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The history which relates the calling and conversion of Zaccheus the publican, is ushered in with a note of wonder: Behold, there was a man named Zaccheus. It is both great and good news to hear of a soul converted unto God: especially such a remarkable sinner as Zaccheus was: for,
1. He was by profession a publican; a calling that carried extortion in its face, and bade defiance to his conversion; yet, behold, from the toll-booth is Zaccheus called to be a disciple, and Matthew an apostle: such is the freeness of divine grace, that it often calls the greatest sinners, and triumph in their powerful conversion.
2. He was a chief publican, and probably one of the chief of sinners, yet behold him among the chief of saints. Lord! What penitent need despair of thy mercy, when he sees a publican, no, the chief of publicans, home to heaven!
3. It is added. as a farther circumstance, that he was rich: his trade was not a greater obstacle to his conversion than his wealth: not that there is any malignity in riches, considered in themselves, but they become a snare through the corruption of our natures. Zaccheus had not been so famous a convert, if he had not been rich; if more difficulty, yet there was more glory on the conversion of rich Zaccheus. To all these might be added a fourth circumstance, namely, that Zaccheus was converted in his old age, after a long habit of sin contracted. Such instances, though few, has God left upon record in Scripture; Abraham and Manasses on the Old Testament, Zaccheus and Paul in the New.
Zaccheus desired to see Jesus, this is a sight that few rich men desired to see; the sight of Caesar's face upon their coin is more pleasing to them, than to see the face of Christ in his ordinances: yet it was not faith, but fancy and curiosity that made Zaccheus climb the sycamore, to see Jesus; but the curiosity of the eye gave occasion to the belief of the heart: he that desires to see Jesus is in the way to enjoy him. It is good to be near the place where Christ is, whatever principles bring us there.
What an instance is here of Christ's preventing grace and mercy! Zaccheus climbs up into the sycamore to see Jesus. Jesus first sees him; little did Zaccheus think, that Jesus should cast up his eyes to him: Christ's looks are converting looks; there went a divine power along with them, to change the heart of him who he looked upon; he that could heal a disease by the hem of his garment, could change a heart with the glance of his eye.
Observe farther, Christ does not only note, but name Zaccheus: He bids him come down, for he must abide at his house: what a sweet familiarity was here! Though the distance be infinitely great between our Saviour and ourselves, yet he treats us not with a majestic stateliness, but with a gracious affability.
Some note, that Zaccheus was the first man we read of, to whose house Christ invited himself.
Observe lastly, with what speed Zaccheus hastens down, and with what alacrity he entertains our Saviour; curiosity carried him up, but love brings him down, and he entertains Christ joyfully: but alas, it was but for a few hours. Lord! How great is the happiness of that man that receives and entertains thee, not for a day or a year, or for millions of years, but for everlasting ages! Oh let us welcome thee into our hearts by faith, while we are here on earth, and then thou will make us welcome with thyself everlastingly in thy kingdom.
That is, the Pharisees who were here, were highly discontented that Christ went to a publican's house, whom they looked upon as the worst of men; their eye was evil, because Christ's was good. Whither should the physician go, but to the sick? The whole need him not. However, the envious Pharisees censure and condemn him for it. Lord, who can hope to escape the aspersions of censorious tongues, while spotless innocence, and perfect holiness, falls under the lash of them? It is sufficient for the servant to be as the master.
Two things are here observable: the greatness of his charity, and the justice of his restitution.
As to his charity, observe,
1. The freeness of it, not I lend, but I give.
2. The readiness of it: not I will, but I do give.
3. The justice and honesty of it, my goods, not my spoils; what is my own, and not rent from others by rapine and extortion;
4. The largeness and extensiveness of his charity: Half of my goods, not an inconsiderable pittance.
5. The fitness of his charity, To the poor, not to the rich; not to his rich heirs, but to his poor neighbors. Again, as his charity was large, so his restitution was just; as he gave half to the poor, so he restored four-fold to the wronged. What an evidence was here of a true penitent! Confession and satisfaction are both found with him. Whenever repentance is sincere and saving, there is not only a hatred of former sins, but a vigorous exercise of graces contrary to those sins.
That which Zaccheus gave to the poor, was nothing to what Christ gave to him; it was but dross he gave to them, it was salvation Christ gave to him. Where is the man that can say, God is in his debt for acts of charity and mercy? Where is he that will not own God the best and quickest Paymaster? This day is salvation come to this house: It is thine in title, and however long it shall be thine in possession: Forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham; that is, either a natural son of Abraham, a Jew; or a spiritual son, a believer; the heir of Abraham's faith, which was also imputed to him for righteousness. Oh happy Zaccheus! Thou has climbed up from thy sycamore to heaven, and by thy charity and justice has purchased to thyself a kingdom that fades not away.
1. A description of man's deplorable state, and undone condition: he is lost.
2. The care of Christ to seek and recover man out of that lost state: The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.
1. That man's condition is a lost condition, and every unregenerated man is a lost man; he has lost his God, his soul, his happiness, his excellency, his liberty, his ability.
2. The great errand that Christ came into the world upon, it was to seek and to save lost sinners: this he does by his blood, by his word, by his Spirit, and by his rod.
For the better understanding of this parable, we must,
1. Consider the occasion of it.
2. The design and scope of it.
3. The lessons of instruction which our Saviour intended us by it.
As to the former; the occasion of our Saviour's uttering this parable seems to be this, He was now going up to Jerusalem to die; some of the company were of opinion, that he would immediately enter upon his kingdom, and act as a temporal prince, delivering them from the Romans, and destroying his and their enemies: he lets them understand the quite contrary, that he must die and rise again, and ascend into heaven, and then return again and receive the kingdom; and that he was now taking his last journey to Jerusalem, in order to that end.
The design and scope of the parable, together with the interpretation of it, is this, the nobleman here mentioned is our Saviour himself, who in his state of great humiliation was but like a nobleman: his going into a far country, signifies his return from earth to heaven: his coming back again, signifies his coming to judgment: his calling his servants, and delivering them their talents, intimates to us the various gifts which he bestows upon the sons of men, all which are to be employed in his service, and improved to his glory: his calling his servants to an account, plainly signifies, that when Christ comes to judgment, he will have an account of every individual person, how they used the gifts, and improved the talents, intrusted with them; and that they may expect to be impartially rewarded according to their works; for God will appear a righteous God, and will condemn sinners out of their own mouths, and a most certain and final ruin will be their portion, while those that were faithful in his service shall be crowned with his reward.
Now from the whole we may learn these lessons of instruction:
1. That our Lords' state of humiliation and great abasement on earth being passed and over, a glorious state of exaltation he is now arrived at in heaven. God has exalted him with great triumph to his kingdom in heaven.
2. That, clothed with inifinite majesty and power, and attended with an innumerable host of glorious angels and saints, this exalted Saviour will come to judge angels and men.
3. That in the mean time Christ variously dispenses to his servants particular talents, to be employed and improved for his own glory and his church's good.
4. That there will most certainly be a reckoning-day, or a time when our Lord will take an account of men's improving those gifts and graces, which were given them as so many talents to be improved by them.
5. That there will be degrees of happiness and misery in the other world, according to men's degrees of faithfulness or negligence in this.
6. That it is abominably false and impious to charge God, as being rigid and severe with men, and requiring impossibilities at their hands: For out of their own mouths will God condemn them.
Lastly, that the condition of God's faithful servants will be unspeakably happy, and that of the unprofitable servant intolerably miserable both in this world and in the next: the righteous shall enter into the joy of their Lord, and be confirmed therein, with an utter impossibility of losing that happiness. The wicked, who would not submit to Christ's authority, shall not be able to resist his power. They that would not suffer Christ to reign over them, shall at the last day be brought forth and slain before him. Those mine enemies that would not that I, and etc.
Our Lord (as noted before) was now upon his last journey to Jerusalem, where he was to shed his blood, and lay down his life for the redemption and salvation of a lost world; and it is observable, what a double demonstration he gives of his great willingness and forwardness to go up to Jerusalem, there to die.
1. Both St. Luke here, and St. Mark, Mark 10:32 tell us, that he went before the company leading the way, when he went to suffer. Lord! With what alacrity and holy cheerfulness did thou manage the great work of man's redemption! None ever went so willingly to a crown as thou to thy cross.
2. Our Saviour, who all his life traveled like a poor man on foot, now he goes up to Jerusalem to die for us, he will ride, to show his great forwardness to lay down his life for us, but what was the beast he rode upon! An ass's colt; to fulfill that prophecy, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh, riding upon an ass. Zechariah 9:9 Yes it was a colt which never man rode before; to let us see how the most unruly and untamed creatures become obedient and obsequious to Christ, and render themselves serviceable to him at his pleasure. It was also a borrowed ass, whereby our Savior's right to all the creatures was manifested; and accordingly he bids his disciples to tell the owner, That the Lord had need of him: not your Lord, or our Lord, but the Lord, that is, he that is Lord of the whole earth, whose are the cattle upon a thousand hills.
Here note, what a clear and full demonstration Christ gave of his divine nature: of his omnisciency in foreseeing and foretelling the event; of his omnipotency in inclining the heart, and over-ruling the will of the owner to let the colt go; and of his sovereignty, that as he was Lord of the creatures, he could command and call for their services whenever he needed them. The colt being brought, and our Saviour set thereon.
Observe, next, the actions of the multitude in acknowledging Christ to be our King; they spread their clothes in the way, casting their garments on the ground, for him to ride upon, according to the custom of princes when they ride in state; yes, the multitude do not only disrobe their backs, but expend their breath in joyful acclamations and loud hosannas, wishing all manner of prosperity to their meek but mighty Prince. In this princely, yet poor and despicable pomp, does our Saviour enter the famous city of Jerusalem. Oh how far was our holy Lord from affecting worldly greatness and grandeur! He despised that glory which worldly hearts fondly admire; yet because he was a King, he would be proclaimed such, and have his kingdom confessed, applauded, and blessed: but that it might appear that his kingdom was not of this world, he abandons all worldly magnificence. Oh glorious, yet homely pomp! Oh meek, yet mighty Prince!
Observe lastly, the peevish envy of the wicked Pharisees, who were then in company: they grudge our Saviour this poor honor; they envy him this small triumph of coming into the city upon an ass's colt, attended by a company of poor people, strewing the way with boughs of trees, with hosannas and joyful acclamations in their mouths: these poor people's mouths they would have stopped; Master, rebuke thy disciples; they did not like the music. Christ tells them, that they labor in vain to suppress the testimony given by his disciples, for if they should be silent, the stones would cry out yes, cry out shame of them for neglecting their duty: as if Christ had said, the speechless stones will speak and give witness to me, if men will not.
Learn hence, they that are owned of God, shall not want ownings and witnessings from man, at one time or other, in one way or other, though the envy and malice of men do never so much gainsay and oppose it.
No sooner did our Saviour come within the sight and view of the city of Jerusalem, but he burst out into tears, at the consideration of their obstinacy, and willful rejecting of the offers of grace and salvation made unto them; and also he wept to consider of the dreadful judgments that hung over their heads for those sins, even the utter ruin and destruction of their city and temple.
1. That good men ever have been, and are men of tender and compassionate dispositions, sorrowing not only for their own sufferings, but for others' calamities.
2. That Christ sheds tears as well as blood for the lost world; Christ wept over Jerusalem, as well as bled for her.
3. That Christ was infinitely more concerned for the salvation of poor sinners, than for his own death and sufferings: not the sight of his own cross, but Jerusalem's calamities, made him weep.
By the things belonging to their peace, we are to understand the presence of Christ amongst them, the preaching of the gospel to them: She did not know, that is, she did not consider, she did not prize and improve, her privileges as she ought; but stopped her ears against the words of Christ, and closed her eyes against the miraculous works of Christ, till at last they were hidden from her eyes.
1. That the time of a people's enjoying the light and liberty of the gospel, is a limited day, it is a short day: If thou hadst known in this thy day.
2. That it is the sad and usual lot of the gospel not to be embraced and entertained by a people to whom it is in mercy sent, till it be too late, and the time of their visitation be past and over, O that thou hadst known; but now thou shalt never know, now they are hid from thine eyes. But how hid? Was there no more preaching in Jerusalem; no public ministry after that day? Yes, behold the patience and mercy of Christ in waiting upon this people. After this, Christ sent the whole college of apostles, and they preached there the things belonging to their temporal and eternal peace; but they wanted hearts to consider and their ruin was unavoidable.
Here we have a prophetical prediction of the total and final destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Roman armies, who begirt the city round, burnt the temple, starved the people, and brought such ruin and destruction upon the place, as no history could ever parallel: the reason is assigned, because they knew not the time of their visitation; that is, the time when God visited them with his gospel, first by the ministry of John, then by the preaching of Christ himself, and afterwards by his disciples and apostles.
1. That when God gives his gospel to a people, he gives that people a merciful and a gracious visitation.
2. That for a people not to know, but to neglect the time of their gracious visitation, is a God-provoking, and a wrath-procuring sin: Because thou knowest not the time of thy visitation, therefore the time shall come, that thine enemies shall lay thee even with the ground, and not leave one stone upon another; which, history tells us, was literally fulfilled, when Turnus Rufus, with his plough, ploughed up the very foundation stones upon which the temple stood. Lord, how has sin laid the foundation of ruin in the most flourishing cities and kingdoms! Here we have a prophetical prediction of the total and final destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Roman armies, who begirt the city round, burnt the temple, starved the people, and brought such ruin and destruction upon the place, as no history could ever parallel: the reason is assigned, because they knew not the time of their visitation; that is, the time when God visited them with his gospel, first by the ministry of John, then by the preaching of Christ himself, and afterwards by his disciples and apostles.
1. That when God gives his gospel to a people, he gives that people a merciful and a gracious visitation.
2. That for a people not to know, but to neglect the time of their gracious visitation, is a God-provoking, and a wrath-procuring sin: Because thou knowest not the time of thy visitation, therefore the time shall come, that thine enemies shall lay thee even with the ground, and not leave one stone upon another; which, history tells us, was literally fulfilled, when Turnus Rufus, with his plough, ploughed up the very foundation stones upon which the temple stood. Lord, how has sin laid the foundation of ruin in the most flourishing cities and kingdoms!
No sooner had our blessed Saviour entered Jerusalem, but his first walk was to the temple, and his first work was to purge and reform it from abuses, not to ruin and destory it because it had been abused.
But what was the profanation of the temple, that so offended our Saviour?
Answer. In the court of the Gentiles, the outward court of the temple, there was a public mart or market kept, where were sold oxen, sheep, and doves, for sacrifice, which otherwise the people must have brought up along with them from their houses: as a pretended ease therefore to the people, the priests ordered these things to be sold hard by the altar; but our blessed Saviour being justly offended at this profanation of his Father's house, cast the buyers and sellers out of the temple: teaching us, that there is a special reverence due to God's house, both for the Owner's sake, and for the service sake: nothing but holiness can become the place where God is worshipped in the beauty of holiness.
The reason in added, My house is the house of prayer; where by prayer is to be understood, the whole worship and service of God, of which prayer is an eminent and principal part. That which gives denomination to an house, is most certainly the chief work to be done in that house; now God's house being called an house of prayer, implies that prayer is a chief and principal work to be performed in this house; yet take we heed, that we set not the ordinances of God at variance one with another; we must not idolize one ordinance, and vilify another, but reverence them all, and pay an awful respect to all divine institutions. Our blessed Saviour here in his house of prayer preached daily to the people, as well as prayed with them; and all the people were as attentive to hear his sermons as he was constant at their prayers.
Prayer sanctifies the word, and the word fits us for prayer. If we would glorify God, and edify ourselves, we must put honor upon all the ordinances of God, and diligently attend them upon all occasions.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Luke 19". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent