9 “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
Today’s text is an indictment against spiritual arrogance and pride, and a failure of humility in the face of one’s personal sins. The Pharisee was as lost as a door-nail, but did not know it. The publican, too, was just as lost; but the publican KNEW of his unworthiness. Only when we realize our unworthiness can we become worthy in the eyes of the Lord through His grace and mercy. More than spiritual arrogance, the Pharisee felt that he was so much better than others, that his heart was filled with hate for them.
This parable was spoken in the closing days of our Lord’s earthly ministry. The lesson Jesus teaches is one that is hard for man to grasp when viewed through the eyes of the flesh. If we can grasp the point of this parable, it must be through the eyes of the Spirit and of the humble heart. The purpose of the account is presented in its opening line: “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” Do any here trust that they are righteous? If so, we are not unlike the hypocritical Pharisee about whom Christ speaks. Before we can ever be saved, we must first recognize that we are hopelessly lost and unable to save ourselves – it is upon the Mercy Seat of God that we must cast our appeal for deliverance. If we believe that the Scriptures are true – and we MUST – there is none righteous. “There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10-12) While it is true that none may enter heaven under the condemnation of sin, it is also true that God has provided a means whereby we may be accounted righteous – that is through the redeeming and atoning blood of Jesus Christ! The PRIDEFUL will be the most difficult to understand that they can never earn their salvation by doing good works since even GOOD WORKS are sin to the unsaved.
All who do not know Christ are truly walking dead, or, as Boris Karloff would claim – ZOMBIES! Have you ever been dead and required resuscitation? Have you been dead and brought back to the land of the living? If you know Christ as your Lord and Savior, surely, you were once dead and are now made alive. Read these verses from Ephesians 2: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” (Eph 2:1-2) and “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:4-6) So now, the question I asked earlier takes on a deeper and more significant meaning, doesn’t it? Have you, friend, been dead and made alive? Pride makes it very hard to admit that we were, indeed, dead in time past. A dead person can do nothing to help themselves for they are DEAD. Only the revitalizing and life-giving Spirit of God can make a DEAD person live! So we can do nothing to save ourselves – it is a work of Grace through Faith!
So we come to the example of two men who have come to the Temple for the same reason – to pray. “10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.” These two men represent the whole of the professing church today. One of these men is a fancy-dresser and a hypocrite. The other is a sin-laden and humble publican. They both have come to the RIGHT place for the RIGHT purpose; but there is a difference that separates the two through which you could drive Napoleon’s army. To all appearance, the Pharisee is a devout and righteous fellow, but there is a darkness about him that lies unrevealed to the observer – it is a heart that is ‘full of itself’ and not of Christ! Each man prays, but the prayers are vastly different. Let us read on:
“11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” Though it is not stated specifically, the impression is that the Pharisee stood with proud posture. His words reveal truly his self-pride. “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Matt 6:5) Notice how the Pharisee prays: “prayed thus with himself.” His prayer never got any higher than the pit of the heart from which it sprang. He prayed just as many professed Christians pray today – to be heard of men, not to be heard of God. And WHAT did the Pharisee pray? “God, I thank thee.” This is well and good. I believe if some of our prayers ended at the salutation, they might be more Godly. But WHAT did the Pharisee thank God for? “. . . I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” Oh, I see! “Thank God that we are so very good and pious!” It would seem that God needs to forgive nothing in this Pharisee since he is so righteous, but wait! There is none righteous but God! So, regardless of his personal faith, something, in the eyes of the Pharisee, makes this publican, and all men, less righteous than himself. What is it? It is a smug religious self-righteousness that has prevailed in the prideful hearts of lost men from Cain until our own day – especially, our own day! NO one is as good as pretty, innocent, little-old ME! Just look at my clean washen hands and noble posture.
Unfortunately to his own soul, the Pharisee is not finished damning himself in the eyes of God for he continues: “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” Though this may be true, it is a false righteousness. He is boasting of that false righteousness. Jesus has clearly counseled on the ways in which we must fast: “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (Matt 6:16-18) The moment we boast of our righteous acts, they become egregious sins! This Pharisee, like many of his fellows and Christians today, was a flaming hypocrite! But to those standing by, it is perhaps true that he was regarded as more righteous in the eyes of the crowd. Do you pray to the crowd or to God? Do you live unto Him, or unto THEM? How long do you labor for the fancy words to impress the listening crowd?
Now comes the prayer of a man who knew he was unworthy of the mercies of God – just as none of us are worthy! He came with a very pitiful opinion of himself, but a mighty high opinion of God! He is a man hated by the people for his perceived collusion with Rome as a tax collector. He is considered, along with Zacchaeus, as the scum of the earth, before Christ! He does not dare come so near the Temple as the ‘honorable’ Pharisee – “And the publican, standing afar off.” So he stands back at a respectful distance – not daring to set his foot upon the Holy ground that he believes surrounds the Temple. May I suggest that all approach God from a “far off” place for it is not our natures to be Holy? We return as the Prodigal Son – from a far country into the loving arms of the Father. This publican has missed the ‘self-esteem-building classes’ of our modern public schools. He esteems himself as nothing, and he regards God as the All-in-All! How can any sinner approach God in any other way? Would that the Pharisee could have followed the example of the publican!
What was the outward attitude of the publican? Was it prideful and boastful? Would any person, raised up in the pride of their persons, come to God as does this publican? Observe his approach and plaintive cry: “. . . . would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” He makes no DEMAND of God as is so common in the modern charismatic services. He was in deep mourning for his sins. He was not good enough to look God in the eye. His sins had become an intolerable burden from which he desperately sought relief. Our Lord had this poor man, and you and me, in mind when He said: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)
Please note the object of the publican’s prayer as opposed to the prideful boast of the Pharisee: “God be merciful to me a sinner .” He asks for NOTHING more than MERCY and Grace! Because he was humble and sincere, he uttered the very words which were entirely in the Holy Will of the Lord to grant. A sincere prayer of repentance is ALWAYS heard by the Lord and answered. It is the only prayer an unforgiven sinner can utter that is heard in Heaven. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” (Psalms 66:18) Have you ever been so overburdened by your sin that this prayer was evoked from a heart full of pain?
What is the effect of the two different prayers? Does God regard persons and their social status in hearing prayer? What of the poor bum on skid row who, slowly dying in his filth and misery suddenly sees a Light in Heaven and makes humble and desperate appeal thereto? Will God save the wretched sinner in his filth, and reject the dignified and proud boaster? See what Jesus says of the two: “14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” So much for pomp and circumstance! The prayer of the Pharisee was heard where it was sent “with himself” but not by God. The publican, being a desperate sinner, had his prayer heard and answered. He was forgiven and justified! “….the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7) “. . . every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Once more, we see that PRIDE is the mother of all sins.
Though there are many stark truths to inform us in this text, there is one that stands out foremost – the proper means of prayer! We may pray beautiful and sophisticated words, yet the pride that motivated them sink them to the depths of the sea. We may pray with utter simplicity out of a sincere heart, and these simple and unpolished jewels of prayer may rise to the ‘third heaven.’ Attitude is everything. If the sentiment is not in the heart, it will not find a genuine expression through the lips.
Are you resurrected in Christ today?