For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the
gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Who are you in this story? Which of the two men do you think God see? Are you sure? At first glance the bad guy and the good guy seem extremely easy to recognize. Pharisee – bad. Tax collector – good. Do you see yourself as the good guy? The scripture causes us to consider that possibly, we are often both.
We know what the Pharisees did. The Pharisees were instrumental in crucifying Jesus. The Pharisees never liked Jesus. Jesus challenged their power. Jesus challenged their thoughts about Jesus as the messiah. Pharisees get the bad press, they are the villains. Were they really? I would like to make a case for them if I may.
Consider, if you will, if this describes you. You are a pretty good person compared to a lot of other people in this day and age. Actually you live your life so you can be the best kind of person compared to say 90% of the people in this world. You try your hardest to keep God’s commandments. You do all in your power to follow God’s Law. Many beside you think you’re a wonderful person, respected. You have taken the time to know the Bible, or at least major parts. Pharisees even memorized the Torah, have you memorized the Bible? I am sure you have memorized your favorite verses.
I pray and hope that people see God / Jesus in you. Most of you do spend a lot of time at the temple, I mean church. Are these bad things? I know many people that strive to be devoted to God and is that such a bad thing? Before you give Pharisees a bad rap, most of this might describe you and frankly this described the Pharisees quite well. There is without a doubt many good things about you and there were a lot of good things about the Pharisees
The Pharisees prayed and often we also pray as we go about our life, “God I thank you that I am not like these other men” and we know something is wrong. Is that what God sees you do…in your heart? We know we don’t like the Pharisee and we know Jesus doesn’t like him either. Does God see us saying the same thing or a variation, how does God feel then?
We know Jesus is going to set him straight and we are on the sidelines cheering. We always enjoy prideful people brought down a notch. Now recognize the paradox of this parable. Once we say, “Thank God I am not like that Pharisee,” I become like that Pharisee. It is that phrase, “Thank God I am not like other people,” that is the problem, and I find myself saying it…..at least to myself. Sometimes.
Thank God I am not like that meth user, not like those people on welfare, not like that liar, not like that hypocrite, not like that so called Christian that seldom goes to church. The list goes on and on, doesn’t it! Each of us has a list of people whom we consider less than us, or wayward, stupid, offensive or lazy in their faith. While we might not be so bold as to pray, “Thank God I am not like those people,” that thought on occasion does occur to us. Yes, what does God really see in us?
It’s like a mouse trap. C.S. Lewis said:
No sooner do we believe that God loves us than there is an impulse to believe that He does so, not because He is love, but because we are intrinsically loveable.” That’s the trap. It has happened to me and I think it has happened to you. “God, I thank you that I am not like that other person.” This is a sin that has plagued everyone.
But it is the sin of religious people – it is especially the sin of religious people — church people — good, God-fearing Christians — good citizens — people who pay their taxes and do their work. In other words, it is our sin when we pray: “Thank God I am not like those lowlifes! Thank God I am not like those sinners! Thank God that I try to do the right thing. I might not always succeed, God, but my heart is in the right place.” God really sees that, and we need to see that too.
It’s certainly a problem for Christian fundamentalists. They find it so tempting to pray: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – yes carousers, Biblically illiterate, doctrinally unsound. I attend church every time the doors are open, and I give generously of my time and money.”
Today do you often despise the fundamentalists! Well, this parable is no kinder to liberals. How tempting it is for liberals to pray: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people — like those fundamentalists, caught up with all their rules and regulations. Thank you, God, that I help the helpless. Thank you, God, that I live in the world and help the world. Thank you, God, that I am not like those bible thumpers.”
It touches even the apathetic follower of Jesus. “Thank you, God, that I am not like other people — fanatics, uptight! Thank you, God, that I have learned to sit back and wait for you to take care of things.”
It is the sin of unreligious people. They pray:
“Thank God that I am not a hypocrite. Thank God that I am not like those churchgoers. I know of God, that I am not a very good man (or woman), but at least I don’t pretend to be better than I am. Thank God that there is nothing two-faced about me.”
Who do you relate to? Who are you? Better question: What does God really see in you? Consider if you will how you have acted this past week, who you have judged, what has been in your heart. Jesus reminds us today to not judge others as hypocrites. Jesus reminds us to not be prideful with God’s love for man. We don’t earn it, it’s not a game of comparisions, it’s not about us.
Donald Barnhouse sums it up, “Christ sends none away empty BUT those who are full of themselves.” How about this theologian named Mark Twain, “Heaven goes by favor.
If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”Or as Jesus put it. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The answer to the problem is simple. Jesus includes the answer in the parable. The answer is found in the tax collector’s prayer. Too ashamed even to lift up his eyes to heaven, the tax collector prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” We can relate to this scumbag because sometime and often in our lives, we have asked God for his mercy.
But our English translation lost something here because there was a different Greek word used rather than the Greek word most often translated into mercy. The Greek word used here was “hilaskomi.” This great theological word better translates to “make an atonement.” “God, make an atonement for me.”
When we pray “God, make an atonement for me, a sinner.” God wants to really see in your heart that you need this, require this. That is the prayer that saves because Jesus atoned for our sins, died for our sins on the cross. Let it be our prayer and never let us get our pride, our works, or our comparison to others get in the way.
Critical question to you today is do your really live in a way that is like the tax collector or does the Pharisee in you come out too often. Do you know that you have been saved by faith, you sin, God really sees you putting on a Pharisee show or life, then always saying “nobodies perfect” and I’m saved by grace.
Is your life a good life? Are you walking through life as a good man or woman? Do you work hard, pay your taxes, raise your family well, love your spouse, do the right things yet deep in your heart you know that you act like that Pharisee?
Yes, maybe today you consider yourself a Christian, a follower of Jesus yet you sit here today knowing deep in your heart that God really sees that you haven’t committed your life to an ever growing your relationship with Jesus, with God. You think that you have arrived yet when you search your heart, you know something is missing. Jesus calls to you today to build up your relationship with Him.
Don’t let your pride get in the way, recognize the beauty of the scripture and be like the tax collector today, truly understand your life needs just Jesus’ atonement and be like the tax collector and surrender your life today. The tax collector was willing to throw it all away when he looked at his life from the view of God’s eyes and he simply looked down and prayed “God, make an atonement for me, a sinner.”
Jesus answers YES! He calls and he answers YES! I did do that for you. I will fill you, I will accept you, I will make you whole. Throw away the pride, throw away the world, Jesus tells you to throw away your comparison to others, stop listing your sins as less than others, just simply live for Jesus, just simply give it all to Jesus, and he will give you His love for a lifetime and eternity. And He will declare you righteous.
Who are you in this story?