The following study is based on Luke 18:9-14, “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.”
At the beginning of the parable, who was Jesus addressing? Why is Jesus telling this parable?
- Luke 18:9
And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.
- There was a certain group of people that trusted in themselves. They thought they were righteous. And they also despised others.
- Jesus is addressing those that are self-righteous and bigoted.
Who are the main characters in the parable?
- Luke 18:10
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
- The Pharisee and the tax collector.
- Who would the pharisee represent today?
- They would be the church leaders. The elder or pastor or deacon.
- Who would be equivalent of the tax collector today?
- Matthew 18:17
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
- The publican is put in the same group as the heathen man.
- What is a heathen man? A pagan person, a Gentile. Someone who doesn’t believe in God.
- Matthew 18:17
- So the publican was not viewed as a good person in those days. The most famous of all tax collectors was Zacchaeus. He was rich, but nobody wanted to go to his house because he was a cheater. All tax collectors were dishonest people.
- So there are 2 people. The Pharisee and publican.
Now let’s go back to Luke 18. What do we understand about the Pharisee?
- Luke 18:11-12
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.
- So what do we know about this guy? What does he do?
- He fasts twice a week. What is fasting? Throughout a 7 day week, 2 of those days, he doesn’t eat. Imagine not eating for 2 days.
- Is fasting good for you? Yes it is. It’s a good way to detox, to cleanse your system. It helps you to burn fat and lose weight. It helps your system to have a rest. This is why we shouldn’t have in between meals as well. When you fast, your body rests for the whole day. That is good.
- Fasting is also put together with something in the Bible. Fasting and prayer are important when it comes to casting out of evil spirits. When the disciples couldn’t cast out this evil spirit from a person, Jesus said that this kind only comes out through prayer and fasting.
- What else does he do? Everything he receives, he gives 10% to the church. So he’s a faithful tithe payer. But he gives tithes of everything! He’s meticulous.
- What else do we understand about him from verse 11. He says he is not like all these people.
- If he’s not an extortioner. What is he? He is honest. Was he lying? Probably not. Unjust? No. Adulterer? Most definitely not!
- So overall, from the outside perspective he seems like a good man, a righteous man!
Do you think all these things are good? What then makes it bad?
- Is being boastful so bad? Not really.
- Is comparing yourself with others a bad thing? What’s wrong with comparing? Well, it puts your focus on other people and not yourself. You tend to judge.
What did the publican do though?
- Luke 18:13-14
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.
- He wouldn’t even look up to heaven! But cried out to God to ask Him to be merciful on him. So the publican was the one that went to his house justified.
- But the funny thing is the Pharisee in verse 11 said he wasn’t unjust. But that is not how Jesus saw it. The publican went to his house justified and not the Pharisee.
- And then the conclusion is made in verse 14 – for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
- When you sit at the lowest seat, it can only get better because you can’t go any lower. However, when you put yourself up the highest, it can only get worse because you are already at the highest, you can’t go any higher.
When the Pharisee said that he was not like the publican, what was he thinking in his mind? He had all these thoughts of superiority. He felt better because he found someone worse than himself.
- If we really look hard enough, we will always find someone uglier than ourselves, someone shorter than us, someone dumber, someone with more grey hair. It just depends on what is your focus.
- What was the Pharisee literally doing though? Was it good? Were his works good? Yes it was! Is fasting good? Yes! How about paying tithe? Yes, those are all good works.
- Don’t misunderstand this. What he was doing was good, but it became bad because of his focus. He wanted to be justified by his works alone and tried to justify himself even more by comparing himself to the publican who was standing next to him. The problem is he forgot to compare himself to Jesus so he became puffed up and proud in his works.
- Remember, this is the danger on focusing on others. It makes us look at others, at their faults and their failures. And we begin to think like the Pharisee – “you need Jesus more, you’re a tax collector.”
- And because of this sort of attitude and focus, we fail to see the problems in our own lives and how much we actually need Jesus as well!
- It can actually get to the point that we can justify the bad that we do because we found someone else that is worse than us. We look for the bigger problem and bigger sin in someone else’s life to minimize our problems and sins. This is why we need to be so careful because it makes us feel less our need for Jesus.
However, what was the response of the publican? How did he respond?
- He wouldn’t even look up to heaven. He had no pride in his heart whatsoever because it was obvious to him that he had sinned and needed God. He just said “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” He would go to his house justified.
What helps us realise we are sinners? How can we have the experience of the publican?
- 1 John 3:4
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
- Sin is the transgression of the law. When we break the law, we sin. So the law of God is that which helps us to realise that we are sinners.
- James 1:23-25
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
- The law of God in this passage is compared to as a mirror. It shows us our reflection. It shows us where we have fallen short.
- This man looks at the mirror and he sees what he looks like. But as soon as he steps away, he forgets. That’s not a problem if you look OK. But all of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory. All of us look at God’s law and can see that we don’t look OK. But we step away and forget! Sounds like the Pharisee right?
- How can we make sure we come to the point where we realise we need to change? We have to look at the law and continue to look at it. We forget too easy. So we must look and keep looking at the law. We must continue to spend time in God’s word and be familiar with His law everyday.
- I believe that if we continue to look at the law, then we won’t have time to look at other people. Or if we continue to look at the law and behold it and make it our priority, the way that we look at other people will be different as well.
- Many of us don’t pause to look and to think about ourselves in the light of God’s law. Maybe it’s too painful for us. Maybe it’s too revealing or we’re scared what we are going to find. Maybe we’ll see that how God looks at us is totally different to the way the world or our friends or family look at us. I believe that if we sat there to think about our life, there would be drastic changes that would take place. If we would take time to continue to look at God’s law our life would be very different.
- Too many of us are just madly rushing through life and our focus is wrong, and so we look at people wrong as well. We look at them to make ourselves feel better by comparison rather than look to Jesus and let Him make us clean and whole in Him.
Any person that is alive today has this one problem – it’s called sin.
- Romans 7:15
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
- What I do, I actually don’t allow it. And what I want to do, I don’t do it. And what I hate, I keep doing it!
- This is our addiction to sin. We are all slaves to sin. I do what I don’t want to do, and what I want to do I don’t do it.
- Romans 7:19
For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
- Paul repeats it again the second time. Our addiction to sin.
- But what is the problem?
- Romans 7:20
Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
- Sin is dwelling in us. That is the problem!
- Romans 7:20
- This really is the problem of our lives today. We are caught up with so many things. We want to change but we can’t make that change in our lives.
- Many of us want to sleep early to wake up early, but we can’t. We want to change our diets, we can’t. We want to stop wasting time watching movies, we can’t! We want to stop smoking or any other addiction, impossible! We have all violated our consciences at some point in time. And we all need help, we need Jesus.
- The Pharisee forgot this because he stopped looking at the mirror, but he start looking at people, and he made himself feel better. What’s wrong with looking at people? Everybody is a sinner right? But it’s like a person in prison, “you murdered 2 people? I murdered only 1!” trying to make yourself feel better that way.
What do we need to do today?
- What we need to do is PAUSE. Not just sit there and think about our life. You would get depressed. You got to sit there and think about Jesus. To meditate on His law and on His word. Give Him a chance to work in your life. God won’t just leave you there. He will reach down and help you.
- This is why personal devotions, daily Bible reading and Bible study is so important. It helps us have a true realisation of ourselves. We would be like the publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner!”
- This is what justification looks like. But you can’t be justified, until you know what you need to change. You can’t cry out to God for mercy and for help and for cleansing until you know what sort of help and mercy you need!
I believe that all of us know at least one thing that we need to change in our own lives right now. Not just spiritual things, but life in general. We know we need to change something. And if you know that, you are one step closer to Jesus. We got to stop comparing ourselves with each other. We need to compare ourselves with Jesus. He won’t just tell you what you’ve done wrong, but Christ will come in and clean you from the inside to the out. He will give us the right focus in life! Let’s stop looking with just our human eyes at this world but start focusing our eyes on the spiritual things and on heavenly things today!