One of the great barriers to belief for many is the hypocrisy of professing Christians. Those who say they are one thing and are seen clearly to be something else entirely.
We can’t stand hypocrisy, especially in other people. Especially judgemental people. We don’t like them at all…
Hypocrisy is a genuine problem, but it also has a genuine answer in Scripture which confronts us with our need for personal accountability before God.
Two men went in the temple to pray…it’s a familiar story, and we think we know the punchline. Jesus is telling this story very pointedly to a certain section of people, ‘ those who trusted in their own righteousness and despised others’ , and the parable shows us how we can be justified before God and have peace…
1- Two Men
The Pharisee in this parable seems a reasonably upstanding kind of guy.
He’s socially visible, with authority and position. He is faithful in his offerings, and tithes. He actually goes above and beyond his duty. He tithes everything, most likely including his spices and herbs ( Matthew 23:23). He fasts twice a week, even though he was only required to fast once a year, on the day of Atonement ( Leviticus 16:29). He didn’t rip people off. He was just. He didn’t cheat on his wife. Above all, he certain wasn’t like the other person he was in the temple with at the time.
The tax collector we know little about, mostly because he doesn’t tell us everything about himself in his prayer like we’re listening.
Considered a traitor to his fellow countrymen for collecting taxes for the pagan Roman empire. Tax collectors were notorious. They ripped off whoever they could whenever they could.This position and the reputation that went with it made tax collectors outsiders in the society. They associated with other outcasts like criminals, prostitutes, and “sinners”.
If these two men stood before us in a political campaign or if we had to chose between which one’s blog we would read and share with our friends, we’d probably pick the Pharisee.
If the Pharisee was our friend we may well admire her strong convictions and strong ethical standing, while we wouldn’t bother inviting the tax collector to our candle or thermomix party…
The only thing these two seem to have in common is that they are both in the temple, and both seem to be engaging in public prayer…
2- Two Prayers
As we listen in on the Pharisee’s prayer, we grow more and more uneasy. He has major ego issues, and it offends us. There’s nothing like the sound of your own trumpet, and this guy had a rather large playlist.
In sport, we don’t mind losing, so long as the winner is gracious and makes us feel like we were in with a chance and were just unlucky.
In study, we don’t mind if the person next to us gets a higher score, so long as they don’t rub it in our face. ‘ I got a C-, what did you get?’ ‘Oh, I got a HD, you didn’t find that hard, did you? I didn’t even have to study!’…
The conceit of the Pharisee offends us, but it is a sin of pride against God before anything else.
When your achievements and comparisons with others becomes the main topic of your prayers, that is ‘grace gone putrid’, blatant self-advertisement.
Our biggest mistake is thinking that the differences that matter to men matter to an Almighty God.
“ What keeps most of us from God is not the sin we know we have, but the righteousness we think we have.” – Nate Larkin
“ In the presence of self we have one ‘good’ eye on ourselves, one bad eye on others and no eyes upon God. The man who stands in the presence of God is always more aware of his need for grace than his successes in grace. The man who knows how it is to live before God is always more aware of his sin than his virtue and always cries out for mercy.” – Haddon Robinson
There are many people who talk about God, even talk to God, but they would be absolutely terrified if they actually realised they were in His presence.
Two men were in the temple, but only one was praying like God was listening, and like God could hear them, or could interact with them.
The Pharisee prayed so people could hear. The tax collector prayed so God could hear. The Pharisee prayed like he an image to uphold and plenty to lose. The tax collector prayed liked he had everything to gain by surrendering himself to God’s mercy.
When we see God in all His power,holiness and glory, we see ourselves clearly. Isaiah’s vision of God ( Isaiah 6) lead him to a radical self-awareness, he was undone, he saw who he was and what surrounded him.
Jesus’ isn’t pointing out the tax collector’s method as a way to pray,He is pointing out the heart of a man who has seen God, and knew he was in God’s presence and any who enter God’s presence can only ask for mercy.
He had no righteous works to offer. He had no interest in comparisons with his praying neighbour. He was there to speak to God and ask for mercy, and this is all any of us can do.
Around now is where you think we might wrap up and give the application –
‘Thank God you’re not like that nasty Pharisee’, and our closing prayer would be, ‘Thank you Lord, that I am not like other men, legalists, proud, conceited, judgemental, condemning. Thank you, Lord, that you have made me humble. I’m such a poor sinner, and I know that better than the person next to me. Thank you, Lord, for letting me be such a great example of simple faith. Amen.’
Humility is shy…
If we have come this far in the story and we think we are the lowly tax collector, and we don’t have a hint of Pharisee in us, we would do very well to think again.
We are all Pharisees. You may disagree, and that’s fine, but if your reason for disagreeing is that you hate Pharisees therefore you’ll never be one, or that you hate legalists, therefore you’ll never be one, you are in danger.
The fastest way to be a Pharisee is to loathe Pharisees.
3 – Two Results
There are two options on offer…
To go your own way and lead a self-justified life that leads to eternal strife…Or to seek justification by the mercy of God that leads to eternal life.
To justify ourselves we have to point out the sin of others. We are so reliant on comparison when we seek self-salvation.You will never come to know God personally until you stop comparing yourself to others.
An indication that our critique of others is based on pride is when we say our criticism without a tear in our eye or a catch in our throat.
You never, ever get past your need for mercy. You never, ever ‘arrive’ at a point where you can say you no longer need God’s grace in your life.
We can be like the Pharisee even with our testimonies. We tell the sordid details of how wretched we once were. ‘I was a terrible, depraved sinner, but now! I have turned my life right around, now I’m sorted out. Once I was sinner…’ .
We can compare churches, thanking God we have reached a fuller understanding of all things pertaining to the Scriptures. We can be guilty of theological snobbery.
These were two people in God’s house – this was a fellow believer…
How many times a day do you favourably compare yourself to others?
Try this week challenging yourself to saying out loud what you are thinking about another person…chose the right context of course, but when you are comparing yourself with someone else, say it aloud and see how prideful and foolish you sound. It could be the humbling experience you need!
What about the other comparison we make, where we wish we were like someone else…that is still a form of pride. We’re still comparing yourself to others instead of God.
There is no escaping the cold, stark reality. Yes I am a sinner, but my greatest sin is pride. I am judgemental of others. I condemn others for condemning me. I claim ‘lowly’ tax collector status,I fool myself when I say God had better material to work with compared to a Pharisee.
We’re all Pharisees.
We all forget mercy.
We all ignore our need of God
Humility is the only way to enter the Kingdom.
Humility begins when we compare ourselves to God, not others. We are always the chief of sinners, not by a feigned humility, but a genuine awareness of God’s presence and holiness and our need for mercy.
The encounter that follows this parable is most certainly connected. (Luke 19:15-17).
The only way to enter the Kingdom is through becoming like a child.
Not childish but childlike.
There is no room for boasting, no room for self-advertising of any kind. The simple faith of a child accepts truth without a need for self-justification.
We are left with the option of humility ( choosing His mercy ) or humiliation ( choosing our own way) before God.
“ The Gospel transforms us so out self-understanding is no longer based on our performance in life. We are so evil,sinful and flawed that Jesus had to die for us. We were so lost that nothing less the death of the divine Son of God could save us. But we are so loved and valued that He was willing to die for us. The Lord of the universe loved us enough to do that! So the gospel humbles us into dust and the same time exalts us to the heavens. We are sinners but completely loved and accepted in Christ at the same time…He saw your heart to the bottom and loved you to the skies.” – Tim Keller
The tax collector didn’t go home justified because he was a better man than the Pharisee. He went home justified because he saw his need, saw the answer to His need and had a meaningful encounter with God that transformed his heart.
The application certainly isn’t that we would all go and live like tax collectors. Jesus doesn’t want us leading that lifestyle anymore than He wants us to be legalistic.
The way to be justified before God is to admit you’re a Pharisee. That you’ve tried to on your own in some way, and that you have failed, that you need His mercy.
“Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either.” – Donald Miller
God accepts and heals the heart that asks for mercy, and every heart is broken without Jesus, whether you are a Pharisee, a Pharisee in denial, or a tax collector.