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The Parable of The Pharisee and the Tax Collector Made Simple

(Luke 18:9-14)

In Luke 18:9-14, we read the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

“Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men - extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 

“And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise 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, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

I believe in telling the truth; I believe in sharing the truth from my heart. I don’t like wearing faces. I don’t practice being one person to someone and another person to someone else. Anyone who encounters me encounters who I really am. Anyone who hears me speak or reads my writings hear the truth from my heart. I don’t have pretenses. I don’t think out what I would I like other people to think. If I have a message, if I have something to say, I say it as clearly as I can. I reach down into my heart and put as much emotion into what I’m saying as I can muster. I’m not a person who thinks so much of the consequences of what I say.

Some people are so busy wondering how people are going to think of them, go around carefully planning what they’re going to say in order to get the right responses. I’m not a person who puts a lot of thought into that because I don’t care essentially what people think of what I say and what people think of who I am. I know who I am. I know that I’m important to Jesus Christ. I know that He has given me the ability to visit Him in heaven through visions. He has given me the ability to see angels in dreams. I know that I’m loved by Jesus. And it’s this understanding of love that gives me confidence and boldness to speak the truth from my heart all the time without worrying about consequences.

I share some amazing things. I share the deepest sins and disgusting deeds of my past in order that I may share the message of salvation, in order that I may illustrate a point. Now, I don’t mix my words. I don’t try to sugarcoat my words. Sometimes I won’t say what is on my heart because I don’t want to get a person angry. I don’t want to insult and hurt someone. Sometimes there are things I’d like to say to a person but I restrain myself in love.

The person who reminds me of myself here is this tax collector. He beats his breast and he says, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ (v.13c)

Some people mistakenly think that those who do not know Christ don’t understand that they’re sinners. They’re wrong. In Romans 1, it says that God has made Himself very clear to the unbeliever. He has made His presence understandable, so that every person in this world is without excuse on judgment day. Every person whether you choose to believe it or not, knows that there is a God, even the ones that deny this fact. Why would they deny a God when in the first place they didn’t acknowledge that there is a God? They just choose to deny God. So, every one knows of their own sins. Everyone knows the bad things they do. Some people are more honest with their sins. Some people confess their sins. But others are more private.

This tax collector wasn’t making a big deal of his sin. He was just pleading God to be merciful on him. In today’s language, in today’s society, it’s hard to understand how bad a tax collector was. In the Roman days, tax collectors extorted people. Their bad deeds were known by the public. But even with all the descriptions, it’s hard to understand how bad this man was because we don’t have the modern equivalent of a tax collector.

The best way I can describe how a tax collector was loved in the Jewish society, or shunned for that matter, was to mention the word pedophile. I think if we used the word pedophile, if we saw this parable in a different way, if there was a Pharisee standing up there talking and then there was a known pedophile who went down in the temple and he was beating his breast and saying , ‘God, be merciful with me a sinner!’ I think we’d get a clearer idea. That word brings with it a lot of disgust in our mind, especially when you’ve been abused by one.

But let’s get to the point. Jesus is saying that this guy who beat his breast, this pedophile, this tax collector, who beat his breast, went away from there justified. God saw what he did and was compassionate on him. He said, “You’re forgiven, totally forgiven, because you’ve been humble and truthful and I accept your prayer”. Jesus said, “He who exalts himself will be humbled”. (Luke 18:14) And that’s what we’re going to spend the rest of this teaching looking at.

In verse 9, it says Jesus spoke the parable to those who thought of themselves as righteous and despised others. This is the point of the whole parable. There are people in the Christian church who teach on holiness. They teach on the judgment of God and the fact that we’ve got to be holy and righteous before our loving God. They speak of a God that judges people, that reproves people, that disciplines people. They talk, they speak and preach that we as Christians have to be holy before our holy God. They teach that we have to read the Bible. We have to pray. We have to go to church. We have to tithe. These are all things that we have to do to be close to God and to be accepted by God and to walk in the presence of God. And I was with this school of thought. I agreed with this school of thought for the last seventeen years, up until eight weeks ago. In July 2010, I had my eyes opened by Jesus Christ.

James 2:10 reads: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”

James has a way of just blowing people’s beliefs away. Okay. Let me repeat this. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”

So, how righteous are you, reader? Have you sinned once in the last month? Many people think that they’re sinless; that they’ve totally conquered sin and they’re not sinning anymore. These people are really hard to break through to.

I was like one of these people except that I had an addiction to pornography which I couldn’t get rid of. I’ve had some successes three months here and four months there. I’d had certain breaks in my addiction. I’d conquered it for a while through repentance and right living. But then it would come back again. This was always a stumbling block for me when I thought I was holy and righteous.

I also had a tendency to gossip and I knew that it was a sin. So, although I paraded myself around as more holy, more devout, more righteous, more zealous for the things of God than most people, I was falling in one sin. I was stumbling in one area. And James says I’m guilty of breaking the whole law for that.

What happens when you walk around thinking you’re righteous? What happens is you go around judging other people. You’re comparing yourself with other people. The apostle Paul says it’s not healthy to compare yourself with others. According to God, self-righteousness is pride. People who do things to please God are in error. The only reason a Christian is righteous is because Jesus died on the cross. And if the Christian will accept that the righteousness of Christ rests on the shoulders of us Christians, we have imputed righteousness from Jesus Christ. We have the righteousness of Jesus Christ on us because of His death on the cross. That is the only righteousness we’re to glory in. If we mix our own works, if we take the claim and glory in our own self works, we’re filthy. It says in Scripture that our righteousness is like filthy rags. If you think you’re righteous, you’re wrong. You’re not. You’re full of pride. And Jesus says, if you exalt yourself, you will be humbled.

I pray that I’ve brought some understanding to you in this parable.



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