Bystander or Participant?

“He tried to get a look at Jesus,
but he was too short to see over the crowd.”

Luke 19:3, NLT

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he…” If you’re from my generation you may remember singing this song in Sunday school, hand motions and all; but there is something important we can learn from his story, something that struck me in a new way this week. Zacchaeus only wanted to see Jesus. He just wanted to watch. He wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Although he was a rich and influential man (vs 2), he wasn’t popular or well-liked. He was a tax-collector, an occupation in that historical period which was riddled with extortion, injustice, and thievery. I imagine that he didn’t expect Jesus would be too interested in getting to know him, but it didn’t change the fact that he wanted to see Jesus. Just see Him.

Sometimes I think we view ourselves like Zacchaeus; we want to see God, we want to watch what He is doing and see the story unfold, but from the sidelines. Our only ambition is to be bystanders in the miraculous. Whether because of our past, our shame, or even our humility we think the best place is the place on the outside. Close enough to discover, but not close enough to participate. We feel like it’s honor enough to observe.

But the story doesn’t end with what Zacchaeus wanted. Jesus had something different planned. Verse 5 tells us that as Jesus came by two things happened: 1) He saw Zacchaeus and 2) He called him by name. Did you catch that? The man who thought his role was to be innocuous was not only seen by Jesus, Jesus called his name. Out of everyone following Him that day He had a specific purpose for Zacchaeus. Jesus tells this slight tax-collector to come down from the tree (yes, I did say he was short, so he had climbed a tree) and invited Himself over for dinner. While that might seem awkward today, hospitality was an honored trait in Israel. While the crowd grumbled that Jesus was dining with a notorious sinner, Zacchaeus was being changed in a moment. You can read about his repentance and salvation in verses 8 and 9, but here’s what I think God wants us to know today.

He sees you. It doesn’t matter if you planned to be seen, if you long to be seen, or if you don’t think you’re worthy to be seen; it doesn’t change anything. He sees you. You matter to Him. Whether you are hiding in the shadows, peeking from tree branches, or even jumping up and down yelling “Look at me! Look at me!” He does. You can know with certainty, because He promises it in His Word, that God sees you today. You are not invisible.

He knows you. Have you ever had your birthday forgotten? (If so, there’s a very good chance it was by me and I’m sorry! I do not have the “birthday remembering gift” that my daughter does.) Maybe you met someone and felt a meaningful connection only to cross paths later to discover they didn’t even remember meeting you. What about the teacher who pronounced your name wrong for an entire semester no matter how many times you corrected him? It doesn’t matter. God — the One who wove you together from the very first cell — knows your name. He knew your name before your parents even picked it! He has not forgotten it once and He calls to you often. By name. Are you listening for the moments when He does? Zacchaeus was watching, so he heard Him, are you?

He has a purpose for you. Small Zacchaeus, with his small story, became an example of how Jesus seeks and saves the lost (verse 10) that we find in Scripture over 2,000 years later. What story is He writing for you? Purpose isn’t found in our jobs, our good deeds, or even in our roles as daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends; our purpose is found in listening and following Jesus Christ. Zacchaeus dined with Him. He got to know Him. He was willing to give up everything for Him, to do whatever He asked. When we choose to live a life of surrender, we find that we gain meaning we didn’t know we were missing.

Zacchaeus had a choice, and so do you. Jesus sees you and He is calling you, are you willing to be more than a bystander? Are you willing to be a participant in the story He is writing? Are you willing to come out of the tree?

Journal Prompts

  • In what ways do you identity with Zacchaeus?
  • Which of these three areas (He sees me, He knows me, He has a plan for me) is the hardest for you to accept? Why do you think that is?
  • Our past experiences can have a significant impact on our faith. When you think about the fact the God sees you, what feelings does that bring to the surface? Are these feelings positive or negative and how does response align with His Word?
  • Do you know God’s purpose for your life? His purpose in this season? Take a few moments to ask Him and then write down what you think He might be saying to you.

Deeper Study

Published by Michaela L. Carson

Michaela L. Carson is a biblically-guided author and speaker who has served in Christian ministry for over 25 years. Gifted with a passion for writing at a young age, Michaela has used this gift to minister to the Church by writing and teaching Bible study curricula for children, small groups, and women. Her involvement in multiple church ministries has blessed her with a unique perspective on discipleship and spiritual disciplines. She has a strong desire to help others experience deeper growth in their walk with Jesus by transparently sharing her own spiritual journey. She considers herself a “recovering perfectionist” because she is learning that if God’s power works best in weakness, then she doesn’t want to be perfect at all. Born in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, Michaela enjoys nothing more than spending time with her husband and daughter. Learn more about her ministry at and follow her on social media: Facebook @deeper.growth.mlc and Instagram @deepergrowth.

2 thoughts on “Bystander or Participant?

  1. I never realized that Zacchaeus only wanted to see Jesus – he didn’t intend to become involved, just to watch him pass by. Great point that some don’t feel worthy to get involved but it doesn’t matter either way – God has more in mind than keeping you on the sidelines. Gave me chills!

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: