4. A Prayer God Will Answer
Luke 18: 9 - 14
Here are a number of common sayings that sound good but don’t exactly square up with Scripture. • “He (or she) is now in a much better place.” This is often stated at funerals, whether the deceased was born again or not. To which I want to ask, “How do you know that?”
• “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Sorry, moms, but this verse is not in the Bible. • “God wants you to be healthy and wealthy.” This certainly sounds good to us and is propagated from many pulpits and popularised by TV preachers but it is not found in the Bible. • “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I hear this saying a lot but I can’t find chapter and verse for this one either. God does promise that He will provide a way out when we’re tempted, but He never says that He’ll shield us from struggles. • “Money is the root of all evil.” Actually, the Bible says that the “…Love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…” • “God wants you to be happy.” I hear this one all the time. It’s often used as justification to get out of something that is right or to start doing something that is wrong. Friends, God’s heart is for us to be “holy.” • “God helps those who help themselves.” This one is commonly quoted but it’s not only extra-biblical, it’s also unbiblical.
Actually, God helps those who are helpless. That leads right into our passage for today as we continue in our series called, “Parables Alive.” (Read)
The Purpose of the Parable v. 9
We’re left with no doubt as to the purpose of this parable. Jesus is directing this story to those who think their sins smell better than other people’s and who look down on those who sin differently than they do. They were obnoxiously self-righteous and looked at everyone else as nobodies. It’s right at this point that we all see ourselves in the story. Most of us compare ourselves to others and say something like, “I know I’m not perfect, but I’m sure better than that other guy at work or at least I’m nicer than my neighbour.” Pride causes us to think too highly of ourselves as we become harsh with those we think fall below our standards.
When we compare ourselves with others it’s easy to start condemning them.
“It’s just too easy to become a hypocrite, to have one standard for people we like and another for people we don’t, to judge one person and to excuse another when basically they both did the same thing.” Just to make sure that this parable applies to each of us, let’s consider a few questions. • Do you ever look at people who don’t go to church and think you’re better than they are? • Do you think you’re superior to those in a different political party? • Do you ever look down on someone because they’re young? Because they’re old? • Do you ever scoff at someone who uses drugs or breaks the law? • Do you make jokes about homosexuals? • Do you think your race is better than others?
C.S. Lewis -“A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and of course, as long as you are looking down, you can’t see…above you.”
The People in the Parable v. 10
The temple was Israel’s most holy site and people would often go there to praise and to pray twice a day. Jesus introduces us to 2 people who could not have been more different from each other. In Jewish society the Pharisee was the cream that rises to the top while the tax collector was like scum found on the surface of a putrid pond.
1. The Pharisee
In order to correctly understand this parable, we must consider how Pharisees were regarded in that culture. While we look down on them because of their hypocrisy and legalism, they were the ultimate “good guys.” There were only a few thousand of them at a time and they were known for their careful observance of the Torah - first 5 books of the OT. They also followed the Mishnah, which explained how to obey the Torah. There might be several chapters in the Mishnah devoted to just one verse in the Torah. On top of that, they followed the Talmud, which was a commentary on the Mishnah!
2. The Tax Collector
In contrast to the Pharisees, tax collectors were considered the low lives of society. Working for the pagan Romans, they owned tax franchises, and would charge exorbitant rates and keep most of the money for themselves. They were not allowed to give testimony in court because their word was considered worthless.
The Pharisee is the most religious, respected and revered man
The tax collector is the most despised, disrespected and despicable man
A religious man was to do 3 things if he accidentally touched a tax collector. • Spit instantly, to express his disgust for touching him. • Then he would go home and burn his clothes. • Finally he would take a scalding bath to purify himself.
The Prayers in the Parable
These 2 men were at the opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum. Their prayers were the exact opposite as well.
1. A Prayer about Me v. 11, 12
God’s name is used just once while there are 6 references to “himself” or “I” in the Pharisee’s prayer. His posture was self-promoting and his prayer was selfish. He’s really praying something like this: “God, I thank you that I’m so marvelous!” He gives God no honour and makes no request of Him because he believes he’s already better than everybody else.
After recounting how self-righteous he is, the Pharisee then spells out a couple religious virtues that he’s really proud of. He wants everyone to be aware of his religion • He fasts twice a week. He’s going way beyond the one day of fasting that the Law prescribes on the Day of Atonement. • He gives a tenth of all he possesses. He not only gives a tithe on what he earns, he also gives 10% of all that he owns. He’s self-righteous because he’s proud of what he doesn’t do and he’s religious because he’s proud of what he does do. “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.”
2. A Prayer for Mercy v. 13
The tax collector didn’t list his merits but instead longed for mercy - • His position. While the Pharisee was probably standing as close to the holy place as possible so everyone could see him, the tax collector is afar off, standing timidly on the outer edge. He was afraid to approach the Almighty because he understood that he was unworthy. • His posture. He not only stood far away, he was unwilling to lift up his eyes because he was filled with guilt and shame. • His passion. To beat one’s breast was the outward sign of an inward pain in one’s soul. It also shows that he’s locating his depravity as coming from his own heart. • His plea. His prayer contains only 7 words. After addressing the Majesty, he begs for mercy.
One man gushed with pride, the other oozed poverty.
One felt religiously rich, the other knew he was spiritually bankrupt.
One man was impressed with his accomplishments; the other was depressed by his failures. One boasted, the other begged.
The Paradox in the Parable v. 14
God helps those who are helpless. This was an outrageous reversal to the ears of the religious guys. It would have made them gasp. The word “justified” means to be acquitted from any charges and to be accepted by God as righteous. Either you can make yourself right before God or you can’t. Either you help yourself or you admit that you are helpless. Either you satisfy God’s righteous standards or you cling to a substitute who has done it for you. Let’s go back to the 2 men who represent two paths that are followed today.
• Merit - You can trust in your goodness but that will lead you to a bad place.
• Mercy - You can trust in God’s goodness and end up in a good place.
Are you on the merit path or the mercy path? Entrance into God’s kingdom depends not on our merits, but on God’s mercy. God’s justice is satisfied by the Saviour’s death on our behalf, His blood blots out our sins, propitiation is accomplished, providing our justification. God helps those who are helpless.
Principles from the Parable
1. Humble yourself now or God will do it for you
Proverbs 3: 34: “Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble.” I want you to know that I am more like the self-righteous Pharisee than I am the broken and tender tax collector. Someone has said that the only person God sends away empty is the person full of himself. I fall into the thinking that I can do things on my own when I can’t do anything apart from Christ. I trust my heart more than I should and discover pride and ugliness when I look inside.
2. Consider beginning your prayers with confession
I appreciate the reminder found in Psalm 66: 18: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” We have a lot to confess as a country, don’t we? Billy Graham - “Self-centered indulgence, pride and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of our lifestyle.”
3. Don’t go home without being justified
There are 2 attitudes that keep people from coming to Christ: “I don’t need Him because I’m basically a good person” or “He won’t have me because of how badly I’ve been living.” I urge you to go home justified today. You can have immediate salvation…right now. Admit your sin and accept the Saviour as your substitute. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to clean up your act and start doing a bunch of religious rituals. You don’t have to perform penance or seek out a sacrament. Come to Him in filthy rags and He will receive you as you are.
The mercy of God comes to those who least deserve it. Have you been sleeping around? You can be saved today. Have you used drugs or abused alcohol this week? You can be forgiven right now. Have you lied? You can have eternal life this instant. Are you far away from God? Reach out and receive Jesus and you can be instantly declared righteous.
God helps the helpless. Ask Him for mercy. You can go home justified by crying out for mercy. Or you can leave here self-satisfied, thinking you somehow merit God’s favour because of how good you think you are. What will it be?
Prayer -“God, have mercy on me, the sinner. I have failed and fallen so many times. My sins have broken your laws and your heart. I repent from trusting in my merit and cry out for mercy. I plead with you now to forgive me and by faith I receive the Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior. Please apply what He did on the cross to my account so that I can be free and forgiven. Thank you that His blood sacrifice fully satisfied your righteous demands. Help me to live for you for the rest of my life. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.”