Jesus Christ is in the midst of teachers. It is a clerical convention of the highest degree. Around him are the most educated and esteemed ministers and practitioners of the Law. Some are interested in learning information from him; he is a fascinating communicator. However, few are interested applying the information he teaches, and most are interested in finding technicalities and errors in his lectures.
The subject at hand is worship – specifically prayer. In his previous address, Jesus has expressed the parable regarding the persistent widow. From her example, men and women learn how they ought always to worship and pray. Believers ought to come to God with bold confidence. Persistent prayer is desired and honored by the Heavenly Father.
Jesus then transitions to discuss how one ought not worship and pray. To the Pharisees, “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and who treated others with contempt,” he tells this parable:
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 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!’ 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 Arrogant Worshiper
In Jesus’ parable, the first man one sees is a Pharisee. Rightly, he is one who commits himself to holiness, gains and guards a holy reputation, keeps himself from visible sins, fasts twice each week, gives a tithe of his income, comes regularly to the house of prayer to worship, and offers prayer to the one, true God. Sadly, this Pharisee is also one who converses with God about his holiness; trusts in his own righteousness, and treats others with contempt while he boldly exalts himself.
The Humble Worshiper
A second character emerges, and quite a character he is. Sadly, like the Pharisees, this man also treats others with contempt while boldly exalting himself. It is his business to harm his neighbor. He is one who makes his living defrauding his Jewish brothers, and consequently, he has gained a reputation as a vile man. This tax collector is an open and notorious sinner along with other extortionists and adulterers. Instead of tithing, he has committed himself to rampant materialism.
Interestingly, he too has come to God’s house of prayer to worship, and he too offers forth prayers to the one, true God. However, the content of his prayer is different. The tax collecting sinner converses with God about his sinful debauchery; he pleads for mercy. This worshiper is one who humbles himself.
How did these men leave the presence of God? Though they were both contemptible towards their neighbors – one inwardly and the other outwardly, and though they were both offensive before God, and though they were both found worshiping in the same location, one went home affected by grace and justified. The other went home with even more guilt than he began the day with. It would have been better for him not to have attended temple that day.
Friends, be instructed by the Word of God. Perhaps God will use this devotional to assist in humbling you.
Friends, Christ would have us come before his throne with our eyes off our brothers. We are not to come and compare. Let us quit looking at your spouse. Let us cease judging our children. Let us forgo comparisons with our neighbors and focus less on church discipline. We have work today; there are telephone poles in our eyes.
Instead, Christ would have us come to worship with our eyes on his Law. Let us read God’s Word and dampen not his commandments. We are to see all that he decrees and understand the full extent of his holy desires and demands.
Christ would then have us come to worship with our eyes on our affections, thoughts, words, and deeds. As we view ourselves in the light of God’s Law, he would have us bend our knees, confess our many transgressions, and plead for mercy. Let us acknowledge our sin. Let our voice be heard yelling, “God have mercy on me a sinner.”
Christ would then have us look to him and his Gospel. He would have us be washed by his blood and clothed by his merit. He would have our troubled conscience renewed by his Spirit. Let us remind ourselves of the fantastic love of God for us. Let us humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift us up.
Right now, grace awaits. Right now, God is listening. Please, let us not waste our time by coming into God’s presence gleefully exuberant about our own righteousness. Let us be wise. Let us be humble. Let us be penitent. Leave us lead with joy and peace.