“And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’ ” Luke 19:5ab
During COVID, people have felt disconnected and isolated from one another. Many have felt all alone and unwanted. They may feel as though no one cares about them or notices them, including God. But the Lord has something to say to us about this.
We are learning from Jesus’ encounter with a man named Zacchaeus how much we matter to God. Zacchaeus was a man who felt all alone and unwanted because of his appearance and his actions. The only attention he received from people was negative. But that all changed one day when he met Jesus Christ passing through the city of Jericho.
Since Zacchaeus was a small man, he had to climb up into a sycamore tree to get a look at Jesus as a large crowd of people followed Christ on His way through Jericho. When Jesus came to the sycamore tree, He stopped and looked up at Zacchaeus. From this we learned that no matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me (Luke 19:4-5a). But Jesus did more than look at Zacchaeus.
All of his life Zacchaeus had been ridiculed and rejected. First, because of his appearance. He was a small or little person. Second, because of his actions. He was a chief tax collector who became wealthy at the expense of the people from whom he collected taxes. He was dishonest and corrupt. Nobody liked the way Zacchaeus looked or the way he acted. Imagine the kind of gossip that was spread about this guy! He was the most hated man in town. No doubt Zacchaeus heard many cruel remarks directed at him. There was a surplus of criticism behind his back. Evil things were said about him throughout all of Jericho and beyond. No wonder he had such a low self-image.
But Jesus did something else. Not only did Jesus stop at Zacchaeus’ tree and look up at him, but notice what He does next: “And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’ ” (Luke 19:5ab). Imagine the shock of Zacchaeus. “He not only stopped. He not only looked up at me in front of all these other people. He knows my name. I didn’t hear anybody tell Him my name. I didn’t hear Him ask anybody what my name is. He just knows it. How does He know my name?”
From this we learn the second profound truth about how much we matter to God: No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me (Luke 19:4-5a). God not only knows where you are, He also knows who you are. He knows everything about you. When Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, it shocked everybody. For two reasons: one, the fact that Jesus knew the name of the biggest scoundrel in town. And two, because of what his name meant. “Zacchaeus” means “pure” or “just.” 1 Pure or just one!?! Zacchaeus was anything but pure or just. He was the biggest crook in Jericho. He was a deceptive, dishonest, and despised scoundrel. This was probably the first time in many years that Zacchaeus was called by his real name. I doubt any one called him the “pure” or “just” one. He was anything but pure and just. But in spite of Zacchaeus’ sin, Jesus affirms him.
Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, I look beneath all that emotional hurt, all that pain, all that other people have said about you and beneath all that I see a pure one. Zacchaeus, I made you to be pure. I didn’t make you to be a crook. I made you to be pure.” Christ is affirming him while everybody else in the world is putting him down.
Someone has said, “God has your picture in His wallet. That’s how much God loves you.” God doesn’t really have your picture in His wallet. He has something much more profound. The Lord said, “See, I have tattooed your name upon My palm.” (Isaiah 49:16 LB). When Jesus Christ looks at the scars in His hands where He was nailed to the cross, what do you think He is thinking of? You! Because He died for your sins. God says, “No, I don’t just carry your picture in My wallet. This is how much I love you. I died for you. I have tattooed you on My body. That is how much you matter to Me,” God says.
It really doesn’t matter what other people say. Jesus says, “I affirm you.” Jesus looks at Zacchaeus and says, “You are a pure one. I can see it in you. I can see all your potential in spite of all the hurt in your life.” Some of us have had a hard time feeling good about ourselves because some people close to us have said some really hurtful things.
Maybe we have even been rejected in the home. The Bible tells us, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” (Psalm 27:10). It breaks God’s heart to see kids abandoned, abused, or neglected by their parents. Parents will say to kids, “We didn’t plan you.” They didn’t, but God did. There are no illegitimate children. There are illegitimate parents, but there are no illegitimate children. When those closest to you hurt you or abandon you, God says, “Climb up into My lap and let me hold you. You are safe in My arms. You are wanted. You were planned. I have a purpose for your life.”
We need to remember this: When other people have called us all kinds of names it doesn’t matter. We are not defined by what other people say to us. We are defined by what God says to us. What matters is Jesus Christ calls us by name.
When we become Christians by believing in Jesus Christ for His gift of eternal life (John 3:16), God tells us that He as transformed us from guilty sinners into forgiven saints. This is why the apostle Paul begins his letter to an immature church at Corinth, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” (I Corinthians 1:2).
The apostle Paul refers to the believers “at Corinth” as “those who are sanctified [set apart positionally from their sin] in Christ Jesus” (I Corinthians 1:2a). He addresses them as “saints” positionally even though their practice was far from saintly (I Corinthians 1:2b). The Corinthians had permitted their pagan culture to invade the church as seen in their divisive sectarianism (1:10-17; 3:1-4), their exaltation of the world’s wisdom above God’s wisdom (1:18-31), their toleration of sexual immorality among their church members (5:1-13), their lawsuits against one another (6:1-11), their immoral relations with temple prostitutes (6:12-7:5), their questionable practices (10:14-33), their mistreatment of one another at the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), their selfish misuse of spiritual gifts to edify themselves instead of the entire body of Christ (12:1-14:40), and their denial of the resurrection of the dead (15:12-58).
Paul addresses them as “saints,” so they will begin to live like the saints they are in Christ. The more believers see themselves as saints in Christ, the more they will live like saints. Nowhere in I Corinthians does Paul doubt or question the salvation of the Corinthian believers. What he does question is their understanding of who they are in Christ. For example, in I Corinthians 6:19, he writes, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” The more they understood and believed their new identity in Christ, the more they would live the way God created them to live in Christ.
When professing believers do not go on to grow toward Christlike maturity, it is important that church leaders do not automatically assume that they are unsaved. It is possible they are not saved, but not because they lack a changed life. What makes a person unsaved is their unbelief toward Christ (John 3:18, 36). Many believers lack spiritual growth in their Christian lives because they have not been discipled by older believers. Discipleship involves helping believers to see who they are in Christ, so they can begin to live like the person God created them to be in Christ Jesus (cf. Ephesians 2:10).
Christ’s interaction with Zacchaeus teaches us that no matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me. He has always got His eyes on me. No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me. He calls me by name.
We are not defined by what other people say to us. Nor are we defined by what we do. We are defined by what God says about us. And God tells us that we are forgiven “saints” who are set apart positionally from our sin and shame to serve God practically (cf. Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2; I Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Philemon 1:7; Hebrews 13:24; Jude 1:3; Revelation 5:8; 19:8; 20:9).
Prayer: Father God, like Zacchaeus, many of us have been deeply wounded by the words of other people. We have permitted those words to define who we are. But when Jesus pursued us and saved us the moment we believed in Him, we were transformed from guilty sinners into forgiven saints. Thank You so much for saving us from our sins and giving us everlasting life. We are now defined by what You say to us. Like Zacchaeus, we are pure in Your eyes, having been forgiven and cleansed of all our sins (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; Titus 3:4-6). Please renew our minds to see ourselves as You see us so we may live a life of purity in the power of Your Holy Spirit. We are still amazed by Your grace toward us. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
1. Tom Constable, Notes on Luke, 2016 Edition, pg. 271.