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Restitution is a lost principle in the Evangelical church that we must rediscover. In the story of Zaccheaus we see a great example of restitution done right.
Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Crook
Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector—and a wee little man—hated by the Jews because he was in the business of extortion and considered a traitor.
Tax collectors worked for the godless Roman government and were also allowed to take a cut for themselves. Zacchaeus was at the top of this large Ponzi scheme. He was the Bernie Madoff of Jesus’s day. Over many years, he had bankrupted many people and made many enemies.
Jesus Changed Zacchaeus
While many wrote Zaccheaus off as hopeless, Jesus did not. In Luke 19, we learn that Jesus, passing through Jericho, saw Zacchaeus sitting in a tree where he had perched to get a view of Jesus among the crowds. Jesus called out to him by name and invited himself over for dinner—a profound act of friendship to this enemy of the Jews.
The religious folks didn’t like this. They grumbled and accused Jesus of being a friend of sinners—which he was, and thankfully still is today.
The call of Jesus changed Zacchaeus. He went from being a crook to being generous, from being an enemy of God to a friend. As we read in Luke 19:8, “Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
While many wrote Zaccheaus off as hopeless, Jesus did not.
Repentance + Restitution = Rejoicing
Zacchaeus did something he’d never done: he publicly confessed sin, he publicly practiced repentance, and he guaranteed restitution. He went above and beyond the law, giving 50 percent of his wealth away to the poor and repaying those whom he’d wronged four times over.
This change in Zacchaeus caused the people to stop grumbling and instead rejoice. Zacchaeus showed by his actions that Jesus had really changed his heart. Once an enemy, Zacchaeus now became a friend of both God and God’s people.
Not only that, the early church father, Clement, claims that Zacchaeus went on to be a bishop, possibly ordained by Peter. He turned from his wicked job and pursued a life of service to the church.
Restitution Is Not Penance But a Response
In becoming a follower of Jesus, Zacchaeus called him “Lord”. Out of love for Jesus his Lord, Zacchaeus promised to give half of his wealth to the poor and repay anyone he had wronged fourfold. In so doing, Zacchaeus didn’t practice penance. Penance is the false teaching that you need to pay God and others back so that you can be forgiven. Restitution has nothing to do with forgiveness in the sight of God.
Rather, Zacchaeus practiced restitution as evidence that he’d received God’s forgiveness. Restitution is making right to those that you’ve sinned against as a response to the work of Jesus in your life. It’s not penance. It’s justice. And it’s the duty of every Christian.
Restitution has nothing to do with forgiveness in the sight of God.
Many Christians are content with forgiveness and don’t feel compelled to make right what they’ve done wrong. It’s not enough to say, “Jesus, forgive me.” Yes, Jesus forgives. But Jesus also changes us. And that change should always result in a desire to make right what we’ve done wrong to the best of our ability.
Restitution shows the love and generosity of Jesus to the world and causes others to rejoice in the work of Jesus in your life. What is your repentance + restitution that would resulting in rejoicing?
7 Questions To Ask Yourself Regarding Restitution
- What have you taken that you need to give back?
- How have you defrauded, and what should you pay?
- When have you been lazy, and how can you change?
- Whom have you neglected and what does restitution require?
- Which sinner have you not called out but only grumbled about?
- What sins have you tolerated, and what does repentance look like?
- Have you been greedy, and how can you be generous?