacchaeus. Then we will be willing to climb a tree, to go out on a limb to identify with Jesus, and not care what anyone says or thinks. They might think we are crazy, or brainwashed. They might think, or say, “who would do that?” It doesn’t matter, as long as we can see Jesus and know that he is our Savior.

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. He knew he needed Jesus for forgiveness and salvation. He wanted to see him so badly that he ran ahead and climbed up a tree along the road on which Jesus was traveling. When Jesus saw him, he stopped. He didn’t think he was crazy. He didn’t scold him for climbing a tree when he was too old to be doing that kind of thing. He called him by name, and said Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.

Jesus’ words and actions caused a lot of people to grumble, “who would do that?” “Doesn’t Jesus know who this is? He’s not only a tax collector, but the chief tax collector. Doesn’t he know how many people Zacchaeus has cheated over the years? He’s really a traitor to his own people because he is a Jew who works for the Romans. No one who claims to be godly would give this man a minute of their time, much less enter his house and eat with him. That would be condoning his sins. Why would Jesus do that if he is the Messiah?”

Jesus answers their questions in the last verse. Why would Jesus go to the house of such a notorious sinner? Because the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. He had told people who had similar questions on another occasion, It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Zacchaeus was exactly the kind of person Jesus needed to dine with. He was lost and he knew it. He was sick and he knew he needed a doctor. And Jesus was the only doctor with a cure for his disease. He is the only one who has the cure that we need. Because, like Zacchaeus, each of us is sick. We each have the terminal disease of sin. It will take our physical lives one day, but only Jesus can keep it from taking our spiritual lives. Only Jesus has the right medicine, the forgiveness of sins he won for us on the cross; his blood shed for us and offered to us in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus wanted Zacchaeus to have the forgiveness he knew he needed, so he invited himself to his house. Jesus wants you to have the forgiveness you need, so he invites you to dine with him, devouring his word each day so that he can assure you that he alone has what you need.

Jesus doesn’t excuse sin. He didn’t excuse or condone Zacchaeus’ sins. But do you know who Jesus is really hard on? He is hardest on those who think they are spiritually healthy, who think that they are righteous, who think they are going to be saved because they are a lot better than people like Zacchaeus. Jesus bluntly tells them that tax collectors and sinners like Zacchaeus are entering the kingdom of God ahead of them. He proclaims for all to hear, today, salvation has come to this house, because he too (a tax collector who works for the Romans) is a son of Abraham. He warns those who were grumbling about that fact that he was eating at the house of a sinner, that repentant sinners like Zacchaeus would end up inside the kingdom at the feast of God in heaven while they were in danger of being shut outside of the kingdom for eternity. That’s a warning for us to take to heart because we are often tempted to think that we are healthy and to thank God that we are not such great sinners like so many others.

Jesus came to seek the lost, to save sinners. If you don’t think you are a lost sinner, then you won’t think that Jesus came to save you. Jesus came to serve as a doctor for the sick. If you don’t think you are sick then you won’t take the life giving medicine he offers you.

When Jesus invited himself to his house, Zacchaeus understood what it meant. He understood that his sins were forgiven. Without any prompting he brought forth fruit in keeping with repentance. He stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I am going to give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone out of anything, I will pay back four times as much. Again, we might ask the question, “Who would do that?” And the answer is, a person who has seen how sinful they are, and who has seen all their sins washed away by Jesus. A person who realizes that the sickness of their sin is so bad that they are in danger of suffering forever in hell, and who has received from Jesus, for free, the only medicine that can save them from that terrible, eternal suffering. Those who know that they have been forgiven much also love much.


Zacchaeus demonstrates what Paul describes. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Seeing your sins and what you deserve because of them, and then seeing that your sins are all forgiven in Jesus changes your attitude. Zacchaeus was no longer selfish. He was thinking of the poor, he wanted to make sure those he had wronged were paid back with interest.

It is true that God’s law can guide us in producing fruit in keeping with repentance by showing us things that are pleasing to God and good for our neighbor; but we must avoid the temptation to dictate what fruits repentance we or others must produce. We dare not say, “If you are really sorry then you will do __________. And if you don’t, you must not be truly repentant, and your forgiveness is in doubt.” That would put a condition on the gospel and it would no longer be the gospel. Like Zacchaeus, when we, or another person, recognizes their sin and sees their forgiveness in Jesus they will be moved to produce fruit. If they ask what they might do to show their thankfulness for their forgiveness we can guide them with God’s word, but often, as we the case with Zacchaeus, we won’t have to.

Who would do that? Why would Zacchaeus climb up a tree? Because he knew he was sinful and he knew Jesus was his only chance to be forgiven. He wanted to see Jesus. Why would Jesus go to the house of such a sinful man? Because that’s why he came. He came to earth to save the lost, sinners like you and me. Why would Zacchaeus give generously to the poor and replace what he had stolen with interest? Because the good news of forgiveness in Jesus had changed his heart, and by God’s grace, it has changed our hearts too.