Standing Tall: Saving Zacchaeus

How do you stand out in a crowd? One area where this is a pressing concern is the job market. Some people do desperate things to get a job, and sometimes it is hard to stand out from the crowd – but one success story is that of Adam Pacitti who is now famous for a daring publicity stunt that secured him employment.

After graduating with a first-class honors degree in Media Production he worked in an arcade, filling the two-pence machines and stacking toys. He said: “I was grateful to have a job, but it’s not something I’d really like to do…. I came up with the idea for the video and billboard about three months ago, and managed to save up £500 while working. I called in favors from friends and asked studios, and made the video, and decided to post the billboard in London, because that’s where most of the jobs are.”

Adam went out on a limb and spent his last penny on a creative idea to make him stand out from the crowd. In the heart of London, he posted a bright blue billboard with a picture of himself pointing to the words, “I spent my last £500 on this billboard. Please give me a job.”

He got dozens of employments offers, and now has a job in a media company, working on a project to help other unemployed people find their dream job.

In Luke 19 we encounter a man who struggled to stand out in a crowd, partly due to being “vertically challenged.” But he overcame his disadvantage by stepping out on a limb…



Luke 19:1-2 He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 

Zacchaeus is the portrait of a sinner in need of grace. From a human perspective, he is a lost cause, whose only appropriate posture is to slink, and never to stand tall.

First, he is a chief tax collector. The Romans were ingenious in the way they collected taxes from the nations they conquered. They hired a native to do it for them. All they needed was someone greedy enough to sell out his own nation.  Zacchaeus was just such a scoundrel.

As a chief tax collector, he was the CEO of a franchise with a quota to meet. Anything above that, he could keep as his own pay. These chief tax collectors would then hire an army of other odious traitors to do the grunt work of extracting cash from their neighbors.

Tax collectors were considered to be the scourge of society. They were disowned by their families, excommunicated from synagogue, and barred from Temple worship. They didn’t keep the Jewish feasts, couldn’t make sacrifices for their sins, and were for all intents and purposes, not Jewish.

The second problem Zacchaeus had can be seen in verse 2: …He was a chief tax collector and was rich

Luke’s gospel indicates that rich people are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to salvation. Because the rich tend to place their trust in what they possess, rather than in God, they feel their spiritual need less urgently, because they have their physical needs met, and they potentially have more to lose when they get saved.

But Jesus also said “all things are possible with God.”

There is a third problem for our taxman, besides his spiritual shortfall, verse 3 says: And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature.          

His problem, like the chronically unemployed, is that he cannot stand out from the crowd. But his determination is admirable…

Verse 4: So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 

What is significant about this act is that it shows his shifting priorities. Climbing a tree isn’t a very dignified activity for a CEO, and yet he doesn’t seem to care what people will think of him.

This is a characteristic of people who are desperate to be saved. They don’t care what it costs them.

How about you? How badly do you want to get close to Jesus? What time, effort, and dignity are you willing to sacrifice?


Luke 19: 5-6 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”  So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 

At first glance this looks like Zacchaeus is the one reaching out to Jesus, while Jesus is simply reacting to what this sinner initiates…until Jesus opens his mouth.

Verse 5: And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”

Not only does Jesus call him by name—without an introduction— but Jesus shows that he was expecting this encounter to happen. He says “I must and hurry down” as if Jesus has a preordained appointment to keep and haste is necessary to keep to the schedule punctually.

This is something we see hints of throughout the gospels: Jesus was on a divine timetable, with specific appointments on it, which he was prepared for.

When a preacher proclaims the gospel, God isn’t in Heaven with popcorn watching eagerly to see how many people will repent. Salvation is always by divine appointment.

God ordained the day of your salvation and he ordained your salvation too.

Perhaps in a moment of desperation, you prayed “Dear God, if you exist, please fix this mess I’m in, mend my marriage, help me get over this grief or depression or anxiety.”

And then you think “It’s been three weeks since that prayer and still nothing.”

Well, you’re reading this blog, aren’t you? You ended up reading something that is telling you how to repent and get your life right with God. You’re hearing from God’s word that you need to be willing to give up your sin and your dignity and your pride, and be determined to get to Jesus, and guess what: if that is your desire, then that is what is happening right now!

Can it be so easy? No. There will be opposition to any divine appointment. This introduces us to the next scene in our drama…


Luke 19:7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 

Some were disgruntled when they saw Jesus choose a tax collector as his host. They didn’t want a sinner to stand tall with the dignity he didn’t deserve. This is typical. It happened previously too, when Jesus called Levi the tax collector to be a disciple. It happened when Jesus healed a blind beggar, who was excommunicated for siding with Jesus (John 9). It happened with a notoriously sinful woman washed Christ’s feet (Luke 7).

Zacchaeus was such a clear trophy of grace because he showed that if God can save him, he can save anyone. Getting disgruntled about this is to miss the message of hope just delivered by Jesus choosing this man.


If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ then you know that you didn’t have to try to get God’s attention; he got yours. He sent Jesus to die to take the punishment for your sin and he made and orchestrated the divine appointment with you. You can stand tall because of Christ’s worthiness and righteousness. No need to slink off in the shadows. Next week we will discuss the next part of this rescue operation and consider what true conversion looks like.

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