And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. Luke 19:1-6
I am always amazed at those who preach the role of man’s free-will in salvation from this passage. Surely, the opposite is here shown.
The typical Arminian evangelistic approach to this passage goes like this: Zacchaeus was trying to get to Jesus. He was a short man so he couldn’t see over the crowd. He had to get to Jesus, so he came up with a way. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, you know. Well, Zacchaeus saw a sycamore tree and climbed up it. He was doing everything he could. He had to overcome every hindrance to get to Jesus. When Jesus saw him up in the tree, He was impressed by this man’s persistence. Then Zacchaeus invited Jesus and His disciples over to his house. Later that day, Jesus said, “Salvation has come to this house today.” You see you have to get fed up with your life of sin and find a way to come to Christ. And on and on – You get the picture. Let me hasten to say that I have tried to paint a better picture of that type of evangelistic appeal than I have generally ever heard. Usually, the sermons are far worse than that.
But this is the exact opposite of what this passage teaches. First of all, the passage gives not so much as a hint of anything in Zacchaeus but curiosity. We are running way ahead of ourselves to assume anything righteous to Zacchaeus’ motives. He was simply curious. A huge crowd is coming down the road, huddled around someone and everyone seems excited. Zacchaeus is short and can’t see over the crowd to see what all the buzz is about. So, he climbs a tree. That is all that this text permits us to say. As far as Zacchaeus’ character is concerned, he was a crook. The text calls him a publican, which is always a bad thing in the New Testament. Publicans were tax-collectors. They were known to be thieves because they either skimmed money off the top of their collections or charged more than was actually owed so they could keep the extra. But more than just being called a publican, he is called the chief among the publicans. That surely means he was a thief. The fact that his repentance manifested itself in repaying what he falsely collected is clear proof of this.
More important though is what Jesus actually did. Jesus stopped, looked up and called Zacchaeus by name. One wonders how Jesus knew his name. Of course, as God, Jesus knows everything. Surely it is not without significance that Jesus calls by name a man whom he had never met before. More importantly, notice that Zacchaeus did not invite Jesus to his house; Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house and pronounced that salvation had come to it with Him.
This is how it always works. Jesus invites Himself into someone’s life. They hurry to Him and receive Him with joy. Jesus brings salvation with Him. He calls whom He chooses.