Zaccheus and Sovereign Grace

Discoursed this morning from Luke 19:1-10 on the subject of that text, which speaks so clearly of sovereign grace, that freedom which belongs to God whereby He authoritatively effects saving favor on whomever He wills according to His purpose and for His glory.  The record of Zaccheus is another notch in the history of sovereign grace in Jericho, for in the days of Joshua, the pre-Incarnate Son of God led Israel triumphantly into that city, where only Rahab the prostitute and those with her were saved.  But this was mercy set against the hardening performed by the Lord in the heart of Pharaoh just prior.  Now, the Joshua, our Lord Jesus, enters that ancient city again in the flesh, and Zaccheus is the recipient of sovereign grace.

Zaccheus is a man with at least four strikes against him depending on one’s religious and national perspective.  As a tax collector, the religious elite chided him a sinner; being rich, it is far more likely that a camel might go through the eye of a needle than this one into the kingdom of God; being short, he was physically unimpressive, quite unlike a Saul or an Absalom; and he was a Gentile like Rahab, a citizen of Jericho.  Surely he cannot be saved!  No, but rather, this is exactly whom the Lord delights to save.

Zaccheus appeared earnest to see Jesus, most likely with a peculiar interest in the man from Nazareth whom he had been hearing about.  But this is as far as the natural man can go apart from saving grace.  Zaccheus is not expecting Jesus to look up into that sycamore tree, know him and call him down by name, stay at his house by what must be divine necessity, and reveal himself as much more than just an interesting subject, but the Lord, the Savior of sinners, the Son of Man.  But when he is called by name, “Zaccheus!” it is as if he is altogether born again, having experienced sovereign grace and divine power, even as that event when Jesus called out to the dead man, “Lazarus!” and he arose.  For Zaccheus hurries down and receives Christ “joyfully.”  This is the call of sovereign grace.  While many people stay on the ground in disinterest, some like Zaccheus climb into sycamore trees; so it was with the rich young ruler in Luke 18.  Now, he didn’t climb into a literal sycamore tree, but he was interested in Jesus, and so the ruler and Zaccheus stand over against one another for comparison.  At the offer of Christ, a man may either reject Christ and walk away sorrowfully like the rich young ruler, or they can scurry down that sycamore tree and receive Christ joyfully like Zaccheus.  Now both of these men were rich, so that it might seem nigh impossible for them to enter the kingdom of God according to the prior words of Christ; but more than that, they were both men, that is, human beings, and thus, salvation was an impossibility for either of them so far as it depended upon themselves.  But with God all things are possible.  And so, the distinction between the rich ruler and Zaccheus is simply a distinction of sovereign grace.  It pleased the Lord to effect salvation in the case of Zaccheus.  This should not be a stumbling block to anyone who might reply, “Well then, I am not or will not be saved because the Lord has not chosen me and effected His salvation upon my soul,” for no man may know that.  What is known is that if a man trusts Christ (and Christ is to be offered to every man, and every man presented with decision), God has saved him.  Sovereign grace does not nullify the free offer of the Gospel, but necessitates it.  Christ has not withheld Himself from any number of those throughout Luke’s Gospel that have inevitably rejected Him; their rejection is of their own accord.  And it is a rejection that Zaccheus would have agreed with were it not for sovereign and saving grace.

It seemed good to me, then, to mention the tension between the inclusivity and the exclusivity of the Gospel.  For it was not Christ who scoffed at Zaccheus as if he were a man that God would not save, but the religious elite and the self-righteous crowd which followed Christ.  No, Christ called and dined with Zaccheus, the sinner.  God will save any man who comes to Christ, hence the inclusivity of the Gospel; but it is only those who come to Christ, hence the exclusivity.  Only Jesus saves sinners.

From here, the evidence and effect of sovereign grace were examined.  The evidence being the immediate willingness of Zaccheus to give half of his goods to the poor, and with the other half to repay everyone that he had defrauded, times four.  The evidence of sovereign grace is the immediacy of a new life, a change in the disposition of the soul, a repentance that bears fruit and makes restitution for wrongs.  This was the evidence of the effect of sovereign grace, i.e., salvation.  Jesus says of the divine work, “Today salvation has come to this house;” He might as well have said, “Today I have come to this house” (cf. v. 5, “for I must stay at your house today”).

So the man and mission of sovereign grace is made plain, and this I wish I could have spent countless hours upon.  The man is the God-man, Jesus Christ, or as the text gives to us, the Son of Man.  An interesting choice, and a direct reference to Luke 18:31.  In order for sovereign grace to be effective both then and now, the Son of Man had to be handed over by the Jews to the Gentiles in order to be shamefully treated, killed, and raised from the dead.  By His sinless blood, Jesus purchased the promises of the New Covenant for all who would believe in His name.  Zaccheus was one of that number.

Oh, v. 10 speaks to the utter helplessness of man.  He is lost.  He cannot find His way to God.  Though he seek Christ as a spectator, he will not be found til the Lord finds him and leads him to God.  The mission of sovereign grace is an ancient one.  Jesus calls Zaccheus a son of Abraham, which is to say that here we have a lost pagan who is called out by God’s grace to faith in the Messiah.  This mission reaches back to Genesis 11, where Abraham was one of thousands in paganized rebellion against God.  But the Lord sovereignly and graciously called Abraham out in order that he might become the paradigm of God’s saving work, and that through him, an offspring would come in whom all the nations would be blessed.  Thus, as Christ is that offspring, the Gentile, Zaccheus, was made blessed in Him.  This is the mission of Christ – to seek and to save the lost.  Oh, salvation is wholly of the Lord.  The Father sent the Son.  The Son came to seek out the lost like Zaccheus.  The Son came to save the lost like Zaccheus.  And what of Zaccheus or any of us?  Well, we are the lost awaiting sovereign grace!  We are the lost, who when presented with Christ, and called by the Gospel, must decide – will I reject Christ and stay up in the sycamore, or scurry down and receive Him with joy?

One last thing I had to mention – the immediacy of the offer in light of grace: Jesus told Zaccheus, “Today salvation has come to this house.”  Dear friends, you up in the sycamore, today is the day of salvation.  You cannot save yourself; Zaccheus had a good job, wealth, and a religious interest – but none of these saved him or satisfied him.  Christ called him by name, commanding him to come down – and he came down and received him with joy.  Christ saved Zaccheus.  May God be pleased to grant many of you the experience and reality of His sovereign grace also.


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