As many of us know, tax collectors were hated by the Jews of Jesus’ day because of their greed and collaboration with the Roman occupiers. They were Jews themselves, but they were essentially helping Rome in its oppression of their own people. So, why is Jesus, the king of the Jews, saying that this man would be justified rather than a teacher of their Gods law?
This Tax collector in this parable represents those with a repentant heart. This man had a mournful heart for the evil he had been perpetrating against God, and against his people. The tax collector could recognize his faults, his flaws, his sin.
Many hear this and say amen, and are thankful God shows such mercy, but those same people have the same tendency to self righteously judge.
It was almost as if the Pharisee wasn’t truly praying. There is specific imagery Jesus paints in the mind when you listen to this parable. The Pharisee physically stood upright, proudly announcing to anyone around him how much better he was than other people. It was like he was standing up proud on all his accomplishments. It was almost as if they were an ever growing platform that rose with each utterance of what he did, or how good he was. He boastfully stood there infront of God and man saying ” look at how impressive I am. God, you should really be proud with how great I came out. I’m so much better than all these other failures, including this lousy guy over here. He’s horrible and I’m glorious”.
If we are like this, we end up looking at God like he’s a debtor. We think god owes us for hard work, like this Pharisee. But what does Jesus say? The tax collector, the person who was hated by his people for his sinful greed, he’s the one who’s justified in the eyes of God.
As Christians it may sound redundant when I say Jesus, he’s our example. The bible describes Jesus as a man of sorrows. When teaching his sermon on the mount he said blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Jesus, though he was equal to God in every way, he took the lowly position of a servant, a servant who was always mourning the sin of this world. But he did not look down on sinners. He prayed for them.
Jesus, like Moses, would rather have the humble position of servant of God then anything else. And when The Israelites sinned, he cried out in prayer for them.
God was ready to destroy the nation of Israel and start a new nation through Moses, yet his response was to cry out for them. He did not say thank you father, you’re making a great choice, I’m willing to follow you. No, he sought the favor of the lord and prayed, asking God, why should your anger burn against your people? Besides God, Moses saw the sin of the people more than anyone else, yet, he had compassion for it, similar to how Jesus always showed compassion for us.
When we forget that Jesus is our ultimate example, and we do often forget this, we get caught up in our works for the kingdom, our morally good deeds, and we turn our faith into dry religion- a checklist that we use to say we’re the good guys. But the reality is, to truly be a Christian, we follow Jesus!
We not only know what he did, but we follow him in living how he lived. Where did Jesus get his direction for life? He famously taught prayer saying, Our father in Heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done…. His direction in life, it came from God.
Many start out strong with Christ but how many remain? I studied with 3 others in my New York church, and they began before me.
I’m the only one who still walks with God, and I don’t take credit for that. He worked his Holy Spirit in my heart and I didn’t resist.
Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. He walked with God until the end..This is why my heart can’t resist. Where else can I go? Only Jesus has the words of life.. But again, every now and then, self righteousness rears its ugly head.
let’s turn to Exodus 32:8
I brought up Moses and the Israelites who were rescued from Egypt earlier, and as I read about them and their rebellion against God, I want to quickly say something about how foolish they were; the idols weren’t even cast together when they left Egypt, but the Holy spirit convicts me quick, and reminds me that when I came to know this peace that comes through the gospel, my idols weren’t the thing that brought it, yet I foolishly still follow them.
I “have been quick to turn away from what” God “commanded and have made an idol cast in the shape of” anything.
Jesus spoke various times about our faith being able to move mountains, and I’ve realized that like the huge buildings in a big city like Atlanta or New York, often the mountains in our lives are man made, blocking the beautiful rays of sunshine. But in our spiritual walk, the rays of sunshine are the Grace of God, his forgiveness, his love.
The person who can’t accept the love of God, they’re the self righteous, the arrogant. They either think they deserve blessings from God because of what they’ve done, or they think they’re better than others, or, they can’t accept his love because they know they’re not good enough, so they think the blood of Jesus can’t change them.
There’s a delicate balance we need to have. Yes, we need to acknowledge that we are sinners, but we can’t self loath, we can’t look at our sin and say we are too far gone for God to love. But, then again, we can’t take our position as saved people of God and use it as a means to put ourselves above others.
Author and Pastor Timothy Keller once said
“The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.”
We think of ourselves less because our hearts are so passionate about Jesus for us not to think about him.
And what is the beauty we see when we gaze on the lord? It is the gospel.
So I pray we can throw all self righteousness away and truly people people who live by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus. Let’s pray.