Luke 18:9-14 ESV .. “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 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!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The temple was a place for prayer, anyone could go to pray there no matter what measure of sin they were guilty of, it was open to all and closed to none. The prophet Isaiah spoke the words of the Lord to this effect. The Temple would be a place where people could do business with God. Thanks to Jesus Christ our bodies are now these temples and they serve as the house of prayer, the house of the living sacrifice and the house of the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit of God. No matter what nationality, what past, what religious experience, God is approachable to you through the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord.
Isaiah 56:7 ESV .. these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
They Trusted In Themselves: The purpose for which Jesus told this parable to these people was because he was about to flip the light switch on in the dark hearts of the self-righteous; those who trusted in themselves and believed they were good. For those who refused to respond to what the light of this story would expose in them only heaped further judgment on themselves, for they heard His words but did not hear His message.
How easy is it for us to hear a word that is meant to bring about change only to think it better heard by someone else, or it need not apply to our lives? The danger of neglecting to allow God’s Word to penetrate our heart and reveal our sinful nature is damning. God demands allegiance, surrender, repentance, and full dependence. Anything less than that is to believe you are good and in no need of forgiveness, or worse yet, to believe that God should consider Himself blessed that you’re on His team. The arrogance of the Pharisees was so blinding that they couldn’t see it when they had a mirror (so to speak) placed right in front of them.
The TV show American Idol is one of the most successful shows in history. Part of the reason it’s successful is because people love to see the underdog who had no chance in the world to make it to the big time become a success. Another reason is the sheer humorous fact that many people find themselves on the show believing they can sing beautifully when in reality they can’t hold a tune in a bucket. Are they tone deaf? You might think they are, except the same people will easily detect sour notes when coming from someone else’s mouth, even when their own train wreck sounds like “Handel’s Messiah” to them. The reality is that most of these horrible singers have spent their lives around family and friends who don’t have the heart to tell them they stink. The first time they hear the truth is when the judge tells them how painful it was to listen to.
This is much like what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:3 “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions“. It’s easier to surround ourselves with people who will tell us what we want to hear, who will stroke our ego, who will affirm our stubbornness and rebellion rather than those who love us enough to level with us. The Bible warns us that many people in the church will live their entire lives with “fake gifts”, having never been challenged to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith. They will go to their graves singing “Amazing Grace” and feeling very righteous only to wake up and hear, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-23). Jesus’ words are a warning to us all to abandon any righteousness we believe we have, fully repent of our sin and pride in good works, and to run to Jesus who is our only hope.
Two Men and Two Different Fates: The story tells of two men men who went to the temple to pray. One was a tax collector (government worker) and the other a teacher of the Law & Scriptures (the Bible really), he was a Pharisee. The tax collector went in with a mission in mind, to humbly beg for forgiveness and enter into a peaceful relationship with God. The Pharisee went in to be noticed by others and publicly proclaim his good deeds. The Pharisee stood alone in an elevated position, and the tax collector chose a far off location in the temple where he could not be noticed and seen by all. The tax collector who was so aware of how sinful he was would not even lift his own eyes let alone his hands, which was the typical posture of prayer in that time. The Pharisee began his prayer by saying thanks to God, yet it could not have been further from a prayer of humble thanks. His thanks was rather, “Thank God I’m not like other men” so his contempt, not compassion for others, was emphasized throughout his prayer. You see, “I thank God I’m not like other men” would suggest that all others are vile and wicked and that he alone is righteous.
I think it’s easy to get caught in the judgment trap without realizing it. It may be worth it just to spend a couple moments thinking of some times where you have looked at or overheard someone and thought, “I’m so glad I don’t drive like that idiot”, or, “I can’t believe she said that. I would never have said that”. You see how easy it can be to basically place yourself in the elevated seat overlooking the pond scum below and gloat about how good you are in comparison to them? It’s so easy, and I am horribly guilty of it on so many occasions. It makes us guilty of being judges with evil intentions (James 2:4).
If we aren’t careful, our prayer, like that of the pharisees, can become resume’s for our good deeds. It does not even have to be expressed in our prayers, but even if we subtly engage in elevating ourselves to our fellow man we can condemn ourselves, for He gives grace to the humble and resists the proud.
My time spent working in coffee shops over the past year have shown me how common place it is for people to point out the faults in others in order that they are made to look good in the sight of men, but God sees the heart and cannot be fooled. This observation has served to convict in my own life and bring deeper refining repentance and trust. I pray it will do the same for you.
Grace & Peace.
Preparing The Way.