By J.R. Miller
It is said that when a certain French queen was journeying through her country, orders were given that no people in sadness or in trouble--blind, lame, or suffering--should be allowed anywhere along the way. The purpose was to keep from the sight of the gentlewoman everything that might cause her pain. When Jesus was journeying, however, no such commands were given. On the other hand, all kinds of sufferers thronged the waysides, and He never resented them as impertinent intrusions.
"As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging." Bartimeus was blind and a beggar. He was sitting by the wayside, holding out his hand to receive alms from those who passed along. He heard a strange noise, the noise of trampling feet, and he asked what it meant. They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. He knew who Jesus of Nazareth was. He had never passed that way before, and now was the blind man's opportunity. Bartimeus knew what that name meant. He knew that Jesus was a great healer, that He could cure the sick, and that He could give blind men their sight. Instantly, as soon as the people repeated the name, his cry broke upon the air, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" The people rebuked the blind man, bidding him to be quiet. But this only increased his earnestness. When the cries reached the ear of the Master, He stopped and commanded that the blind man be brought to Him.
"Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy." The story of Zacchaeus is different from that of blind Bartimeus. This was also his day of opportunity. Jesus is ever passing by. He does not linger. He may come again--He does continually come again. But He is ever moving on, and blessing we would get from Him at any time--we must get as He passes by. All the days seem alike as they come to us; but each one is really individual and peculiar, coming with its own opportunities, privileges, and blessings. If we do not take just then the gifts it offers, we never shall have another chance to get them, and always shall be poorer for what we have missed.
Zacchaeus was a publican. He was also rich. Usually wealth gives men influence and power. But Zacchaeus was hated and despised, not because he was rich--but because of the way he had received his riches. His occupation was reason enough with his countrymen for hating him. Rightly or wrongly, Zacchaeus was supposed to have grown rich by exactions from his own people. Money, to be even in a worldly sense an honor to a man, must be received in an honorable as well as well as in an honest way. The luxurious and worldly comforts which money brings, are a paltry compensation for the hatred and contempt of one's neighbors, and a lack of respect in one's community.
The place of Zacchaeus in Jericho was no enviable one. For greed of gain, he had been willing to sacrifice the sweet joy of human approval and commendation, the joy of having friends; but it would have been better far for him to have remained a poor man, approved and honored by his people, having men speak well of him--than to grow rich at the cost of all that made life a gladness and a blessing--the respect and love of his fellows. There are many, too, in towns and cities, whom men hate just as Zacchaeus was hated in his town for having grown rich in dishonorable ways. The exposure of getting rich dishonestly, has left many names disgraced in our own days.
When Zacchaeus learned that Jesus was coming that way, he was greatly excited. "He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd." It is a golden moment in anyone's life--when he begins to want to see Jesus. It is the starting of a new life. The interest of all heaven centers upon a man in this world who begins to pray, to look for God for mercy, to long to become a Christian.
There were difficulties in the way of Zacchaeus. There always are difficulties in the way of a man who wants to find God. The crowd was in the way of Zacchaeus; the crowd is always in the way of those who want to get to Christ. Zacchaeus was little, too little to see over the heads of the people; we are all in some sense too little of ourselves to see Christ. People hide Him from our eyes. We must expect that there will be obstacles in the way of our desire to find Him.
Zacchaeus was eager and determined to see Jesus, and therefore set about the surmounting of the difficulties. "He ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him." The people must have laughed at the rich little man climbing up into a tree. But Zacchaeus was too earnest to mind the laughter and the sneers. Nothing should ever be allowed to hinder us, in a great purpose, especially in getting to see Jesus. Often one has to brave the ridicule of others--but we should never let ridicule hinder us from doing our duty and getting a blessing from Christ. We should not allow ourselves to be laughed out of heaven. Zacchaeus overcame his littleness, by getting up into a tree. Men must often overcome disadvantages by expedients. Personal disadvantages often become one's best blessings. The very effort to overcome them, makes one a stronger, nobler man.
Zacchaeus was trying to see Jesus that day--but Jesus was also looking for him. "When Jesus came to the place, He looked up." Zacchaeus did a good thing when he climbed up into a tree under which Jesus was about to pass. We should put ourselves in the way of Christ, going where He is to be. He has promised to meet with people, wherever two or three are gathered together in His name.
It was a strange word that broke upon the ear of the little man in the tree that day. Jesus said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today!" That was far more than Zacchaeus was looking for. He hoped to get a good view of Jesus as He passed by--but his earnestness brought him much more than that. It brought him a divine friendship.
Jesus called him. He knew his name. Wherever you are, Jesus knows you are there, and knows your name. He knows also what is in your heart--He sees the desire there. He called Zacchaeus by name. Bible invitations rain down on the earth for everybody; yet when one touches your ear and heart--you hear your own name spoken with it and know that you are personally called. Jesus asked Zacchaeus to come down from the tree. He wanted to meet him. He is always calling people to come down, to get nearer to Him. It is a lowly place where Jesus stands to receive sinners, a place of self-abasement, of penitence. Zacchaeus was bidden to come down in haste. There is always haste in Christ's calls.
Zacchaeus was quick to respond. "So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly." He did not hesitate an instant. If he had done so--he would have lost his opportunity, for Jesus was only passing through, and soon would have been out of sight. A moment's lingering and indecision, and He would have been gone, and Zacchaeus would have been left unblessed. That is the way thousands of people respond, who hear Christ's call. They defer obeying, and then the opportunity is soon passed.
The conversion of Zacchaeus seems to have been sudden and very thorough. It was in his own house that he said, "Behold, 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." Grace began at once to work in this little man's heart. His acceptance of Christ took hold of his life. It went down into his pocketbook. He is an example for the rich who come to Christ, and are saved by Him. All that they have belongs to Christ, and everything is truly given to Him, if the conversion is genuine. How they shall use their wealth for Christ, is a very serious question, which they should answer with great care. Jesus asked one seeker to lay down the whole of his wealth, and then give himself to Him, besides, for ministry. We have easy theories of consecration, by which we make out that we may keep our money, and then use it for Christ. Yet--but the problem is vital. Do we use it for Him?
Another evidence of the genuineness of the repentance of Zacchaeus, was shown in his resolve to make restitution to those whom he had wronged. "If I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Here we come upon another too much neglected part of consecration. We say: "Let the past go. We cannot change it. We cannot undo the wrongs we have done. Let us make the future beautiful, pure, and true." This is right in a sense. It is idle to waste time in unavailing tears and regrets. Yet there may be wrongs we have done, which we can undo--or at least in a measure, can set right. If one has spoken false or injurious words against another before his conversion, he should seek instantly to undo the harm, so far as it is in his power. Sorrow for sin is not enough, if we can in any way make right, that which we have marred.
The law of restitution applies to influence; but how impossible it is to recall or undo or gather up that which has gone before.
Jesus saw the sincerity of the man's heart and the reality of his conversion, and said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house!" That the man's repentance was genuine, was evidenced by such moral changes in his character as always accompany true repenting. Zacchaeus was saved. The publican--was now a child of God. It is always so. There is no vain seeking of Christ in this world.
The people murmured at Jesus because He went among the outcasts. He assured them, however, that these were the very people He had come to save. "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." Sinners were the very ones He had come from heaven to continue to seek. In another place He illustrated the same truth by the case of a physician, whose mission is to the sick, not to the healthy. Who would sneer at the physician for choosing sick people to associate with and call upon? Who then should murmur at Jesus for going among sinners, when He came to this world expressly to save sinners?