Lost! A word with a sharp stab. Lost dog. Lost ship. Lost child. It’s the word Jesus chose to describe our spiritual condition because we are sinners: lost! Separation from God in the starless night of eternity.

Lost beyond recovery. Lost—and found. Jesus came seeking the lost—the lost millionaire and lost monarch; the lost prodigal and lost prostitute; the lost scholar and lost skeptic.

Lost is not a feeling, it’s a spiritual condition. People are lost but may not know it. The lost are everywhere . . . even sometimes in trees.

Situated in the lush Jordan Valley 18 miles NE of Jerusalem is “The City of Palms,”—Jericho. It is a beautiful, green oasis in the midst of a brown, barren desert. Jericho was a luxurious resort town, a garden city much like our Palm Springs.

Jericho has a rich biblical history. “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down!” Elisha added a few grains of salt and turned bitter water into sweet.

Travelling from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jericho is the last stop.

In route to his triumphal entry and crucifixion, Jesus arrives in Jericho.

Jericho’s chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, sat atop the pyramid scheme known as the Roman tax system. The government required a certain per capita tax from all its subjects, including the subjugated, impoverished Jews. Rome farmed out the business of collecting these hated taxes to chief tax collectors. Zacchaeus was the kingpin of the Jericho tax cartel.

He paid the Roman government the required tax, and as permitted, lined his pockets with a substantial rake-off squeezed out of his defenseless fellow Jews. He was unprincipled, unscrupulous, scheming, and ruthless in his despicable business of extorting taxes from his own people. As he walked down the street, no one said good morning to him. No one sent him wedding invitations, and no one named their children after him.

He also was short. The average male height in Israel was about five feet six inches. Zach was short. If I were casting for “Zacchaeus, the Movie,” I would cast a Danny Devito character as Zach. A sawed-off little slimy social scoundrel with a big bank account and an Armani suit.

Word spread Jesus is entering Jericho! Curiosity got the best of Zach. He wanted to see Jesus, but he found the road lined with a crowd of people ten deep. Elbow to elbow, the whole city—including graybeards on crutches and babies in arms—had massed into the city square. People pushed and pulled, jostled and jockeyed for a chance to see Jesus.

Short and shrewd Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a nearby sycamore tree. He watched and waited. He had an unhindered view. As Jesus passed and looked into the broad branches of the tree, he called out: “Zacchaeus, come down! Today I must stay at your house.” Zach couldn’t have been more surprised if the tree itself had spoken to him! He had never met Jesus. It must have been a Deniro moment for Zacchaeus: “Are you talking to me? . . . .” He immediately shimmied down the tree and welcomed Jesus joyfully.

The crowd murmured, “He has gone to eat with a sinner!” All Jericho snickered up their sleeves to think Jesus didn’t have better sense than to invite himself to the house of a man that nobody else in town would touch with a ten-foot pole![1] “Well, what did I tell you? That’s what it all comes to. The prophets plead for the poor but dine with the rich.”

Jesus was neither impressed by Zach’s wealth nor shocked by the unsavory way he acquired it.

“Salvation has come to this house,” Jesus said of Zacchaeus. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” Fourteen monosyllables—not one of which has more than four letters—tell the story of God’s seeking and saving love for a lost world.

Jericho . . . the last stop to Jerusalem. Zacchaeus came down from the tree. Lost—and found.

Jesus . . . lifted up on Calvary’s tree . . . “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to me.”


[1] A gem of a quote from Frederick Buechner’s Peculiar Treasures on the account of Jesus and Zacchaeus. Some of my other ideas and turns of phrases were gleaned from reading somewhere near twenty sermons old and new on Luke 19:1–10.