Elon, North Carolina
Today, we are going to a case study of two people, two completely different people. They were polar opposites. One was a good guy, and one was a bad guy. One man looked good before God. The other man just looked good before men. One of these men went to Heaven and one went to Hell.
These two men are found in a parable only recorded in the Gospel of Luke. It is a famous parable. It is a shocking parable. It is an offensive parable. In this parable, the good guy looks bad and the bad guy looks good. Many preachers have entitled this parable, “A Good Man Lost and A Bad Man Saved.”
The shock here is that the repentant sinner went to heaven, while the religious person went to hell. The preacher went to hell. The one who went to Hell looked pretty good and the one who went to heaven looked pretty bad.
The Pharisee had a good reputation. He was religious. He was moral. He followed all of the rules.
The tax collector had a bad reputation. Agents of the IRS today are not seen as bad as they were in the Jesus’s day. In the first century, they were seen like prostitutes, child molesters or drug dealers.
Rome occupied Israel and the taxes went to Rome. Tax collectors in Jesus’ day worked for Rome. They worked for the enemy. They were considered traitors to their own country.
In addition to that, they were extremely wealthy. They had a reputation for being dishonest and corrupt. They ripped people off. Nobody liked them.
The man who looks good on the outside and feels good about himself went to Hell. The man who looked bad on the outside and felt terrible about himself went to Heaven.
This is not just a parable about two men but about two types of men. There are only two kinds of people in Jesus’ day and we still have the same two types of people today. We have whole religions based on each type.
Some religions believe in salvation based on GRACE. Some believe in salvation based on WORKS. Some religions are based on MERCY and some are based on MERIT.
This parable illustrates these two groups. Here you have two people. Both were men. Both were Jews. Both were on their way to Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem). Both prayed. Both prayed to God. In fact, both prayed to the same God.
They both went to church. They both went to a prayer meeting. Both prayed in the same posture and in the same place. They were at the same place at the same time doing the same thing but God only heard one of the prayers.
You can pray frequently and fervently and still not be heard by God. You can be a child of God and not be heard when you pray. This is the second parable of Jesus in the same chapter of Luke on prayer.
Which individual describes us? All of us are either Pharisees or Publicans. Are we more like the Pharisee or more like the tax collector? This Pharisee was not all bad. He had some good points.
Strengths of the Pharisee
1. He was religious
This Pharisee was religious. He went to church. He went to a prayer meeting. There is nothing wrong with being religious but it is not enough to save you. There are people who are very religious but are lost. There are many Muslims who pray five times a day. They are very religious and very devout, just like this Pharisee.
Religion does not save anyone. When Paul visited the idol worshipers in Athens, Greece, he said that they were very religious (Acts 17:16, 22) but their religion did not save them. Later on, he told the same group of people that the day of judgment was coming and they needed to repent (Acts 17:30-31).
2. He was moral
The Pharisee was moral. He was not a bank robber. He did not cheat on his taxes. He didn’t run around on his wife. He kept his marriage vows. He was a law-abiding citizen and was well-respected in the community. He was very moral outwardly (Matthew 23:25-28). It is good to be moral but good works do not save anyone (Galatians 2:16).
3. He was zealous
This Pharisee was zealous. He went over and above what other Christians do. He was an overachiever. This Pharisee did not just fast; he fasted two days a week (Monday and Thursday). The Mosaic Law only required him to fast one day a year on the Day of Atonement.
That wasn’t enough for him. He went beyond what was required. He fasted over a hundred more days a year. Most Christians pray but not too many of them fast today. Most of us eat too much.
This Pharisee did not just pray and fast but he tithed. He gave up his income for God. He gave up food for God and he was religious. Many Christians today do not do that.
This Pharisee tithed MORE than was required. The Law only required you to tithe corn, wine, oil and cattle (Deuteronomy 14:22-23). The Pharisees didn’t just tithe food, they tithed herbs and spices (cf. Luke 11:42; Matthew 23:23).
You can tithe in church and still be lost. This Pharisee tithed himself straight to Hell. The lesson, once again, is that good works do not save, even if you do a lot of them (Romans 10:1-3; Galatians 1:14).
Fatal Flaws of the Pharisee
1. He was proud
Even though this Pharisee was religious, moral and zealous, he was still unsaved. Why? There is one reason – Pride. The Pharisee was not rejected because he was religious or moral or zealous but because he was proud. He told God, “I want to thank you that I am better than other people.”
This Pharisee thought he was morally superior to others. He had a superiority complex. He looked down on other people. He had scorn and contempt for them. This man, not only had a resume, but he also had a measuring stick. He was proud and what came with pride was a critical, judgmental spirit.
Who are some of the people we tend to look down on today? Punk rockers, teenagers with body piercings and Gothic clothing, pregnant teenagers, divorced men and women, homosexuals, prostitutes, gamblers and junkies, immigrants and illegal aliens, those who are of a different religion, people with disabilities, poor, smelly homeless people who don’t exactly belong in our churches.
2. He was self-centered
This Pharisee was full of himself. He had an inflated view of himself. 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.’
Notice how many times you see the pronoun “I” in Luke 18:11-12. In the NIV, he uses the word “I” four times in two verses. He is supposed to be praying but instead of praying, he is boasting. He was self-centered and self-absorbed.
He is very thankful, but he is not thankful for God. He is thankful for himself and what he has done and accomplished. As Erik Raymond, points out, the man had his resume with him. He highlights all of his strengths before God.
There are many modern versions of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector on the Internet. The first one I found many years ago but do not remember the source.
Modern Versions of This Parable
Evangelical Republican – “I thank you that I am not a homosexual, a pro-choicer, an evolutionist, or even like this welfare mom, an irresponsible drain on society. I voted for your servant, George W. Bush. I send my children to a private Christian school and I’m thinking about homeschooling next year. I give money to the American Family Association and Focus on the Family so that values will not disappear in the United States.”
Liberal Christian – “I thank you that I am not like this Fundamentalist: intolerant, judgmental, a bible-literalist, you know, an all-around jerk. I employ the latest in the critical apparatuses and scientific methodologies. I read the Jesus Seminar. I make sure people understand that you will not judge them but are there to help them actualize their reality, whatever reality they choose.”
Pentecostals– “I thank you that I am not like any other person on the entire planet. I don’t watch TV, go to movies or listen to secular music. I don’t go to restaurants that serve alcohol. I certainly do not drink. In fact, I have purged my life of all fun. I believe in holiness.”
Praise and Worship Leader – “I thank you, Lord” (eight times) that I am not singing hymns.” (three times)
Timothy Reynolds gives another modern retelling of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
An elder arrived early for the service and sat down on the other side of the chapel from the young lad he’d never seen before. He looked like one of the gangsters that hung around outside the swimming pool and were nuisance with their skate boards. The elder bowed his head to pray as he always did and said, “Thank you, Lord, that by your grace I have been kept from that sort of life and was a member of the church and had a good job by the time I was this guy’s age.” The young lad didn’t even bow his head or close his eyes, but just said, “God, I don’t even know why I’m here, but I know I need you. Please forgive me for ignoring you.”
Clay Gentry gives several other modern versions of this parable. He applies it to “The Dressed-Down Christian and the Dressed-Up Christian”.
Two Christian men go to church and sat on same pew, one a younger, dressed-downed Christian, the other an older, dressed-up Christian.
As the two men sat on the same pew, the younger, dressed-down Christian prayed, “God I thank you that I’m not other Christ followers, ritualistic, traditionalist, or even like this guy sitting on the other end. I’m authentic; I’m sold out for You; and I don’t put on a facade by dressing-up to worship You.”
But the older, dressed-up Christian quietly prayed to himself, “God, I’m not perfect. I have failed Thee often. In Your steadfastness, have mercy on me a sinner.”
I tell you, this man left the church service justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
He also applies the parable to “The Home-School Mom and the Public-School Mom”.
Two moms take their children to the park to play, one a home-schooling mom, the other, a public-school mom.
As the two women watched their children play together, the home-schooling mom prayed, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other women, selfish, unfit mothers, poor homemakers or even like this woman who ships her kids off to public school. I raise my own kids; I protect them from worldly influences; and I ensure that my kids have a godly, Bible-based education.”
But the public-school mom, humbly prayed, “God thank you for my children. Please help me be a godly mother.”
I tell you, this mom went home justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts herself will be humbled, but the one who humbles herself will be exalted.
He applied the parable to “The Fit, Athletic Woman and the Slightly, Overweight Woman”
Two women go the grocery store to do their weekly shopping, one the fit, athletic type with a normal body mass index and the other who was slightly overweight.
As the two women waited in line to check-out, the fit, athletic woman prayed, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other women, lazy, unhealthy, poor homemakers, or even like this fat woman in front of me. I work out three times a week; I take care of Your temple by carefully watching what I eat; and I only feed my family good healthy foods.”
But the woman who was slightly overweight, humbly prayed, “God, thank You for all that You provide for me and my family. We don’t deserve it.”
I tell you this woman went to her house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts herself will be humbled, but the one who humbles herself will be exalted.
Salvation for the Tax Collector
The tax collector was saved after this prayer. He was saved instantly. He did not have to wait until he died to be saved. Jesus said that he went home “justified before God” (Luke 18:14 NIV). If you want to be saved, you have to do the four things the tax collector did.
1. He admitted he was a sinner
The tax collector does not boast about his good deeds, like the Pharisee did. He knew he was a sinner. He does not deny it. He felt guilty. He felt bad. He felt so bad that he could not even look up to heaven.
In fact, he does not just say, God have mercy to me a sinner”. He says, “God have mercy to me THE sinner”. Paul also said that he was “the chief of sinners” (I Timothy 1:15). The worst sinners are actually the best candidates for salvation. They know they need to be saved. That is why Jesus said what he did in Matthew 21:31.
There are two extremes. Some people are so wicked that they think that they are too bad to be saved. Other people are so moral that they think that they are too good to be saved. If you do not think you are a sinner, you can’t be saved, because you won’t see your need (cf. Mark 2:17).
2. He felt sorry for his sin
The tax collector does not try and excuse himself. He does not try to justify himself and say that, while he is a bad person, he is not as bad as some other people in the world or that while he is a bad person, he cannot help being bad.
He takes full responsibility for his sin. We know he knew he was a sinner from his body language: he beat his chest as an act of contrition, prays from a distance and doesn’t even look up to heaven, because he feels so guilty
3. He confessed his sin to God
The tax collector says the sinner’s prayer and is saved (Romans 10:13). You have to call on the name of the Lord to be saved. He is the only one who can save you. You have to ask Him to save you. The Bible says that “salvation is of the Lord”. This prayer was short, simple and sincere. The words are not magical. You can say the words and not mean them.
4. He prayed for forgiveness
You can admit you are a sinner, feel bad about your sin, even confess it to God but not take this final step. The tax collector prays for mercy. He asked to be forgiven of his sin. He does not ask to get what he deserves but what he does not deserve. If God gave us what we all deserve, we would all be in Hell.