Zacchaeus and the Sycamore Tree
The story about Zacchaeus and the sycamore tree is found in Luke 19:1-10. Since it is a story, it has a setting, characters, plot, beginning and ending.
The setting is Jericho when Jesus was passing through. He rarely went that way. In fact, this was Jesus' third and final time passing through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem. When Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was passing through, he did what he could to see Him.
The characters in the story include Jesus, Zacchaeus, the crowds, and the sycamore tree.
Crowds of people were with Jesus to hear what He had to say. The rich chief tax collector Zacchaeus wanted to see and hear Jesus just like everyone else. However, he was too short to see over the crowds. Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree where he was sure to see Jesus as he passed by.
When Jesus reached the tree that Zacchaeus was in, He looked up and called out to Zacchaeus by name asking him to join Him below. Jesus told Zacchaeus that he would stay at his house that night. The crowd complained that Jesus would be staying at the house of a sinner. People in the crowd disliked Zacchaeus because he had cheated them out of their money so much that he was rich.
The ending of the story tells about Zaccheaus vowing to make restitution by offering half his possessions as a gift to the poor and to give back four times the amount of money he had collected by cheating people.
How Zacchaeus Participated in His Blessing
Even though Zacchaeus was short, he did not let that stand in his way of seeing and hearing Jesus. Therefore, he did what he could to participate in his blessing.
So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way (Luke 19:4).
- Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd. It is best sometimes not to stay in a crowd. Sometimes you should leave the crowd behind and run ahead.
- The short tax collector climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Jesus. Zacchaeus did something out of the ordinary. He was determined to see Jesus, and he did what it took to see Him. Instead of Zacchaeus using his short status as an excuse for not seeing Jesus, he found a solution.
- He acted on faith by climbing a tree and literally ended up on a limb.
- Zacchaeus did not want someone else to tell him about their experience of seeing Jesus. He wanted his own experience.
- Zacchaeus did not know that Jesus would single him out and invite Himself to eat with him. However, the chief tax collector was in the right place at the right time to have an encounter with Jesus which was more than just seeing and hearing Him.
- Zacchaeus was determined, deliberate, and intentional about seeing Jesus even if it had to be from a sycamore tree. Zacchaeus went to great lengths to see Jesus. Climbing a tree was an undignified act for the short government official, but he did it anyway.
- There was more in store for Zacchaeus than just seeing Jesus from the top of a tree. While Zacchaeus would have settled with just seeing and hearing Jesus, his story ended much better because he had a personal intimate encounter with Jesus.
What Is Restitution?
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything,I will pay back four times the amount. If I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold" (Luke 19:8).
What Zacchaeus offered to do is called restitution. Restitution is the act of restoring to the rightful owner something that has been taken away, stolen, lost or surrendered. According to Leviticus 6:1-7, restitution was part of the Mosaic Law the required a person who stole someone's property not only had to pay for it but also had to add 20 percent or one-fifth of its value.
The only case of restitution in the New Testament is when Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector vowed to repay fourfold what he had taken from the people.
5 Lessons From Zacchaeus
The story is another example of Jesus reaching out to a sinner and offering salvation.
Lesson 1: We should want to see Jesus, no matter what it takes (v. 3).
Lesson 2: We should put our pride aside. It would have to be a humbling experience to be so short that you have to climb a tree to see (v. 4).
Lesson 3: Be willing to accept Jesus' invitation and answer His call (v. 5),
Lesson 4: Meet Jesus with excitement and joy. Be excited about Jesus and the salvation He offers (v. 6).
Lesson 5: Let Jesus find you and change you because He can, and He is willing to do so (v. 8, 10).
Why Zacchaeus Climbed the Sycamore Tree
Zacchaeus could have climbed any tree along the way, but he chose a sycamore tree to climb. So, why did he choose to climb that particular tree? It was tall enough for him to get a good view of Jesus and to hear what He was saying.
The simple answer is that it is a tall tree which offers a good view. However, there were many other tall trees that he could have used. According to Deuteronomy 34:3, Jericho is known as “the city of palm trees.” Why didn’t Zacchaeus climb to the top of a palm tree instead of a sycamore tree?
The sycamore tree symbolizes rejuvenation and regeneration. By climbing the tree, Zaccheaus had strategically positioned himself for a life-changing encounter.
By going up the tree Zacchaeus got more than what he bargained for. He was requested to come down and not just to meet Jesus face-to-face but to host Jesus for a meal in his house that would be a life-changing experience for Zaccheaus.
The sycamore tree is a better tree to climb than the palm tree. The sycamore tree has a sturdy trunk and low spreading branches. The tree stood tall and strong in the midst of the crowd who weren't willing to help Zacchaeus. In fact, the people in the crowd tried to distract the tax collector. By being in the tree, Zacchaeus’ short stature was no longer a limitation to seeing and hearing Jesus.
About the Sycamore Tree
Sycamore trees are easily identified with their giant size. It can grow as tall as 98 to 130 feet, and its diameter can be as big as 4.9 to 6.6 feet. A sycamore tree symbolizes strength, protection, eternity, and divinity
Zacchaeus’ Sycamore Tree is one of the top tourist attractions in Jericho because of the story in the Gospel of Luke. The tree stands at a major intersection in Jericho. Although the tree may not be the same one Zacchaeus climbed, it is in the spot where Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. The tree that stands in the same setting as the biblical sycamore tree is 2,000 years old. People are reminded of the story while viewing the tree.
Life Applications from Zacchaeus' Story
Zacchaeus was lost until he found Jesus who looked up and found him.
- Jesus knows your name (v. 5). Zacchaeus would have settled for only seeing Jesus, but he received so much more. Jesus called his name, requested that he come down and eat with Him.
- Jesus welcomes, sees, and saves (v. 5 and v. 10). Jesus welcomes those who wholeheartedly want to see Him.
- Jesus sees value in every person. While the crowds were grumbling because Zacchaeus was a sinner, Jesus was welcoming Zacchaeus because he was a sinner worthy of being changed.
- Jesus saves those who seek Him. While Zacchaeus sought Jesus, Jesus saw him. Jesus has said He came to seek and save those who are lost (v. 10). Zacchaeus was lost, but Jesus found him in the sycamore tree.
- Jesus wants to be with you (v. 5). Jesus told Zacchaeus that He must be his guest in his home that day. He wants to be in your heart today.
Jesus knows your name, just like He knew Zacchaeus' name. Jesus sees you no matter where you are. He welcomes you and saves you. Jesus wants to be with you just like He wanted to be with Zacchaeus. Being with Jesus is a life-changing experience.
We are called to identify our sycamore trees in all the areas where Jesus is passing through. Then we will be able to position ourselves to have a clear line of sight to see Jesus.
We can also experience the same life-changing encounter with Jesus the moment we identify our sycamore tree and respond to Jesus' request to host Him in our hearts.
Beware of crowds that try to keep you from seeing Jesus. Don't listen to them when you want to listen to Jesus. Don't hesitate to get to where Jesus is. Run past the crowds. Climb your very own sycamore tree because that's where you can focus on the Lord and not the crowds below.