Many, no doubt, were converted to the faith of Christ of whom no account is kept in the gospels; but the conversion of some, whose case had something in it extraordinary, is recorded, as this of Zaccheus. Christ passed through Jericho, Luke 19:1. This city was build under a curse, yet Christ honoured it with his presence, for the gospel takes away the curse. Though it ought not to have been built, yet it was not therefore a sin to live in it when it was built. Christ was now going from the other side Jordan to Bethany near Jerusalem, to raise Lazarus to life; when he was going to do one good work he contrived to do many by the way. He did good both to the souls and to the bodies of people; we have here an instance of the former. Observe,
I. Who, and what, this Zaccheus was. His name bespeaks him a Jew. Zaccai was a common name among the Jews; they had a famous rabbi, much about this time, of that name. Observe, 1. His calling, and the post he was in: He was the chief among the publicans, receiver-general; other publicans were officers under him; he was, as some think, farmer of the customs. We often read of publicans coming to Christ; but here was one that was chief of the publicans, was in authority, that enquired after him. God has his remnant among all sorts. Christ came to save even the chief of publicans. 2. His circumstances in the world were very considerable: He was rich. The inferior publicans were commonly men of broken fortunes, and low in the world; but he that was chief of the publicans had raised a good estate. Christ had lately shown how hard it is for rich people to enter into the kingdom of God, yet presently produces an instance on one rich man that had been lost, and was found, and that not as the prodigal by being reduced to want.
II. How he came in Christ’s way, and what was the occasion of his acquaintance with him. 1. He had a great curiosity to see Jesus, what kind of a man he was, having heard great talk of him, Luke 19:3. It is natural to us to come in sight, if we can, of those whose fame has filled our ears, as being apt to imagine there is something extraordinary in their countenances; at least, we shall be able to say hereafter that we have seen such and such great men. But the eye is not satisfied with seeing. We should now seek to see Jesus with an eye of faith, to see who he is; we should address ourselves in holy ordinances with this in our eye, We would see Jesus. 2. He could not get his curiosity gratified in this matter because he was little, and the crowd was great. Christ did not study to show himself, was not carried on men’s shoulders (as the pope is in procession), that all men might see him; neither he nor his kingdom came with observation. He did not ride in an open chariot, as princes do, but, as one of us, he was lost in a crowd; for that was the day of his humiliation. Zaccheus was low of stature, and over-topped by all about him, so that he could not get a sight of Jesus. Many that are little of stature have large souls, and are lively in spirit. Who would not rather be a Zaccheus than a Saul, though he was higher by head and shoulders than all about him? Let not those that are little of stature take thought of adding cubits to it. 3. Because he would not disappoint his curiosity he forgot his gravity, as chief of the publicans, and ran before, like a boy, and climbed up into a sycamore-tree, to see him. Note, Those that sincerely desire a sight of Christ will use the proper means for gaining a sight of him, and will break through a deal of difficulty and opposition, and be willing to take pains to see him. Those that find themselves little must take all the advantages they can get to raise themselves to a sight of Christ, and not be ashamed to own that they need them, and all little enough. Let not dwarfs despair, with good help, by aiming high to reach high.
III. The notice Christ took of him, the call he gave him to a further acquaintance (Luke 19:5), and the efficacy of that call, Luke 19:6. 1. Christ invited himself to Zaccheus’s house, not doubting of his hearty welcome there; nay, wherever Christ comes, as he brings his own entertainment along with him, so he brings his own welcome; he opens the heart, and inclines it to receive him. Christ looked up into the tree, and saw Zaccheus. He came to look upon Christ, and resolved to take particular notice of him, but little thought of being taken notice of by Christ. That was an honour too great, and too far above his merit, for him to have any thought of. See how Christ prevented him with the blessings of his goodness, and outdid his expectations; and see how he encouraged very weak beginnings, and helped them forward. He that had a mind to know Christ shall be known of him; he that only courted to see him shall be admitted to converse with him. Note, Those that are faithful in a little shall be entrusted with more. And sometimes those that come to hear the word of Christ, as Zaccheus did, only for curiosity, beyond what they thought of, have their consciences awakened, and their hearts changed. Christ called him by name, Zaccheus, for he knows his chosen by name; are they not in his book? He might ask, as Nathanael did (John 1:48), Whence knowest thou me? But before he climbed the sycamore-tree Christ saw him, and knew him. He bade him make haste, and come down. Those that Christ calls must come down, must humble themselves, and not think to climb to heaven by any righteousness of their own; and they must make haste and come down, for delays are dangerous. Zaccheus must not hesitate, but hasten; he knows it is not a matter that needs consideration whether he should welcome such a guest to his house. He must come down, for Christ intends this day to bait at his house, and stay an hour or two with him. Behold, he stands at the door and knocks. 2. Zaccheus was overjoyed to have such an honour put upon his house (Luke 19:6): He made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully; and his receiving him into his house was an indication and token of his receiving him into his heart. Note, When Christ calls to us we must make haste to answer his calls; and when he comes to us we must receive him joyfully. Lift up your heads, O ye gates. We may well receive him joyfully who brings all good along with him, and, when he takes possession of the soul, opens springs of joy there which shall flow to eternity. How often has Christ said to us, Open to me, when we have, with the spouse, made excuses! Song 5:2, 3. Zaccheus’s forwardness to receive Christ will shame us. We have not now Christ to entertain in our houses, but we have his disciples, and what is done to them he takes as done to himself.
IV. The offence which the people took at this kind greeting between Christ and Zaccheus. Those narrow-souled censorious Jews murmured, saying that he was gone to be a guest with a man that is a sinner, para hamartolo andri—with a sinful man; and were not they themselves sinful men? Was it not Christ’s errand into the world to seek and save men that are sinners? But Zaccheus they think to be a sinner above all men that dwelt in Jericho, such a sinner as was not fit to be conversed with. Now this was very unjust to blame Christ for going to his house; for, 1. Though he was a publican, and many of the publicans were bad men, it did not therefore follow that they were all so. We must take heed of condemning men in the lump, or by common fame, for at God’s bar every man will be judged as he is. 2. Though he had been a sinner, it did not therefore follow that he was now as bad as he had been; though they knew his past life to be bad, Christ might know his present frame to be good. God allows room for repentance, and so must we. 3. Though he was now a sinner, they ought not to blame Christ for going to him, because he was in no danger of getting hurt by a sinner, but in great hopes of doing good to a sinner; whither should the physician go but to the sick? Yet see how that which is well done may be ill construed.
V. The proofs which Zaccheus gave publicly that, though he had been a sinner, he was now a penitent, and a true convert, Luke 19:8. He does not expect to be justified by his works as the Pharisee who boasted of what he had done, but by his good works he will, through the grace of God, evidence the sincerity of his faith and repentance; and here he declares what his determination was. He made this declaration standing, that he might be seen and heard by those who murmured at Christ for coming to his house; with the mouth confession is made of repentance as well as faith. He stood, which denotes his saying it deliberately and with solemnity, in the nature of a vow to God. He addressed himself to Christ in it, not to the people (they were not to be his judges), but to the Lord, and he stood as it were at his bar. What we do that is good we must do as unto him; we must appeal to him, and approve ourselves to him, in our integrity, in all our good purposes and resolutions. He makes it appear that there is a change in his heart (and that is repentance), for there is a change in his way. His resolutions are of second-table duties; for Christ, upon all occasions, laid great stress on them: and they are such as are suited to his condition and character; for in them will best appear the truth of our repentance.
1. Zaccheus had a good estate, and, whereas he had been in it hitherto laying up treasure for himself, and doing hurt to himself, now he resolves that for the future he will be all towards God, and do good to others with it: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. Not, “I will give it by my will when I die,” but, “I do give it now.” Probably he had heard of the command of trial which Christ gave to another rich man to sell what he had, and give to the poor (Matt. 19:21), and how he broke with Christ upon it. “But so will not I,” saith Zaccheus; “I agree to it at the first word; though hitherto I have been uncharitable to the poor, now I will relieve them, and give so much the more for having neglected the duty so long, even the half of my goods.” This is a very large proportion to be set apart for works of piety and charity. The Jews used to say that a fifth part of a man’s income yearly was very fair to be given to pious uses, and about that share the law directed; but Zaccheus would go much further, and give one moiety to the poor, which would oblige him to retrench all his extravagant expenses, as his retrenching these would enable him to relieve many with his superfluities. If we were but more temperate and self-denying, we should be more charitable; and, were we content with less ourselves, we should have the more to give to them that need. This he mentions here as a fruit of his repentance. Note, It well becomes converts to God to be charitable to the poor.
2. Zaccheus was conscious to himself that he had not gotten all he had honestly and fairly, but some by indirect and unlawful means, and of what he had gotten by such means he promises to make restitution: “If I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, or if I have wronged any man in the way of my business as a publican, exacting more than was appointed, I promise to restore him four-fold.” This was the restitution that a thief was to make, Exod. 22:1. (1.) He seems plainly to own that he had done wrong; his office, as a publican, gave him opportunity to do wrong, imposing upon the merchants to curry favour with the government. True penitents will own themselves not only in general guilty before God, but will particularly reflect upon that which has been their own iniquity, and which, by reason of their business and employment in the world, has most easily beset them. (2.) That he had done wrong by false accusation; this was the temptation of the publicans, which John Baptist had warned them of particularly, Luke 3:14. They had the ear of the government, and every thing would be stretched in favour of the revenue, which gave them an opportunity of gratifying their revenge if they bore a man an ill will. (3.) He promises to restore four-fold, as far as he could recollect or find by his books that he had wronged any man. He does not say, “If I be sued, and compelled to it, I will make restitution” (some are honest when they cannot help it); but he will do it voluntarily: It shall be my own act and deed. Note, Those who are convinced of having done wrong cannot evidence the sincerity of their repentance but by making restitution. Observe, He does not think that his giving half his estate to the poor will atone for the wrong he has done. God hates robbery for burnt-offerings, and we must first do justly and then love mercy. It is no charity, but hypocrisy, to give that which is none of our own; and we are not to reckon that our own which we have not come honestly by, nor that our own which is not so when all our debts are paid, and restitution made for wrong done.
VI. Christ’s approbation and acceptance of Zaccheus’s conversion, by which also he cleared himself from any imputation in going to be a guest with him, Luke 19:9, 10.
1. Zaccheus is declared to be now a happy man. Now he is turned from sin to God; now he has bidden Christ welcome to his house, and is become an honest, charitable, good man: This day is salvation come to this house. Now that he is converted he is in effect saved, saved from his sins, from the guilt of them, from the power of them; all the benefits of salvation are his. Christ is come to his house, and, where Christ comes, he brings salvation along with him. He is, and will be, the Author of eternal salvation to all that own him as Zaccheus did. Yet this is not all. Salvation this day comes to his house. (1.) When Zaccheus becomes a convert, he will be, more than he had been, a blessing to his house. He will bring the means of grace and salvation to his house, for he is a son of Abraham indeed now, and therefore, like Abraham, will teach his household to keep the way of the Lord. He that is greedy of gain troubles his own house, and brings a curse upon it (Hab. 2:9), but he that is charitable to the poor does a kindness to his own house, and brings a blessing upon it and salvation to it, temporal at least, Ps. 112:3. (2.) When Zaccheus is brought to Christ himself his family also become related to Christ, and his children are admitted members of his church, and so salvation comes to his house, for that he is a son of Abraham, and therefore interested in God’s covenant with Abraham, that blessing of Abraham which comes upon the publicans, upon the Gentiles, through faith, that God will be a God to them and to their children; and therefore, when he believes, salvation comes to his house, as the gaoler’s to whom it was said, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house, Acts 16:31. Zaccheus is by birth a son of Abraham, but, being a publican, he was deemed a heathen; they are put upon a level, Matt. 18:17. And as such the Jews were shy of conversing with him, and expected Christ should be so; but he shows that, being a true penitent, he is become rectus in curia—upright in court, as good a son of Abraham as if he had never been an publican, which therefore ought not to be mentioned against him.
2. What Christ had done to make him, in particular, a happy man, was consonant to the great design and intention of his coming into the world, Luke 19:10. With the same argument he had before justified his conversing with publicans, Matt. 9:13. There he pleaded that he came to call sinners to repentance; now that he came to seek and save that which was lost, to apololos—the lost thing. Observe, (1.) The deplorable case of the sons of men: they were lost; and here the whole race of mankind is spoken of as one body. Note, The whole world of mankind, by the fall, is become a lost world: lost as a city is lost when it has revolted to the rebels, as a traveller is lost when he has missed his way in a wilderness, as a sick man is lost when his disease is incurable, or as a prisoner is lost when sentence is passed upon him. (2.) The gracious design of the Son of God: he came to seek and save, to seek in order to saving. He came from heaven to earth (a long journey), to seek that which was lost (which had wandered and gone astray), and to bring it back (Matt. 18:11, 12), and to save that which was lost, which was perishing, and in a manner destroyed and cut off. Christ undertook the cause when it was given up for lost: undertook to bring those to themselves that were lost to God and all goodness. Observe, Christ came into this lost world to seek and save it. His design was to save, when there was not salvation in any other. In prosecution of that design, he sought, took all probable means to effect that salvation. He seeks those that were not worth seeking to; he seeks those that sought him not, and asked not for him, as Zaccheus here.