Notes on Luke 19:1-27

Luke 19:1‑27  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The account of Zacchaeus is one of those peculiar to Luke; and we may readily see how strikingly it furthers the moral aim of the Spirit in this Gospel. Its collocation too may be at once explained on the same principle, supposing as I do that the facts occurred while the Lord was passing through Jericho, whereas the blind man Bartimaeus did not receive sight till He was on His way outside. But it seemed good to the Holy Ghost here, as often similarly elsewhere, to bring the narrative of Zacchaeus into such a position with the parable that follows as to illustrate by them the general character, not only of His first advent but of His second, thereby correcting many a mistaken thought into which men, yea disciples, were apt to slip then and since.
“And he entered and was passing through Jericho; and, behold, a man by name called Zacchaeus, and he was chief tax-gatherer, and he was rich. And he was seeking to see Jesus who he was, and could not for the crowd, because he was little in stature. And he ran on before and got up a sycamore that he might see him, because he was to pass that [way]. And when he came to the place, Jesus looking up saw him and said to him, Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for to-day I must abide in thy house. And making haste he came down and received him joyfully.” (Verses 1-6.)
The Lord had already in parables set forth divine grace to the lost sinner as such, above all in the prodigal son. “We have now the actual history of a publican, a chief tax-gatherer, and a rich man, to whom grace sent salvation that very day. But here it is well to distinguish what is often overlooked. Some allege that Zacchaeus was a man without the fear of God, and unconverted; others compare him with Simeon in the temple. We should not forget that salvation is more than new birth, that it could only then be pronounced by the Messiah, and that it is now in virtue of redemption proclaimed far and wide through faith in His name. It is the primary Christian blessing that a soul needs and receives in a dead and risen Christ; but it should never be confounded with that awakening which accompanies quickening by the Spirit. As the due understanding of this clears up many difficulties created by the confusion prevalent in Christendom, from the days of the fathers till our own time, so it will be found helpful here. The Lord vindicated the grace of God toward one in the worst possible position, the loathing of the proud Pharisee. He who struggled against the many obstructions in the way, who hesitated not to cast off all conceit of dignity and to brave all ridicule in order to see Jesus, heard with astonishment the voice of the good Shepherd call His sheep by name and invite Himself to remain at his house. Certainly He was none other than the Messiah, who could thus tell all things and would thus meet the desire of a heart that dared not hope for such an honor. What a wonder, yet no wonder! He who knew all knew Zacchaeus; He who asked a drink from the Samaritan woman whose life He read asked Himself to the house of a chief tax-gatherer. It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God; so that they who heard said, Who then can be saved? Now He proves what He then answered, that the things which are impossible with men are possible with God; for assuredly He entered the house not to get but to give.
But nothing is so unintelligible to man as God's grace. “And when they saw [it], they all murmured, saying, that he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.” (Ver. 7.) How blessed that so He could, and so He would! How hopeless the blank for us if it were not so! It suits His love so to deal with those who have not the smallest claim.
“And Zacchaeus stood and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have by false accusation exacted anything of any man, I restore fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, To-day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham:1 for the Son of man came to seek and to save that which is lost.” (Verses 8-10.) It is not that the Lord discredited the chief tax-gatherer's account of his feelings and ways. Such was his character, such his habits, in a sorrowful position doubtless, with a delicate if not scrupulous conscience. But why this before One who had already proved that all was known to a heart that could not misjudge? Why talk even of what the Spirit had produced in presence of the salvation-bringing grace of God? The Lord denies not, spite of his occupation, that he too was a son of Abraham; but if He Himself were the Messiah, and at this very time presenting Himself as such for the last time on earth, beginning at Jericho, He was the Son of man in grace and humiliation on the way to death, yea, the death of the cross; the Son of man come to save what is lost. What else was worth speaking of? This day salvation was come to his house.
As this affecting incident maintains the activity of grace according to God's aim in the first advent of the Lord, even while He was testing them for the last time as the Messiah, so the following parable was uttered to dispel the wrong expectations which filled their minds who so soon had forgotten that first He must suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation, and that the introduction of the Lord's world—kingdom must await His second advent. Those who were on the stretch for the immediate Betting up of that kingdom were self-deceived. If He was near Jerusalem, He was near the cross, not the manifestation of His kingdom yet. “But as they were hearing these things, he in addition spoke a parable because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and they thought that the kingdom of God was about to be manifested immediately. He said therefore, A certain high-born man went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. And he called ten of his servants and delivered them ten minas, and said unto them, Trade until I come.” (Verses 11-13.) It is obvious that this is quite distinct from a similar parable in the last prophetic discourse on Olivet, and this not less certainly distinct in internal marks, as we shall see throughout. There the lord exercises his rights and gives as he pleases according to his knowledge of the varying capacities of his servants. Here all receive the same at starting, and their respective use of the deposit in business (figuratively) is the main point—the responsibility of the servants in the one, the sovereignty of the master in the other. Equally in contrast is the result in each: the good and faithful bondmen in Matthew alike enter into the joy of their Lord, while in Luke each receives authority according to his labor and its fruit.
Again, there are weighty moral instructions connected with this parable, but distinct from what we find later in Matthew. For here we read that “His citizens hated him and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.” (Ver. 14.) Such was the spirit of the Jews, who not only rejected the Messiah, but, as another has well said, sent a message after Him as it were in the martyrs they slew, refusing Him glorified no less than in humiliation.
“And it came to pass on his return, having received the kingdom, that he commanded his bondsmen to whom he gave the money to be called to him, that he might know what each had gained by trading. And the first came up saying, Lord, thy mina hath produced ten minas. And he said to him, Well [done] thou good bondman, because thou hast been faithful in a very little: have authority over ten cities. And the second came saying, Lord, thy mina hath made five minas. And he said also to him, And thou be over five cities. And the other came, saying, Lord, behold thy mina which I kept laid up in a napkin. For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up what thou layedst not down, and reapest what thou didst not sow. He saith to him, Out of thy mouth I will judge thee, wicked bondman. Thou knewest that I am an austere man, taking up what I laid not down, and reaping what I did not sow. And why gavest thou not my money into a bank, and at my coming I should have received it with interest? And he said to those that stood by, Take from him the mina and give [it] to him that hath ten. And they said to him, Lord, he hath ten minas. I say to you, that to every one that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not even what he hath shall be taken.” (Verses 15-26.) Here we have the responsible service of Christians till Jesus returns, with His judgment then of their service meanwhile. It is not that the faithless bondman will not suffer the results of his unbelief, like the elder brother who despised his father and scorned his brother. But our evangelist tells the tale of grace, without describing the awful doom of those who corrupt or turn from it. It is in the earthly accompaniment that we hear of divine vengeance. Thus the picture is made still more complete; for we have also the public execution of judgment on the guilty citizens, the Jews, at His appearing. “But those mine enemies that would not that I should reign over them, bring hither and slay them before me.” (Ver. 27.) The judgment of the habitable world is a truth which practically has dropt out of the life, if not the creeds, of Christendom.