Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Between my graduation from seminary and my first ministry, I was a security guard for an older Jewish woman.  “Sarah” had a kind heart … encased in a hard shell. She was about 70 years old and divorced.  But while married, she and her husband made millions by investing in an optical company.

Their residence was located in affluent “North Dallas.”  Never before (or since) have I seen such opulence:  over 28,000 square feet (at that time estimated to be the largest house in Dallas, Texas, and possibly the state):  nine bedrooms and 17 bathrooms … three kitchens … three dining rooms … two dens … a barbershop … a sauna … an exercise room … a massage room … an office suite … countless closets … (and 27 television sets).  There was a heated indoor swimming pool and another one outside.  And on the walls throughout the house hung pictures of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Frank Sinatra and other celebrities of the 1960’s and 70’s, all taken there in that house.  Ross Perot was their neighbor.  (He only had one swimming pool.)  When the owner showed me her cedar-lined closet in which were hanging her many mink coats, I just stood there and gawked.  Sensing that I could not fathom her wealth, she tried to help me out.  “Martin, don’t you understand?  We were multi-millionaires!”  (That did not help me out.)

To this day I sometimes think about this dear – but calloused – woman; and when I do, I see her house in my mind’s eye.  But not its warm luxuries.  No, there was something cold about that house.  Its rooms were full, but its “soul” was vacant.  You could feel it.  It was an emptiness that overshadowed its extravagance.

That same vacancy could be seen in Sarah’s eyes.  There was a blank stare in those eyes … a drained look that mirrored a drained soul.  Perhaps that same empty gaze was in the eyes of Zaccheus … that is, until he heard that Jesus was about to pass by.


It may be that when some of us hear the name Zaccheus, we think of that little song children sing, “Zaccheus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.  He climbed up in the sycamore tree; the Lord he wanted to see.”  But we should be careful not to miss the outcome of his encounter with the One “he wanted to see,” for it describes the moment an empty soul was gloriously filled to the brim … and then overflowed.

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, Lord, 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 seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:2-10)

The account of this meeting between Jesus and Zaccheus is positioned in a most interesting place in Luke’s Gospel:  chapter 19.  To accomplish his Holy Spirit-directed purpose, the author inserted it immediately after the Lord’s encounter with a “rich young ruler” in Luke, chapter 18.  These two chapters present back-to-back accounts of two men who were seeking an audience with the Savior.  This was no haphazard decision on Luke’s part, for they offer an interesting contrast between one whose soul was prepared for salvation and another whose soul was not.

How Zaccheus and the Rich Young Ruler Were Different

  • Although both sensed that something was “lacking” in his life, only one felt the utter poverty of his soul.

The one described as “a ruler” was likely a leader in one of the nearby synagogues.  If so, he would have been known for observing – to the letter – the Law of Moses.  In fact that is how he described himself:  “Teacher, all these (commandments) I have kept from my youth up ….”  This ruler had great confidence in his own righteousness.  He was rich in spirit.

On the other hand Zaccheus, because he was a tax collector, was considered by the crowd to be “a sinner,” worthy of contempt.  And apparently, that is how he saw himself.  This tax collector had no confidence in his own righteousness.  He was poor in spirit.

  • Although both believed that Jesus was somehow able to provide what he lacked, only one believed that Jesus Himself was the missing “Piece.”

The young ruler believed that Jesus could point him to that “one good thing” he was not doing.  Once he started doing it, then he would inherit eternal life.

Zaccheus, however, believed that Jesus Himself was the Solution to his emptiness.  For him, the answer was not in a law but in a Person.

  • Although both were “rich,” only one no longer depended on his wealth to satisfy his soul.

As it turned out, the ruler’s soul was just as satisfied with his riches as it was with his righteousness.  When he was challenged to give it all away, that was too much to ask.  Forfeiting his wealth was not the one “good thing” he was willing to do.

Zaccheus, on the other hand, was more than willing to release his wealth.  His bankrupt soul had already done so.  When Jesus expressed an interest in spending time with him, that’s all it took.  He gladly made restitution with those he had robbed in gratitude for the abundant life he had just received from Jesus.  And he was not even told to do so.

  • Although both longed for life to be more than it was, only one trusted in Jesus to satisfy his soul. Whereas the rich ruler “went away grieved” (Matthew 19:21-22; Mark 10:21-22; Luke 18:22-23), we are told that Zaccheus “received Him gladly.” (Luke 19:5-6)

To the rich, young ruler, Jesus was a law-giving teacher whose yoke was exceedingly heavy.

To the tax-collector, Jesus was a grace-giving Savior whose burden was exceedingly light.

The Eternal Results of Their Choices

For the rich young ruler, eternal ruin.

For Zaccheus, eternal glory.

For Sarah.  A few years ago, on one of my last visits to Dallas, I drove by to see the mansion in which I had once lived.  To my surprise, it had been bulldozed to the ground.  There was nothing there but an empty lot.  The empty house was gone … and so was the empty soul that once roamed its halls.

Sarah is now in eternity.  She died in 1998.  But as I sit here and think of her, I do not know where she lives.  (The Lord knows.)  What I do know is this:  the very thing most of us bend over backwards to have more of had not satisfied her soul any more than it had Zaccheus’.

Beloved friends, to what are you clinging to satisfy your soul?

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