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.” And Jesus said to him, “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.”(Lk 19:8–10)
We are thinking about this encounter in the life of Jesus around the theme of “Generous Giving.” We are looking at a story today where Jesus shows compassion to a man who most folks considered a traitor to his people. As we consider this Gospel text, today we will continue to talk about how we should all want to be more generous.
When we think about being generous, it’s important to know that it is not exclusively financial in nature. It is not just about money. We are talking about a lifestyle of generosity. We want to be generous because we love Jesus and we want to be in service to Him and advancing His kingdom. As we talked about last week, as the Bible describes this, we are to be generous in our relationships, in the work of the Church, as well as with our financial stuff.
To understand a lifestyle of being generous, I have suggested we use the idea of the triangle. A triangle is three separate, unique sides; each side required to make up one triangle. The three sides of the being generous triangle are “giving up,” expressing love for God; “giving out,” expressing love for those who are not yet Jesus’ followers (which we are going to talk about today); and “giving in,” expressing love for those who are part of God’s family in the Church. Like the triangle, generous giving requires all three.
It is important to know that the concept of giving out has nothing to do with exhaustion or quitting. Usually when you hear the phrase “giving out,” it is talking about a piece of your car that is broken or some piece of machinery that is kaput. Today, “giving out” means something else. It describes how we are to love those who are not in the Church, who do not believe in Jesus as their Savior. Jesus made it clear we are to do that. He “came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk 19:10).
Consider Zacchaeus, chief tax collector. In that culture and time, a tax collector was one who made his income by taking money from his neighbors and giving that money to a foreign, occupying, often harsh government. The work was filled with corruption, and everyone knew it. Kind of like it is today with the IRS.
In those days if a tax collector was ruthless, he would have wealth. In those days if a tax collector could be bribed, he would have wealth. In those days if a tax collector was dishonest, he would have wealth. All his wealth would be attained at the hardship and expense of others. Zacchaeus is described as “rich.” He had wealth. No wonder people were afraid of him. No wonder people despised him. Every single day, this was his life.
As Jesus approached his town of Jericho, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. He was small in stature. He was curious. Zacchaeus ran ahead of him and climbed up in a sycamore tree. Jesus was going to go right by there. For Zacchaeus, this day would be different.
Jesus stopped. He looked up in the tree and made eye contact. “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (v 5). Someone who isn’t a crook and a Roman collaborator wants to be with him? This moment was radically different for him.
He was accustomed to people not stopping for him and not speaking to him. He was used to seeing stares of disapproval. He knew the ugly, profane names people used when they referred to him. He heard their threats regularly. He was the man people love to hate. Yet, with a look and a word from Jesus, Zacchaeus hurriedly climbed down from the tree and gladly put out the red carpet for him.
And something happened. God’s grace intersects Zacchaeus’s disgrace. Jesus loves someone who is not yet His follower. No one sees it, but Jesus knows it. Zacchaeus’s life is transformed by his encounter with Jesus. The one who receives the saving, rescuing gift of God’s most generous giving shows this by becoming a generous giver himself. Zacchaeus gives out to others. After knowing the love and forgiveness of Jesus, he says “The half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (v 8).
Now this kind of giving is more than an attempt to soothe a troubled conscience or quiet clamoring critics. This is not window dressing, or some PR stunt like we see so often today. This is a kind of giving out to others that Jesus connects to salvation. This is a kind of giving out to others that Martin Luther recognized when he described the Christian life as consisting of faith and charity. Zacchaeus did not give to earn Jesus’ love and respect. He already had that. Zacchaeus gives out to others because he is found by a Savior who seeks and saves lost people.
Why is this so important? As a tax collector, it is the goal of Zacchaeus’s life to take, keep, and hoard. This is always the default position of sin. Left to our own devices, we are inclined to take care of just us, with little or no regard for anyone else, or God. This is a life of selfishness, and that kind of live does not end well.
The encounter with Jesus changed Zacchaeus’s life. Paul describes this: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). “Giving Out” to Others—Especially Those Who Are Not Yet Jesus’ Followers—Is the Way Zacchaeus Expressed This New Way of Life.
Jesus noticed. Jesus makes the connection between “giving out” and “new creation.” “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (v 9). On another occasion, Jesus teaches about the relationship between the “treasure” of my life and the orientation of my life. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21).
Now here is a question: If Jesus watches you give, would He come to the same conclusion about you that He did regarding Zacchaeus? Does your giving express that you are first a recipient of God’s incredible, generous giving? Do you intend to live a generous lifestyle?
First, consider how connections to lost people count. Jesus comes to “seek and to save the lost” (v 10). He is very intentional about that. Jesus did not isolate Himself from those who do not believe in Him. “Giving out” to others absolutely includes connecting to lost people—those who are not yet Jesus’ followers.
Second, consider the importance of inviting others to join you in knowing and loving Jesus Christ as Savior. Jesus invites Zacchaeus to receive Him in his home. So Zacchaeus follows His lead. He introduces his household to this special guest. When Jesus declares, “Today salvation has come to this house” (v 9), He is not talking about a building. He is describing an extended family and, possibly, also the very close friends of the extended family. Giving out to others includes inviting lost people into an event, an experience, a community, where they are introduced to Jesus Christ and Jesus’ followers. An easy way to do that today is to invite the non-churched people you know, invite them here. Like for our dinner next Sunday. Or Christmas Eve.
When you examine your conversations and contacts with the people you know, will you find that you invite and encourage people to join you in knowing and loving Jesus Christ and the people who follow Him? As a recipient of Jesus’ generous giving, we want to follow His lead, to be an invitational missionary to family and friends who are not yet Jesus’ followers.
Giving out to others—especially to those who are not Jesus’ followers yet—is one side of the generous-giving triangle. As we consider all this, we see the sense of urgency and immediacy that is part of this account. This is something we should not put off. Jesus seized that moment when he passed the sycamore tree to stop and engage Zacchaeus. “Hurry and come on down!” (v 5). If we know someone who does not believe in Jesus, we should not say to ourselves, “I’ll think about inviting them next year.” Jesus shows us today we are not to wait.
Generous giving is not an abstract concept. Generous giving includes giving out to others—especially those who are not yet Jesus’ followers. It is true for Zacchaeus. It is true for you and me. The issue is urgent. The time to begin is now.