17. The Pharisee and the Publican
Jesus had just told a parable about prayer.
The Pharisees were self-righteous and viewed others with contempt.
The teaching concerning receiving the kingdom as a child (18:15-17).
The attitude: self-righteousness
The question: How do we approach God in prayer?
The Progression: Biographical
You must understand the culture. The Pharisee was one of the most respected people in that society. Everyone thought the Pharisees were very righteous. We forget that because all we hear about the Pharisees is what the NT says and it’s not very kind to them.
He approached God with familiarity (he was standing when it would seem more appropriate to kneel or something).
He prayed “to himself.” NIV says “about himself” but “to himself” is better. It is a better translation of the Greek and it better represents what is going on because God certainly was not listening.
He compared himself to others and was very condemning of others. The Pharisee made the wrong conclusion in his comparison between himself and the tax gatherer The Pharisee was unaware of his own sins, but very aware of other peoples’ sins. This is very characteristic of a self-righteous person. We saw it in the parable of the lost sons. The older brother thought he was blameless and pointed to his brother’s sins.
The Pharisee in our passage was depending on his works feeling that they gained him favor with God.
What he did not do
He was not a swindler, unjust, an adulterer and he did not commit treason like the tax-gatherer
What he did do
He fasted twice a week. How many fasts were dictated by the law? Only one per year - on the day of Atonement. And that is the day this man will miss.
He paid tithes on his gifts. He is double tithing. If it is a gift, someone else has already paid a tithe for it. If he gives another tithe, he is basically saying that your tithe was not good enough and I don’t trust you. He covered all his bases.
PRINCIPLE: Righteousness is not the result of self-righteous activities one might perform.
Corollary: Righteousness is not the result of the things you don’t do. If you have that attitude it is legalism. If you want to be a church member you have to agree not to do the nasty nine. If you want to be a leader in the church, you have to avoid the dirty dozen.
Righteousness is not the result of what you do or do not do.
If it is not what I don’t do and it is not what I do, then “what is it?” becomes the question.
The publican gives us the answer.
The Publican was probably the least respected member of society. He was a Jew who went to work for Rome collecting taxes. He was viewed as a traitor.
He stood at a distance. He was afraid to approach God, knowing that he was unworthy.
He was unwilling to lift his eyes. This showed his humility.
He was beating his breast - which in that culture was the outward sign of an inward pain in one’s soul. The day of Atonement was the day when you did this. You fasted and went around beating your breast because of the pain in your soul.
He asks for mercy from God. He says, “Be merciful to me, the sinner.” He does not say “a” sinner because he does not compare himself to others. As far as he is concerned he’s the only sinner before God. That is genuine humility. He literally says, “Be propitiated towards me.” Propitiated means be satisfied. He knew that only God could help him be righteous. (Rom 3:23-25) Jesus Christ was the answer to this man’s prayer.
This word for propitiation is the word used to describe the mercy seat - the lid on the ark of the covenant. The ark contained the ten commandments. All year long the people broke the law, and then on the day of atonement, blood was spread on the mercy seat to cover the sins of the people. It is Christ’s blood that covers our sins. Jesus Christ is the propitiation for the world 1Jn 2:2.
Principle: Justification is that gracious work of God whereby He extends mercy to the repentant sinner who comes to Him in faith.
The Pharisee did not understand that only God could help him be righteous.
Jesus stated that the one who exalts himself will be humbled and vice versa. The Pharisee, who was socially acceptable, was not acceptable to God. The publican (who was a social outcast) was acceptable because of his humility.
Principle: Exaltation is the future promise of present humility.
Entrance into the kingdom of God is granted only to those who humbly accept the gracious satisfaction of God which HE has made for sin.
The one who exalts himself will be humbled and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
The Program Of God:
Entrance into the kingdom of God is dependent on recognition of sin and dependence on the mercy of God, not dependence on one’s own merit.
- Jesus told a parable in which the most respected member of society went away unjustified while the most despised member of society was justified before God. Why? In the parables Jesus deals with two groups of people - the religious and the rowdy. There is no sin too great that God can’t forgive and there is no religiosity good enough to merit God’s favor. Jesus deals with the issues of legalism and grace throughout the parables.
- Religious activity is not a sign of spirituality. Just because people pray does not mean they make contact with God. External rituals, giving, etc. do not earn merit with God.
- We need to guard against a self-righteous attitude.
- When we compare ourselves with others, we usually draw wrong conclusions.
- We need to humble ourselves now, or God will do it later.
Right after Jesus tells this parable, Luke relates how people were bringing their children to Jesus. And Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all.” You enter the kingdom with humility and trust. Humility comes from recognition of unimportance and in that society children were insignificant. And children are typically very trusting. So Jesus is saying one needs to come to God with humility and trust.
Notice the disciples are telling people to get their children out of there. They had the same attitudes as everyone else.
Then Jesus meets the Rich Young Ruler who says, “Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” What did we just learn in the parable? It is not what you do or do not do. The young ruler thought he had kept the law all his life. He thought he could get to heaven by his works, so Jesus points him to his sin.
When the man leaves, Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a sewing needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom.”
The disciples ask “then who can be saved?” because they are still flirting with the theology of their day which says rich guys are rich because they are righteous and so the rich have an advantage.
“With man it is impossible, but with God it is possible.” This is first said by God concerning Sarah and the miraculous birth of Isaac. The next time it is mentioned is with Mary and the miraculous birth of Jesus. Now we have the same phrase. Why? are the birth of Isaac, Jesus and being born again all linked? Because they are all the miraculous work of God. Man can not do it.
There are two attitudes that keep people from coming to Christ. “I don’t need it because of what I’ve done.” or “I can’t get it because of how bad I’ve been.” Jesus goes after these two attitudes all through the gospels.
The parable of the Unjust Judge and the persistent widow teaches that we should keep going to God in prayer, trusting in His justice, love and timing. He will answer in the best way for us and in the best time.
This parable deals with our attitude in prayer. We are not to come to God proud, expecting God to answer quickly and when He doesn’t we will become angry...
Instead we should go to God in humility - grateful for his mercy, expecting Him to answer but waiting on his timing - knowing that he knows best.