"To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on
everyone else, Jesus told this parable:" (Luke 18:9, NIV2)
This parable is a revelation for anyone who thinks of himself as better than everyone else.
"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector." (Luke 18:10, NIV2) In the first century, Pharisees were considered to be at the top of the ladder of importance. They were people to be honored. No one liked tax collectors, however…And maybe we still don't! At first it seems that this parable must be concerning those vile sinners who make everyone miserable!
"The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'" (Luke 18:11-12, NIV2)
It seems that this Pharisee has a heart for God. After all, isn't he praising God? As we continue to hear his prayer, however, we are left dumbfounded. He is elevating himself above all other people. He isn't praising God, he is praising himself! In other words he is boasting about being superior to others!
"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'" (Luke 18:13, NIV2)
In contradiction to that Pharisee, the tax collector was humble. He realized that he was a sinner. He called upon help from above. He had nothing to boast about. He came for mercy and direction in his life.
Now who do we think will go home justified? The righteous religious or the poor sinner?
"I tell you that this man (The tax collector), rather than the other (The Pharisee), went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (Luke 18:14, NIV2)
I have noticed that those who are religious often fall in the category of this Pharisee. Let me explain what I mean about being religious: This is anyone who tries to please God through their own works. They believe that their own works will save them. In other words, they don't need the sacrifice of Jesus. They can save themselves! And yes, they are to be found in every denomination, some more than others. In fact some denominations' theology is completely based on salvation by works! These religious feel superior to others, for in their own eyes, they do more for God than the other filthy sinners. They think that there is no way these sinners will ever deserve grace. They are prideful, and they put down anyone who is not like them. They simmer in their self-glory. No one below their class is welcome. Why waste time on infidels?
Our experience in North Carolina this summer was quite the opposite of this "righteous" mentality. Within an hour of having set up camp at Stone Mountain State Park, we were welcomed by our neighbors. In fact, they would only be our neighbors for the next hour, as they were packing up to head home. Nonetheless, they came over to say hello. As soon as they had introduced themselves, they offered us firewood so that we could enjoy a nice fire in the evening. Surprised, all we could say was: "Thank you so much!" When they discovered we were from Canada and were thus a long way from home, they gave us a map of the State Park along with great tips for what and when to visit, then these two guys grinned as they said in unison, "Welcome to North Carolina!" Wow! I had never ever received such a hearty welcome. It didn't matter for them that I had a foreign accent or that I wore scary coke bottles on my nose. They accepted us for who we were. After all, we are truly all brothers and sisters with no one superior, except for our Heavenly Father. This is how it must be!
As the parable above points out, the ones considering themselves superior to others are the ones who missed the boat. Jesus didn't come for the religious. He came for the sinners: "For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matt 9:13b, NIV2) After all, the righteous take care of their own affairs, not realizing they are self-serving, while sinners depend on God. No wonder God will save them above any of these hypocrites.
The world is despicable to the religious, as none other can compare to them. But not to God. I wish they could realize what the Bible meant with, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16, NIV2) Faith is what counts, not self-righteous works. After all "its common knowledge that 'God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.'" (Jas 4:6b, MSG)
Are we humble or are we prideful? We had better find out before we miss the boat completely!
I hope these words will relieve sinners of the need to make accusations. God loves you so much that He died solely for you so that you could be rejoicing in heaven with Him. He loves you. He deeply loves you. Ignore the religious and focus solely on the One who loves you deeply. A hearty welcome to our neighborhood!
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