Hi I’m Josh Hawkins, this is episode 113 of Opening Up the Gospels. Since episode 106 we’ve been looking at the events that take place on Jesus’ final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. We’ve seen Jesus give more teaching to His followers, continue to invite His people Israel to discipleship, and for a third time predict His coming suffering. Today, we’ll look at another step along Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem for His crucifixion in April of 29AD. As we’ll see, Jesus is a little more than a week away from His betrayal and death. Let’s jump right in and read from Luke 19:
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 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.”
(Luke 19:1–5 ESV)
Luke tells us that Jesus is in proximity to Jericho. As you can see, this city is about six miles from the Jordan river, just north of the Dead Sea. Jericho was on the major highway to Jerusalem, which is about 18 miles away. We can’t confuse this Jericho with the Jericho mentioned in the Old Testament. That old, uninhabited city was about a mile and a half away. The new Jericho had been built up by Herod and Archelaus and was full of beautiful gardens of roses and balsams. It was in this city where Jesus would stay overnight with Zacchaeus.
Now it was custom that when a festive band passed through a city, the people who lived there would gather in the streets and welcome the travelers. When word came that Jesus of Nazareth was passing through, surely there must have been a reaction from the crowds. Would He work a miracle? Would He meet with some of the leading priests in the city? Would He teach? Or would He just pass through? Among the crowd is an important man in the city named Zacchaeus. He was a Jew, and was a chief tax collector, the head of the tax and customs department in the city. His name means “just” or “pure”, which would have been ironic to many in Jericho at the time, because as I’ve mentioned several times before in past episodes, tax collectors were extremely despised in Israel not only because of their role in collecting taxes for Rome, but also for their reputation to horde some of the money for themselves. Zacchaeus was one of these very rich men. And yet Jesus, looking up at this short guy in the sycamore tree who had, because of his desire to see Jesus, he had thrown away any self-consciousness before the crowds, said “hey, hurry up, get down from there, I’m staying with you today.” Just a short while before, Jesus had instructed His disciples on how difficult it is for the rich to enter into the kingdom. So what would happen to this little guy now? Let’s keep reading in Luke:
So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 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.”
(Luke 19:6–10 ESV)
Upon hearing Jesus, Zacchaeus hurries down the tree and joyfully receives Him, escorting Him to his home. The Gospels don’t tell us why Zacchaeus was so eager to see Jesus or why he so joyfully received Him, but I think Luke could have given us these particular details to emphasize what Jesus had said earlier about how one must become like a little child in order to enter the kingdom and inherit everything God has promised. We looked at that scene back in episode 110. A grown man and an important official in a high-class city was so eager to see Jesus that he ran up a tree with expectation. He did something like a child would do. Wow.
As we’ve seen many times throughout the Gospels, the people and especially the leadership often react negatively to Jesus’ actions. Here, it’s no different. Who is Jesus that He would go in and stay overnight with a supposed sinner like Zacchaeus? The crowds who had come out to welcome the pilgrim band knew who he was. What must the Twelve and the rest of the pilgrims have been thinking?
Now Zacchaeus stands up and said to Jesus that he would voluntarily give half of all that he owned to the poor, and repay fourfold for all that he had taken from people wrongfully. He made a public statement and desired the people to know that his time with Jesus had caused him to reevaluate his life and to change it. This should remind us of a couple of things: first, the story of the rich young ruler that we looked at back in episode 111. There, Jesus had instructed him to give away what he had to the poor and to follow Jesus. Zacchaeus was willing to do exactly that. And second, this should remind us of John the Baptist’s message to the people, something we looked at all the way back in Episode 36. John was calling for Israel to bear the fruits of repentance, and the people who had come out to be baptized by him asked “what should we do?” In Luke chapter 3, John said that the people ought to share with those in need, and for tax collectors to take no more than they are authorized to do. This is the evidence or the fruit of repentance, and to bear the fruits of repentance is indicative of a true Israelite, a true descendant of Abraham. Zacchaeus fits the bill here, doesn’t he? Jesus says to him “today, salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham”. He’s not saying that his giving to the poor or returning what he had taken was what justified him before God, but that his change in lifestyle was evidence of his changed, repentant heart. Zacchaeus was a Jew, a son of Abraham by birth, but now he would be part of that repentant remnant who would inherit God’s covenantal promises. As I’ve said so much throughout this series, this was the major purpose of Jesus’ first coming - to call forth the lost sheep of Israel. And one sinner who had been lost was found on this night, and all of heaven was rejoicing. Well, let’s jump over to Mark’s Gospel and look at the next event in the story:
"And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way."
(Mark 10:46–52 ESV)
Mark introduces us to a blind beggar by the road named Baritmaeus. Luke’s Gospel places this story immediately after that of the rich young ruler in order for us to see more clearly the contrast between these two men. Bartimaeus was completely dependent upon others because of his blindness, unlike the ruler who completely depended upon his wealth and self-righteousness. Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by and he began to shout loudly for Jesus to have mercy on him. Undoubtedly he had heard from others that this Jesus had restored others’ sight before. As the crowd was passing by and this loud blind, destitute man was shouting for Jesus, many began to rebuke him to silence him. Jericho was high class, and I’m sure drawing this much attention to yourself wasn’t the most polite thing to do. Maybe the people in the crowd rebuking Bartimaeus also were in disagreement with what he was shouting about Jesus too. We can’t be sure. But that leads us to an important point - what was he shouting? He was calling Jesus the “son of David”. This was a very important title in the first century, and this is something we’ve talked about in this series several times before. If you recall, 2 Samuel 7 sets forth God’s promise to King David to raise up his descendant who would sit on his throne and rule over Israel forever. As I talked about back in the supplemental episode following episode 21, this is what the title “Christ” means - it is the throne name given to the kings of Israel. So for Bartimaeus to call Jesus the “son of David”, he is saying “Jesus, I believe you are the one that God has promised us in the covenant with David!”
Upon hearing this, Jesus stopped and called Bartimaeus to Himself. He sprung up and came to Jesus. Now note that Jesus does not deny that He is this one Bartimaeus was proclaiming - in fact, He forcefully affirms it through the miracle He performs. Bartimaeus' “faith” is what made him well. Yes, he believed he could be healed of his blindness, but the faith here is his confidence in Jesus of Nazareth as the son of David, as that promised Messiah, as the one to do everything the Scriptures have promised. If He really was that long-expected king, He would open the eyes of the blind and unstop the ears of the deaf, just as the prophet Isaiah had declared. Jesus never corrected Bartimaeus’ expectation, He never told him that his beliefs were wrong… He affirms them forcefully by healing him. Mark says that he immediately recovered his sight, and began to follow Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.
In both of these stories today, we see examples of what Jesus has been looking for throughout his ministry - those who bear the fruits of repentance, and those who believe that Jesus is the promised Christ, the one who will sit on David’s throne and fulfill all of the promises that God made through His covenants with Israel. In contrast to the rich and blind Jewish authorities and the unbelieving crowds, we’ve seen Zacchaeus and Bartimaeus - two men who came away joyfully seeing and believing, confident and assured in faith. They recognized their inability and weakness and trusted Jesus as the One by whom God’s mercy will be extended toward them. And this is all happening in the last week of Jesus’ public ministry. In just about a week from this point, He will be rejected, alone, and hanging on a Roman cross.
Now I’ll just mention this briefly, but Luke’s Gospel narrates another parable Jesus speaks in Luke 19, just after the story of Zacchaeus. Luke 19:11 says:
"As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately."
(Luke 19:11 ESV)
You can read it on your own, but this parable about a nobleman and servants is allegorically speaking of Jesus as the Davidic king and the servants, the Jews, who were entrusted with the covenants and the promises and the role of imaging God to the nations. When the nobleman returns to establish the kingdom, he judges his servants. The faithful are rewarded and the unfaithful are condemned. As we’ve already looked at back in Episode 108, Jesus has recently told His disciples how His kingdom will be established and that there will be a seeming delay that will require faith and prayerful perseverance. This parable is spoken to once again remind Jesus' followers that though He is near Jerusalem and a couple of very significant Messianic affirmations have just happened, He is the one they are expecting but He is not going to Jerusalem to set up His kingdom right now.
There’s so much to ponder and meditate on from these two scenes today, so I would encourage you to do just that. Go back and watch episode 5 and 6 for more on pondering the life of Jesus. And for any of the other past episodes in this series, view them on my website at www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. In the next episode we’ll look at a few last events before Passion Week begins, so come back next time. God bless.