Open your Bibles please to Luke 18. We are going to be looking at verses 9-14 today and the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. This is a text I have preached on before and one I have heard a number of sermons on. I hope you have too. the reason is that I believe this may one of the most important lessons of the Christian life. In my life, I have struggled with a lot of sins, but this may be the greatest struggle of my life, and I would guess most Christians’ lives. The understanding of our justification by faith is essential to being a true Christian.
Furthermore, in almost every major Heresy of the church through history, it is usually started by a lack of understanding of justification by faith.
As you recall, at this time, Jesus is still traveling to Jerusalem. He is on his way to the cross, it bears repeating, because all that he is doing and saying is with the cross in full view. He has just been teaching about the kingdom and how it will come, that it has been inaugurated, but not consummated. It is already, and it is not yet. We who wait for its fullness should always pray and not lose heart. Now, it might stand to reason that in all this talk of the kingdom, the question might arise in ones mind, “How might I become a citizen in this kingdom?” In this text it seems he came across some people who thought that they knew how. They trusted in themselves that they were righteous. So in Jesus’ typical fashion he begins to teach them in a parable. He wanted to communicate a truth to them that will change, or at least challenge the way they see the world, and God’s work. His goal here is to strike them to the core in their own self righteousness, and set them on the path to Christ’s Righteousness. He is making a distinction for them and defining how they should approach God, and their righteousness. And his point is this, “You cannot be justified by your works of righteousness, even if you see those works as God given.”
What I want to do in our time today is look at the two characters in this parable and see how we are like each and what Jesus has to say to us today through them.
So first off, lets look at the Pharisee: When we typically see the Pharisees in the Bible, we think of them as the bad guys right? Jesus is always going after them. he calls them a brood of vipers, and sons of the devil, which is a pretty serious accusation against their mothers as much as it is against them.
Well, we really have to be careful because we are probably more like the Pharisees in scripture than we are like the other characters that Jesus befriends, and shows love to. These people were the upright, church going, bible loving, sunday school attending, sharp dressed, fish on their car, “god is my co-pilot” sticker on their bumper first one to church every Sunday kinda people. They are the ones we would ask to lead committees, and be leaders, and seemed like they were all together. These are the ones who have lots of outward righteousness, and they know it. And let me make this point clear, Jesus does not go after their righteousness in this story does he? What does he go after? The fact that they TRUSTED in THEMSELVES that they were righteous. He is not attacking the good works that they have done, he is attacking the fact that they trust in those works to gain their access to God! In someways what Jesus is going after is not something that can be seen through just viewing someone’s life from a distance, you need a window into their heart. That is why in the parable, we get that window by hearing this Pharisee pray. All of us are in danger of becoming like this pharisee. Therefore we need to let his words hit us, and not just whoever we think needs to hear them.
So lets look for a minute at this pharisee. What do we see in his prayer that is admirable?
- He believes in the sovereignty of God: he thanks GOD that he is not like this other man. he recognizes rightly that God is the source of his good deeds. He give the credit where it is due.
- He is Moral: He does a lot of things that can be commended. in business and marriage. these are things that we should appreciate in others, and attain to in our lives.
But what does he pray that is not commendable?
- he was comparing himself with others. Gods standard for your righteousness is Him, not others.
- He approached the Lord as though God was indebted to Him, and he had a right to be there based on his morality, and good works that God had granted him. He saw that the good works that he had committed by God’s grace were the grounds of his acceptance by God. One might see this akin to your neighbor’s kid mowing your lawn, and taking out your trash, then coming to you and asking for the keys to your car because he did the things that a son does, so he has the rights of a son.
So lets look at the Tax Collector. Now, even though none of us enjoy the IRS, there is really not a modern day equivalent to the tax collectors of Jesus’ time. these were seen as the lowest of the low in Jewish society. These were not just scoundrels, they were traitors! They had turned their backs on their own national identity, and had cuddled up to the occupying force. they were lining their own pockets with the money of their own people. Despicable traitorous behavior. They were seen like the dutch and french men and women who aided the germans in WWII. They were treated with distain, and were seen as despicable. Not really the good guy we want to align ourselves with.
Lets look at his prayer and see how he approached God.
- He had reverence for the Holiness of God. In his posture, and his demeanor, he recognized that God was altogether different than he. He would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his chest out of the recognition of his own sinfulness.
- he laid all of his life down on the mercy of God. He offered no works, no amends, no promises of trying harder next time. He simply begged for mercy from God. He had nothing to offer, he knew he didn’t measure up, so he asked for mercy. And what does it say he received? Justification. He was declared Righteous. he was innocent, pure, clean, shown mercy! and the key here that we all need to see in this text is the line after it says in v 14 “rather than the other.” this is not a concession for those who need it, this is not a provision for those who cant be as good as the church folk. He is saying here that the Pharisee was not declared righteous. So, he went down condemned. How is that? well, simply put, the law was given not to make us righteous, but to diagnose our sinfulness. these men both had the same law, that was meant to do the same thing. They just had two different responses to this law. One saw the external, and felt that he could live up, and that would gain him access, the other saw that he could never live up, and threw himself on the mercy of God.
So, what do we take from this passage? Well, there are two things that I want to drive home to us this morning.
- All the basis of our access to the throne of God is based on the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. There is no other way to be acceptable to him. You cannot earn his love, any more than you can be called my son by cutting my grass. When God laid Jesus on the Cross, it was to bear all of our iniquities, and sins. And when he lived a sinless life, it was so that righteousness could be credited to us. Just as it says in Romans 5:12-21…
- Any good works that God does in us are the fruit, and not the root of our justification. This is super important for us because as you grow in your relationship with God, if genuine, there will be fruit. We know from Ephesians 2 that he has good works prepared in advance for us to walk in them. The danger for us is this, that we begin with an understanding that our access is all about Christ, and then we see all the fruit of his work in our life and begin to see that as the basis of our access instead of still being admitted by the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Gal 3:1-14 says…
SO, what are some applications that we can make from this?
- Repent. confess your sin of self-righteousness to God, and ask for forgiveness.
- Encourage others to walk in the same grace of Justification through faith and repentance.
- Boldly come to the throne and worship Jesus for who he is and what he has done for you!