For years, I have focused on the our removal from the kingdom of darkness and our entrance into the kingdom of God’s dear Son at the moment we confess Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives (Col. 1:13), but Jesus, in the parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee, focuses on the heart condition at the time of entry. Jesus told a parable to “some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt (despised others KJV)”. Then Jesus told us how both men prayed when they went to church.
The first man was a Pharisee which means a separatist or a member of a sect. This Jewish sect sought distinction and praise for their observance of outward forms of piety such as washings, fasting, prayers, and alms-giving. They prided themselves in their many good works but were devoid of true piety from within.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ Luke 18:11-12
Next, the Tax Collector was part of class of people detested by the Jews for the job they held and also for how the performed it with harshness and greed.
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ Luke 18:13
Both were standing, one probably so everyone could see him, and the other was standing afar off, never lifting his eyes to heaven. One focuses on how he is not like others as he goes down a list of sinners while the other beats his chest and focuses only on his sinful condition. One list for God all his good deeds as if to say, “God, I know you will let me into heaven,” while the other acknowledges that he is a sinner and asks for mercy. Jesus said only the tax collector went home justified. From this parable Jesus taught: “For everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Luke 18:14).”
There are some major things for us to avoid here:
-never trust in ourselves for righteousness or our good deeds, but only in God alone (Rom. 3:10).
-never compare ourselves among ourselves; we must “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (2 Cor. 10:12, Phil. 2:12).
-when seeking entrance into the kingdom, we must never invent our own set of instructions; we must get them from the source and comply accordingly.
-asking for mercy is the only way to gain access into the kingdom; demanding that God, or telling him why he should, let us in, doesn’t work.
-exalting ourselves is a sure way to get humbled, and humbling ourselves is God’s method for exalting.
We know that “God heareth not sinners, but if any man be a worshiper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth (John 9:31).” That is good news for the worshiper and the doer of the Word, but what hope is there for the sinner? I heard a sermon on 7 Kinds of People God Can’t Save. This passage about the two men’s prayers was used to describe one person on that list, a hypocrite. The very fact that the Pharisee looked down his nose at others while listing their sins and his own good deeds, was bad enough, but Jesus called the scribes and the Pharisees, hypocrites because the made “clean the outside of the cup and of the platter” while “within they are full of extortions and excess” (Matt. 23:25). I guess that makes him a hypocrite. But in this passage, Jesus holds out hope for the sinner, even the hypocrite. Jesus lists for us here one prayer that God does hear from the sinner, the sinners prayer. This tax collector so beautifully depicts that prayer for us. And because of that prayer, this humble, repentant man went home from church a changed man!
Let us pray, Lord, help us not to look down our noses at sinners, but go find them and ask would they be willing to pray the sinners prayer with us and be justified.