Our 7 year old daughter has decided that she wants to increase her role in the rearing of her 4 year old little brother. Admittedly, we have talked to her in the past about her being a good example for him hoping she would understand how vital her role is as a big sister. This may have backfired. I was recently explaining to our son that as fun as the idea may seem, forks are for eating and not stabbing. You know, as a general rule. While discussing this with him, and after he said he was sorry with teary eyes, I heard my daughter from the other room say, “I’ve never done anything like that before.” While true, I immediately thought of all the other things she had done in her illustrious 7 year career on this earth. Her rap sheet is quite impressive, trust me. As with most interactions with my children, God spoke truth to my heart. I’m comfortable saying most people find it easier to point out the “sins” of others than it is to be honest about their own sin. The parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector in Luke 18 is a perfect example of that. It is a mind blowing story if we really take the time to consider what Jesus is trying to teach us.
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’14 “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.”
In this parable we have two men going to the temple to pray; a Pharisee and a Tax Collector. While they both went to the same temple to pray to the same God, what they were each seeking was quite different. For the Pharisee, praying at the temple was a show. It was all about him. Please understand, his fasting and tithing are wonderful, God honoring forms of worship. The issue is, he boasted in his works and considered himself better than the tax collector. The Pharisee was seeking praise while the Tax Collector was offering praise. Jesus says the one who is doing all of the “right” things did not go home “justified before God”. Boasting in those things is not the gospel. It’s pride in one’s self. It is depending on one’s own righteousness rather than the righteousness we receive through the cross. The tax collector recognized that he was a sinner and it grieved him. He wouldn’t even approach the altar.
Verses 13- 14 says, “13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 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. 14 “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.”
The Pharisee denied grace, mercy, and love to the Tax Collector while withholding judgement of his own sin. We cannot allow ourselves to be fooled into comparing ourselves to others for the sake of testimony. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Fallen man cannot be the standard for anything other than examples of depravity and desperation. God’s law is the lens used to view our righteousness and it is beautiful for 2 reasons. First, because God’s Law is perfect. Second, because it reveals how sinful we are and how desperate we are for a Savior. It reminds us that through Christ, for those in Christ, God has poured out 100% of His mercy and grace. Nothing exists that is not reliant on or needs more of either. The Pharisee failed to understand that he needed the same amount of Jesus as the Tax Collector. If you find yourself thirsting for a better understanding of the gospel, take a moment and consider your sinful heart, and then consider the victory we have in the sacrifial love of Jesus Christ.