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Why Did Zacchaeus Climb Up in a Tree?

October 30, 2022

Why Did Zacchaeus Climb up in a Tree?

Why Did Zacchaeus Climb Up in a Tree?

By Brooke Holt

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.” Luke 19:1-4

Children learn the story of Zacchaeus in Sunday school from a young age. They learn he was a “wee little man” who climbed up in a sycamore tree to see Jesus. Teachers often forget or miss why Zacchaeus humbled himself to climb a tree in teaching these fun and sweet details about him.

Tree climbing can be quite fun. I did a lot of it as a child. The view was wonderful once I got up into those high branches, and I loved the idea I could hide from those on the ground. What is adventurous and fun for a child was quite undignified, especially for a man of Zacchaeus’ position. He has a very wealthy man and could likely order people to do such undignified things on his behalf which leads us back to the question—why did Zacchaeus climb up in the tree?

I think Zacchaeus was desperate to see Jesus. Though wealthy, Zacchaeus was an outcast in the Jewish society. Zacchaeus was a Jew himself, but he was also the chief-tax collector and despised among the Jewish people. Tax collectors cheated the people of their hard-earned income by demanding they pay over what they owed. The extra money collected then went straight into the tax collectors’ pockets. Essentially, Zacchaeus abused the authority Rome entrusted to him by stealing from his own people. No wonder people despised him!

Even though Zacchaeus had incredible wealth, he still had the same God-shaped hole in his heart that all of God’s people have. All the money in the world could not fill that hole. Zacchaeus knew because he had tried. Now, he was facing the desperation of his failed attempts to fix himself or fill that hole in his heart. He heard the reports about Jesus. He heard that Jesus spoke with new authority with the power to heal the sick and the lame, drive out demons, and even raise people from the dead. Zacchaeus probably also heard that Jesus hung out with people just like him—notorious sinners.

The reports about Jesus created hope and curiosity within Zacchaeus. The crowds would not welcome him among them to see Jesus, so Zacchaeus humbled himself to climb that tree. He felt that deep desperation to see the man called Jesus. In that tree, Zacchaeus enjoyed his anonymity from the crowd and awaited his Savior.

Zacchaeus recognized his desperation for the Messiah and acted on that desperation. What about you? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to see Jesus, hear his word, and experience his power and glory?


What will you do to see Jesus today? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

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Draw Near

Let's face it, the Christian life is hard. Relationships take work. Christians forget. Sometimes it is tempting to go back to the days when God was not the center of our lives - to backslide. We are all faced with tremendous pressures to drift away from intimacy with Jesus and the community of the Church. However, the Lord invites us to pay attention, to move forward, to draw near, and to live lives of worship. Draw Near: Hebrews on Christian Worship is a small group Bible study on the Book of Hebrews intended to lead participants into a deeper intimacy with the living God in the context of New Testament worship. Draw nearer to God in authentic worship today!

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