The story of Zacchaeus is a brief but important account of how we should approach and respond to Jesus Christ. Here are 11 lessons that we can learn from his story (Luke 19:1-10).
#1 No One is Beyond Saving
We are told that Zacchaeus was a rich tax collector (Luke 19:2). Understanding how this came to be is critical to understanding the gravity of this account.
Tax collectors were hated by the Jews. They were agents of the Roman Empire, collecting on levies and taxes for Caesar. They had wide authority to prosecute those who did not pay and were also able to increase their fees beyond what was actually required, so long as the sent the appropriate amount back to Rome. As such a man, Zacchaeus had accumulated large amounts of illegitimate wealth.
The fact that he was a Jew makes it a double betrayal: not only is he afflicting his countrymen, but he is doing so as someone who has professed loyalty to Roman rule through his actions. He was no better than a traitor and turncoat. But Jesus will soon make the point that even such a man as this can be saved.
#2 Do Whatever it Takes to Get to Jesus
Jewish men did not run because it seemed undignified, and they would never climb a tree because they would be exposed to those who passed beneath them. Such actions would be considered shameful and beneath a respectful member of the community. But when Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was coming, he ran ahead of the crowds and climbed a tree just to catch a glimpse of Him (Luke 19:4). He did what was necessary to get to God, regardless of what others thought.
#3 Listen for Jesus’s Voice and Respond
Jesus addressed Zacchaeus directly and told him what He expected of him (Luke 19:5), and Zacchaeus “hurried and came down,” overjoyed that Jesus had reached out to him (Luke 19:6) and did everything within his power to obey Him.
#4 Be Ready to Welcome Jesus Into Your Heart
Zacchaeus proved that he was ready to hear Jesus through his actions: he no doubt had to leave his taxing tables, his livelihood and a symbol of his ill-gotten gains, in order to seek Jesus out. He had broken every social norm to get close to Him, and when Jesus finally did speak to Him Zacchaeus responded immediately.
His mind and heart were prepared beforehand and willing to respond when the Lord called. We should learn to adopt that mindset and attitude with Jesus ourselves.
#5 Be Prepared to Confront Your Prejudices
The response of the crowd around Jesus is also very telling. They looked down on Jesus because He had chosen to eat with someone they thought was a sinner (Luke 19:7). They looked down on Zacchaeus because they thought that he was beyond saving – he had made his choices and turned his back on his people, and so they refused to seek his good to try to reach out to him themselves.
Jesus broke through both of these barriers frequently. He confronted people’s preconceptions about “sinners” by saying that they were the very people He came to save and minister to.
The next time you think someone is unlovable or is beyond saving, remember this story and the example of Jesus. No one is beyond the power of His hand to redeem.
#6 Acknowledge Jesus as Both Lord and Savior
Zacchaeus addresses Jesus as “Lord” (Luke 19:8) when he speaks to him. This is the critical first step in beginning a relationship with God: acknowledging Jesus as the Lord of your life. No other person or thing or priority should ever come close to the influence and lordship of Jesus Christ. Yes, it is true that He saves us, but the point of His salvation is that we can use our redeemed and restored lives yielding to His will over our own.
#7 Do Whatever it Takes to Change Your Life for the Better
Zacchaeus promises to take drastic measures to right the wrongs he has done, and to live his life in a better and more righteous way: he promises to give much of his wealth to the poor and to go above and beyond in repaying what he took illegally from others (Luke 19:8).
Such actions would have depleted much, if not all, of Zacchaeus’ wealth. It may well have left him with nothing when he was done, but he didn’t care about that. All he cared about was following his Lord. His priorities were finally straightened out; money was no longer the driving force of his life. He could gladly give it up for the sake of following Jesus.
#8 Yield to What God Puts on Your Heart
We may not be called to the same level of extravagance in our giving as Zacchaeus committed to, but whenever God lays a path or an action on your heart, you should not compare it to someone else or try to justify a lesser course. That is for each of us to decide on our own; we can seek wise counsel and consider the implications of our actions, and we should always consider whether such feelings come from God or from our own thoughts. But the bottom line is, we should be obedient to whatever God tells us to do in order to follow Him.
Zacchaeus was moved by Jesus’ love to do the things he promised. For him, those were necessary steps to proving that he had fully submitted the rest of his life to God.
#9 Faith and Actions Are Different, but They Do Work Together
Zacchaeus would not have been justified simply by giving away his money. Nor would he have been justified by taking any other action. Those were outward signs of a changed heart.
Scripture teaches elsewhere that the motivations of our heart are what is important, not just our actions. We may follow the Law to the letter, or we may check off every box that would signify to others that we are faithful disciples of Christ. But if we do all of those things with selfish desires or motives, it will do us no good in the long run.
Our works do not save us; only faith in God does that. But one way we can be sure that our faith is real is if it is followed up with – and carried out by – our actions. Our good works are a sign of faith, not a gateway to it.
#10 Be Willing to Accept Other Believers
After His meeting with Zacchaeus, Jesus proclaimed that he was a “son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9) and said that Zacchaeus’ faith had saved him. Jesus knew the desires of Zacchaeus’ heart, and knew that he really would change – and He knows the same of us too.
If we meet someone who we previously thought could not be saved, and they show proof of true repentance and salvation, we should be quick to accept them on the evidence of their changed life.
#11 Remember Why Jesus Came
Jesus reiterated the purpose for His ministry: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) We should remember that in our own personal ministry for God, and have that as our guiding goal for fulfilling the Great Commission.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.