The Parable Of Prayers
9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
In this section Jesus tells a story of a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both were sincere and devout. As a matter of fact, one kept the law seriously, or thought he did. The other was in a profession in which extortion and dishonesty were expected. It seems unfair that the prayer of a man of such exemplary behavior is not acceptable, while the prayer of the one with a questionable job is. The Pharisee had everything, except the one essential thing. The tax collector had nothing but the one essential quality, which is a sense of his own unworthiness and his need for God's grace.
The parable is about the honest prayer of a sinner verses the self-justifying prayer of the self-righteous. The main focus is humility in prayer out of a realization that righteousness cannot be reached by means of our own efforts. Prayers are heard and answered because of God's mercy not because of our self-justifying merits (v. 14). Jesus therefore rebukes the self-righteous and demonstrates the kind of attitude necessary for God's acceptance (justification)
The purposes of the Parable Prayers is given in verse 9, that one cannot trust in himself for righteousness and should not view others with contempt. "And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and viewed others with contempt."
A great danger of pride is noted right at the start. First, we come to trust our own abilities rather that trusting God. Second, we come to regard other people with contempt and disrespect rather that seeing others as being created in the image of God. Pride of self and contempt for others go hand in hand.
Those who trust in themselves that they were righteous refers to those who view their righteousness or acceptance by God from their personal goodness or their adherence to the law or religious rituals. Jesus' will show that they are self-deceived and then give an example of a disrespected person who is justified in God's sight.
In verse 10 we find two personalities taking center stage. "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.”
The parable takes place in the temple. We are introduced to two attenders of religious services who are on opposite ends of the religious and social spectrum. The first personality we are introduced to is a Pharisee or a religious man who knew all the rules. Pharisees were revered religious figures in Jesus' day. However, at several points throughout His ministry, Jesus criticizes some of the Pharisees for their hypocrisy.
The other personality is a tax collector (Mt 5:46). Despised as traitors who had sold themselves out to the Roman captors for the privilege of collecting taxes from their own people. Jesus has a propensity for using the marginalized and ostracized people groups (such as Samaritans) and professions (such as tax gathers and shepherds) for the sake of contrasting genuine faith with Jewish unbelief and self-righteousness. This serves as a not-so-subtle rebuke on certain Jews and Jewish concepts of His day.
II. SELF-SATISFIED, 10-12.
The content of the Pharisees prayer is given in verses 11 & 12. Verse 11 begins the teaching on the wrong way to approach God. “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.”
Notice the content of heart that leads him to say, “I am not like other men." His estimation of his own righteousness is greatly exaggerated for he assumes that he is acceptable to God. Self-righteousness is really self-delusion (according to 11:39-54).
Our opinion of ourselves reflects much about who we think God is. The man who said, "I am not like other men; I fast; I give tithes" thought himself superior to others, especially this tax collector. The tax collector is grouped with robbers, swindlers, the unethical, and adulterers. The religious man felt God owed him. He gave all the credit for his good life to himself and gave none to God. He praised himself even in the place build for the praise of God. Notice the Pharisee was praying to himself, instead of to God.
In 1906 sea Captain E. J. Smith publicly boasted that no real danger existed any more in SEA TRAVEL. He could imagine no way that the great ships then steaming across the oceans could ever founder or even experience any life-threatening problems. Six years later he stood on the bridge of the Titanic, the greatest liner of her time, while its builder told him it couldn't stay afloat. Captain Smith fell prey to the most human of mistakes, boastfulness.
The Pharisee's prayer reeks of it. Others simply didn't measure up to him. He was proud of his life and of his accomplishments, especially his religious ones. He wasn't bad like other men, he had fulfilled the requirements of the law. He experienced no conviction of any wrong in his life. He was self-satisfied with his own righteousness and looked down on others. When he thanked God, it was only for his own goodness, not for God's grace and mercy toward him.
How easy it is to compare ourselves favorably with others, for we almost… always look at others from our viewpoint instead of from God’s point of view. God's ideal though in behavior and action remains His Son, not us nor our contemporaries, nor our works. We will not see others clearly until we have developed Christ-like eyes and character. When we do, we will understand how far short of the perfect glory of God we fall.
Since salvation is by grace, we should not feel superior to another. Grace doesn't express itself in/by despising others. Spiritual/religious arrogance is presumption, assuming one stands in God’s place acting as judge and jury over others.
His religious routines continue in verse 12. "I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get." Not only would a religious Jew pray three times a day, but he would fast twice a week Fasting twice a week goes beyond that which was prescribed in the law (Lev 16:29, 31; 23:27, 29, 32; Num 29:7). Mondays and Thursdays were fast days. Not accidentally, they were also market days in Jerusalem, which meant that some had opportunity to demonstrate their piety. With long faces they made their way into the temple to pray so everyone could see their spirituality. Fasting should be done as an act of contrition, brokenness, humility or sorrow. Instead it became another point of pride.
Paying tithes on "all that I get", also goes beyond what the law required as only certain items were tithed (Deut 14:22–23).
The Pharisee’s prayer was concerned with telling God what a good man he was, for not only did he keep the Law by fasting and tithing (v. 12), but also… he considered himself better than other people (v. 11). He was using other people as his standard for measuring righteousness.
Jesus teaches next the correct way to approach God. In verse 13 the tax collector prays a completely different kind of prayer than the previous prayer. "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!"
"Standing far away", probably in the court of the Gentiles or possibly the court of Israel if, because he was a Roman sympathizer (Mt 5:46), he was permitted that far… he bows first his life, then his eyes and head before God. The tax collector respected the holiness of God and therefore saw himself as sinful and in need of grace and forgiveness.
The tax collector even "beats his breast" as a sign of mourning and contrition. In such contrition the acknowledge sinner throws Himself upon the mercy of God. He then cries out "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" His location, posture, and speech reveal his humility and a proper understanding of his sinfulness, in sharp contrast to the self-righteous Pharisee.
The difference seems to be that the tax collector used God as his standard for measuring. The prayer of tax collector therefore expresses humility, dependence and desperation. The pharisee was proud and boastful, the tax collector grieved over his own sinful condition. The pharisee described his righteousness, the tax collector begged for mercy to escape the judgment his sin deserved. Which one of them truly prayed?
Evangelist D. L. Moody once visited a PRISON called "The Tombs" to preach to the inmates. After he had finished speaking, Moody talked with a number of men in their cells. He asked each prisoner this question, "What brought you here?" Again and again he received replies like these: "I don't deserve to be here." "I was framed." "I was falsely accused." "I was not given a fair trial." "The judge or a witness took a bribe." Not one inmate would admit he was guilty.
Moody finally found a man with his face buried in his hands, weeping. "What's wrong, my friend?" he inquired. The prisoner responded, "My sins are more than I can bear." Relieved to find at least one man who would recognize his guilt and need of forgiveness, the evangelist exclaimed, "Thank God for that!" Moody then joyfully led him to a saving knowledge of Christ-a knowledge that released him from the shackles of his sin.
As long as the sinner claims innocence and denies his sin before the Lord, he cannot receive the blessings of redemption. But when he/she pleads guilty and cries out, "God, be merciful to me a sinner," he/she is forgiven. In order to be found, you must first recognize that you are lost. To find salvation you must admit you are lost.
When we confess to being a sinner and cast ourselves upon God's mercy, we are traveling the road to true righteousness. We deserve justice but need mercy. That need is met only in response to humble confession and earnest petition. Jesus said the tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home justified.
In verse 14 Jesus states which one was justified before God. I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalt" s himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Jesus' closing declaration uplifts the tax collector as an example to us. The application of the parable is that it is necessary for people to humble themselves before God to gain forgiveness (13:30). God only justifies the repentant.
The Pharisee left the temple confident he had fulfilled his religious duties but still bearing his sin and guilt before God. He had not sought forgiveness through confession and repentance and thus had not found forgiveness.
God justified the tax collector and not the Pharisee is a shocking role reversal. (Note Jesus’ familiar role reversal, Luke 14:11; Mt. 18:4; 23:12.) The Pharisee, who was perceived as righteous in the eyes of the people, was not accepted by God whereas the hated but truly penitent tax collector was. No doubt this enraged the pharisees in His audience (v. 9) and gave them further cause to seek Jesus’ death in Jerusalem a short time later.
With His closing advise in the last part of verse 14 Jesus once again (14:11) warns us not to exalt ourselves above others. "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled." Those who are proud are exalting themselves will one day be brought low (humbled) by God. Conceit and pride warp the thinking process. As we fill ourselves with the true knowledge of God we will humble ourselves before Him. Then if we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, He will lift us up when, where, and as He desires (which may well be when He examines us at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10)
Becoming the new person we are in Christ means reversing our natural tendencies toward pride and looking down on others. We instead are to be mindful of our sins so that we can confess them in repentance. We have a tendency to judge other people by their actions and our self by our intentions rather than our actions. If we would reverse that, it would change our life. If we judge others not by what they do, but by what they meant to do. Then judge our self not by what we meant, but by what we did, we would be much humbler people.
Jesus showed the way to God by contrasting the attitudes and actions of a publican with those of a Pharisee. The despised publican had sold himself out to the Roman captors for the privilege of collecting taxes from his own people. The zealous religious leader was known for his meticulous observance of the law, but his approach to God and to righteousness was wrong.
The Pharisee sought to establish right relationships with God by human achievement and self-trust. The outcast publican aware of his shortcomings, sought and received forgiveness. The publican realized he had nothing of which to boast before God. His only plea was, "God, be merciful to me a sinner." Jesus placed his approval on this kind of repentant humility. The tax collector thus improved his spiritual health having found acceptance before God through humble repentance and mercy.
It's much the same way with salvation. As long as a person makes excuses for his/her sinful behavior, he/she will never experience deliverance. It's only when he/she admits, "I am a sinner and cannot save myself," that the Lord will rescue from sin & its eternal consequences. The proud & boastful Pharisee was lost. The tax collector, however, acknowledged his sinfulness & "went down to his house justified"
I invite you at this time to admit your guilt & receive the Lord Jesus as your Savior. Come & ask God to save you from pretentiousness & self-deception lest you deprive yourself of His mercy. Remember, salvation is for sinners only. Does that mean you?
Once we understand that answered prayer is based solely upon mercy, prayer becomes a total pleasure. And when the answers come and the blessings are released and things begin to happen, guess who gets the glory. You can't take credit because of your spirituality or discipline. You simply glorify God with humility and great appreciation as you stand in awe of His answer to your prayer and His work in your life.
Neither prayer nor salvation is not based upon merit. They're based upon mercy. That's what this sinner discovered, and once we learn this lesson, prayer will become a joy to you as well.
Pastor Richard Santos
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