9. And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
10. Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
I suppose that there is such a thing as a pastor coming to the platform with his Bible, sitting there as he watches people come in and gather around and then choosing a text for a certain group. Here is a case where Jesus literally brings a message to a specific audience. You can rest easy tonight because we are going to preach to the Pharisees! We don’t have any here tonight so He is taking aim at the Pharisees. It says very specifically that He spoke this parable, He gave this great illustration and He spoke it to certain people. We know it is the Pharisees because He uses one of them in the illustration and we know what He has just been talking to them about in times past in the gospel of Luke. He is addressing this to people who trusted in themselves, that they are righteous. It is clearly understood that these are people who are so built up in their own religious knowledge and understanding and so devoted and dedicated to sets of principles and guidelines that they do in order to put their religion on display so that others can see it that they trust in themselves for their righteousness. They don’t look any place else. They don’t look to God for grace or mercy. They apparently don’t need God’s grace or mercy. They don’t seem to look to Jesus. They certainly don’t accept Him and the kind of teaching that He gives. He brings new light on specific teachings of the Law. You can keep the Law from an outward appearance standpoint and still be guilty of doing wrong by the Law within your heart.
Jesus internalized things. He looked upon the heart and He understood. He would say to the Pharisees on some occasions, You look like coffins on the outside, but you are just full of dead men’s bones, no life within you on the inside. He is addressing this message to them, people who trust in themselves that they are righteous and people who also in their pride at being so good and so righteous they despise others.
Two real strong attitudes that Jesus is striking out at here are these: one is the attitude of pride and self-exaltation that says I am good enough and I don’t need anybody’s help. I don’t even need God’s help. The other attitude that looks down on other people to despise them and say well they are nothing, they don’t do as I do and they don’t live like I live. What deception. What deception that people can get involved in, especially when we look back on what the Pharisees were – who they were and what they did and what they said.
To illustrate these great truths here, the truth that self-exaltation is going to lead to a shame and abasement. Self-righteousness is going to lead to severe disappointment when one stands before God. On the other hand, humility in God’s presence leads to exaltation. It is a strange thing. Jesus deals in paradoxes all the time and it is not some kind of theological double-talk, but it is the living truth that He sees in the lives of people. People who humbled themselves before God in reverence, God exalts them in His own way and in His own time. That is a wonderful and glorious thing. These are some of the truths that we want to see come up out of this story.
So let’s look again at contrasting examples. Let’s look at the contrast here between the Pharisee and the publican. First of all, let’s look at the Pharisee. Let’s look at his prayer. Now you can tell a whole lot about a person if you know what he prays, if you know how he prays and how he thinks, how he approaches God. I think that’s one reason why Jesus made it quite clear to give us a divine spiritual pattern of prayer; to begin in reverence and begin in worship to the Father and His great Name and to ask for His kingdom to come and His will to be done before we ever begin to ask for our own personal petitions and for guidance and direction. The prayer ends again with giving glory to God forever.
Let’s look at this Pharisee’s prayer. He started off real good. He said I thank God. It’s pretty good to start off your prayer by thanking God, isn’t it? Especially if you are thanking Him for the right things. He said I thank God, but he began to thank God not for what God was, nor for what God did, nor what God had done for him, but for all the things that he was not! We learned a long time ago that you can’t build a case from silence or from nothing. He said I thank God that I am not as other men are. Boy, right then, his prayer really takes a turn. We understand the turn it takes because the Bible says before that that he had prayed with himself. He wasn’t quite concerned if God heard him or not. If some other people heard him that was fine because Jesus described the Pharisees on many occasions and how they prayed standing with a loud voice so that people around could hear them bragging on themselves and he is praying thus with himself. He said I thank God that I am not like other people. I am not an extortioner. I don’t threaten people and cause people problems in order to collect money out of them. I’m not a thief in the way of extorting money from people. I don’t do business like that. He said I am not unjust. I treat people justly. I do what is right. Both of those things are very commendable. Then he said I am not an adulterer. I don’t break the commandments and he went on to say I’m glad I’m not even like this publican that is standing here, this tax collector, this despised and hated person.
Well, I’m not this, I’m not that. I’m glad I’m not this. I’m telling you there are a lot of things in this world we can all be glad we’re not. There are a lot of people we can be glad we’re not like them. I’d hate to be like some folks in this world who have completely turned their lives over to Satan. I think there is a sense of gratitude that we could all have in our hearts that by the mercy of God we are not like somebody else. But he doesn’t include the mercy of God. He is depending on his own strength, his own self.
This man not only gave a list of things that he was glad he was not, but I want you to look at his good works. I doubt that there is a church in all of Tennessee, Church of God included, that would not welcome this man in as a member because he said I fast twice in the week. Now the law and regulations had said something about once a week and here he was doubling up on it. He was heaping double righteousness upon himself to say out loud I twice in the week. You hear me, God? He’s praying to himself. God is not really listening, but Jesus understands. Then he says I pay tithes on all that I possess. Man! He doesn’t figure out certain expenses and then tithe and do all kind of adjustments. He didn’t even know what an adjusted gross income was. He paid tithes on everything he possessed, he said. Now keep in mind that this man might not have been telling the whole truth, but we will take for granted that he is. What a good person, what a great man! He’s not this, not this, not this and he does this and this and this and all these wonderful and glorious things that are Scriptural and beautiful. But we find out sadly that this man was not justified before God because he was trusting in himself and in his good works. The Bible teaches us that when it comes to our salvation and being justified in the sight of God that good works won’t do it. At the same time, the Bible teaches that when you are transformed by the grace of God, then by His mercy and by His grace and by His blessings and by His provisions, you are blessed and you do a lot of wonderful things. There are some agreements and covenants that God enters into with us after we have been transformed and justified by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Let’s look at the other contrast. Let’s look at the publican. Look at his prayer. Both of them have come to pray. One comes up front and center and brags on himself and prays with himself. Somehow we feel sorry for him, putting out all the efforts that he is doing and trying to maintain such a life and still knowing that he is going home condemned and not justified in God’s sight. But here’s another person who comes and he comes in humility. This would indicate that what the other man had must have been pride and haughtiness. Pride is just the absence of humility. It is the opposite of humility, I should say. Do you remember the small book of Obadiah? The whole message is to the pride of Edom. They have become so strong and the dwell in the mountains and the cliffs of the rocks. They think that nobody can overthrow them and they have done some things against God’s people and they have become settled down in their own ways. The Bible said the prophet says the pride of your heart hath exalted you. But God says from there from your self-exaltation I will bring you down from the mountain and your safe places in the caves and the cliffs of the rocks. Even if you are sent to heaven, I will bring you down from there. Then there is long list of things, 18 items I think, that the prophet lists against the people of Edom. You should not have done this, you should not have done that. All of these things witnessing to the fact that they had pride in themselves and had no regard for God. So humility is the opposite of pride. Pride says to God I can handle this job all by myself. Sometimes we get a touch, a feel of the whip of the Lord, so to speak, the chastising rod. The Bible teaches that whom the Lord loves, He chastises. The reason when that chastising rod comes and bites, it is to humble our hearts and cause us to turn to God. You cannot go into Scripture anywhere and look at judgment or chastisement with any other reason or purpose from God than to humble people and turn them around and turn back to God. Even if you read the Book of Revelation at the time of the great wrath of God and the outpouring of the wrath upon the peoples of this earth, it will say again and again ‘And yet they repented not of their evil deeds.’ Which even then in the great tribulation judgment is used as an instrument to turn people to God. I’ve known a good many people in my life who might not have ever turned to God if it had not been for some chastening hand of God upon them, facing things that they suddenly couldn’t handle by themselves. Sometimes we experience things like that. We face things that we know we can’t handle by ourselves. It has an humbling effect to cause you to fall on your face and seek God for mercy.
This man came in humility and he was not brazen or bold as we are taught to be as blood-washed children of God. He stood afar off in reverence and in respect. He had such reverence, in fact, that he wouldn’t even so much as lift up his eyes toward God. Now when you balance off what the Bible teaches about the children of God who are blood-washed and we are invited to come with boldness to the throne of grace to obtain mercy, that is a beautiful and encouraging and wonderful picture, isn’t it? But even then the approach must be with humility. The boldness of faith, yes, but with humility, not with pride that brags on self. It is a fearful thing to come before God with any kind of boasting in yourself.
In reverence he wouldn’t lift up his eyes and then he smote his breast. Among Jewish people this has always been an expression of extreme agony of pain of what the suffering is going on in a person’s life. They had other expressions like shaving their head and putting ashes upon it and sitting in sackcloth and ashes and saying I deserve to be dead and be covered with dirt and ashes. One of the saddest lines in the prophet Amos when he talks about when the Syrians would come to Israel and take people away and what mourning it would be. It would be like the mourning for an only son. He said there would be baldness upon everyone. Not meaning that the hair would come out, but that they would shave their heads as the utter sign of mourning and wailing and weeping. You add to that the smiting of the chest to indicate the suffering you are feeling and that is what he did. In his heart he felt unworthy. In his heart he knew he was not like that Pharisee. In his heart, he knew he was afar off. He stood afar off, he was a long way off. I’m glad that we have seen in looking at Jesus, that Jesus hears people who are a long way off and Jesus receives people who are a long distance from Him spiritually. Jesus hears the cries of people who are crying out for mercy. Aren’t you glad it’s so? He trusted only in God’s mercy, confessing his sin. He said God be merciful to me a sinner.
Now that’s how a sinner prays, gets his prayer answered and goes home justified. He doesn’t pretend. He doesn’t boast. He doesn’t rely on pride, but he opens up his heart and he lays it bare and lets the sight of God look right in and he confesses what is there. You talk about therapeutic and cleansing! A lot of people these days would do well to cleanse themselves by simply opening up their hearts and confessing and making it known to God. He already knows. You say He knows what’s there already. I know that, but the fact that God knows your heart doesn’t do you any good as far as justifying you. But confession of it to Him and pleading His mercy, that’s what does bring the purging and the cleansing. That is one reason Jesus wouldn’t let people who had been blessed stay quiet about it and He would draw them out and open confession. The very act of confessing it with the mouth – this whole thing of salvation and following Christ is not a matter of something you believe in your heart and you keep your mouth shut. No, He draws you out. Paul even said confession with the mouth is made unto salvation. Faith in your heart, repentance and your mouth saying words of confession.
I think I told you once that I had started out in one church to preach every Wednesday night on prayer. Every time there was a case about prayer, where somebody prayed about something I was going to go straight through the Bible. I didn’t think it would take too long. I went two years and just go to the book of Esther. I moved from that church and didn’t continue it, but I never got to the great laments and prayers of the psalmist and I never got to the great prayers of the prophets and certainly didn’t get to the New Testament to the great prayers recorded there. Folks, this Book is a Book of prayers and in those 70-something sermons I did just getting to the book of Esther, I found that every conceivable problem that you would ever face in this world, you will find a prayer for it there.
He has gone to the word of God, Jeremiah, and he is reading the scroll of Jeremiah. He looks around at his times and situations and he realizes that what Jeremiah prophesied has already come to pass, seventy years in exile in Babylonian captivity. But he looks at the situation and nobody is aware of it. Nobody seems to be doing anything about it. Nobody seems to be praying. Nobody seems to be concerned about going back to the homeland or rebuilding worship in Jerusalem and he sets himself to seek God in fasting and prayer and sackcloth and ashes and in confession. If you look down through chapter 9, here is a model prayer for a saint of God who is praying in behalf of a backslidden nation that is in exile and has grown accustomed to captivity. Some people can be in captivity and not be aware of it and not even be disturbed by it. He prayed because of the confusion among the people. He prayed for the kings and princes in verse 8. He prayed, calling what they had done rebellion, and he prayed about the curse in verse 11 that had been put upon them. As he kept praying finally, I want to read a little bit of his prayer from verse 16, “Oh, Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee. Let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain. Because of our sins and for the iniquities of our fathers Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. Now therefore Oh our God, hear the prayer of thy servant and his supplications and cause thy face to shine upon the sanctuary that is desolate for the Lord’s sake. Oh my God, incline thine ear and hear. Open thine eyes and behold our desolations and the city which is called by thy name for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousness.” See the difference in this prayer and the prayer of the Pharisee? He said we don’t come on the basis of our righteousness, Lord, but for thy great mercies. We are depending on mercy. Hallelujah! He goes on to pray. Gabriel was caused to fly swiftly. I like the idea that God has the power and He has the will to get your answer to you quickly and immediately. That is when he received the divine touch to give him understanding of the future. That’s when he begins to give that great message concerning the future.
Daniel received five great touches in his life. That’s another sermon in itself. Maybe we will preach it again. Even such a righteous man as Daniel, he comes bringing the sins of his people before God and confessing them and saying to them God, we do not come to you on the basis of our righteousness because we don’t have any to claim. We are throwing ourselves upon your mercy.
This is humility and expressions of confession and the opening up of the heart and revealing what is inside, not only by doing that but by confessing it. You see the door of answered prayer is closed until we open our hearts with confession. Every great outpouring and manifestation of God’s grace and power came by first of all, people humbling themselves and turning to God and repenting and confessing and seeking God with their whole heart. That is how revival has always began. There is no outpouring. There is no great move of God’s presence and power until his people humble themselves and call upon His name and seek His face. Hallelujah!
This man, the publican, didn’t know a lot, but he quickly and openly confessed that he was a sinner and he asked for God’s mercy. Jesus said to these Pharisees who trusted in themselves that they were righteous ‘This man went home justified, rather than the other.’ Then He ended this parable by giving one of the greatest truths that is a preaching text itself and I will use it to conclude tonight. He is not speaking parable now, He is speaking truth that is coming out of this story. ‘…every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.’ Those are the words of Jesus. How sad it is that you and I know people who were exalted in self and they were abased and crushed and they’ve never risen from the ashes of their burned-out life, so to speak. At the same time, we have seen others so insignificant and yet they humble themselves before God and He laid his hand upon them and lifted them to heights that were unbelievable. I have known people when they started out in ministry and thought to myself looking at it through my eyes ‘Oh, will they ever make it in ministry?’ only to see them in a few years with a great anointing and deep in the Word of God and mightily used by the hand of God. God was just lifting them higher and higher and higher.
Please stand to your feet and let’s get ready to pray.
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