Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 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!’ 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.” Luke 18:9-14
I think we are all aware of this account told by Jesus. It was directed toward those who were confident in their own works and righteousness and is certainly fitting for all of us to consider.
We could say that the Pharisee thought he was righteous but wasn’t. The tax collector, on the other hand, knew he was a sinner but was counted righteous and acceptable before God. How could this be?
Outwardly, the Pharisee may have appeared to be righteous. As he said, he fasted twice a week, he gave a tenth of all that he had to his church; and he wasn’t an extortioner, unfair in his dealings, an adulterer, or a traitor and thief like tax collectors. But, did He love the LORD God with all his heart, soul and mind? Did he love his neighbor — even tax collectors — as much as he loved himself?
Isaiah wrote: “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
Even our best works are tainted with sin and unclean before the righteous and holy God! Our motives are less than holy and pure, and what we do is not done out of repect, love and trust in the LORD God. And, if we say or think we are not guilty of sin, the Bible tells us that we are deceiving ourselves, “and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). When we think that we are just and righteous before God by our own works and lives, we are not justified before God — we are guilty and stand condemned by God’s law!
What about the tax collector. He didn’t measure up to the demands of God’s law, either. He was a sinner, guilty before God, and he knew it. What did he do? Did he try to appease God’s anger by his works? What does the Bible say?
“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!’” He confessed before God his sin and unworthiness and received in faith God’s pardon and forgiveness! As Jesus said, “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.”
What does all this have to do with you? How do you come before God? Are you self-righteous and proud, depending upon all your good works? Or, are you humble and honest, acknowledging your sins and unworthiness and appealing to God to have mercy upon you and forgive you for the sake of Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice upon the cross?
Again, the Bible tells us: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). And how can God forgive us sinners when we acknowledge our sins and look to Him for mercy? “We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world,” (1 John 2:1,2).
As you prepare for worship and the reception of Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for you for the remission of sins, how do you come? Self-righteous and proud, confident in your works? Or humble and penitent, acknowledging your sins and unworthiness but looking to God to show you mercy for the sake of Christ Jesus and His cross?
Those who humble themselves, confess their sinfulness and look to Christ in faith will go to their house justified and forgiven! God grant that to you for Jesus’ sake! Amen.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.