What? Unbelievable! The people would have immediately began to wonder about this strange turn of events. We read that “when they saw it, they all grumbled” (19:7a). They said, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner” (19:7b). There we have the reason for the shock and surprise. There we have the reason for the grumbling. Zacchaeus was considered to be a sinner. In the language of the day, that meant that, at the least, Zacchaeus did not meet the requirements to find himself in good covenant standing. What’s more likely is that Zacchaeus was a Gentile (or, as a sinner, considered to be like a Gentile).
Regardless of the actual ethnic status, he was not thought to be part of the nation of Israel. Again, he worked for the hated Roman oppressors, at cross-purposes to Israel. He was unclean. So much worse then, that the man that they believed might be their Messiah, of all places to which He could have gone in Jericho, was going to go to a house into which not one of them would have lowered himself or herself to enter, so as not to be defiled. The question would have likely been raised: “Is Jesus in league with the Romans?”
Nevertheless, Jesus went into the house of a Gentile (or, as said, one that was considered as a Gentile). Zacchaeus, unless he was completely oblivious to what was happening around him (which, as tax collector, would have been unlikely), would have understood that the potential Jewish Messiah had come into his house. The Messiah had come to him. How does Zacchaeus respond? Amazingly, he says, “Behold, lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (19:8). Zacchaeus responds in repentance. More importantly, we need to hear Zacchaeus, the Roman official under the government of Caesar (kurios), calling Jesus “Lord” (kurios, or here, “Kurie”). The accompanying action signifies that this is more than an honorific use of the word. For him, it becomes titular. So along with the repentance with the way that he has dealt with the people of Israel, in defrauding them, Zacchaeus responds in the way of faith, calling Jesus Lord, which is the mark of the covenant people going forward. He also responds with a desire to generously give, which is significant, and should also be a pronounced mark of those who call Jesus Lord.
How does Jesus respond to Zacchaeus? He says that “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (19:9). Jesus here enfolds Zacchaeus into the family of Israel, attaching him to Abraham (which seems to indicate Zaccaheus’ Gentile, or Gentile-like standing). Yes, the Messiah has come to this Gentile, and the allegiance that shows forth from him in word and deed, is what has brought him into the family of Abraham, to enjoy the salvation, blessings, and responsibilities that are reserved for God’s covenant people. That point is not to be missed, as here we see Zacchaeus justified (brought into the covenant family) by the trusting and action-spurring recognition Jesus was indeed Lord. By faith, He believed that which is the message of the Gospel of Jesus as Lord of all creation; and the promises implied therein, and this principle of trusting in God’s promises, beginning with Abraham, is the way by which God extends the blessings of His covenant, His salvation, to all people.
The author of the Zacchaeus story wants it to be obvious that be a person Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, circumcised or uncircumcised, that Jesus was sent into this world to gather up into the family of God and provide salvation to all peoples. Through believing the message of the Gospel of Christ (which is the power of God for salvation), it can be said to all the families of the earth that “salvation has come to this house” (19:9a); and all peoples are made to be sons of Abraham, by faith in the Gospel.