A Lesson from the Sycamore Tree (Luke 19:1-10)

Our sermon today concerns an encounter Jesus had with a man named Zacchaeus who was sitting in a sycamore tree.  Zacchaeus is sort of an ironic fellow.  Zacchaeus is a Hebrew name meaning “clean or pure” but he was a corrupt tax collector who worked for the Roman Government.  Today, we shall read about this encounter with Jesus to find out more about Jesus’ mission to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Seek the Lost

Zacchaeus’ Infamy.  As the children’s song goes: “Zacchaeus was a wee little man”, but that was not the reason the people of Jericho despised him.  In verse 2 we read that “he was a chief tax collector and was rich.”  Another way to understand the peoples’ animosity is that he had become rich at their expense.  He was a corrupt tax collector. There was so much bitterness that in verse 7 the crowd showed their disdain for Zacchaeus by grumbling and calling him “a sinner”.

Zacchaeus’ Interruption.  In verse 1 we read that Jesus “entered Jericho and was passing through.” Remember that Jesus, according to Luke 9:51, is on His way to Jerusalem: “when the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” Luke 13:22 provides a good summary of Jesus’ travels: “He went on His way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.” Jerusalem is the destination and Jesus was simply passing through Jericho, but something happened in Jericho that made Jesus stop.  As “Jesus came to [the tree], He looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today’” (5).  Zacchaeus was an interruption, but Jesus was not concerned or upset, as we shall soon see.

Jesus’ Intentionality. Jesus intended to just passing through Jericho but decided to stop when He saw Zacchaeus in a sycamore tree.  Pause for a moment and consider how strange of a sight this was.  Here is rich grown man in a tree.  It is intriguing to learn that in this particular culture it was considered shameful for a grown man to climb a tree.  Yet here was the most infamous man in Jericho in a tree!

In this encounter we observe Jesus’ intentionality to always be about His Father’s business.  When Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the tree, He knew that this man needed Him.  Therefore, Jesus tells Zacchaeus, “I must stay at your house today” (5). Jesus did not see Zacchaeus as a problem that kept Him from His mission; Jesus saw Zacchaeus as part of His mission to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Save the Lost

Zacchaeus’ Faith. The fact that Zacchaeus would be willing to climb a tree and behave in such a shameful and undignified way indicates that there was more than just an intellectual curiosity about Jesus.   Zacchaeus “was seeking to see who Jesus was” (3). Zacchaeus’ faith is demonstrated in that he wanted to see Jesus badly enough that he did not care what other people thought or what obstacles were in the way.  When he could not get to Jesus because of the crowd he “ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was about to pass that way” (4).  Zacchaeus needed Jesus and nothing was going to prevent him.

Zacchaeus’ Repentance.  When Zacchaeus heard that Jesus wanted to stay at his house, “he hurried and came down and received Him joyfully” (6).  He joyfully came down in a hurry because he considered Jesus’ request to be good news.  Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus and now Jesus is coming to His house.  When the crowd saw what happened “they all grumbled, [saying] ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a sinner’” (7).  Zacchaeus understood the reason for the grumbling because he now understood that he was a sinner.  Seizing the moment, Zacchaeus responded to this gracious act of Jesus by repenting.

What is repentance?  It is turning away from what is wrong and turning towards what is right.  This turning away from is the result of changing one’s mind and agreeing with God that His way is best.  True repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action.  Zacchaeus changed his mind about the importance of money and agreed with Jesus that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).  Zacchaeus turned away from defrauding others and turned towards restoring to others.  He demonstrated his repentance in his actions (see verse 8).

Jesus’ Grace. Jesus saw Zacchaeus sitting in a sycamore tree and understood the symbolism.  First, as we have already established, it was shameful for a grown man to climb a tree, yet there was Zacchaeus.  This shows us that Zacchaeus did not mind being mocked if it meant seeing Jesus. Jesus became more important than his pride.  Second, consider the sycamore tree.  In the Middle East it produces a fig-like fruit.  The unripe fruit was inedible due to its bitter taste and if left alone to ripen it would remain inedible due to the presence of wasps and other insects growing inside.  The solution was to pierce or wound the fruit. The fruit of the sycamore was pierced for two reasons: 1) to ripen the figs in as short of time as possible and 2) to stop the growth of any insects in the fruit. Jesus is walking to Jerusalem and He sees Zacchaeus in a sycamore tree, most likely sitting next to sycamore figs—bitter fruit that is left alone to its own ruin.  Jesus, knowing all about sycamore figs, chose to pause His trip to Jerusalem in order to pierce Zacchaeus’ heart with an act of His amazing grace so that Zacchaeus is now a blessing to others.

Application

Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 4:19: “Come, follow Me and I will make you fishers of men”.  A disciple of Jesus is committed to Jesus’ mission to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).  This week, prayerfully consider the following question and indicate your answer below:

Question: At what level is my commitment to the mission of Jesus?

  1. ____ I do not care about Jesus or His mission. I have more important goals.
  2. ____ I am a little confused at times as to what part I play and how I do this.
  3. ____ I want others to know Jesus, but I have too much going on in my life at this time.
  4. ____ I want to make disciples and help others grow and know I should, but I am not.
  5. ____ I am committed to helping others grow in spiritual maturity and am currently (or recently) discipling someone.

Your answer to this question reveals your level of commitment to Jesus and His mission to seek and to save.