“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” vs. 1
There was a guy who was not really a very honorable type of guy. He had committed adultery multiple times, abused alcohol, used language a sailor would be proud of , and tended to tell little white lies to make his status in life a little better. One day, he decided it would be good for his business if he went down to the church his wife attended and joined it. Even though he had never been a member of a church or really attended church, he thought this was a great idea.
He went down to place membership, sat through the class, said a bunch of the right things, he even stood up and gave a public testimony to the church that there was no sin in his life, and that he had grown up in the church. They were impressed and quickly accepted him as a member.
When he went home he told his wife what he had done, and his wife thinking she would love to have him in church with her; she was a very godly lady, Not quite, she exploded. She called him a hypocrite and demanded that he go back to the church the next week and confess what he really was. Well, God used his wife to really break him, and he took it to heart. He realized the error of his ways and thought confession and a new start would be the right first step.
The next Sunday he went back to the church, walked down to the front again, and this time confessed to the church all of his sins. He told them he was dishonest, an alcoholic, an adulterer, and that he was sorry. They immediately revoked his membership on the spot. He walked out of the church that day really confused and muttered to himself: “These church folks are really strange. I told a lie and they took me in; and when I told the truth they kicked me out!
Read Passage – Luke 18:9-14
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “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.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
In Jesus’ time, the Pharisee’s were the religious leaders of their day. They were the synagogue leaders. All Pharisees were super-religious men who were extremely careful about obeying the Torah, which is basically the first five books of the Old Testament. They also followed the Mishnah, which explained how to obey the Torah. There might be several chapters in the Misnah devoted to one single verse in the Torah. In addition, they followed the Talmud, which was a commentary on the Mishnah. These guys lived by the book!
O.T. (Torah) Mishnah Talmud
Remember, most of these guys probably started with good intentions and wanting to do the right thing. The law gave them power and that felt good, and let’s face it, it worked for them. It ‘s fun to be in charge and to have some control. And they liked looking the part. It worked for them. It’s like when you get a job that you get to where a uniform, it’s empowering and fun and it gives you some pride.
Ex. Getting a job as a security guard
However, there is a tax collector in the story too. He was considered the scum of the earth, the very bottom of the religious food chain in Israel. He would have been a Jew who was hired by the Romans to collect money for them. He would have been a guy they grew up with, played with, interacted with and then all the sudden, he switches teams. He’s hired by the Romans and they pay him minimum wage, but, whatever he could collect over that, he could keep. So if you owe the Romans 15 denari, he would make you pay 30 and keep the other 15 for himself. He was in many ways ripping-off his own people., Using them for his own gain.
So Jesus makes a statement in verse 9 that tells us what this story is all about:
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else…” vs. 9
Now at first this appears to be directed at the Pharisee’s, and it is meant for them but it is also meant for the tax collectors as well. It’s meant for anyone who might be too confident, too prideful, too stuck on their own abilities and not have a healthy perspective of who they really are. It meant for any of us who might be focused on our deeds and our status that we put ourselves above others. When we do that, we foster an “us vs. them” mentality. We get to the place of thinking that our actions justify our worth and our importance and we transfer that to others thinking we are better because of our actions. This kind of thinking only divides.
What Does God Want Me To Be?
So you might be asking: “What does God want me to be?” Funny you should ask. This story leads us to an understanding of how God wants us to be. There are three things in this story that God is pointing out to us.
- A Seeker of God
The first is that he wants us to seek Him; seek God. Notice an interesting line in this story in vs. 10:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” vs. 10
Don’t miss that both men went to the temple to pray. So what is the difference? It was the reason or motivation behind their action. Think about it, the Pharisee went to the Temple to build himself up, to strut his stuff, to fulfill an obligation or check it off his list for the week, and to feel good about himself. He was his motivation.
The tax collector went to the temple to submit himself to God. Notice the passage tells us he stood at a distance, he wouldn’t even look up, and he beat his chest and repented to God. He was there for God.
Question: Why are you here today? Did you come to satisfy someone else? Because you had to? Because you have always gone to church and it’s just what you do? Maybe you are like the guy in our opening story, you came becaue it might get you some business. Listen to the words of David from Psalm 14:2:
“The LORD looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.” Psalms 14:2
God is a God of relationship. He wants to be with you, he wants to love on you, he wants to grow closer to you and he wants us to have that same attitude.
Ex. You invite one of your friends over for dinner but they don’t really want to go. They go because their spouse made them go, and you know it. You can feel it. How do you feel? Now put that with God. He’s invited you to rest, to worship, to be with him. He loves it when we come to be with Him. That’s relationship.
- A Lover of People
A second thing God wants us to pick up from this story is that we are to be a lover of people because He is a lover of people. He uses a negative example for us to learn this. Verse 11:
“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. vs. 11
Think about his; Who did God want there that day? The answer: both. He wanted both people there with the right motivation because God loves people. But the Pharisee couldn’t get past himself. But here is what we can glean from this. God created all of us. You are God’s special creation. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. He loves you. His plan for us is to love others they way He loves us. We are the ones who look at the outward. We look at clothes, we look at features, we look at weight, we look at all these things that are out here (point) and God is looking in here. When we look here (point to heart) we are taking on a Godly outlook. Listen to 1 John 4::21 from The Message:
“Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.” 1 John 4:21
Exercise: Tell someone they are loved
Challenge: To love. We are living in a really difficult time. The elections are coming up. I almost hate watching TV because of all the negative ads. It seems that we no longert have commercial that help us understand a candidates values and stances, we only have commercial that cut the other down and use the worst looking picture of the opposite candidate they can find,
Ex. Did you know…God loves Obama and God love Romney. It’s true! God loves Biden and God loves Ryan! Really! I’m not saying that one is better than the other I am saying that God wants both to have a relationship with Him and unfortunately all we get from most of our candidates is negativity and slander.
- Humble In Heart
Finally, God is wants us to have a humble heart. Notice again the positive example God gives us in verse 13:
“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.’” vs. 13
Really he shouldn’t be a good example, I mean, he sided with the enemy. He’s a thief, a cheat, a traitor, etc. But his motivation is right and he wants to really get closer to God.
He is humble. Try this explanation for a moment. Humility is no putting yourself down, it’s lifting others up. Do you know what it says when you look up humility in the dictionary? It says: the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people. See, it is not saying put yourself down, it’s saying just don’t elevate yourself above others.
We all make mistakes, we all sin, we all have a tough side to love. But God is a God of forgiveness and he calls us to remember that because He has forgiven us and we are called to forgive and keep the4 proper perspective of who we are with a humility because of the love He shows us. Listen to David’s words from Psalm 149:
For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory. Ps, 149:4
If you think you might struggle with this, guess what, we all do. But notice that David says that we can have victory in this area in God.
The great news is God gives us the end result of following His plan. It comes in verse 14:
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.” vs. 14
God justifies us and accepts us as His children. He continues to look at our heart and not at our actions and then just lives us all the more. Let me confirm this with one more verse. Jesus asks us to follow Him, to be like Him. There is a verse that gives us hope that we can do this. It comes in Matt. 11:29:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matt. 11:29
Jesus says, he is a seeker of God, he is a lover of people, he is humble in heart, and when you take on these traits, you find rest, real rest, real peace.