The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

I want to talk today about the pharisee and the sinner from Luke 18.

9 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Now, I know from Sunday school that I don’t want to be like the pharisee. Jesus had a fair bit to say to them, reminding them that they really weren’t any more spiritual or righteous than the tax collectors.

In the Bible Study I attend, we’ve been going through the book “The Jesus I Never Knew” by Phillip Yancy. Recently, we’ve been talking about the sermon on the mount where Jesus gives us a whole bunch of rules about how to live a righteous life. The pharisees at that time had the law of Moses and in order not to break any of the laws, they had implemented a whole collection of additional laws. The idea was to to set the standard higher than necessary in order to avoid breaking the really bad stuff. For example, in the ten commandments, it talks about honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy. In order to make sure they did that, the Pharisee’s put in rules about what you could and couldn’t do, even to the extent of how far someone was allowed to walk on that day.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus takes these rules and raises the standard even higher saying that hatred is just as bad as murder, and lust is the same as adultery. In doing this I believe he made the gap between God and man even more unattainable. He showed the Pharisees that they still weren’t anywhere near “sinless” and more importantly, he showed each of us how much we need God’s forgiveness and grace.

Phil Callaway shares a funny story about being asked how he’s doing at church. The truth, he says, is that when he hasn’t been gossiping or lusting, he’s been coveting, and frankly he enjoys all three… BUT in response to the question he simply says “Well, I’ve been struggling to memorize the gospel of John, brother.

Now, according to Jesus standards, I’m no better than a murderer or a pimp. I’m pretty sure Power to Change doesn’t hire murderers or pimps. Yet, God, in His mercy and grace, has given me the privilege of serving Him in spite of my failures. Because of Jesus, God considers me to be forgiven, pure and holy in His sight.

My point today is that we remember, no matter how good we might think we are, we’re really not any better than the drug dealer on the street. I don’t hear it preached as much any more, but I still believe that all sin is equal in God’s sight, whether you’re jealous of someone’s new iPad, or murdering prostitutes. The only difference is that as a result of Jesus death in our place and our trust in Him, we’ve been shown grace and mercy in spite of ourselves.

So, live in the grace God has given you, and remember to forgive as you have been forgiven.