"Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw Him, and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.' So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully."
Luke 19 is a description of what happened while Jesus was in Jericho. It is believed by many that these events took place approximately one week before Jesus' crucifixion.
Zacchaeus was a "chief tax collector, and he was rich." Many tax collectors were rich because they overcharged those whom they collected from and pocketed the extra (cf. 3:12,13). Tax collectors were social outcasts among the Jews. They were considered traitors because they collected money for the Romans.
"And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature" - Zacchaeus is trying to discern who Jesus is among a large crowd of people, but he is having difficulty doing such because of his lack of height. He was not deterred from his objective, however, but excitedly "ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree." He is obviously a man of energy and determination. Many scholars comment that this type of tree should be understood as a wild, fig tree, which was typically very easy to climb.
Jesus' actions here certainly would have surprised Zacchaeus. He probably didn't expect Jesus to see him, let alone speak to him and call him by name! "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house" (Luke 19:5). This is the only recorded instance of Jesus inviting Himself over to someone's house. Jesus could make such a statement confidently because He knew Zacchaeus' thoughts toward Him. He knew Zacchaeus' interest that had motivated him to climb the tree. He knew what Zacchaeus needed spiritually. Let it be observed that Jesus emphasized His need of going to Zacchaeus' house by saying - "I must." There was a spiritual reason, not a physical one, for why He had to go to his house (cf. 19:9,10). It appears that Jesus didn't spend the night in Jericho (cf. 19:11,28), and therefore did not lodge in Zacchaeus' home. However, love for a lost soul caused Jesus to pause in Jericho on that day.
"So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully" - Zacchaeus is thrilled, not offended, that Jesus would impose Himself upon him. This was an honor that he hadn't considered imaginable.
We will continue studying this narrative in our next lesson.