Zacchaeus was a crook, and everybody knew it. Jesus knew it too. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus as one is curious about a celebrity. Jesus wanted to see Zacchaeus and he singled him out as a candidate for salvation (Luke 19:9-10).
Jesus made this man the center of attention on purpose because he wanted to emphasize the fact that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” I am struck by several features of the story. To begin with, Jesus went out of his way to publicly associate himself with a person with an unsavory reputation, a “sinner.”
Zacchaeus was a tax collector; actually, a “chief” tax collector who held higher office than most others. In this, he was a collaborator with the hated Roman government in extorting excessive and unjust revenues from ordinary people. This arrangement had made him wealthy at the expense of others
This is not the first time Jesus spent time with people who were known “sinners.” One of Jesus’ disciples, Levi, or Matthew, had been a tax collector before the Lord called him (Luke 5:27-32). In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus forgave the sins of an immoral woman: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
it is also worth notice that the Lord called Zacchaeus by name. He knew who he was even before they met. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. He has declared his purpose: he will die for sinners and rise from the dead. (Luke 18:31-34). Everything that happens along this road to Jerusalem should be understood accordingly: He “loved me a gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Furthermore, it was the very presence of Jesus which stabbed the heart of Zacchaeus with conviction and repentance. His willingness to give half his wealth to the poor was not salvation by works. His willingness to make generous restitution for past wrongs was not an attempt to buy his way into the kingdom of God. It was evidence of a changed heart. It was gratitude for the gift of salvation.
“Salvation has come to this house” parallels the teaching of Jesus in Luke 18:18-29. There the Lord had said it would be possible, despite appearances to the contrary, for such men as Zacchaeus to enter the kingdom of God.
The only way for him to be assured of salvation would be by faith in the savior. This is implied by what the Lord said in verse 9: “This man too is a son of Abraham.” Surely this means that he became a believer in Jesus and thus was included as a spiritual descendant of Abraham (Romans 4:3-5, 16), the spiritual father of all those who believe (Galatians 3:26-29).
This story suggests several applications. (1) Jesus knew Zacchaeus by name. He knew all about what he had done. He knows our names. He knows all about us. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
(2) Zacchaeus thought he was seeking Jesus. He learned that Jesus had been seeking him all along.
(3) Everything in this story must be understood in light of the cross. Whenever Jesus spoke about the coming kingdom, he gave a solemn prediction of his coming death in Jerusalem, as he did in chapter 18. Even though the disciples didn’t understand at first (Luke 18:34), this indicates that his death and resurrection were at the very heart of his kingdom message, “of first importance,” as Paul put it later in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.
(4) Zacchaeus had a change in his character. His heart was changed. Salvation came to his house because salvation came first to his heart. He was transformed from the inside out. This what Jesus came to do for all who believe in him.