2017-07-16 – Luke 18.9-14 – Parables of Jesus – Humbly Exalted

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

2017-07-16 – Luke 18.9-14 – Parables of Jesus – Humbly Exalted

Good morning everyone. I am so pleased that you chose to spend the morning with us here today..

VBS starts tomorrow. I want to thank you all for your help and participation. We should have about 45 workers all together and hopefully 100 students. We created this flyer which we will continue passing out to our neighbors and friends today. We have it up on our website and Facebook, and we have done some publicity around town. This week we intend on doing some construction around the church, and we also have a mission house a couple doors down to the west that we intend on helping out a little. Please keep all this in prayer over this next week, as we will strive to make a difference for Jesus and also get to know our neighbors a little bit in the process. (tonight)

We are continuing in the sermon series on The Parables of Jesus. Last week we learned from Jesus about the Parable of the Dishonest Manager. who is fired by his wealthy landowner boss after his dishonesty is discovered. The steward then acts in his own best interests by further defrauding his boss. When the boss finds out about this, surprisingly he commends the steward. The takeaway for us was that God wants us to be shrewd Christian disciples. Being shrewd is good when used in its proper context. However, Christian integrity and honor should always be in the forefront of our character, especially when nobody is looking.

Today we will learn about the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Please turn in your Bibles to Luke 18:9, Page 81 of the New Testament, which is the Inspired, Infallible and Living Word of God.  Let us Pray…

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is only recounted in the book of Luke, chapter 18, verses 9–14. Among other things, this parable touches on the basic element of salvation and demonstrates our need to pray humbly. It immediately follows the Parable of the Unjust Judge, which is also about prayer. Let’s us start today by looking at the two characters in the story, shall we?

First we have the Pharisee – Pharisees were members of Jewish society who held very strong beliefs about obeying both the laws of Moses and the traditions handed down “from the fathers.” These traditions were not part of the laws of Moses, but the Pharisees put them on the same level as the law. The Jewish church still does this today. The word Pharisee means “separated one.”

They strove to observe the law of Moses, especially those laws that had to do with tithing and purity. Many Jewish people didn’t adhere to the purity laws concerning food, food preparation, and the washing of hands, so the Pharisees were very careful about who they ate with so as not to become ritually unclean. Some of them criticized Jesus because He ate with sinners, and the Pharisees looked down on His disciples because they ate with unwashed hands. They also criticized Jesus on more than one occasion for violating the Sabbath laws.

Pharisees were known to go above and beyond when it came to religious matters. The written law only required fasting once a year, on the Day of Atonement, yet some Pharisees fasted twice a week, on the second and fifth days of the week—Mondays and Thursdays—in a self-imposed act of piety. They tithed everything they acquired, not just one-tenth which is what the word “tithe” actually means. They prided themselves at doing more than what was required or expected.

Most Jews did not adhere to the Mosaic law as strictly as the Pharisees did; therefore the Jews of Jesus’ day considered the Pharisees to be very righteous and devout people. Ever hear the term “Holier than Thou”, that would be them.

Now we’ll turn to the Tax collector. There were three types of taxes which were required by the Romans who ruled Israel during the time of Jesus: the land tax, the per-person head tax, and the customs tax system. The taxes were used to pay tribute to Rome, which had conquered Israel in 63 BC.

It is supposed that the tax collector in the parable would have been connected to the customs tax system. Throughout the Roman Empire there was a system of tolls and duties that were collected at ports, tax offices, and at the city gates. The rates were between two and five percent of the value of the goods that were transported from town to town. On long journeys, a person bringing goods from one place to another could be taxed multiple times. The selling value of the goods was generally determined by the tax collector. Talk about Tax problems!

The customs and tax collection system operated through what is called tax farming. The way it worked is that wealthy individuals would bid on how much they would pay Rome for the privilege of collecting taxes in an area. The highest bidder, the “tax farmer,” would pay the amount that was accepted by Rome for the bid, meaning that Rome got its tax money in advance. The tax farmer would then collect the taxes through local tax collectors. The tax farmer and those he hired to collect the taxes would make their living from the taxes collected from the people in that area. They would charge as much as possible in taxes, within certain legal limits, as their income was determined by how much money they could bring in over the amount that they had already paid to Rome. In short, tax collection was a for-profit business. The tax farmers hired local tax collectors to do the work of collecting taxes.
These tax collectors would assess the value of the goods and then assign the amount to be paid. While there was some measure of control, tax collectors would often value the goods much higher than their actual worth in order to make a profit. They would even stop people on the road and demand these taxes, which could either be paid in currency or by forfeiting a portion of their goods. Those being taxed considered this largely institutional robbery. This reminds me of the Boston Tea Party before America was founded, where the colonists exclaimed “taxation without representation” against England, and kicked off the revolutionary war.

You may recall when some tax collectors came to John the Baptist to be baptized, because they wanted to get their lives right, they asked him what they should do, and John responded, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do”—which is a pretty-sure sign that they were previously overcharging for their own benefit.

Tax collectors were despised by most people. They were seen as extortionist and unjust. According to Jewish law, they were considered unclean whereby people were not obliged to even speak with them, and any house they entered were thus considered unclean. Tax collectors were considered on the same level as thieves and prostitutes, and shunned upon by respectable people, especially Pharisees.

The tax collector in the parable is certainly not an upstanding character and he knows it, as evidenced by his actions in the temple and his prayer. So with that background, let’s move on to reading the parable.

He [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 

Luke gives an introduction explaining that the parable is in regard to those who think that they can attain righteousness through their own merit. Jesus is telling this parable to those “who trusted in themselves”, who feel they are righteous in their own mind, and who consider others inferior and undeserving of respect.

10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 

The words “went up” and later in the parable, “went down,” refer to the elevation of the Temple Mount, which was the high spot of the city. For the religious Jewish citizens, it was customary to pray twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, as this was when the two daily sacrifices for atonement were offered by the priests in the temple. Author Kenneth Bailey explains it this way:

The only daily service in the temple area was the atonement offerings that took place at dawn and again at three o’clock in the afternoon. Each service began outside the sanctuary at the great high altar with the sacrifice for the sins of Israel of a lamb whose blood was sprinkled on the altar, following a precise ritual. In the middle of the prayers there would be the sound of silver trumpets, the clanging of cymbals and the reading of a psalm. The officiating priest would then enter the outer part of the sanctuary where he would offer incense and trim the lamps. At that point, when the officiating priest disappeared into the building, those worshipers in attendance could offer their private prayers to God. Many pious Jews who were not at the temple would offer their private prayers at that time of day when they knew the incense offering was being made in the temple.

So the original listeners would have probably assumed that the Pharisee and the Tax collector were going up to the temple to attend one of the daily atonement sacrifices and to pray.

11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 

It was customary that the Pharisee would have stood as he prayed and lifted his eyes upward. He stood by himself when he prayed, separated from the other worshippers. For even if his clothes just touched the clothes of a person who they thought was unclean then he would be considered unclean too. And as one who was so intentionally meticulous when it came to being pure and holy, well that just wouldn’t do at all.

It was also customary for Pharisees to pray out loud so as others could hear his prayer. It could be also that he meant his prayer to be a “preachment” prayer, where a person prays in a manner that is intended to preach a sermon to others rather than truly talking to the Lord.

My family and I have attended many different church services through the years all over the world. One we went to where my mom attends church, prays during the service in a very interesting way. They open up the services with a couple songs as we do, then the pastor initiates a prayer session where everyone in the church prays aloud at the same time. The first time we experienced this, we just looked at each other with amazement. I found out afterwards it is sometimes referred to as a “concert of prayer”. It is practiced in some fundamental churches mostly in the south and in the Appellation Mountains. It was just a little strange for me. The thing is, at the end of our prayers, we typically say the word “Amen”. Amen generally means “So be it” or “I Agree”, well I wouldn’t know what to agree with in that type of prayer. Now there isn’t any directive for or against this type of prayer in scripture, except in 1 Cor 14:33 it does say, “For God is not the author of confusion”. As a visitor in that church, I was a bit confused as it was not my custom to pray in such a way. But I just love the different ways many churches worship the Lord, and in that sense I say hallelujah, Praise the Lord!

In our parable today, considering that Jewish prayers in the first century were generally either confession of sin, thanks for blessings received, or petitions for the person praying or for others, there is the likelihood that the Pharisee was more intent on preaching than praying. Notice he doesn’t confess any sin, he’s not thanking God for any of his blessings, and he isn’t asking for anything for himself or others. Instead he seems to be pointing out to others how bad they are, and showing contempt for them, and publicizing his own righteousness and obedience to the law. He’s comparing himself to others and pointing out how religiously conscientious he is compared to them.

He said he fasts twice a week, meaning he fasts 104 times a year compared to the one time a year required by the law. While the law spoke of tithing those things which were grown in the ground and tithing animals which were watched over, he tithes on everything he acquires. So the Pharisee is not a hypocrite; as he probably does refrain from the sins he lists, and he does fast and tithe more than required. But he is evidently prideful, self-satisfied and self-righteous. He looks down on others who don’t keep the law as he does. He shows disdain and disgust towards others and thanks God that he “isn’t like them.” He views himself as the epitome of being righteous and sanctified, and the original audience of the parable would have probably seen him that way as well. Now the Tax collector’s demeanor and prayer are completely different. Verse 13 says:

13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 

The tax collector stands far from others, not because he’s righteous, but because he knows he’s a sinner. He won’t even lift up his eyes to heaven because he feels unworthy. As a tax collector he extorts money from others by overcharging them. He’s a swindler. He doesn’t feel that he deserves to be standing with God’s people or that he is even worthy of talking with God. He beats his breast over his heart, because he is so distressed over his sinfulness. One commentator wrote:

In the Bible, the only other case of people beating their chests is at the cross when the crowds, deeply disturbed at what had taken place, beat their chests at the end of the day just after Jesus died (Luke 23:48). If it requires a scene as distressing as the crucifixion of Jesus to cause men and women to beat their chests, then clearly the tax collector of this parable is deeply distraught as well.

In our verse here the tax collector prays: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
The Greek word used in this verse for “be merciful” is Hilaskomai (hell AS kima), which means asking for forgiveness. Interesting to note that he didn’t use the Greek word generally used in regard to mercy Eleeō (el ey EY O), which means to help one who is afflicted or seeking aid.
So the tax collector isn’t asking or crying for general mercy; he is crying for the forgiveness of his sins, experiencing deep remorse. Have you ever been there?

Jesus ends the story with:

14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

This ending was probably a shock to the original listeners, and Jesus intended it to be that way. The Pharisee would have been seen by the people as the righteous and respected one, as he not only obeyed the law but went beyond it. The tax collector, on the other hand, would have been normally considered the sinner. He was hated and reviled by virtually everyone and for good reason.

Yet who does Jesus say goes to his house justified, made righteous?—The one who is confident in his own righteousness due to his good works, or the one who cries out to God for mercy? Was it the one who is seen by others as holy, looking down on others as not being as religious as himself, and who separates himself from those who are unclean and sinful? Or is it the one who knows that he’s a sinner, who humbles himself, knowing that no amount of works could save him, who looks to God with true repentance for His mercy, forgiveness, and salvation?

When it comes to God’s saving grace, the one who humbly acknowledges his or her need for God is the one who receives salvation. Not those with the exalted self-opinion, who trust that their good works and religiosity are going to save them. Now don’t get me wrong; doing good works that help others is good, but those works aren’t what gets you saved. We don’t earn a bunch of good points that cancel out our bad points. You can’t earn salvation or forgiveness for your sins. It’s simply a beautiful gift offered by God through Jesus Christ.

The message in this parable today is that our works don’t save us; God’s grace does. God has made a way for our sins to be forgiven and for us to enter into a right relationship with Him because of His great love, mercy, and grace. We are “righteous” before God because our sins have been atoned for, paid for on the cross at Calvary, not because of any religious observance.

The apostle Paul wrote: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” I hope you get that point of this teaching parable by Jesus.

[Pause]
While salvation through grace, not works is a main point of this parable, other points can be learned from it as well, such as:

The way that God looks at people can be quite different from the way that we may look at them, and thus we should not be judgmental of others.
We should remember that “the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

The Pharisee thought he could be obedient to God yet still have disdain for those he deemed less holy than himself. He assumed that keeping the commandments made him better than most and he looked down on others with contempt. To him, being religious was more important than love. Whereas in other passages Jesus makes it explicitly known that love is more important than anything.

Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, to that He replied, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Self-righteousness and prideful thinking highly of oneself and putting others down are signs of an attitude that is out of alignment with the way God views people. The reality is, this Pharisee acted exactly as what onlookers would have expected of him. Even today, people get caught up in other people’s expectations just as easily as this Pharisee did. Jesus wants you to consider a different path. A more humble path. May I suggest an effective way to bring an inflated ego down to size, is to compare yourself with Jesus and His perfection, rather than comparing yourself with the supposed faults and sins of others.

God is a God of love and mercy. He loves humanity and He made provision for us to be saved through Jesus’ sacrificial death. He is passionate about saving all people, even those who seem to be the worst sinners in the eyes of the world, people like the tax collector in this parable; and even the self-righteous Pharisee.

As Christians, we should do all we can to help others know Him through living our lives in a manner that shows the love, mercy, and understanding that our loving Savior has shown to each of us. And then, to share with others the wonderful news that the way to know God is simply to accept His free gift of salvation by grace, and humbly pray like the tax collector, “God, be merciful (hell AS kima) to me, a sinner.” Amen?

[Alter Call & Prayer] – Please Stand..