If you are looking for a prayer for transformation, try the story of Zacchaeus. We end with a personal prayer for transformation!
Years ago, when our car meandered up the driveway to our new home, a stately tree with massive branches providing ample shade came into view. I asked what kind of tree it was and learned it was, to my delight, a sycamore. I felt giddy at the thought of a biblical artifact gracing my new front yard.
My husband did not share my affinity for the tree because . . . it created a mess year-round. The leaves didn’t shed at once but covered the ground all winter. The sharp seed pods plagued the garden and our children’s bare feet in the summertime. His greatest desire for our property was to see that tree cut down and pulled out by the roots.
But no, I adamantly protested, we could not cut down Zacchaeus’s tree. We eventually discovered this was a different variety of sycamore from the biblical account, but kept the shade maker God provided anyway.
Even though it’s not the real thing, I’ve spent time imagining this eye-witness and dinner host of Jesus sitting with anxious hope—looking for the Messiah to pass by—in the branches many times.
We can learn a lot from Zacchaeus in the nine verses from Luke 19 that illuminate his changed-heart story. Peering into biblical accounts with wonder—and paying particular attention to the context—adds depth to Scripture and is my favorite way to teach the Bible.
So, let’s prepare our hearts to receive and absorb this passage:
Lord God, we praise You that Your Son came to be God With Us—Emmanuel. As Zacchaeus feasted with Jesus that day in history, may we feast well on the Word of the Living God today. Please help us encounter a heart transformed as we study Scripture. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
Before a Prayer of Transformation…The Biblical Context of Zacchaeus
The account of Zacchaeus comes exclusively from the Gospel of Luke 19:1-10. If we flip a few pages back to Luke chapter 17, we glean a clue as to Jesus’ whereabouts at the telling of this story. He was on his way to Jerusalem, traveling between Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17:11). He healed and taught along the way—which included the telling of the parable of the arrogant Pharisee and the humble tax-collector in Luke 18:9-14.
It appears that Jesus shared this story as a preamble to the events to come in Jericho. In Rabbinic style, He often told parables and then took His followers on a journey that unfolded the story before their eyes.
The route Jesus traveled would move Him down the Jordan River and straight into Jericho before He shifted the journey west and up to Jerusalem. Serious business was about to go down—Jesus was about to live out the final events of His earthly ministry. But He continued to teach, heal, and speak into hearts about the importance of faith in the Almighty.
Let’s take a moment and consider the context of our own lives. When we believe in the Living God, it is our sacred responsibility to spread the Gospel, pray for healing, and speak into the hearts of those on our path.
Our lives, as followers of Jesus, have great purpose and require reminders—such as prayer—to keep our eyes open to others and help build faith along the way.
Lord, we praise You for placing us in the context with which we live—the perfect time for our unique sharing of the Gospel that lives in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. We thank you for the belief we have in Your Good News and delight in Your prompting to engage in meaningful, spirit-filled conversations with others. Please help us share the truth boldly and live out our holy callings well. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
The Residence of Zacchaeus—Jericho
Jericho, hailed as the “city of palms” in antiquity, is one of the oldest cities in the world. It sits at the edge of the Judean wilderness about 10 miles northwest of the Dead Sea. The meaning of the Arabic form of the word means fragrant, which rings true considering this region gained fame and wealth-producing balsam: a rare, highly prized, aromatic perfume with medicinal properties.
In Old Testament biblical fame, this city was first conquered by the Israelites after 40 years of sojourning in the desert. Jesus’ many times’ great-grandmother Rahab resided in the wall at the time the Hebrews entered the promised land. All these years later, her grandson—the long-awaited Messiah—came here to tear down walls by transforming corrupt tax collectors into courageous believers.
As we consider the place Jesus arrived, let’s turn our thoughts to where our own feet are planted. We have been thoughtfully placed in our current surroundings by the Messiah Himself and this detail should not be lost on us.
When I think about the small town I live in, seemingly insignificant from a worldly perspective, I minimize my possibility to influence others. However, we are meant to share and serve wherever God plants us. Nothing about our location—and the people who surround us—is insignificant!
Living God, we praise You for being the intentional Lord of our lives and we thank you for the places You take us. We are grateful for Your intentional presence and want to serve You well. Please help us remain rooted in Your Word so all that flows from us, the transformation that You accomplished, can be shared mightily to those You’ve purposefully planted around us. We desperately want to bring glory to You as we move through the ministry ground You lead us to. In Your Son’s Name, Amen.
The Livelihood of Zacchaeus: Chief Tax-Collector
Let’s move on to the employment of Zacchaeus—a Chief Tax-Collector. During the first century, tax collectors were Jewish men who acted in tandem with the Roman government to collect various taxes. These men, despised by their fellow Hebrews for their complicit relationship with the cruel, ruling authority often overcharged and pocketed the difference.
But the chief tax collector. . . he proved shrewdest of all. He made his way to the tip top and oversaw all the tax collectors in the region. He was closely tied to Roman rule and hated. In addition, there was an expectation of the tax collectors he oversaw to pay him a portion of what they collected. When Jesus visited his home, it was likely one of the finest in the region.
Let’s consider our own livelihoods. We have two choices: to live out our callings with contempt for God, or to embrace Him in the midst of our work. I desire to honor the Lord in all I do but realize I’m constantly facing pitfalls that can veer good intentions off-course. Prayer is a necessary component of our lives to remain on track with the intention to honor God in all we do.
Lord Jesus, You are worthy of our Praise for the callings and unique gifts You’ve bestowed upon us. Thank you for the ways You’ve inspired our work that draw others’ attention towards You. We desire to bring You glory in our labors but realize many distractions stand in our way. Please help us recognize encumbrances and press through them. We desire true, ongoing transformation in our lives. We sing gratitude for the ways in which You will accomplish Your will through us. In Your Precious Son’s Name, Amen.
The Transformation of Zacchaeus
I’ve learned in Jewish culture your name is often the verb you live out. Zacchaeus—which means pure—lived the opposite for many years. But as we examine the text, we find transformation; a pure life beginning anew.
“He (Zacchaeus) tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way” (Luke 19:3-4 NLT).
At this point, Jesus’ phenomenal public ministry is three years in and everyone had heard of Him.
Have you ever considered the crowd size? All the Jewish people were journeying toward Jerusalem for the appointed feast of Passover. Additionally, people from the city and surrounding areas came to catch a glimpse of Jesus and crowded in.
Zacchaeus’s heart desire to see Jesus caused him to arrive plenty early and climb a tree for the best view. He probably wasn’t the only one. If you’ve ever witnessed a massive event out in nature, you’ve seen trees stuffed with people. Jesus likely called him out in a sea of humanity amongst the branches.
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5 NIV). Zacchaeus quickly acquiesced with joy and excitement. (v. 6) The transformation in his heart progressed, but the people around Jesus were disgusted. Often in these parable-telling scenarios, it seemed the Pharisees were the ones disgruntled by Jesus’ actions but in this story, that is not so. It’s the people around Jesus who can’t get past Zacchaeus’s poor reputation to see what He was doing.
This does not stop Jesus in the slightest! In fact, as the people grumble the text illuminates Zacchaeus standing before Him. It didn’t take him long to move towards living out the verb of his name—purity. “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8 NIV).
We witness true transformation and honest repentance—a man who figuratively beat his chest and cried out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13b NIV). I love the extravagant heart change and humility we see in this man hated by people, but dearly loved by God literally giving away his fortune.
Jesus met a chief tax collector and carried Zacchaeus toward reconciling his identity as a son of Abraham. The words of Jesus from the previous parable in Luke 18:14a (NIV) ring true: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
So, what does this mean today?
During a devastating time in my life—going through a divorce in 2005—Jesus called me down, picked me up, and did the hard work of transforming and turning me around. I was humbled and then exalted through the righteousness of Jesus dwelling in me! He changed up my mind and heart and enabled me to live out the meaning of my name—which also means “pure.”
Jesus is still in the business of transformation. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 NIV). This rang true for Zacchaeus 2,000 years ago as much as it does for us living in the 21st century.
How is Jesus helping you live out your verb?
Let’s end our time together with a prayer for transformation and the heart-changing work Jesus is planting in and through us.
A Personal Prayer for Transformation
Lord, we lift high Your Name, presence, and guidance that contains all the transformational power the world needs! We praise You for coming alongside us, seeking and saving those who are lost, and allowing our changed hearts to partner with you as You build Your forever kingdom. We humbly bow before you and repent of our wrongs, and ask that you will help us repay four-fold any wrongs we commit towards others. May this transformation not only enable a closer relationship with you, but be a beacon of light to You for others to see. Please help us to communicate complete heart metamorphosis as a witness of Your love and goodness to others. In the name of Jesus, Amen!
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Jennifer Elwood resides in Yakima, Washington and hosts the Refuge Podcast and Bible Study Community where women cultivate their faith in the shelter of God’s Word. She is a lover of Jesus, wife of Tom, mom of three, and bonus mom and grandma. She enjoys rich coffee, European chocolate, and the color orange. Going to Israel for the first time in 2015 sparked her desire to write and she has not stopped since. Counting Up to Christmas: Twenty-Four Gifts from the Gospel of Luke is her first book. She also contributed to Mommy and Me: Cooking with Jesus as a writer and editor. Stay up to date with her at www.jenniferelwood.com and check out her biblical culture insights (and cute pics of her kids) @jenniferelwoodauthor on Facebook and Instagram.