The Savior of the Lost
Main Idea: Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Now we join him in that mission.
- Do Everything You Can to See Jesus (19:1-10).
- Zacchaeus tries to see Jesus (19:2-4).
- The people grumble against Zacchaeus and Jesus (19:5-7).
- Zacchaeus repents and is saved (19:8-10).
- Do Everything You Can to Serve Jesus (19:11-27).
- The people in the parable (19:12-14)
- The problem in the parable (19:15-24)
- The philosophy of the parable (19:25-27)
As we look into God’s Word and see God revealed in the person of his Son, we have the privilege of getting to know God himself. We find ourselves drawn into the presence of his love. Luke 19 teaches us that Jesus is the Savior of the lost. Because the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, is the Savior of the world, he certainly finds whomever he searches for. Since he finds the ones he seeks, the Lord leaves us with two things: an imperative to do everything to see Jesus and, if we have seen him and love him, to do everything to serve Jesus.
Do Everything You Can to See Jesus
We begin with a well-known story in the Christian world. We even have a children’s song about it.
Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he;
He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.
Luke 19:1-10 is a good part of Scripture to turn into a children’s song because it teaches us tremendous things about Jesus and about why we should seek him.
After traveling for the last few chapters, Jesus finally enters Jericho (v. 1). It’s the last major city the Lord visits before entering Jerusalem. He has prophesied several times that when he reaches Jerusalem he will be betrayed, tried by sinful men, beaten and mocked, killed, and then raised from the grave three days later. Verse 1 reminds us of what fast approaches.
Zacchaeus Tries to See Jesus (19:2-4)
It’s in that context that Zacchaeus tries to see the Lord Jesus Christ. Verses 2-4 introduce us to Zacchaeus and record the effort he went through. Verse 2 says he was “a chief tax collector” and “was rich.” Both of those descriptions tell us something about Zacchaeus’s spiritual life.
Regular tax collectors were hated in Israel because they worked for the Roman government that oppressed the Jewish people. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. In all likelihood he did not receive that position by working hard. He probably rose to that rank by being more crooked than other tax collectors, who often cheated people out of their earnings.
Also, Zacchaeus was “rich.” Do you remember what our Lord says about rich people in the previous chapter?
How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. (18:24-25)
Zacchaeus is a sinner, and he’s rich. He’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t expect to make it into the kingdom, according to Jesus.
But verse 3 says, “He was trying to see who Jesus was.” I think this sentence is pregnant with meaning. They didn’t know each other, but perhaps the crowd piqued his interest. Perhaps he’d heard something about this new rabbi who did miracles, astounded people with his teaching, and even accepted outcasts. He’s looking for Jesus, but there’s a problem. Zacchaeus was a short man and couldn’t see over the people (v. 3).
So this rich man, who likely oppressed people and might have been accustomed to others deferring to him out of fear, ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Jesus. We might expect to see children climbing trees and sitting on branches with their legs dangling over limbs. One of the great growing-up pastimes is climbing trees. But we do not expect to see among any children in the tree a grown man in an expensive robe hugging a tree trunk and looking into the crowd.
Zacchaeus has put himself where he can physically see the Lord.
The People Grumble Against Zacchaeus and Jesus (19:5-7)
Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the tree and called him by name. They’d never met before, but the Lord knew Zacchaeus before Zacchaeus knew the Lord. That’s the case with us all. The Lord says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today it is necessary for me to stay at your house.”
By putting himself in position to see Jesus physically, Zacchaeus has now also put himself in position to see Jesus personally and socially. He receives Jesus’s instruction and invitation. He does so “joyfully,” which is the only way to respond when the Son of God calls you by name. No doubt some of you have been hearing the Lord call you to come to him. You should, like Zacchaeus, hurry to meet the Lord. Zacchaeus has gone from trying to see who Jesus was to hurrying to have Jesus over for dinner. He’s doing everything he can to know the Lord.
But verse 7 presents a problem. Crowds have mood swings. They had been traveling excitedly with Jesus, but now they see Jesus calling down Zacchaeus to eat with him, and they all “began to complain.” They said, “He’s gone to stay with a sinful man.” The crowd seems to think that holiness means separating from sinners and shunning them. They seem to think that if Jesus were really a prophet or a rabbi, then he should have nothing to do with the likes of Zacchaeus, a known sinner.
Let us be careful of ever daring to assess whether someone is worthy of meeting God. When we feel someone is unworthy of God we actually insult that person and God. When we think someone is unworthy of God we throw that person away long before God ever would. At the same time, should God welcome them, then we put ourselves in a position, like the crowd, of questioning God. We ought to concern ourselves with our own unworthiness if we find ourselves condemning others. What’s true of Zacchaeus is true of us all: we’re all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).
A grumbling crowd is a dangerous crowd; it turns on you. A grumbling crowd is a sinful crowd, since grumbling against the Lord is a sin in itself. Just as when Israel grumbled against God in the wilderness (Exod 16:8; Num 14:27; Jas 5:9; Jude 1:16), the crowd proves its own sinfulness as they grumble because of Zacchaeus’s sin.
Not everyone will be happy when you fellowship with Jesus, even among the crowds that follow Jesus. A godly person would rejoice to see you turn from sin and follow the Lord; but not everyone in the crowd, though religious, knows the Lord personally. It can be difficult to live down your sinful past when the crowds know who you were or what you did. But never let the crowds keep you from Jesus. Never let grumbling people interrupt the chance you have of getting to know Jesus.
Zacchaeus Repents and Is Saved (19:8-10)
God saved Zacchaeus after he put himself in position to see and know the Lord. Zacchaeus repents of his sin by giving half of his possessions to the poor and returning four times as much to anyone he has extorted from or defrauded. Zacchaeus forsakes stinginess and greediness and turns to the poor in generosity. In a world where riches choke out the word and strangle faith, to give to others signifies genuine repentance. Zacchaeus also turns back to his victims to return to them fourfold what he has taken. In this way he turns back to God’s law to submit to the Bible’s vision of justice and restoration for wrong. He demonstrates newfound obedience to God. Zacchaeus provides us a marvelous picture of repentance.
He also provides us a marvelous picture of Luke 18:27. Here God demonstrates the “possible” salvation in a rich man’s life. God can call people from all their idols, a lifetime of sin, and the habit of abusing privilege, position, and others, and turn such persons to himself, making them new.
Zacchaeus is not buying his salvation. No amount of money can buy salvation. No, he’s showing by his giving the change of heart he’s had. When a person is truly repentant, it affects how they view and use money. At the very least, money is no longer their god—Jesus Christ is. They don’t look to cheat people for money; instead they look to bless people with their money. They become givers rather than takers because they’ve been set free from greed and idolatry. A converted man is a generous man.
That’s why the Lord proclaims in verse 9: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.” Zacchaeus was saved from God’s judgment against sin on that very day. He was saved because he became that day a true “son of Abraham.” Abraham believed God’s promise, and God counted Abraham as righteous because of his belief (Gen 15:6). The same has happened here with Zacchaeus. He has believed the promise of God and has become a “son of Abraham,” a person of faith.
Conversion is the heart of Jesus’s mission in the world. So the Lord says in verse 10, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” If someone ever asks you, “Why did Jesus come?” here’s the perfect answer from Jesus himself. He came to seek and to save the lost.
Jesus came looking for “lost” people. What does it mean to be “lost”? We know when we are lost, but we usually don’t know it until we are lost. It’s like a driver speeding along to his favorite song. He enjoys the music and impresses himself with “the good time he is making,” and he never notices he missed the turn or exit. At some point he recognizes he doesn’t know where he is. He didn’t start out uncertain; he started with confidence. But now he doesn’t know where he is or how to get where he wants to be—even back to where he started. He cannot go forward or backward with any confidence that he’s going in the right direction. Lostness disorients us. Then his pride kicks in as he refuses to stop for directions or accept help from his wife. He clenches his teeth and presses further into his lost state.
That’s what it is to be “lost.” Spiritually, we are all lost apart from Christ. We cannot determine how we got where we are or how to get back where we’ve been. We are surprised at our spiritual location. And it may be that we’ve been lost so long that we don’t know where home is. We can be so separated from God that we forget we were made to be with God in his kingdom, face-to-face in his love.
Lost people are people who cannot find their way to God because of sin. They have lost their way, and they are lost to God. But the Father sent his Son to find them—not only to seek them but also to rescue them and bring them back safely home.
Gospel appeal. Sinner, Jesus is looking for you. He still seeks and saves the lost. Don’t let the crowds keep you from him. Do everything you can to see him. Don’t let your pride drive you deeper into lostness. Instead, receive the love of God through Jesus Christ his Son. The Son gave his life on the cross to pay the penalty of your sins. Three days later God raised him from the dead for your justification. Now home lies the way of the cross. Put your faith in Christ, repent of sin, and follow the Lord home to glory.
Evangelism. Like Zacchaeus, who was a sinful tax collector and hardened to God because he was rich, God’s people are sometimes camouflaged as sinners. So they must be sought. This is the work and goal of evangelism. Many people think of their neighborhood as “tough” or “distressed,” but every neighborhood is filled with people who are destined to be God’s people through faith in Christ. We are to go seek them and tell them the way of salvation. If it was “necessary” (v. 5) for Jesus to go to Zacchaeus’s home, then a necessity falls on us to go into the world to seek and save the lost.
We exist to make disciples from the four corners of the block to the four corners of the world. If we are not going to go to our neighbors with the good news, then we don’t need to be in the neighborhood where God has placed us. If we wish to reduce Christianity to a preaching point one morning a week, then we may as well locate ourselves in the most convenient place and be sure to drive traffic to our website. If we do not want to risk anything in meeting our neighbors and building relationships, then let’s move to the suburbs and enjoy manicured lawns. No, God has placed us where we are to make real life contact with people made in the image of God to tell them how to get home. We must do this, and it’s our privilege to do it.
On justice. A converted man is a just man. We see two forms of justice in verse 8. First, there is justice in the form of redistribution of wealth. Zacchaeus gives half his goods to the poor. This deed is free and voluntary. It’s the opposite of the rich man in Luke 18. Not everyone everywhere is commanded to do exactly as Zacchaeus does here. But it’s a mighty fine example. Some people somewhere sometimes ought to do this because it’s how God cares for the poor—through the just redistribution of wealth that we call giving, charity, or alms. Genuine conversion produces generosity in the converted.
There’s another kind of justice here too. It’s restitution to the victim. When Zacchaeus says he will give fourfold to anyone he has defrauded, he goes from lawbreaker to lawkeeper. He seeks to do justice for those he has wronged. Repentance isn’t complete until there is justice given to those we’ve sinned against. We cannot say we are repentant and following Christ if we intend to leave unaddressed and unchanged the wrongs we have committed against others. Repentance includes restitution and reconciliation.
We talk a lot about justice in our day, but the surest way to see justice among men is to see men converted and to teach them to live as God requires. In the words of Micah 6:8,
Mankind, he has told each of you what is good
and what it is the Lord requires of you:
to act justly,
to love faithfulness,
and to walk humbly with your God.
Zacchaeus does everything he can to see Jesus. When he meets with the Lord, he actually becomes a brand-new man, born again through faith in Jesus Christ.
Do Everything You Can to Serve Jesus
Verse 11 tells us that the people “were listening to this.” When they heard these things they made two mistakes in their thinking. (1) It seems they forgot they were on the way to Jerusalem. (2) All the talk of salvation coming to Zacchaeus’s house on that day had them thinking “the kingdom of God was going to appear right away.”
They were ready to skip the cross and go straight to the kingdom. That’s a mistake people make all the time, but the truth is, there is no kingdom unless there is first the cross. First comes suffering, then comes glory. That’s why Jesus tells them this parable. He’s trying to fix the two mistakes they’re making in their thinking.
The People in the Parable (19:12-14)
The parable has three sets of characters in it. There is the nobleman who goes into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return (v. 12). That nobleman represents Jesus. He goes to Jerusalem where he would be killed. He would rise three days later and then ascend into heaven. That’s the far country where the Lord receives his kingdom. He’s going away for a time.
Then there are the ten servants in verse 13. Those are Jesus’s followers or disciples. They receive ten minas or coins. They’re supposed to engage in business until the nobleman returns. In other words, the servants or disciples are to be good stewards for the Lord, serving him until he returns.
Finally, there are the citizens in verse 14. They “hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We don’t want this man to rule over us.’” These citizens represent the lost sinners who reject Jesus Christ. In their sin they attempt to be their own lords.
The Problem in the Parable (19:15-24)
Verse 15 flashes forward to when the nobleman returns from the far country and has “received the authority to be king.” So Jesus is looking down the tunnel of time to his second coming. Despite the servants’ protests, the nobleman does in fact return with his kingdom intact. So, too, will Jesus. The first thing the nobleman does is call his servants to him to give an account for how they conducted his business. The parable illustrates what 1 Peter 4:17 says: “The time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household.” The first people called before King Jesus are those of us who follow him.
We all must give an account for what we do with our “minas” or coins, which symbolize our whole selves. In what way are we stewarding all that we have to complete our Master’s business of seeking and saving the lost?
We get a report on three of the ten servants. The first servant (vv. 16-17) turned his one mina into eleven, and because of that he rules over ten cities. The second servant (vv. 18-19) turns his mina into six and rules over five cities. Ruling over cities represents our reign with Christ in his kingdom. The reward is proportional to the return on investment. A life of serving Christ is an eternally rewarded life!
Then you get to “another” servant in verse 20. That servant came with excuses rather than profit. He had put the money in a handkerchief and buried it. Verse 21 says this servant did that because he was afraid of the nobleman. He thought the nobleman was “harsh.” The servant thought the nobleman reaped or received where he did not sow or work. This servant thought hard thoughts toward his lord, and in his fear he thought his excuse might be enough to justify his failure to use what the nobleman had given him.
The problem is, he didn’t act on what he knew about the nobleman. In verses 22-23 the nobleman uses his own words against him. He says, basically, if you knew those things about me, then you should have used what I gave you to make more. The nobleman points out that this man does not live by his theology. He confesses something about his lord but does not live in light of the confession. Even with his partial knowledge, the servant should have acted. Why didn’t he even make a safe investment, like depositing the money in the bank to earn interest?
God expects us to use what he gives us to make more for his kingdom. God expects us to use our theology to motivate our actions. We should act on what we know about God. There’s no acceptable excuse for not acting on the truth we know about God. That very truth will condemn us. It’s not that we are responsible for the truths we don’t know. It’s what we do with what we do know.
Someone once said, “I am not troubled by the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand. I am troubled by the parts of the Bible I do understand.” That person knew some things were very clear in the Bible. It is the clear things of the Scriptures that make us accountable to God. Whatever truth we know about God, we are responsible for that truth before God. Even if we—like this servant—don’t like the truth or it seems unpleasant to us, we must steward it by acting on it to make a profit for the kingdom.
Instead of inheriting cities to rule, the third servant loses the cities and he loses his stewardship. He himself is not lost, but all that he could have had as a reward in the new kingdom is taken away. Live for the reward of heaven. Live for the promise of glory. God calls us to live for a reward we cannot imagine. What will it be like to rule with Christ, to sit on thrones ruling over cities? How sublime will it be to share in the glory of Christ when he is eternally enthroned? We should serve Jesus until we see Jesus, when we hear the “well done” and share his reward.
Do you need a reason to get out of bed tomorrow? How about the promise of an eternal kingdom with Christ?
The Philosophy of the Parable (19:25-27)
In his kingdom God rewards faithfulness. That’s what the Lord means by “everyone who has” (19:26). Each of the servants had one mina, but one was unfaithful; he didn’t multiply it. So his share was given to the faithful who had a one thousand percent return on his stewardship.
We often refer to the poor as the “have nots.” But that’s not what Jesus has in mind in verse 26. The “one who does not have” refers to the unfaithful. Though he had a mina, he didn’t steward it well. So when he buried it, it’s as if he didn’t have it.
The faithful are rewarded.
The wicked are condemned. Verse 27 comes back to the citizens. Do you remember them? They were those who hated the nobleman and protested against his rule.
They are not forgotten. When the judgment of his servants is complete, then the judgment of the haters begins. Haters gon’ hate. But haters gon’ be judged too. They are slaughtered before the king. That is a violent image, but it does not even compare to the condemnation of the wicked in hell. The Lord reaches for a graphic image to help us understand how terrible the consequence of lostness is. Those in hell wish they could be slaughtered and have it over with. However, they have sinned against an infinite God and pay an infinite penalty. If nothing else, the constant reminder of Jesus’s kingship and rule will be agony to their souls.
There is no good reason to rebel against Jesus. Can you think of a good reason to rebel against a God who loves you and gave his life to save you from hell and to love you forever? I can’t. Rebellion only ends in destruction.
There is every reason to believe in him and to follow him and to serve him. Faith ends in eternal life and ruling with Christ in an everlasting kingdom.
Be like Zacchaeus: repent of sin. Believe in Christ as your Lord. Be faithful to serve Christ all your life. Then receive glory and honor as you reign with him. That’s the philosophy of this chapter. That’s the philosophy of the Christian life. There’s no better way to live. This is the only way that can properly be called “living.” Everything else is a kind of death. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will live.
Reflect and Discuss
- How well positioned are you to see Jesus? Do you need to move in some way (physically, socially, spiritually) in order to get a clearer sight of the Lord?
- What evidences of repentance do we see in Zacchaeus? What evidences of repentance were present at your conversion?
- The crowds disapprove of Jesus’s fellowship with Zacchaeus, yet Zacchaeus comes to faith in the Lord. How commonly do you think Christians resemble the attitudes of the crowds who did not think Zacchaeus was worthy to be with Jesus? How can we better spot those attitudes and root them out?
- Do you think Christians give appropriate emphasis to justice in our Christian lives? Why or why not?
- What does Jesus seem to think about hell based on this passage? How should the horror of hell factor into how we steward the gospel?
- What do we learn about the sovereignty of Christ and the certainty of his kingdom from this passage? Do these things give you hope?