When God Hears A Prayer
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up 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, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Today, in our passage in the Bible, Jesus makes a point. He really points to the very crux of our salvation. The more you believe you deserve heaven, the less chance you’re ever going to see it. Because the truth of the matter is, no one deserves heaven. No one deserves salvation. No one deserves a relationship with a holy God who knows no sin. We have all rebelled and fallen short of the glory of God, all of us.
The Apostle John reminds us that if we say we have no sin, we’re just lying…
1 John 1:8
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
And how could a holy and righteous God ever tolerate sin in His presence? That’s why we need a Savior, a power outside of ourselves.
To show us an answer, Jesus introduces two characters: a Pharisee and a tax collector. A Pharisee in Jesus’ time would be like a famous pastor or seminary professor today: we would look at that person as very holy, very righteous, really smart about the Bible. And the tax collector? A Jewish listener would consider such a person a traitor and a crook. Because Jewish tax collectors collected for the conquering Roman Empire and cushioned their collections against their own countrymen to make more money.
Jesus’ story contrasts two different prayer styles, but also two different heart styles. It shows us two things NOT to do and two things TO do. First, in your prayer life...
Guard against: 1. Comparisons
When it comes to your prayer life, guard against comparing yourself to someone else. Listen to this guy in verse 11:
10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayer thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
You can feel this Pharisee looking down his nose at the tax collector standing near him. “God, I’m glad I’m not as bad as that guy. Aren’t you?” It’s like, he thinks God should be grateful that the Pharisee is on His team! The problem with comparisons is you can always find someone who is doing worse than you—which can lead to pride—and you can always find someone who is doing better than you—which can lead to depression. Neither is helpful. If you want to compare yourself to someone, compare yourself to Jesus. He is the only human to ever live, who never sinned. When you compare yourself to Jesus, you will know you need a Savior. So… guard against comparisons, and guard against....
By citations, I’m talking about a long list of all your accomplishments. Luke tells us in verse 9 that Jesus was addressing some folks who were “confident of their own righteousness.” How did they know they were such sharp cookies? Because they frequently told themselves so! They like to run through their citations. Listen to this guy in verse 12…
12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
Did you know in verses 11 and 12, this guy uses the personal pronoun “I” four times? “I do this, I do that.” The Jewish Bible only required fasting one day a year, on Yom Kippur. Jewish people might fast on other occasions, but this guy proudly stated that he fasted twice a week. And not only that, he tithed on EVERYTHING. Most Jews would tithe on their income. If they gained ten new sheep in the herd, they would give one to the Temple. But Pharisees...they would tithe even on things they bought in the market and the herbs they grew in their garden, because they didn’t want to miss a thing!
And here’s the thing: at some point they began to forget why they did good things like tithing and fasting. They got to the point where they didn’t do these things to honor God; they did them to bring attention to themselves. Putting down others and bragging about their own accomplishments made them feel better about themselves. We can understand that. But that kind of behavior doesn’t impress God, who sees our hearts. It doesn’t just matter WHAT you do, it also matters WHY you do it. God sees the inner motivation. So...
In our prayers, do two things. First…
1. Approach God with reverence. (A Deep respect for someone)
Look at the tax collector in the story. Verse 13 says…
13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
His stature, his very posture communicated humility instead of arrogance. While the Pharisee probably gazed upward to a heaven he would never reach, the tax collector gazed downward to a hell he would never reach. He was saved through his humility. When we approach God, approach God humbly. He is not the heavenly slot machine you hope will win you the jackpot.
He’s not even Santa in the sky, overlooking the naughty and rewarding the nice. Because we said there’s no one who is nice all the time. Approach God with reverence. God is God and we’re not. God is great, and we’re not. God is good all the time, and we’re not, at least not all the time. Approach God with awe. And then…
2. Approach God with great need…
When we really get to know God well, we know we bring nothing to the table. He doesn’t need our reputation, or our money, or our good looks. God can build his kingdom just fine without you or me. He can accomplish his will just fine without us. But he wants us just the same.
And we need God. Oh, how we need God! Sometimes we just don’t realize it. Or we forget about it. This tax collector didn’t forget. He probably had his fellow Jews remind him every day what a lousy guy he was. The rest of verse 13 says...
“but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
This prayer has become popular and is known as the “Jesus prayer.” Some people have modified it to, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Those are nine powerful words! They’re a way of remembering who God is and who we are. This tax collector had no illusions of his own grandeur, unlike his neighbor. This tax collector knew that if God didn’t come through for him, he was toast. He knew he didn’t stand a chance without mercy, without grace. Mercy means not getting what you deserve, and grace means getting what you don’t deserve.
They are the flip side of the same coin. And we need both to make it into God’s family, to make it into heaven. That’s the only way a perfect God is going to allow an imperfect people like you and me come into His Kingdom, through the grace and mercy provided by Jesus’ death on a cross. Through that one act, God allows those who are humble to become His children.
Old Testament believers understood mercy and grace, too. They just didn’t yet know the name of their Savior. The prophet Jeremiah quoted God as saying,…
13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.
And the writer of Hebrews tells us…
6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
God rewards our earnest faith in Him with eternal life. That is the greatest reward of all. We get to enter His forever family. Not by anything we’ve done: not by tithing, not by getting our Sunday School 30-year perfect attendance pin, not by reading our Bible daily, not by walking little old ladies across the street, not by refraining from smoking or swearing or chewing, not by any of these behaviors. But only by the grace and mercy and forgiveness made available through Jesus’ blood.
This parable not only shows us how to pray; it also shows us how to live: totally dependent upon God’s grace and mercy. We have to have it to get saved, and we have to have it to live the way God wants us to live, every single day of your life.
When we live in God’s grace, we give that grace to others. We become more tolerant of others, more loving, more understanding, more forgiving. And others see the love of Jesus in you and i. It’s an amazing thing.
So… let us NOT be all stiff-necked, full of pride like the Pharisee. Bow our head, recognize we need help, and humble ourselves before the King of kings and Lord of lords, as you realize the truth of our last verse today…
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Justified - Accepted or approved of God. The word “justify” means to declare or treat as righteous. In this case it means that in their prayers the one was approved and the other not; the one went down with the favor of God in answer to his petitions, the other not.
You see…the Pharisee relies on his own merits thinking that, by his works, he is deserving heaven. Not having discovered that no human righteousness is sufficient before a God who demands perfection. The tax collector, the one who humbly admitted that he is sinner and in need of help, relies on Gods mercy and finds it.
Pastor Richard Santos
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