Luke 19:1-10: “The Signs of True Repentance”
“And He entered and was passing through Jericho. And behold, there was a man called by the name of Zacchaeus, and he was a very wealthy chief tax gatherer. He was trying to see who Jesus was, and he was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. He ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way.
“When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’ He hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’
“Zacchaeus stopped and said to the LORD, ‘Behold, LORD, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost’” (Luke 19:1-10, NASB).
It is amazing how some people came into the presence of Jesus, and yet ignored, mocked, or came to hate Him for His claim to be the Messiah and Savior of His people and all who would come to Him throughout history. Jesus shatters every and any belief that we can save ourselves and make everything right between ourselves and whatever people want to call their deity, or if they believe in anything other than themselves. The flood of books, TV shows, seminars, and an endless line of motivational speakers and celebrities who think that they know what is best for you spread special secrets, mantras, formulas, talks, and luxury dreams for a modest price or fee guaranteeing success, happiness, satisfaction, or anything that avoids the gnawing fact that this is not all there is to life and something more meaningful has got to exist.
We are also witnessing the number of non-religious homes, and preferences are growing rapidly in the country, stating that they practice no religious observation, or prefer not to reveal what they consider valuable and personal, or are outright hostile to any form of devotion or acknowledgement of a Supreme Being. There are people who see the political upheaval of the nation as an exercise in freedom from religion and a desire to do away with it altogether, along with anyone who has a practicing faith, namely Christians if you have been paying attention to the conflicts between churches and government powers in more progressive states and cities.
We are also seeing more so-called “Christian celebrities” and “pastors” publicly renouncing and walking away from the faith, embracing atheism or skepticism. In doing so, they fan the flames of rank unbelief and doubt in young people and those who had followed these artists and their sermons, songs, or teachings that expressed an alleged devotion to the LORD, but really is a means of making a living and earning fame – until they got what they wanted and then left, leaving a trail of shattered souls, mocking the God whom they claimed to serve.
Major Christian denominations have embraced political and social issues and acceptance of behaviors that were at one time declared sinful and perverse, but now are welcomed in the name of “love” and “tolerance” in order to get along with what some churches tend to think is a way of sharing the Gospel with these people. Perverse behavior and its demands allow for no surrender of their lives to Jesus Christ, but to be accepted as they are or else face the consequences.
Bible colleges and seminaries do not even know how to define the term “salvation” in terms of believing in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ alone to provide it by His sacrifice for our sins on the cross. For fear of being seen as “non-inclusive” and “intolerant,” or “narrow-minded,” many have embraced a type of spiritual relativism that approves of the idea that any old path will get you to eternal bliss, and Jesus is just one of many ways. Far too many confessing “Christians” are now aligning themselves with that idea for fear of being labeled intolerant or losing a job or being flunked out of a class or other situations. Too many people identifying themselves as “followers of Jesus Christ” have no idea about Him or what the Bible tells about Him, if they even read the Bible regularly instead of letting it collect dust in the back of the closet or shelf.
Due to what I am convinced of is a lack of basic knowledge of what it really means to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, along with a fixation on world events and personal apathy towards anything related to godly conduct and living, there are only a scant few who really know what it means to live and act in a manner that glorifies and honors our Lord and Savior. We need to return to the purity of God’s Word to understand what is involved concerning authentic salvation and a life that reflects a genuine change of heart that is witnessed by others. The encounter of Jesus with Zacchaeus presents such a scene.
Zacchaeus is a man who lives under a cloud of hatred and personal contempt by the citizens of Jericho for who he represents and what he does for a living. He is a chief tax collector and is responsible for the establishing of revenue, fees, customs, and other measures that the local citizens are compelled to pay to either the hated Romans or the corrupt local officials, and also for the upkeep of roads, defense, government operations, and other services established by the Romans. The local Jewish population detested these foreign occupants of their land, and in particular, men like Zacchaeus, who had turned his back on his countrymen in order to serve what they saw as a pagan Gentile occupant who was brutal towards all foes of the Empire.
Tax collection was also a lucrative means to obtain wealth for oneself by overcharging for fees and taxes and keeping what they obtained while sending Caesar what was legally due to him. It is a certainty that Zacchaeus’ demeanor was less than civil towards the population that had no love for him or his work. He probably had a bad reputation and character that developed over time. He was barred from attending the synagogues due to what was seen by the population as betrayal of God and His people and ignored when he was in public. It was a bad scene overall and seemed to be a fixed part of life for him.
Like Matthew, who had been part of the same racket before being called by the Lord Jesus as an apostle, the overall scene and situation had gotten to him, and he had come to realize that wealth does not buy compassion, respect, or a solid character. He was experiencing the sting of his sinful nature, which is a sign that the Spirit of God was quietly at work, putting everything into place for the next step of his life.
All too often when we think of “repentance,” we tend to believe that it is an act of sorrow on the surface for something done or said that was seen as deplorable, bad, or a deliberate act that resulted in troublesome consequences. Anyone can say that they are “sorry” for what they had done or said, but may not be genuine in their reply or are going through the motions in order to move on, satisfied that they have settled the issue. Their “sorrow” may be in getting caught, not because of what they had caused.
True repentance is when you are feeling emotional pain and deep regret over what has been done or said on your part. The thought of what has occurred weighs in on your soul, and you truly want to make amends between you and the other person, and also to come before God with a grieving heart, asking for mercy and forgiveness from Him.
The Spirit of God will convict you of your sins and make you miserable and anxious until the issue is settled. You face the fact that actions and words have consequences, and you have got to remedy the situation. Zacchaeus’ conscience was quietly at work as he desired to see Jesus enter Jericho, and by climbing up the tree to get a better view of everything, he was exposed for all to see, and Jesus saw him as well. This tax collector, who had gotten wealthy off of the backs of his fellow citizens and in their eyes deserved no mercy, forgiveness or even attention, now heard Jesus say, undoubtedly, to the surprise of the crowd that He was to be Zacchaeus’ guest that night and share a meal with him.
Think on this when you feel that your sinful behavior and life is not worth God’s time or attention. It is at that precise moment when His gracious Spirit lets you know that He is ready to meet with you and get the issue settled. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all come to Him for eternal life (Matthew 11:28-30; Mark 1:15; John 10:28-30; Acts 16:31, 17:30; Romans 5:6-11, 8:31-39; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Peter 3:9) through Jesus Christ, the ONLY way to the Father (John 14:6).
Zacchaeus demonstrates his change of heart as he joyfully embraces and commits all he has to the Lord Jesus by declaring his intention to repay anyone he defrauded four times over and to give half of what he owns to the poor. While some of the citizens of Jericho grumble about Jesus’ decision to be with someone who has been labeled a “sinner,” we are witness to a man transformed by the love and compassion of Jesus Christ, for this is very reason for which He came to this sin-infested world (Matt. 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 15:7; Romans 5:8; 1 Timothy 1:15).
He came to rescue you from the punishment you deserve for your wicked actions and sinful deeds you have committed throughout your life, and the lives of others who are guilty of the same thing (Romans 1:18-32, 3:10-18). Like Zacchaeus and everyone who has lived throughout the ages, you cannot redeem yourself or “clean up your act” or do “good works” in your own strength. It is like taking a bath in a cesspool. Only the sinless blood of Jesus Christ, shed on a horrid cross, is able to cleanse you from your sins and give you the promise of peace for your soul and the promise of eternal life (John 3:16, 11:25, 14;6). There is no other way or person who can make that promise and secure it.
When sinful thoughts, deeds, or words occur in our lives, even if we are followers of Jesus Christ, He is always there to grant forgiveness and restoration if we come to Him in true sorrow and the desire to make things right with Him and those we have offended. The key is to walk daily with Him in prayer and the study of the Scriptures, to find a church or group of believers with whom you can grow, develop relationships, and watch out for one another (Hebrews 11:25).
If this were to be the last article I write, I would plead with those of you who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ to get that settled NOW (2 Corinthians 6:2). Things are not going to get better, and He is coming back sooner than we think. Be ready, even if you need to climb a tree to get closer to His heaven. Amen.