Zacchaeus was a tax collector for the Romans who were occupying the land of Israel at that time. Needless to say, he was not popular, especially with his fellow-Jews who resented the Romans. In addition to collecting taxes for the Romans, he took for himself an extra share of the money – and he had become rich. If you read verse 8 in the story you can easily work that out.
He lived in Jericho, and one day Jesus was passing through his town. Something stirred in his mind – he must go and see who this great teacher is! He had heard of Him and wanted to find out more for himself. His rather self-centred lifestyle and his riches did not matter for the moment, so off he went with the crowd to see this Jesus of Nazareth.
But there was a problem, a hindrance! No, not his riches but his height! He was one of these people who are not tall enough to see over the heads of others in a crowd. Nothing daunted, he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree, thinking he would see but not be seen. What a shock when Jesus stopped right under the tree and said, “Zacchaeus, come down, for today I must stay at your house!” (v 5).
He came down, and we read that he “received Him joyfully”. He found that Christ could give him a joy that riches could never give. He was a changed man, no longer grabbing more and hoarding it. In fact, he offered to give away half of his wealth, and give back to those he had cheated four times more than he had taken from them.
Receiving Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord is life-changing. Sins are forgiven and fellowship with God becomes possible. Values are altered and the needs of others become important. Material riches, earthly and temporary ones, are replaced by spiritual riches, heavenly and eternal ones, which money cannot buy.