Explore the Bible Study: Sinners?

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Have you ever felt alone in a crowd? Have you ever felt rejected by a crowd for desiring to follow Jesus? Do you feel as if the crowd creates barriers between you and Jesus? If you were a chief tax collector during Jesus' day you would feel all these. This is the case for Zacchaeus in LifeWay's Explore the Bible Study: Sinners.

As Jesus neared Jerusalem, He remained focused on His mission to seek and to save the lost. On this journey, we are introduced to a tax collector named Zacchaeus. As we have seen before in the Gospel of Luke, tax collectors were loathed because of their perceived greed and relationship to Rome. Since tax collectors worked for Rome, in the eyes of the Jewish people, they were God’s enemies. It is this very kind of outcast that Jesus came to save. 

Jesus welcomed outcasts into the kingdom of God, and, as usual, His offer of grace and forgiveness to outcasts was not well-received by Jewish religious leaders. You will discover in this study of Luke 19:1-10 that even the crowds had difficulty with Jesus’ posture toward Zacchaeus the tax collector because of how he was viewed by all Jewish society. As we see how Jesus reached out to share the good news with Zacchaeus the tax collector, we should experience comfort in knowing that anyone can come to Jesus, no matter their past.

One must be seeking Jesus before they can truly receive Him - Luke 19:1-4

This wealthy business owner was very curious about Jesus, but we don’t know why. Perhaps news of Jesus’ ministry had already reached the ears of Zacchaeus, and he desired to just see this man everyone was talking about. We don’t even know if his desire to see Jesus was driven by a spiritual need, but what we do know is that he went to great lengths just to see Jesus. Zacchaeus was desperate enough to do whatever it took to see Jesus regardless of what people would think about him.

Notice also how the crowds following Jesus became a barrier to Zacchaeus seeing Jesus. They were either oblivious to Zacchaeus because of their own desires to see Jesus or intentionally rude because of Zacchaeus’s reputation. Either way, they didn’t help him see Jesus; what he did to see Jesus, he did on his own.

The beginning point of embracing Christ is to be curious about who He is. Often this curiosity begins with a crisis. People turn to Jesus when they have a great need—healing, recovery from addiction, financial crisis, broken relationships, and so forth. This is because we realize that our brokenness can’t be fixed on our own. When someone becomes curious, they have a chance to have a saving encounter with Christ. 

As believers, we need to be talking about Jesus so others will hopefully seek Him. We should also be ready to help anyone who is trying to “see who Jesus is.”

Jesus will seek those who are seeking Him - Luke 19:5-7

I guess if you see an adult man in a tree, it will catch your attention, but we know that Jesus’ actions were more than coincidence. He desired to see Zacchaeus and He knew Zacchaeus was desperate to see Him. We are all reminded in Scripture (i.e., Genesis 16:13) that God sees us even when we don’t think that He notices. We are reminded in 1 Peter 5:7 that He knows our hearts, and He cares about everything that concerns us.

The text does not indicate how Jesus knew his name. But it’s very clear that He knew who Zacchaeus was. Jesus called him by name. He looked past the crowd and gave this man His singular attention. Jesus looked past his reputation and offered him friendship. In ancient societies, entering into someone’s home and sharing a meal was a ceremonial act of friendship and intimacy. Some have described homes as “boundary markers.” That is, they provide boundaries for acceptance. When you enter into someone’s home, friendship is nurtured. By being a guest, you are saying, “I value you as a person and desire to nurture a relationship with you, regardless of what others think.”

Jesus didn’t ask permission but rather informed Zacchaeus that it was necessary for Him to stay in his home. Zacchaeus didn’t invite Jesus; Jesus invited Himself. Zacchaeus wouldn’t have even thought to invite Jesus to his house, assuming Jesus wouldn’t stay with a man like him. Yet Jesus took the initiative and reached out to him.

Zacchaeus responded to Jesus’ command quickly and joyfully. However, the actual crowd was not as welcoming of what had just taken place.

This passage reminds us that Jesus is available to all people, regardless of their pasts. He provides us an example of spending time with sinners. Too often we separate from sinners rather than helping those far from Christ to come near to Him. As Christians, spending time with “outcasts” could be one of our most powerful demonstrations of the gospel. The good news of the gospel is that all people—regardless of their social class, economic status, or heritage—are welcomed into the family of God through faith in Christ.

When you encounter Jesus, your life will change - Luke 19:8-10

Not only did Jesus focus on Zacchaeus; Zacchaeus focused on Jesus. He did not let the complaining crowd keep Him from responding to Jesus. Not only did Zacchaeus come down out of the tree to welcome Jesus; He did something that demonstrated how His encounter with Jesus had changed His life.

Jesus had already offered to come to Zacchaeus’s house. Jesus had already expressed His desire to have a relationship with Him. Zacchaeus’s actions were an expression of a new relationship with Jesus. His giving was an expression of repentance for all the wrong he had done in the past. He didn’t give in order to receive salvation but because of the changed life of one who had received salvation. Zacchaeus was so grateful to Jesus that he couldn’t help but make a change in his behavior.

In offering to give half of his possessions to the poor and to pay back four times as much to anyone he extorted, he confessed his wrongdoing before a watching crowd. First, Jesus opened up His heart to Zacchaeus; then Zacchaeus opened up his heart to the poor. We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone—true salvation is demonstrated in good works, which are the fruit of faith.

How should you respond?

  • Has there been a time in your life when you were like Zacchaeus, desperate to see Jesus? 
  • Spend some time in prayer this week, talking to the Lord about your spiritual journey. If it’s been a long time since you’ve felt desperate for the Lord, or if you haven’t ever been in that place, talk to Jesus honestly about where you are in your walk with Him. Ask Him to give you the kind of desire for Him that Zacchaeus had.
  • Do you create barriers or pathways for people who desire to “see Jesus”?
  • Make a list of two or three people you know who need to “see Jesus.” Pray for those people this week that they wouldn’t let any hindrances stand in the way of responding to Jesus. Pray that God will show you how to clear a path so that they can freely “see Jesus.”
The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. Be sure to use this as a supplement to your study of the Explore the Bible Study resources provided by LifeWay.

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