Parables | The Pharisee and The Tax Collector | Curtis Hall

July 5, 2020 Speaker: Curtis Hall Series: Parables

Topic: New Testament Passage: Luke 18:9–14

LUKE 18:9-14 1 



Good morning, Mercy Fellowship. Hope you are well this morning. If you don’t know me, my name is Curtis, I’m an elder apprentice and happy to be preaching this morning. This week and for the next couple months, we will be going through a series on the Parables of Jesus, and we won’t be covering all of them but will cover a significant portion of them. But I believe that it would be helpful for us this morning, before we look at the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18, that we first grasp the purpose of parables. 


Because many of us may have the idea that a parable is nothing more than a story with some moral truths being portrayed, which would be wrong. We know this to be wrong, because that is not the gospel message. Jesus didn’t leave all His glory in heaven and come to earth, and live a perfect sinless life obeying the law of God, of which you and I have broken repeatedly and deserve damnation for, go to the cross in our place and on the third day rising from the grave defeating Satan, sin and death and now rules over all of creation as king of kings and lord of lords; He didn’t do all of this to make us moral, to make bad people good but rather He came to make dead people live. So we don’t believe that parables are just stories with moral truths attached to them. 

Here’s what Jesus would tell us. 10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’” - Mark 4:10-12 

Jesus here is giving us the key to understanding all the parables He is going to speak about, that the purpose of parables is to reveal and conceal the kingdom of God. Meaning, that those who would hear what Jesus has to say, would listen to what He is saying, and the gospel would take root in their heart, but to those that are hard hearted, and have rejected God repeatedly are deaf to what Jesus has to say. You’ve heard it said before that the sun that melts the ice also hardens the clay, this is what Jesus is speaking about, and there may be some of you this morning that don’t care to hear about what Jesus, creator of all humanity has to say about you and me. If you’re hard in heart this morning, my plea to you would be to come to the great heart surgeon, Jesus Christ and listen to what is announcement over your and my life might be. 

For those of us in Christ, these parables are meant to be tools and weapons of spiritual warfare, so that we may be comforted when Satan attacks and tempts us and also that we could use these parables to gauge how well the gospel has taken root in our hearts. 

THE PHARISEE AND THE TAX COLLECTOR: 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 

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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.” (Luke 18:9-14) 


The parable goes that there are two men that go into the temple to pray. The temple, was the place where the presence of God was dwelling, so to go there, was to go into the presence of God. There would also be worship that was going on throughout the week, to where there would be sacrifices taking place, God’s word would be read and there would also be prayer. And so two men go into the temple to pray; one a pharisee and the other the tax collector. 

It’s worth noting here that the temple in the OT is not the same as a church building we are in now. We don’t believe anymore that the Spirit of God dwells in this building but rather the Spirit of God dwells in His people, so much so that the apostle Paul refers to our individual bodies as the ‘Temple of God.’where God’s Spirit dwells in us. (1 Cor. 6:19) 

So two men go to the temple to pray, one a pharisee and the other a tax collector. 


Now, we are so accustomed to understanding that the Pharisee is not the guy who is praised in this story but rather the tax collector, and we can shrug our shoulders and say ‘so what’ to that, but that is an astonishing claim that Jesus is making! A Pharisee, was someone in the highest sects of Judaism, there would only be about 3,000 pharisees at a time, so he was part of an elitist club. He would have been viewed as being the closest to God you can possibly be and because of that, he had a significant say in the politics of that day as well as the religious practice. this is something that I’m sure he strived for and now is the main highlight of his resume, identity and value, that when he walks around, people would take notice of him being a pharisee. He was venerated in his society. 


The tax collector in this parable, is the complete opposite of the pharisee. Jesus is very deliberate in choosing the polar opposites of that day in His example, because if the pharisee was seen as being as close to God as possible here on earth, then the tax collector was seen as being as far away as possible from God. If the pharisee had his life together, the tax collector was seen as not having his life together. The pharisee was well regarded by outsiders and the tax collector was despised by others. The pharisee made an honest living while the tax collector stole from others and cheated people for his living. Do you see the wedge being driven between these two men as they grow father and farther apart? They’re different classes, different tax brackets, different lifestyles, different jobs and from the perspective of everyone in their society, they’re viewed differently by God. 

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To sum up this parable, it is a parable of salvation. It is a parable that asks the question, when I go into the presence of God, before God, how do I have a right standing with Him? What do I or who do I place my trust in to make me right with God? 


And the author of this book, Luke is making sure that we know for certain the purpose of this parable, which is ‘Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.’. (V.9) 


They trusted in themselves that they were righteous. Meaning, that they trusted in their good works, the things they did right and the things they didn’t do to make them right before God. We saw this in the prayer of the Pharisee. The story with him, being that he was a highly regarded man in society, he most likely would have been asked to come pray in the presence of everyone. “Mr. Pharisee, would you give the honor of praying in the temple here this morning. Stand here so we can all hear you...” And what does he pray? 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself,(meaning he is in a league of his own. No mere man compares to him) 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.’ Simply put, he prays to God about what he hasn’t done and what good he has done. Who’s the savior in the pharisee’s life? Himself. He declares to God and anyone who would have been listening how good he is. He trusts in himself to be right with God and man. 

I think if we could be honest with ourselves, this pharisee is a really good church goer. He’s a really good modern day religious man. Look at how clean and not messy his life is, how sanitized it is. He’s clearly been successful in life, and it seems that he’s made some good choices. But if we’re go a step further, I believe there’s a little bit of pharisee inside all of us. There is something inside of us, that measure ourselves and our worth by the people around us. Sadly, our point of reference is not God but is often man as we judge ourselves by the people from work, our community, maybe even our own homes. The prayer of the pharisee for why he was righteous before God was because we ‘was not like other men..’ Does your value and worth come from you not being like other men? When you pray to God, are you grateful that you’re not ‘that’ person that you have in your mind? 


What ultimately happens though, when we trust in ourselves that we’re righteous, and our point of reference is not God but man, we ‘treated others with contempt.’ If ever there was a verse that could clearly speak into and diagnose what has happened in our time, surely it is this one! People that trust in themselves, think that they are righteous, think they are right, okay and that the issues of society or this world, are caused by ‘those people.’ There’s division on racism, there’s division on cops, wearing masks, the coronavirus, and there’s still a presidential election this year that we will all be divided on and we make judgments of the people on the other side. 

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So hear me on this, the issue with all of this is not whether we are right or wrong but the issue most certainly is whether we are self-righteous or not. Self-righteousness is like rust that slowly destroys because when we spend so much time looking down on the inadequacies and failures of others and judge, belittle and dehumanize them and while we look down, we never look up to see what a holy God might have to say about our own failures and shortcomings. And if we never look to God as our savior but remain self righteous, we will never be reconciled to God, and men will never be reconciled to each other! The consequences of self-righteousness are catastrophic! What I believe is clear about this parable and the contrasting prayers between the two men is that men and women need to be reconciled to God first, before they can be reconciled to one another. 

The pharisee goes before God on the basis of his goodness compared to other men (horizontal relationship) while the tax collector goes before God on the basis of his relationship to God (vertical relationship). 


In contrast to the Pharisee though, we see the prayer of the tax collector. And after he was called out by the pharisee for being the complete opposite of him, it says 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, (meaning, he feels so sinful and guilty that he’s not even part of the crowd in the temple) would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ Does the tax collector bring any of his good works before God? Does the tax collector bring a resume of what he hasn’t done and the good he has? No, this tax collector is not looking down at other people in contempt, but is looking down in the guilt and shame of the evil in his heart before a holy God. This begs us to ask the question, when we go before God in prayer, do we know the condition of our own hearts? Jeremiah the OT prophet says ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9) Pastor Chris last week gave a great sermon and highlighted the need to not only know God but know ourselves and knowing your heart and its sinfulness, its inward selfishness is part of knowing yourself. The pharisee has a wicked heart just like the tax collector, but the only difference between the two of them is one recognized it and one did not. That should scare us because that means we can blind to the wickedness in our hearts. Sure, you can see the splinter in someone else’s eye across the road, but can you see the log sticking out of your own eye? I think this is evident when we watch movies, we always identify with the good and never think we are the bad, because we don’t understand ourselves. 

There was a trial for a man named Adolf Eichmann back in 1961, and Adolf was a guard and helped perpetuate the concentration camps that were in Europe. And when World War 2 had finished, he fled to Austria where he was eventually captured and went to court. And in order to try him, they needed witnesses, and they had many of them but one stole the show at the trial, a man named Yehiel Dinur. He came and testified in court before Adolf Eichmann and ended up passing out as he was giving his testimony. And Later he was doing an interview with Mike Wallace of 60 minutes and was asked: 

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Were you overcome by hatred? Fear? Horrid memories? No; it was none of these. Rather, as Dinur explained to Wallace, all at once he realized Eichmann was not the god-like army officer who had sent so many to their deaths. This Eichmann was an ordinary man. "I was afraid about myself," said Dinur. "... I saw that I am capable to do this. I am ... exactly like he.” 

Do you recognize the evil within your own heart before God? Do you know what you’re capable of? Do you see your need for a clean heart and a clean slate? We get so caught up and focused on other people and other places rather than ourselves. We can look at places like CHOP and ask the question, ‘what’s wrong with those people?’ We can look at other nations and nations that are at war and ask ‘what’s wrong with those people?’ What’s wrong with those people is that they have your heart! They have my heart! The God of the Bible doesn’t want us to start considering wars and nations, but ourselves, because these nations are made up of individuals who are just like you and me. 

I’m reminded of the story of Jacob in the OT when he was wrestling with God and God asks him ‘what is your name?’ It’s weird for an omnipotent God to ask Jacob about what his name is, does he not know? God does so because earlier in Jacobs life, his old father was blind and going to give his blessing to his oldest son, Esau, before he died and Jacob stole it by lying about his name to his blind father. But now he is wrestling with an all-seeing father who asks him, ‘what is your name?’ And Jacob replies ‘you got me, I’m Jacob.’ And it wasn’t until he confessed that God was able to bless Him. 

It’s not enough that you and I know that our hearts are wicked but we also need to confess them to an all-seeing God, who sees everything in our life, and that is exactly what the Tax Collector cries out for as he says God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ He cries out for mercy! Literally, the word could be translated ‘Mercy seat.’ It makes for a clunky sentence when he says ‘God, be mercy seated to me, a sinner.’ MERCY SEAT: 

This is significant for this reason though. In the OT, they had the Ark of the Covenant, which was a box that had inside of the the 10 commandments that God gave to Moses. The lid for the box was called to Mercy Seat, where it would have 2 angels facing each other and in between the angels, was where God would meet with Moses. So when God would look down into the Ark of the Covenant, he would see the law broken from his people. So once a year, there would be a day called ‘The Day of Atonement’ where a perfect spotless lamb would be killed and the blood of the lamb would be covered over top the Mercy Seat, so when God looks down, He doesn’t see a broken law but the blood of the lamb covering the sins of the people. 

So do you understand what is being said here? The tax collector is crying out to God and asking him ‘God, would the blood of a spotless lamb cover my sins, so that I might be forgiven and your wrath be removed from me?’ And Jesus says 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.” 

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CONCLUSION: It was only a short time after this parable is told that Jesus, the lamb of God goes to the cross and sheds his blood for the sins of His people and removes the wrath of God that is rightly deserved for you and me. Here’s some good news. If you and me renounce all self-righteousness that we have before God, acknowledge our sin and put our trust in Christ alone, the very instant we do that, all that belongs to Jesus, is ours, and for the rest of our days he has us covered. That I’m declared justified not by any man but by the righteous judge, God himself, not just for today or for tomorrow, but for an eternity. This is good news! 

Are you justified this morning? The sad truth of this story is that although the tax collector went to his home justified, it could be said of the Pharisee that he went to his home self- satisfied. He didn’t see a need for his sins to be taken care of. Before you leave church this morning, search and see if you’re justified or not, because you and I will leave here and the enemy, Satan will tempt us. He will whisper to us that the next time we sin, we won’t be forgiven, and that we need to earn our righteousness like the pharisee did. The apostle Paul comforts us though with reminding us Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.’ (Rom. 8:33)