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An Encounter with the Finder of the Lost (Luke 19:1-10)

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How many of you have ever seen a search and rescue effort on television? Ted Haas from Bedford, Iowa talks about the mission and purpose of the Search and Rescue team:

“Search and rescue personnel risk their lives in tumultuous seas, deep forests, remote mountains, and desert wastelands. Wherever they're needed they go. When called, they respond, because lives are in danger.

A Search and Rescue Team in Colorado puts it this way: ‘Millions of people visit the mountains of Larimer County, Colorado, each year. A few will become lost, stranded, or injured…some will die. Our objective is to find and rescue these lost or injured people before it is too late…. We are dedicated to saving lives.’

Nevada's Washoe County Search and Rescue Team went out on 74 searches in 2003, bringing 95 persons to safety and recovering the bodies of 9 others.

In 2002, the U.S. Coast Guard made 54,609 rescue trips by boat or aircraft, saving 3,661 lives.

The Search and Rescue Team motto: ‘This we do so others may live.’”[1]

I love that motto because in a spiritual sense, that was also the motto and mission of Jesus Christ as well as for His followers in the church. Jesus is a one person search and rescue team. In the world today, if you ask people why did Jesus come to the earth? They might say things like, “to show us how to live” or “to teach us good values,” or “to be a martyr,” etc. However, in this encounter we are going to look at today, we are going to see His mission statement. Here is Encounter 7 and it is found in Luke 19:1-10. The title of the message is “An Encounter with the Finder of the Lost.”  What is Jesus’ mission? How does He operate His one person search and rescue team?


I. The search is for lost sinners (Luke 19:1-5)

In Luke 19:1, we find Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem but passes through Jericho. Pretty soon He will be crucified. A little bit of information on this city: “Jericho is located in an oasis in the Judean desert eighteen miles northwest of Jerusalem. A winding desert road, familiar to Luke’s readers from the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30), connects the two cities.”[2] The reason why the man in Jesus’ story fell among the robbers on this road was because it was so windy, allowing robbers great hiding spots to commit their crimes.

In addition, it was a very wealthy and important town. William Barclay notes that “It had a great palm forest and world-famous balsam groves which perfumed the air for miles around. Its gardens of roses were known far and wide. Men called it ‘The City of Palms.’ Josephus called it ‘a divine region,’ ‘the fattest in Palestine.’ The Romans carried its dates and balsam to world-wide trade and fame.”[3] Still another commentator says that “Herod the Great and his son Archelaus had made it even more beautiful. A grand winter palace had been built there, also a theater and a hippodrome. Some of the streets were lined with sycamore trees. The climate was delightful.”[4] John Macarthur adds that Jericho had “Pilgrims from Galilee and Peraea, priests who live there and serve there, traders from all lands…it was one of the high density trading centers, there were routes going north, east, west and south, it was a busy, busy place…”[5]

It would be even more busy now, as the streets are full of pilgrims headed toward Jerusalem for Passover and for our Lord to become the Passover Lamb and die. But with the multitude of people coming to and leaving Jericho, the businesses thrived. In addition, for the Roman government, it was a lush center for taxation. Not only did you smell the beautiful rose gardens in Jericho, the Romans smelled revenue as well. They would exploit this area by placing heavy taxes on the Jews. After all, they had to use all means necessary to finance their great world empire. This was one of the several reasons the Jews despised Rome.

Look at Luke 19:2. We meet Zacchaeus. He has a Jewish name that means “Righteous One,”[6] though there is nothing righteous about him at this point. Pastor Kent Hughes says that if he was looking for the lead role in a modern version for Zacchaeus, the Movie, he would probably hire Danny Devito and call him “the Z-man” because of  “those shifty eyes, his swagger—the perfect little big man.”[7]

We are told he is a “chief tax collector.” To collect taxes, the Romans needed tax collectors and if you wanted a tax franchise, you had to buy it from Rome. They would auction positions off and then require you to pay a certain amount as a tax collector.  Whatever else you wanted to tax or keep, that was up to you. This was an easy formula for corruption. You had foundational taxes, income taxes and customs taxes (kind of like a toll for passing through the city), but if you wanted to tax people for anything imaginable from the number of wheels on your cart or animals you are bringing or the products in your bag. So tax collectors became filthy rich and likewise hated.

In fact the rabbis taught that associating with a tax collector was to make yourself unclean. They could not attend the synagogue. If you were a good Jew, you did not associate with these robbers. The Jews viewed them in the same light as a prostitute.[8] In fact, “the Jewish Mishnah goes so far as to say it is permissible to lie to tax collectors to protect one’s property!”[9] So he is an outcast, but Luke loves talking about the tax collectors (this is the sixth time already he’s mentioned them[10]) and Jesus’ love for them.

But Zacchaeus is not just a tax collector. He is a “chief” tax collector, meaning he supervises the other tax collectors. Luke also writes that he was rich! Macarthur notes that, “He was at the top of the pyramid, top of the pile. Everybody who collected everything, and there were lots of tax collectors, had to pay him a piece of the action. So everything came up the pyramid and landed eventually in his pocket. Everybody extorted for him.”[11] Interestingly, Luke had just mentioned the story of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-27) and how hard it is for the rich to get to Heaven. Not only hard, but impossible! But Jesus adds, “What is impossible with man is possible with God!” (Luke 18:27). We are going to see Zacchaeus as an illustration of this miracle shortly.

And on this day, Zacchaeus is among the crowd as usual. The squeeze of the multitude is making him claustrophobic. He notices there is an unusual anticipation and excitement. “Wait a minute? Is all this for the noise of that miracle worker rabbi from Nazareth that I have been hearing about?” he thinks as an elderly man bumps into him. “Hmm, I hear some say He might be the Messiah!” Some of the crowd have heard of Jesus and wonder if He indeed is the Messiah they have been waiting for. And Zacchaeus also remembers hearing about how he hangs out with tax collectors! Perhaps he even heard of how Jesus befriended maybe a friend of his named Matthew, another tax collector, in Capernaum (Matt. 9:9-12; Luke 5:27-31).

Look at Luke 19:3. Zacchaeus wants to get close to see Jesus, but not too close. He also has another problem. He is really short. For him to be really short according to the standards of his time, he must have been less than five feet tall.[12] He was a “wee little man” as the song goes. He is so short he cannot see above the crowd. Yet something is driving him to take a look at this man and he can’t seem to shake the thought of a Messiah who befriends tax collectors!

Now we are not sure if he has a Napoleon syndrome; i.e. a short man always trying to compensate for his height by becoming “tall” in other areas. I do not want to over-psychologize and go all Freudian here, but it is kind of ironic that a short man like him was a “chief” tax collector. Perhaps being tired of all the jokes growing up in a tall world, Zacchaeus finally decided he was going to climb the professional ladder and step on others who stood in his way instead of being stepped on all the time. He has finally made it as chief tax collector. Now he was the king of the hill, looking over the people in Jericho.

Now if you are stuck in a crowd, you are really short, and you can’t see, what do you do? I am sure he wasn’t treated well by the people anyway. Hughes points out, “The crowd probably enjoyed boxing the little man out. ‘Sorry about the elbow, Zacchaeus, you’re hard to see. Oh, that’s your foot?’”[13] You may have seen parents pull up their children on their shoulders in a large crowd, but Zacchaeus is not going to find anyone willing to ride on their shoulders today.

In Luke 19:4, does he not seem like a little boy following a parade, as he runs ahead of the crowd and climbs up a sycamore tree? Another interesting connection in context here is how Jesus had said in Luke 18:15-17 how in order to enter Heaven, we must have faith like a child. Was Zacchaeus also an illustration of this as well here?

Here all he wants is a look as Jesus passing by. He wants to put a face to the name. I mean, he’s not asking for much. It was just a glance. A sycamore tree was probably about 40 feet high and was “something like an oak with a short trunk and wide branches, making it easy to climb.”[14] Can you picture him shimmying up this tree in his robe? I wonder if he was acquainted with tree climbing, because growing up, he had to run up the tree to see things before?

Perched there in such a spot, Zacchaeus had a “bird’s eye” view.[15] At the top, he is amazed at what he sees. No pomp and no ceremony, but just an ordinary man walking toward his direction. Nothing like a king. And yet…everything like a king! People are now squeezing together in their windowsills. You can also see large groups lining the rooftops of the houses. On the street you have a collective mass of people from priests to housewives, shopkeepers, teachers, traders and bakers---elbow to elbow…except one small tax collector, perched up in a tree.[16]

Look at Luke 19:5. Suddenly Jesus parts the sea of spectators to go toward a sycamore tree. Is He going to take a breather here and sit down? What is he doing?  All eyes are on Him as we walks toward the tree where Zacchaeus is now starting to get really nervous. Past the crowd, the tree, the branches and leaves, Jesus looks up.

Jesus peers into Zacchaeus’ soul and though he knows about all the money extorted and all the money taken legitimately and illegitimately, His eyes sees that part of him that’s been stepped on. Jesus sees every footprint and heel mark and His hear moves with compassion toward this lonely man. “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” He not only knew he was hiding up there, but he also knew his name, commanded him. He was like both a King and a friend.

Zacchaeus had gotten up there for just a glance, only to find that Jesus had actually come looking for him!

Illus: How amazing grace is! “There is no pit so deep the love of Christ is not deeper still,” says Corrie Tenboom. I would add that there is no tree so high, the love of Christ and the eye of Christ is not higher still. 

His mission and search is always for lost sinners. Anyone know what the first question in the Bible is? It is God asking, “Adam, where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). It is not a heart of a policeman looking for a criminal, but it is the heart of a Father looking for a lost child. God has always been a pursuer. In fact, the Bible just asks one question, “Will you marry me?” God is looking for a bride, a people for Himself. And in Revelation 19:9 we see that He finally does get His bride. The question is will you be part of it on the day we become His forever?

Here we see Jesus doing the same. Interestingly, look at the story right before this one about the blind beggar (Luke 18:35-43). That was a blind man wanting to see and crying for mercy. Here is another man “wanting to see,” but hiding. I think it demonstrates the double-sidedness of faith. On one side the sinner takes action and other, as we have here, the Savior takes the initiative.

Zacchaeus thought he was looking for Jesus, but Jesus was actually looking for him! It is not that we loved God, but that He loved us (1 John 4:10). When I was 17, I went to a prayer meeting. I was hiding in a tree called good works. I thought I knew God. But that night He passed through that house and there in the back, He saw me. He knew my name!  For the first time, I came down from that high tree and confessed I was a sinner. I actually had been attending this prayer meeting for almost a year. I heard the gospel several times, but that night, I finally came down from that tree.

See, nothing is a coincidence. Every person that has talked to you about God, every book you may have received about God or every meeting you have been invited to or every circumstance that may have happened to you and you started thinking about things more than this life is the Lord trying to speak to you in your “tree.” He is trying to get your attention. He is looking for you right where you are, right in your tree.

But some of us are content with hearing about others’ lives that are changed by the Lord. Stop settling for second-hand experiences. Experience Christ for yourself! Not just through the eyes of a pastor or a teacher or an evangelist or a book or radio or dvd. Aren’t you tired of that? Don’t you want to feel Him with your own heart?

The search is for lost sinners. Secondly,

II.  The call is to respond quickly (Luke 19:5-7)

 Jesus, the one-person search and rescue team comes calling. Look at what Jesus says in Luke 19:5.  Notice what He does not say. “Zacchaeus, what are you doing? You look like a fool! You are a scoundrel and how dare you cheat people like this? You probably have stolen money on you right now. Why don’t you throw that down here first? Then why don’t you go to the synagogue and pray some prayers. Then come see me. Also, I need to talk to you about your account and history of extortion. Let’s start with 18 AD. You first stole such and such money from…” No accusation, no blame, no auditing going on here.

Jesus just calls his name and asks him to hurry down. Beloved, The One who spun the stars into space and gave them each a name (Ps. 147:4) also knows your name! Even before your parents knew it, He knew it! What would you have done here? I would have been so shocked and probably have fallen off the tree and hit my head and taken to the hospital. Maybe Jesus would then follow me to the hospital! He seems to be on a mission here for this little man doesn’t He?

“Zacchaeus, I cannot talk to you when you are higher than I am. Come down. Stop hiding and pretending. Come to me with probably extorted money under your robe even as we speak. But look at me in the eye. Let me see you as you are and let’s go to your home for a meal. And by the way, I think I’ll be staying overnight! (that is what “stay” indicates here)”

Interestingly, Jesus says, “I must stay.” He doesn’t ask permission and I am sure Zacchaeus did not run a Bed and Breakfast. This encounter will be to highlight Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost. Luke often uses this term to show that what Jesus is doing was a divine necessity, something that was planned in advance. Look at Zacchaeus’ response in Luke 19:6. He responds like how you would welcome a friend you have longed to see for a long, long time.[17] He is so fast! With leaves and twigs flying, he leaped down, obeying Jesus just as He had commanded. He welcomes Jesus joyfully. The idea of “receiving” is just like how Martha and Mary welcomed Jesus into their home (Luke 10:38). The coming of Jesus to share his home is a sign of fellowship and ultimately of forgiveness.[18] Blessed are those who respond quickly to the call of Jesus!

Not everyone is a happy camper about this, however. In Luke 19:7, murmuring begins to move through the crowds. “He’s going to stay where? At this sinner’s house? He’s going to eat there?” But these whispers in the crowd do not seem to bother Zacchaeus or Jesus. May nothing stop you from your intimacy with Jesus. People may not understand and you may be ridiculed, but what does that matter if the God of the Universe is coming to your house!

But look at how he responds to the call of Jesus…he did it quickly! He didn’t say, “Oh, but I have ten tax appointments today Jesus, can I take a rain check?” Neither did he say, “Whoa! Messiah-man and me? Let me go home and clean up a little bit. Let me fix some things too in the bank. I also need to put on a better outfit. Can we do this later?”

Illus: An evangelist once said, “Jesus does not catch clean fish. Jesus catches His fish and then He cleans them.” A lot of times people think Jesus wants to catch “clean fish.” They want to clean up their act and then come to church. They want to stop this habit first or start reading the Bible first. This is one of Satan’s oldest tricks because you can never be clean enough. This is why the Bible says, “Today is the day of your salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). And “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart” (Heb. 4:7). We may not have tomorrow.

I like what C.H. Spurgeon says, “If you were sick, would you send for your physician tomorrow? If your house were on fire, would you call ‘Fire!’ tomorrow? If you were robbed in the street on your road home, would you cry ‘Stop! Thief!’ tomorrow? No. But man is foolish in the things that concern his soul. Unless divine and infinite love shall teach him to number his days, he will still go on boasting of tomorrows until his soul has been destroyed by them.”[19]

You know, even as Christians, we do the same thing. We hear Christ calling our name when we have fallen and we hide in the trees of our sin. But we think, “I have to clean myself up. Let me stop what I am doing and then let me start reading the Bible and prove to God that He did not make a foolish choice in saving me.” I have been listening this song by Tenth Avenue North called “By your side.” Listen to the first stanza:

“Why are you striving these days?
Why are you trying to earn grace?
Why are you crying?
Let me lift up your face
Just don't turn away”

Whether it is the sinner trying to “fix himself/herself” before coming to Christ or the believer trying to “fix himself/herself” before coming back to Christ, both are trying to earn grace. Christ has already earned it for us! Come just as you are to Jesus! The call is to respond quickly!

So far we said the search for Jesus is lost sinners and the call is to respond quickly and lastly,

III.  The rescue comes with joyful repentance (Luke 19:8-10).

 Look at Luke 19:8-10. How do you know Zacchaeus has been touched by the love of Jesus Christ? Because His life is changed. True repentance comes in the form of action, not just words or emotions. We are not sure if he said this during or after dinner, or right there at the tree, or some unknown time later at his house. Jesus seems to respond to him as “this house” indicating perhaps he had talked with the Lord at home and then said what he said in Luke 19:8.

I guess it doesn’t matter when he said it, but what he said right? I like how the text says, “And Zacchaeus stood.” This means “he set himself with a fixed attitude.”[20] He made a formal stand, a decision after speaking with Jesus. This is how you know you encountered Jesus. First notice he calls Jesus, “Lord.” That is always a good sign you have been rescued by the Lord. There is recognition of who Jesus is. Before He may have been to you just a Sunday School story, a grandfather in the sky or a picture in a book or a painting on a stain-glassed window or a life-less figure on a cross, but now He is Lord.

Second, look at his repentance. He says he will take 50% of what he owns and give it to the poor. Macarthur adds here, “Wow, something dramatic has just happened.  Whoa!  You've got a man who is a professional thief, extortionist who has now become an instant philanthropist.  You've got a man who spent his whole life taking who now wants to give.  You've got a man who is defined by selfishness now acting in an absolutely unselfish way.”[21]

Then Zacchaeus adds, “And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” Wow! With the remaining 50% of what he owns, he is going to provide a restitution of 400% to anyone he has defrauded. Think about that for a second. How many people are we talking here? Hundreds? Thousands? And where did he get this number? He gets it from the Old Testament. The Old Testament taught that if you stole something from someone, you would give back what you stole plus 20%.[22] If he had said 20%, that would have been fine. He would have been right on target. But if it was a robbery, you may have to pay up to double (Ex. 22:1-7) or 200%. But he goes to the max. He goes to 400%! I am not sure if he will have anything left after this!

Hey, look carefully as to what is happening here. Witness the miracle! A camel is passing through the eye of the needle! Zacchaeus is doing the opposite of what the rich young ruler did (Luke 18:18-27). This is genuine transformation and repentance. This is in contrast with a lot of people who when called to repent say, “Oh, is that what I'm supposed to do?  Or do I have to do that?  How little can I do and get away with it?  How little can I obey and still be considered a Christian?  How close can I walk to the edge?"  It's, "Look, just show me the maximum demonstration of obedience, that's what I want to do."[23]

Jesus responds with a declaration in Luke 19:9 and a purpose statement in Luke 19:10. The declaration is that salvation had truly come to his house. Look at what Jesus says here, don’t miss it: “Since he also is a son of Abraham.” Remember Zacchaeus was an outcast. He was born a Jew, but the Jews kicked him out of the community. Jesus is saying, “He is part of the community of faith far more than you, Israel, are.” Jesus brings him into community! Jesus brings outcasts into community; orphans into a family! The Israelites were born Jewish and bragged that they were so righteous and close to God. Jesus turns the tables on them and declares Zacchaeus as the true man of faith. Jesus ends this by saying why He came. This is really the thesis statement for the entire book of Luke: “For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” Exhibit A: Zacchaeus. Mankind is always looking for where they belong. Once you are found by Jesus, you belong to the greatest community on the planet: the redeemed bride of Jesus Christ! All of us are trophies of His victory won, when He came looking for us, breathed life into us, making us alive and then living in us to help us be everything He has asked us to be.


As I close here, perhaps you have come today needing a rescue. That is Jesus’ job description. If you are lost, today He comes by calling your name and inviting you to Himself and wanting close fellowship with you. He sees you in whatever tree you might be in today. You need to respond quickly and receive the Lord. You do not need to clean up first, allow Him to catch you and He will clean you. You may have been relying on second-hand experiences. Don’t delay! Come to Jesus. Turn from your sin and receive Him as Lord and Savior.

How do you know if there is true transformation in your life? Continual repentance. This means a change of mind that produces a change of way. It is more than regret or remorse (feeling sorry mentally or emotionally), but true repentance leads to a change in behavior. It is a 180 degree turn. It is wanting to obey the maximum and not get by the minimum.

Lastly, if you are a believer, perhaps your growth has been stunted. You feel like perhaps your career will compensate for your stunted growth. Perhaps you think it will be wealth or friends. These trees are easy to climb, but true stature for Jesus is repentance. This is how a little man named Zacchaeus increased in stature before the Lord. It is investing life with those who are less fortunate and following the Lord.

Or maybe we are trying to earn grace today. Let’s come down from that tree right now. Let’s embrace the Savior like we did when we first came to Him. Allow Him to rescue you. Don’t fight the hands that want to hold you and rescue you.  


[1] Submitted to from the source,,, accessed 26 March 2009.

[2]Mark, Straus. “A chief tax collector (19:2).” In Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Volume 1, Matthew,   Mark, Luke. 461. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]The Gospel of Luke, ed. William Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, The Daily Study Bible series, Rev. ed., 234 (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975).

[4]Hendriksen, William and Simon J. Kistemaker, vol. 11, New Testament    Commentary : Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke, 851 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001).

[5]Macarthur, John. “A Sinner Meets a Seeking Savior Pt. 1.”  accessed 28 March 2009.

[6]Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary, Lk 19:1 (Wheaton,   Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989).

[7]Hughes, Kent R. Luke: That You May Know the Truth, Preaching the Word, 222 (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1998).

[8]Green, Joel B., Scot McKnight and I. Howard Marshall, Dictionary of Jesus  and the Gospels, 805 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992).

[9]Straus, Mark, 463.

[10]See also Luke 3:12; 5:27; 7:29; 15:1; 18:10.

[11]Macarthur, John. Ibid.

[12]Keener, Craig S. and InterVarsity Press, The IVP Bible Background Commentary : New Testament, Lk 19:3 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993).


[14]Mark, Straus. “A sycamore-fig tree (19:4).” 463.

[15]Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 2: 9:51-24:53, Baker Exegetical Commentary  on the New Testament, 1517 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1996).

[16] Gire, Ken. Moments with the Savior, 276 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan,1998).

[17]Gire, 277.

[18]Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text.  The New international Greek testament commentary, 697 (Exeter [Eng.:  Paternoster Press, 1978).

[19]C. H. Spurgeon and Tom Carter, 2,200 Quotations : From the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon : Arranged Topically or Textually and Indexed by Subject, Scripture, and People,  Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Book House, c1988.; Includes indexes., Trade pbk. ed., 166 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995).

[20] Macarthur, John. “A Sinner Meets a Seeking Savior, Pt. 2.” accessed 28 March 2009.


[22]Lev. 5:16; Num. 5:7.

[23]Macarthur, Ibid.

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