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Zacchaeus called Jesus by name, and it, quite literally, changed everything.

The reason it’s such a big deal is because Jesus calls each of us by name, too, including Zacchaeus.

Luke 19
1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

Jesus always calls us with grace, not condemnation, even when we deserve it. If you hear a condemning voice, that’s not Jesus.

But we need to realize something here. This is great for the person receiving grace but is wildly unpopular with everyone else. We are good with it when we’re the recipients, but not when other underserving people get grace.

Look at the response from the crowd.

Luke 19
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

When Jesus calls you by name, other people aren’t going to get it. And sometimes you might not even get it.  

Sometimes the most straightforward yet challenging acts of worship we can offer God is our “yes.” So, we are just like Zacchaeus in this story. The person who doesn’t feel worthy, qualified, or ready. But the one who Jesus calls.

And sometimes we’re the crowd. So we see Jesus do this with someone else we don’t think deserves it.

Here’s a guy who everyone hated:

  • Tax collector – Does anyone think positively when the word “tax” comes up? Not even just a guy down the org chat or a cog in the machine, but the CHIEF of tax collectors. He ran the operation.
  • At the time, the Roman Empire occupied the Jewish land, and they handled tax collection by outsourcing it to locals. The locals could take a cut, skim off the top, or do whatever it took as long as they paid Rome their due.
  • In a league with the Roman Empire. They hated occupiers.
  • Extortionist, unfair, and unjust.
  • There might be a cute Sunday School song about Zacchaeus, but it’s more like someone you really don’t like who tries to rip you off.
  • Zacchaeus is like the slimiest, sketchiest person who ever tried to get your money.

Meanwhile, all the other folks got there early. They camped out. They got the good spots to see Jesus. It’s like showing up to New Year’s Eve in Times Square hours before with signs, chanting, “we love Jesus, yes we do, we love Jesus, how ‘bout you?”

Jesus doesn’t go to any of their houses. He doesn’t even tell this tax collector guy to repent or cast down judgment on him. It seems like a missed opportunity to call out sin. It seems so unfair.

This is an area we really struggle with when it comes to God.

We want grace for ourselves when we fall short but justice when others do.    


Because we meant well, we slipped up, or it wasn’t that big of a deal. We look at our intentions. It’s easy to do, and it also has the effect of making us feel morally superior. Whether we admit it or not, we play this game where we subtly figure out the people who are “worse” than we are.

But it turns out Jesus has a very different vision of how this works – with Zacchaeus and us. Look how one of the other early church leaders, the Apostle Paul, himself a recipient of incredible grace, frames it:

Romans 2
1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Paul wrote these words after a discourse in the previous chapter about sin – the fact that we all fall short of the glory of a holy God and that sin has consequences.

Christian people love bringing that section up to discuss “the world” and “sinners.” Specifically other people’s sin. But they rarely connect it to this section, which comes right after.

We see a very different picture in these words and Jesus’ actions.         

If we are going to “call out sin” and “stand against sin” or even “pray for sinners,” we need to start with ourselves first, and stick with that for a while. 

If we decided to call out sin, we’d run out of time before even being done with our own. Sometimes we’re Zacchaeus, and we like that part. But sometimes we’re the crowd. It’s really easy to miss Jesus and how He operates when we’re in the crowd.

Look at that last phrase. God’s kindness leads us to repentance. Not condemnation, embrace. And that’s what Jesus does in the story.

Luke 19

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

It’s such a simple, powerful act. Jesus is calling a man, and by all accounts, an unworthy man. It changes everything.

There’s something profoundly powerful about being seen, addressed personally, spoken to, or embraced.

So, how does Jesus call us by name? Most of us want that deep down. We don’t want to be just another face in the crowd.

  1. It’s not about our worthiness – Zacchaeus was completely undeserving. We have to lay down our illusions of entitlement because of who we are, what we’ve done, or how we stack up compared to others.  
  2. Jesus came to seek and save the lost – Lost here means that which was bound for destruction, made useless. Unfortunately, some of us are only willing to stop and ask for directions when we’re genuinely lost. We like to be in control, to be the masters of our own destinies, but Jesus finds us only when we admit we’re lost and that our way isn’t working. In fact, our way is actually leading us to a dead end that will ultimately bring death or even destroy us.  
  3. Zacchaeus runs out ahead and climbs a tree – Have you ever seen a grown person climb a tree? It’s the most undignified thing ever and usually isn’t done at a respectable gathering. We’ll be more ready to hear the voice of Jesus when we’re willing to risk our dignity and look a little bit silly. But it’s a risk, and that’s what faith is.

We often pray, “God show up, God speak to me.” When what we really mean is, “I don’t want to move an inch, God come into the place I’ve already decided.” Now, God covers the distance between, but we have to be willing to move, let go, risk looking silly, and get into a position where we’re ready to be seen and to be called.

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