Crumbling Walls with the Sound of Saving Grace

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for he was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lod, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to sees and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:1-10 NASB).

The fall of Jericho

The trumpets blare, the people shout with joy, and the walls crumble down. The story of the fall of Jericho in the book of Joshua is one of the most amazing stories of victory with God in the bible. Joshua is finally leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land after wandering in the wilderness for forty years, and the first order of business is to overthrow Jericho, a mighty and fortified city. God then gives Joshua some bizarre battle instructions. They are not to pick up weapons and attack with force, they are not to ascertain the number of men in the city of Jericho, they are not to look for ways to scale the walls and secretly enter the city, they are not even to practice fighting techniques to prepare them for battle. Instead of any of these widely used military strategies, God tells Joshua that they are to walk around the city and blow trumpets and then the walls of Jericho will fall. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a great battle plan to me. However, Joshua and the Israelites had learned to trust God complicitly over the past few years and they fully obeyed His commands. For six days they walked around the city of Jericho carrying the ark of the covenant with the priests blowing the trumpets. Then on the seventh day, they walked around the city seven times with the priests blowing the trumpets. When the seventh time around the city was completed, the people cried out in joyful praise to God, and the walls of Jericho crumbled to the ground.

The fortified and powerful walls of Jericho were feeble and weak when confronted with the might and majesty of God through the joyful sounds of deliverance proclaimed by the people of God. Announcing God’s presence, and calling out God’s praises might not seem like the best military strategy; however, scripture reminds us that human-based strategies of war are not of use in our spiritual battles:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness I the heavenly places (Eph. 6:10-12 NASB).

Our scripture story also takes place in Jericho, and within its verses we hear again the echoed sounds of trumpets, shouts of joy, and the crumbling of walls in Jericho.

Meet Zaccheaus

When Jesus enters Jericho, we meet a man. This is not just any ordinary man, he’s not your average Joe;  he is a man of importance, a man with prestige, a man with financial means, a man who wields power, a man who is hated. We are told three things about Zaccheus when the narrator introduces him. He is a chief tax collector, he is rich, and he is small in stature.

A Chief Tax Collector

Zaccheus is not just a tax collector, he is called a chief tax collector, so within the civic hierarchy, he is high on the ladder, not a lowly government worker. He is an elite even within the elite and privileged in society. He is a man who oversees others and has rank, power, and authority. He is a man who is listened to and obeyed. He is a man of status within the community. On the other side of the coin since tax collectors in general were despised, Zaccheus being identified as chief among them, most likely means that he was also chiefly loathed.

Tax collectors were known to be swindlers and have a dishonest work ethic. They often took advantage of those from whom they collected the Roman taxes so that they could keep a portion of it for themselves. Once again, being referred to as a chief tax collector probably implies that Zaccheaus was a chief cheat of the people as well. In addition to being cheats, tax collectors were seen as traitors. They are people who in the eyes of the general public have betrayed their Israelite brothers and sisters and have sided with the enemy Rome. To work for and enforce the rule and reign of their oppressor was seen as unforgivable. A tax collector was a sinner, and a man who was a chief tax collector was a supreme sinner.


Zaccheus was rich. This is not usually something that is referred to in a positive way in the gosepel accounts, but in Luke’s gospel specifically this is never good news—you might as well be called a murdering tyrant. Luke always paints the rich in a negative light and makes a point to show how God is on the side of the poor. We see this as a major theme of Jesus’ ministry and teaching in Luke’s Gospel. In Luke’s first account of Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus comes to Nazareth and while in the synagogue he reads from Isaiah a passage that clearly supports a ministry towards the outcast, poor, and marginalized in society. The passage Jesus read states, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19 NASB).

In addition to this initial teaching in the beginning of Luke’s gospel, there are many references to the wealthy. The parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21 is Jesus teaching about the foolishness of storing up treasures for ourselves and accumulating as much wealth and possessions as we can. Then there is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 where the rich man who was perceived to be blessed by God is the one in death who is in Hades, separated from the comfort of Father Abraham, while the poor, beggar Lazarus is at Abraham’s bosom.

Then there is the rich young ruler who questions Jesus in Luke 18:18-30. The rich young ruler confesses to having kept all of God’s commandments, yet Jesus tells him he is still lacking something to enter into eternal life. Jesus says, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Lk 18:22 NASB). The young man becomes downcast due to his enormous wealth and Jesus continues claiming, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Lk 18:24-25 NASB). Those listening then asked Jesus who could then be saved. In response Jesus said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God” (Lk 18:27 NASB). The wealthy are not pictured favorably in Luke’s gospel, so being told that Zaccheaus is rich should immediately put the reader on alert that this is not one of the ‘good guys’ and Zaccheus being rich means he is in the wrong. One of the reasons that Zaccheus was rich was due to him swindling and taking advantage of those of lesser financial means. He became rich by taking from the poor—he is no Robin Hood.

Small in Stature

Finally, Zaccheus is described as small in stature. He must have been considerably shorter than other adults if he had to resort to climbing a tree in order to see through the crowd of people. As important as his job as a chief tax collector, and his wealthy economic status, so too we need to understand how his lack of height affected Zaccheus. What possible relevance does his lack of height have to do with getting a better portrait of who Zaccheus was? Aren’t we just told this information so it makes sense as to why he’s in the tree?

Despite his wealth and position, which would have made him privileged in society, I have to imagine that Zaccheus was ridiculed most of his life due to being so short. I would also venture to say that he has years of hurt feelings and anger that have consumed him and transformed him into a man who doesn’t trust others and has probably had few true friends. This probably was a key factor in motivating him to achieve a position of chief tax collector, a position that would command at least public respect from others. Ridicule faced while growing up and particularly as an adult must have calloused his heart.  He is a man hiding an emotionally damaged heart through displaying an outward appearance of authority. He may not be liked, but at least now no one would probably dare to publicly humiliate him about his height for fear of the consequences.  Zaccheus is a wealthy tax collector, who is despised by the community, yet while he has the appearance of having a great life, he is a broken man.

The Sycamore Tree

When news spread that Jesus had arrived in Jericho, Zaccheus was anxious to see him. Here was a man who was known as a great teacher, healer, and performer of miracles, and to top it off, he was referred to as a friend to tax collectors and sinners. It was well known that many tax collectors and sinners had come to hear Jesus teach and he had received them (Lk 15:1-7), and Jesus had also taught a parable where a Pharisee and tax collector both come to the temple to pray and it was the tax collector who humbled himself before God  who was justified, not the Pharisee who came before God and recited all the good he had done (Lk 18:9-14). It was apparent that Jesus did not despise tax collectors and sinners like the majority of the people, in fact one of Jesus’ closest disciples, Levi, had been a tax collector. When Levi began following Jesus, he threw a banquet in Jesus’ honor and Jesus shared a table with a houseful of tax collectors (Lk 5:27-32).

This set Jesus apart, because no one would want to be known as a friend to sinners and tax collectors, much less actually socializing with them as Jesus had done. A man accused of being a friend to tax collectors and sinners would know something of the ostracism and hatred that tax collectors and sinners faced in the community. While Jesus did have a community of followers, he also had opponents. He was questioned, challenged, and tested by those who wanted to see him publicly disgraced. Jesus would understand at least in part what it was like to be Zaccheus.

This is a man that Zaccheus had to see, however, try as he may, he was not able to see because the crowd was so large and he was not capable of seeing over their heads. He quickly looked around and saw a sycamore tree down the road and decided that he would be able to clearly see Jesus if he was up in the sycamore tree. Time was of the essence as Jesus would be passing by any moment now. Zaccheus did not walk, he ran down the street toward the sycamore tree. He didn’t care how undignified he may appear to onlookers; he was compelled to get a glimpse of this man who would be willing to be a friend to a person like himself. Zaccheus could not name one priest, not one Levite, not one rabbi who would be willing to talk to him much less be a friend to him, but this Jesus was not like any other religious teacher. Jesus did not ignore those shunned in the community, refuse hospitality, or belittle others.

This Jesus might actually treat Zaccheus like a human being. Zaccheus had to see him, to look upon the face of a man who seemed to truly care about everyone. Could there really be a man of God who would accept him? Something told Zaccheus, Jesus would, so he was desperate to make sure he did not miss seeing him go by. Arriving at the sycamore tree, Zaccheus hurried to climb it and lean against a branch so that he could see Jesus walking down the street. Once again there were several pairs of eyes staring at him and laughing at his need to climb the tree in order to see what was happening. Zaccheus tuned out the laughs and focused on the street. There he was!

There was Jesus walking down the road with his disciples; Zaccheus stared at him intently and noticed the gentle smile on his face, and his eyes, Zaccheus was mesmerized by Jesus’ eyes. Though only thirtyish, Jesus had the eyes of a wise old man, they radiated wisdom and kindness. There was no condemnation in his eyes, they were not resigned as if he was only enduring the multitude of people who came and spoke to him, his eyes bespoke of a tenderness and a deep love. Zaccheus had not seen eyes illuminate so much love since he had last looked into his own mother’s eyes several years ago. So here is Zaccheus, up in a tree looking at Jesus from a distance, longing to know what it is like to be one of those people who actually gets to talk to Jesus and spend time with him. He is so tired of not having friends, of being alone. Jesus looks like a man who Zaccheus could be friends with. He cannot remember the last time he had a meal with people with whom he truly enjoyed being around, and who relished fellowshipping with him as well. Zaccheus could only imagine the joy experienced by those who spent time with Jesus.

Poor Zaccheus, his best attempts have only left him desiring more. He is happy to have seen Jesus, but his heart longs for something greater. Zaccheus follows a strategy to obtain what he wants, what he thinks will result in satisfaction, but it is not sufficient, just as the walls of Jericho were not going to fall by human military means. Our own attempts to be complete and fulfilled only leave us glancing from a distance; this is not enough. The climbing of the sycamore tree represents our own attempts to find contentment with life, and overcome our own shortcomings, but experiencing the full joy of humanity can not be obtained through our own devices, we are left unsatisfied. Our attempts to enter into the kingdom of God through our own means and devices fall flat—they will not work. We can spend hours reading the Bible, listening to Christian radio, and focus on doing good works, but if they are motivated by our own plans, our own strategies, our own ways to enter into the joy of salvation, they will leave us like Zaccheus, sitting up in a tree feeling lost and only seeing Jesus at a distance.

Sounding the Trumpets of Saving Grace

Are we to be hopeless in our lost circumstances? “When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at hour house’” (Lk 19:5 NASB). Jesus does not pass on by. Zaccheus may not be able to obtain the joy and salvation he desires on his own, but he doesn’t have to, because we serve a God who will not pass us by. Jesus takes the initiative, and Jesus meets Zaccheus where he is at, and then wants to go to the home of Zaccheus. My friends, the trumpet sounds of grace are being played announcing the Lord paving a way to the Kingdom of God.

Jesus affirms the value of Zaccheus as a human being. Jesus makes a point to let Zaccheus know that he is known by God—he identifies him by name, though they had never met before. Not only does Jesus know Zaccheus’ name, he knows the hurt that he carries around with him. He knows about the lifetime of bullying he has endured for being so short in stature, he knows how Zaccheus longs for a true friend, and he knows how Zaccheus has cheated others and benefitted personally from his oppression of others. And Jesus stops because he cares about Zaccheus, and wants to spend time with him, for he knows that Zaccheus desires to know God. Jesus has seen the effort he has made, and Jesus has stopped to offer Zaccheus the life that his heart desires.

Just as the sound of trumpets played by priests were heard in Jericho all those many years ago as Joshua led the Israelites around the city walls, so on this day, Jesus, our high priest, was again sounding the invitation of saving grace to Zaccheus, a rich, chief tax collector. And Zaccheus hurried down the tree and rejoicingly received Jesus. The hollowness that Zaccheus had felt while watching Jesus from a distance had dissipated. He now feels a joy supreme flowing through every ounce of his being. He has been accepted by Jesus!  

Of course, there are always naysayers. He can’t be saved! He is steeped too deep in sin to ever be identified as righteous before God. He can never turn his life around. But as we have been reminded all things are possible with God.

Walls in Jericho Crumble

Zaccheus was eager to prove himself after hearing the grumbling of the doubters. He willingly gave up half of his possessions to the poor and promised to give back four times the amount to anyone he had cheated. This is exuberant giving. I see in Zaccheus the same thoughts as spoken by Paul who said, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that I count all things to be loss in view of the suprassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8 NASB). Zaccheus no longer found value in money, possessions, and social status; he had been found by Christ, and that was worth everything, and so the walls came crumbling down once again in Jericho.

Just as impossible as it seemed that the walls of Jericho could fall with just the sounds of trumpets and praise, so too the walls that separated this chief sinner from God also crumbled when Zaccheus recognized Jesus for who he truly was, and willingly gave up his treasures on earth for treasures in heaven. Zaccheus was a camel who passed through the eye of a needle—very difficult, but not impossible with God. Yes, even those for whom the kingdom of God is most difficult to enter, God provides a way that they may enter it.

Conclusion: The Experience of True Joy

When we go the way of God, and answer his invitation, we experience immense joy. But it a joy that others experience as well. Jesus said, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7 NASB). However, Zaccheus’ repentance and acceptance of Jesus also caused the community to rejoice. The poor would receive much needed money, and by compensating those who had been cheated, Zaccheus not only righted a wrong, he was mending broken relationships with those individuals. Yes, joy was received and shared by a great many people.

Will we imitate Jesus in being conduits of grace through which Jesus will continue to crumble walls that are barriers to a relationship with God and fellowship with others? Will we be vessels of grace through which Jesus invites others to join him for a meal in the Kingdom of God? Will we go to where people are at, see beyond their outward appearances, see beyond the job titles, see beyond their social and financial statuses, see beyond things that have done wrong, so that we might see through Jesus’ eyes and see their hurt, pain, alienation, and ostracism that they are carrying in their heart? Will we be a people who build barriers or help Jesus tear them down? When we surround a city or community with the trumpeting sounds of God’s amazing grace walls will crumble–walls of alienation, walls of hatred, walls of injustice, and walls of sin. And the result will be an experience of unspeakable joy.

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