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How to Make the Most of Your Life: Luke 19:1-10

Part 5 of 7: Talking Yourself Out of Blessings
Chad Melton | March 13, 2022

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 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.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”—Luke 19:1-10 (ESV)

Sunday’s sermon is based on a familiar Bible story most of your Group will be somewhat familiar with. As an icebreaker, ask them if they learned the children’s song about Zacchaeus (the wee little man) and if anyone would volunteer to sing it. Talk about the power of song and how it can place both good and bad thoughts in hard to forget places of memory. Lead them to discuss the power of our minds.

Sunday’s sermon was about big decisions that can change our lives. We often realize the size of the decision and either talk ourselves into them or out of them. It’s also true that following Jesus often leads to these moments. Ask, “Have you ever had a moment in your life when you almost talked yourself out of something that has tremendously blessed you?”

Zacchaeus’ life was successful by worldly measure. The Bible says he had an important job as Chief Tax Collector (this title is found nowhere else in the New Testament), and it made him rich, but we learn from the story that he wasn’t happy and fulfilled because his riches were gained by mistreating people. All of that changed when he met Jesus.

The familiar story tells of Jesus passing through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem through dense crowds who clamored to see him. Since Zacchaeus was short, he set aside his dignity and climbed up a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. To his delight (and surprise, no doubt), Jesus called him down by name and invited himself to dinner!

As far as we know, the two had never met, so it must have caught Zacchaeus by surprise that Jesus knew his name. Jesus already knew the man and sought a relationship. In the hours that followed, Jesus must have said many things that resonated deeply with Zacchaeus because he was inspired to make a grand gesture.

The Bible says, “Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” (Luke 19:8) It’s not unlikely that such a thing might have bankrupted Zacchaeus: notice here that Jesus did not try to talk him out of it. He said, “Today salvation has come to this house since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)

The word “for” is explanatory. This is what Jesus’ was and is all about: Helping all of us make the most of our lives. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but not nearly as much as Jesus wanted to see him! When Zacchaeus met Jesus, his perspective radically changed – and Jesus declared victory.

Group Discussion Questions
  1. Tell us about a time when you talked yourself into or out of a situation that proved later to be pivotal in your life.
  2. The Bible says everyone grumbled and complained about Jesus associating with Zacchaeus (verses 7-8.) Do you think Zacchaeus heard them? Do you find it surprising that he then wanted to enrich these people? Discuss how that might apply to our lives.
  3. Read Luke 18:18-25 about the rich young ruler. How is this story similar and different from the story of Zacchaeus?
  4. Which story can you relate to most? Why?
  5. What is Jesus trying to talk you into right now?
  6. What is standing in your way?

Dig Deeper: Tax Collectors

Zacchaeus is a “chief tax collector,” which means he stands at the top of the collection pyramid, taking a commission cut from those who collected taxes for him.

Tax collectors, also known as publicans (publicanus), charged tolls and taxes on behalf of the Roman government. These private government subcontractors would tax travelers carrying merchandise between properties or delivering goods along certain well-defined roads. Rome preferred to hire locals familiar with a region’s inhabitants, land, and roads. Some tax agents were responsible for such large territories that they functioned as subcontractors, hiring their employees to collect the taxes. Zacchaeus seems to fit this category, as he is described as a “chief” tax collector (Luke 19:2–10).

Tax collectors earned a profit by demanding a higher tax from the people than prepaid to the Roman government. This system led to widespread greed and corruption. The tax-collecting profession was saturated with unscrupulous people who overtaxed others to maximize their personal gain. According to Adams, “The toll-collectors were in a profession that was open to dishonesty and oppression of their neighbor” (Adams, The Sinner in Luke). Since the Jews considered themselves victims of Roman oppression, Jewish tax collectors who overtaxed their fellow countrymen were especially despised. Jews viewed such favor for Rome as betrayal and equal to treason against God. Rabbinic sources consistently align Jewish tax collectors with robbers.

Tax Collectors in the New Testament

The only references to tax collectors in Scripture are the 20 references in the Synoptic Gospels. The Gospels tend to connect tax collectors with sinners (Matt 9:10; Mark 2:15–16; Luke 15:1–2). According to Neale, “For Luke, toll collectors serve as archetypal ‘sinners’ beyond the pale of salvation” (None But the Sinners, 113–15).

Jewish religious leaders particularly despised tax collectors (Matt 9:11; 11:19; Luke 5:30; 7:34), regarding them as ceremonially unclean and excluding them from religious activities. John the Baptist baptizes many tax collectors, but he does not instruct them to change occupations. Instead, he urges them to “collect no more than you have been ordered to” (Luke 3:12–13; 7:29).

Jesus’ Relationship with Tax Collectors

Jesus interacts with tax collectors throughout Scripture, but He also speaks disparagingly about them, at times affiliating them with prostitutes (Matt 21:31–32) and Gentiles (Matt 18:17). Jesus agrees that paying taxes is moral (Mark 12:17), but He disapproves of the corruption common among tax collectors. They are among the lost whom He came to find (Luke 19:10) and the sick whom He came to heal (Matthew 9:10–12).
Mark 2:15–16 reports “many tax collectors and sinners” among Jesus’ followers. One of Jesus’ 12 disciples, Matthew (also known as Levi), was formerly a tax collector (Matt 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27). In Matthew 21:31–32, Jesus declares that certain prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the kingdom ahead of the religious leaders because they had believed John’s message of repentance. Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector in Luke 18:10–14 teaches that self-righteousness is displeasing to God when displayed by anyone (even a Pharisee). In contrast, repentance is pleasing to God when displayed by anyone (even a tax collector).

Jesus’ association with tax collectors proves unpopular, especially among the Jewish religious leaders, who regarded fellowship with sinners as guilt by association and equal to moral compromise. Jesus’ table fellowship with tax collectors is presented as being especially scandalous (Matt 9:11; Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30; 15:1–2), in part because the meal was thought to be purchased using proceeds gained from unethical taxation. When accused of being a friend of unrepentant tax collectors and sinners, however, Jesus denies it along with the accusation that He is a glutton and a drunk (Matt 11:18–19; Luke 7:34).
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