Emerging from the warmth and safety of a familiar dark place, a new life struggles to embrace the light of a new world. The wait was over. The pain was worth it. A new momma sets fresh eyes on her beloved and in prophetic confidence declares, “He shall be called pure, innocent one.” No doubt, a momma’s desire for her little one is significant, yet powerless if not birthed and stoked by the fire of God.
Now an adult, Zacchaeus finds himself far from the innocence of an adored child. This pure, innocent one is isolated from family, detached from the people of Israel, and far from the God of Abraham. At great cost to his reputation, Zacchaeus chose a life of luxury and comfort as a local tax collector. In fact, Zacchaeus’ years of striving, effort and loyalty to Rome (the foreign invader and oppressor) had earned him the title of “chief tax collector”. In first century Israel, this career path was one of shame. Deeply despised by the Jewish people, tax collectors would overtax their brothers to the result of their own benefit. Though born a native Jew, a son of Abraham, this seasoned tax collector would have been completely ostracized by his community and no longer considered a member of the nation of Israel. Even worse, he would have been seen as one detached from the covenants and promises of God. No doubt, Zacchaeus was rich (Luke 19:2), but deeply lonely and spiritually bankrupt.
Zacchaeus was dishonest, greedy, selfishly ambitious, and didn’t bat an eye at defrauding his brothers. But beneath all the mess, a strange miracle worker was attracted to something He saw inside the heart of this disloyal tax collector. It wasn’t innocence. And it certainly wasn’t purity. Yeshua’s (Jesus’) heart was deeply drawn to this sinner because he was utterly desperate. Far from holy himself, this man was filled with a holy desperation.
Desperation. Like it or not, we all have it. Yet if someone labels us desperate, we’ll do anything to prove otherwise. We’re pros at hiding it and will play games with ourselves to avoid what’s festering inside. But here’s the truth – we were created with a longing to know our Creator. Our hearts are yearning to beat to the rhythm of His ways. Our souls are craving to be awakened by His kindness. Our greatest destiny is oneness with Him, and if our hearts aren’t steadily desperate for this Great Lover, they will mistakenly steer their desperation toward a false lover, a counterfeit communion. This is exactly what Zacchaeus did.
Zacchaeus’ misguided desperation drove him to an obsession with worldly wealth. Perhaps his heart was not at rest in the love of God, and so sought to strive and work to find value. The scriptures don’t reveal the process behind Zacchaeus’ decision to betray his people by becoming a tax collector for Rome, but perhaps difficult relationships or experiences of disloyalty had plagued his perception of people. Either way, a deep desperation within him remained unmet, so he searched for love in a man-made idol – his economic status, title, possessions and perhaps even his cunning skills. However, Luke 19 reveals that years of exhausting his attempts to satisfy this deep desperation had run dry.
Yeshua entered Jericho on His way to be betrayed in Jerusalem, but wouldn’t pass through until meeting the one deemed “betrayer of Israel”. He knew there was an unholy man who was wholly desperate for a divine encounter. Surely Zacchaeus had heard all about Yeshua of Nazareth, the miracle worker and possible Messiah of Israel. Perhaps he had heard of Yeshua’s redemptive calling of Matthew (Matthew 9:9), another tax collector. Here’s what we know. Zacchaeus was desperate for what his heart was made for and he’d do anything just to get a glimpse of Him. Short in stature and unable to see due to heavy crowds, Zacchaeus unashamedly runs ahead and climbs into a sycamore tree. Perhaps the crowd mocked his presence, not wanting to be associated with a traitor, or maybe they despised his undignified behavior of tree climbing. The crowd saw outward appearance, but The Lord saw a heart, a heart full of holy desperation.
When Yeshua 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 19:5 (TLV)
Can you imagine the emotions stirring in the air? I envision Zacchaeus’ heart pumping out of his chest when he hears his name come off the lips of the Son of God. Indeed this moment was a turning point for the old tax collector. When Yeshua says your name, something deep inside is awakened. When the Creator comes into the home of your heart, every dead place is made alive and every old place is made brand spanking new. Zacchaeus didn’t receive an answer to deep theological questions and concerns, he received a divine encounter that radically changed the trajectory of his life. He received a heart transplant, a satisfaction to the deep and holy desperation in the inner man. With his desperation now met in the heart of God, Zacchaeus was free to be who he was always destined to be, the pure, innocent one.
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, Master, half of my possessions I give to the poor, and if I have somehow cheated anyone, I repay four times as much!” -Luke 19:8
Zacchaeus’ encounter with the Messiah led to true repentance and a beautiful act of faith. Yeshua, whose very name means salvation declares in response,
Today, salvation has come to this home, because he also is a son of Abraham. -Luke 19:9
How redemptive! All of his days as tax collector, Zacchaeus would have been segregated from the people of Israel and no longer considered a Jew, but in truth, Yeshua declares he is a son of Abraham, by bloodline and new birth. For the real sons of Abraham weren’t just natural born Jews, but people of faith in Yeshua as the Messiah and Son of God (Galatians 3:7). It was Zacchaeus’ humility to bring his need before The Lord that led to hosting Him as an honored guest. It was the love he experienced in the face of Yeshua, the One willing to make His home with a tax collector, that led to his faith in this Man as Lord, and it was this faith that induced an extravagant act of love in giving to the poor and returning to those he had cheated. But first and foremost, before any of these beautiful realities were made manifest, it was his holy desperation that caught the eye of the Savior.
Zacchaeus was desperate. You and I are desperate. We are desperate for an inner longing to be filled to overflowing. Don’t avoid that desperate place. Don’t fill it with a temporary fix. Don’t yield it to the principles of this world. Embrace your heart’s longing and cast it to the heart of the Father. He is holy and longing to inhabit your holy desperation.
Today’s writer is Jill Sazera, WoCo’s Director of Faith. From Georgia and currently living right outside D.C., Jill spends her days flying the friendly skies. When she’s not on an airplane, you can find her discovering new coffee shops, mingling in music, and going on long drives. She’s a lover of all things fall, could break out in dance at any moment, and gets her fuel from long mornings with Jesus. You can reach Jill by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @jillsazera.