“And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, 'Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.'" (Luke 19.8-10)
Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, which meant that he stood near the top of the food chain for collecting taxes. He would get a cut of commission from the other dishonest tax collectors. This made him a very rich man. He was getting rich by working for the Romans and ripping off his own Jewish countrymen.
What, then, would possess a man who had built his whole life on accumulating wealth by taking from others to give so generously? Fifty percent of his goods to the poor? Can you imagine? Who does that? And a fourfold restitution to anyone he had defrauded? Mosaic Law required only twenty percent, not 400! Why was Zacchaeus suddenly resolved to live in a completely different way?
The answer is Jesus. Salvation had come to his house. Jesus had sought him out, and transformed his heart. Zacchaeus wasn’t saved because he turned his life around; rather, his life was being turned around because Jesus had saved him. These good works of giving to the poor and restoring those whom he had defrauded were the result of the gospel at work in his heart. That’s the power of the gospel.
You see, when we embrace the gospel by faith alone, the gospel begins to change our behavior. We don't have to cheat and steal, because we have an inheritance that no one can take from us. We don't have to lie or bend the truth, because our life isn't built around our reputation. We don’t have to smugly look down our noses at others, or judge them with a self-righteous attitude, because our sense of self-worth is found in Christ, not ourselves.
In other words, we no longer behave well simply because it benefits us or makes us feel better about ourselves. Instead, we tell the truth, we keep our promises, and we show compassion to others out of love for the One who died for us. The gospel leads us to do the right thing, not for our own sake, but for Christ's sake, out of a desire to resemble and glorify the One who bore our guilt and shame upon the cross. That is why Zacchaeus acted as he did, and why Jesus joyfully announced that salvation had come to his house that day.
Today is still the day of salvation, and Jesus is still seeking and saving the lost. Only his power can transform and change our hearts internally. Put your trust in him, and follow him wholeheartedly without fear.
From Pastor Brown's sermon on Luke 19.1-10. You can listen to the whole thing here.