In Luke 18:18-34 and Luke 19:1-10, we read about two men who came to Jesus. One who was a rich young ruler, and the other Zaccheus. Although both men were very wealthy and probably used to being served by others, they were both so eager to meet Jesus that they were not ashamed to run to Him (Mark 10:17, Luke 19:4). However, the similarities between both men ended there. To the public, the Ruler was a very devout and righteous man while they considered Zaccheus a Chief among sinners (since he was a Chief tax collector). On the other hand, when Jesus encountered each of them, He could immediately tell what was in each man’s heart (John 2:25).
I imagine that what Jesus saw in the Ruler was a man who was intelligent, hardworking, and disciplined. From a young age, he had been taught by his parents the law of God and how to keep it. He was used to receiving praise from men for his good character and exemplary behavior. And as a result of all of these, even at a young age he was extremely rich and had accomplished a lot in life both within religious circles and the secular world. But Jesus also saw in him a man who had come to trust in his own righteousness and wealth; a man who was used to having things his way. He ran to Jesus because he knew something was desperately missing in his life. Unfortunately, after hearing the condition for filling that whole in his life, he felt that to give up all that he had worked hard to achieve over many years was too big a price for “whatever additional thing” Jesus had to offer. So, he went home sad because he couldn’t get everything his heart desired.
On the other hand, in Zaccheus, I imagine Jesus saw a man who was gifted at cheating people and whose very name evoked contempt from people (Luke 19:7). A man whose name was a constant reminder of what his parents hoped he would grow up to be, a pure and innocent man. His very name reminded him of what a disappointment he was to his parents and to society (Zaccheus means pure or innocent). Although everyone saw him as a sinner, in secret he longed for an opportunity to turn his life around and follow a path to salvation, Jesus would have seen that also.
Perhaps Zaccheus would often spend time thinking of ways to make things right: “What if I give 10% of my wealth to the poor! or even 20%? What if I pay back everyone I have cheated? Would that be sufficient to make up for my sinful behavior?” But after several hours of pondering he would end up more sorrowful than at the start. Maybe he even considered going to the Pharisees for help, but all they had for him was condemnation rather than any hope of redemption. And so rather than being overwhelmed with despair and hopelessness, he would decide to just continue to focus on making as much money as he could and getting to the top in his career as a tax collector.
However, after many years had passed by, he began hearing about a Teacher who was unlike anyone he had ever heard before. A Man who also taught the word of God like the Pharisees; but whose words were not just true, but were full of grace and hope. “Perhaps this Man may be able to tell me how to make things right with God and with people,” he must have thought to himself. And so on that fateful day, when he heard this Man, Jesus, was in town, he ran to get a glimpse of him and listen firsthand to His teachings to confirm if what he had heard was true. He wasn’t going to allow anything to get in his way, therefore he was willing to humble himself like a little child (Luke 18:17), even if it meant climbing a tree just to get a glimpse of Jesus.
Little did he know that Jesus was even more excited and eager to meet the tax collector named Zaccheus! For Jesus had also heard much about him from the Holy Spirit. Zaccheus must have received the shock of his life when Jesus, looking up with a smile and calling him by name, said “Zaccheus, hurry down, for today I must stay at your house!” And on the way to his home, Zaccheus would have thought, “if such a righteous and Holy Man is delighted to have fellowship with me despite hearing all I have done, then all hope is not lost…”. Therefore, as he had often done in the past, he eagerly began debating in his heart how much he might need to give up to make up for his unrighteousness: 30%? 40%?.... “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.” He blurted out. And I see Jesus smiling and saying to Him “Today salvation has come to this house.” For Jesus already knew that even if it meant giving up everything, Zaccheus would be willing to!!!
Herein we see the real-life depiction of “Two men went up into the temple to pray”, one a religious ruler (Pharisee) and the other a tax collector. With the religious ruler taking pride and trusting in his wealth of money and good deeds; and the humble tax collector in tears to God crying out, “be merciful to me, the [chief] sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14).
What a Savior we have, who leaves the 99 to seek fellowship with the one who is repentant and eager to make things right if given the opportunity! Do you live in regret over terrible sins you have made in the past that have caused harm to many? Do you feel you have wasted so many years of your life living for yourself rather than for God? Are you overcome by anger, lust, fear, or laziness, and after much effort victory still seems impossible? No matter how irredeemable, difficult or hopeless our situation may seem, Jesus still eagerly longs to have fellowship with us, if only we remain repentant. Therefore, may we always seek to have repentant hearts so that we may fellowship continually with Christ.
Or are you one who has lived a pretty good life and not committed any gross sin since childhood? No matter how righteous or zealous we may appear to be, may we never glory in that or put our trust in our own righteousness. May we consider everything we have accomplished as rubbish compared to the excellency of fellowship with Christ and be willing to give it all up if required so that we may continually preserve and grow in our fellowship with Christ.
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” - Luke 19:10
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” - Jesus (Revelations 3:19-20)
“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” - Paul (Philipians 3:8-9)