Pharisee or Publican?

Pharisee or Publican?

Scripture: Luke 18:9-14
Date: 08/16/2014 
A central teaching in the Bible is that those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Christ's Object Lessons (ASI Version) by Ellen White

Christ's Object Lessons (ASI Version) by Ellen White
NOTE: If you have a Bible question for Pastor Doug Batchelor or the Amazing Facts Bible answer team, please submit it by clicking here. Due to staff size, we are unable to answer Bible questions posted in the comments.

Please note: Approved comments do not constitute an endorsement by the ministry of Amazing Facts or Pastor Doug Batchelor. This website allows dissenting comments and beliefs, but our comment sections are not a forum for ongoing debate. Please be civil to one another.


Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

Good morning. Happy Sabbath everybody. Welcome any that are visiting. We are very thankful you're here at Central Church. I just wanted to say a word before I open the Bible with you. Thanks for your prayers for the teenage event that we just completed in Michigan. I don't know if some of you have maybe saw some of the program. Anybody see some of them on Hope or 3ABN? All this last week it's been airing on the Inspiration Channel. And we've just been hearing wonderful things. A lot of young people have made decisions to accept the Lord. Anyway, it was great. We had by the end of the; we’re talking about the MIQ series. It stands for Most Important Questions. It’s Amazing Facts for teens. We uplink with 3ABN in Cedar Lake, Michigan. That went from the eighth of October to the 16th. I know some of you don't know what I'm talking about so I'm filling in the details. And during that time we had 7,000 questions that came in from teenagers on either the Internet or they texted us questions. We had a thousand sites registered, 60 different countries sent us questions. And at the MIQ Facebook page 37,000 young people registered. So we were just very thankful and I just wanted to thank you for your prayers. Now of course those DVDs and the study books we hope will do some good for years to come. So I just wanted to give you a quick report on that. You'll find more at the website if you want to see any of the programs that are listed there.

I'd like to discuss a parable with you from the word of God today that is familiar to most. It only appears one time in the Bible; it's in the book of Luke 18. The sermon today is dealing with the subject of, Am I a Pharisee or a Publican? And you probably already know what chapter we're going to, Luke 18:9. You don't find it in Mark or John. You might find this in the book of Matthew because Matthew was a former publican. But for whatever reason Matthew didn't put it down. But Luke recorded this unique parable. Luke 18:9, I’m going to read it through. I might refer back to it a few times along the way. “And He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and he prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but he beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” And Jesus summarizes the parable by saying in verse 14, “I tell you, this man,” the publican, “went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Now you're probably thinking, “Pastor Doug, we’ve read this parable before and it shouldn’t take us long to get through this. Seems like the lessons are obvious. It tells us who He spoke it to and He summarizes what the moral is that the end. So we can nod, close our bibles and say, ‘That was a good story.’ But there's really a lot more here than you might suspect. Because in this parable you’ve got two groups represented. One is saved, one is lost. We need to know where we fit because, obviously, someone in the story got things backwards. The publicans were the most religious of the believers in God back in the time of Christ. And so when Jesus told the story it was considered an outrageous illustration that was not politically correct by any means, to say that the publican would be saved and the Pharisee would be lost. Now, I, like some, have heard this story before and thought, “Well, the truth is just right there on the surface. I’m going to appreciate that and move right along.” And then it occurred to me one day, “Well, Doug, don't go so fast. You might be in that story somewhere and it may not be where you think.” This parable is principally speaking to those that are in the church. Because you can see quickly, they both go to church.

Now there are several things that they have in common that we can appreciate. But someone got something backwards. I heard one time about a teenage boy that got a new surfboard for his birthday, and he got a new wetsuit and he didn't know much about surfing, but he took it to the beach first chance he could get. Happened to be a day where the surf was really high. They had a life-guard there with his megaphone and some flags were up because only experienced surfers were out. Well, he grabbed his board and didn't even see the warning flags and he went charging off into the surf and he heard, calling over his shoulder, “You are an unexperienced surfer. Get out of the water.” And he just froze; he was mortified. He turned around and came with his tail between his legs up out of the water and he walked over to the lifeguard and said, “How did you know that I was a novice?” He said, “Well, for starters, your wetsuit’s on backwards.” And he was the last one to know it. And the danger with arrogance is; have you ever tried to tell an arrogant person they’re arrogant? They just can't see it. And the reason they can't see it is because they're arrogant. And so I want you to pray for the Holy Spirit because some of you may think you’re publicans, you might be Pharisees. Some of you might think you're Pharisees and you're really publicans. And some of us probably model a little bit of both of these behaviors. But it's very important for us to study this because one is saved in one is lost. We want to make sure we’re the right one.

So, let's first talk about the things they had in common. There were some good things. And we may refer back to the story a couple of times. First of all, they both believed in God. That's good. It’s sort of obvious that if you want to be in the community you need to start with, do you believe in God? Moses, in that great declaration in Deuteronomy 6:4 said, “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one. The Lord is God. There is one Lord.” James 2:19 reminds us, “You believe there is one God. You do well.” That's good; a starting point. But keep in mind the devils also believe that. So just because you go to church and believe there’s a God doesn't mean that’s all there is to it. I've talked to people about their salvation before and they say, “Oh, don't bother me. I believe in God.” And they think that’s all think there is. Well you must do that, but that’s not all. Yes, we must believe in God. Psalms 14:1, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” There’s an abundance of evidence for that. Isaiah 44:6, “Beside Me there is no God.” We know that God is a necessary component in salvation. Belief in Him.

We also read on and find out they did something else that was good. They both went to church. Well, that's a good starting point. We need to go to church. I have often said if you don't have enough faith to get you to church once a week, you probably don't have enough to get you to heaven. And while I'm on this point, sometimes people say, “Well, I'm not going to church because there's hypocrites or publicans there.” Well that shouldn't keep you. There's always room for one more. Don't stay away from church because somebody at the church has hurt your feelings. You're not going because of people. You're going because of God. And I don't want to rush past this point. I run into people all the time and they say, “Yes, I still believe the message. But I don't go to church anymore because, you know, they're hypocrites or it's boring.” A lot of the teenagers in our meetings last week, they said, “What do we; it's so boring.” Do we go to church to be entertained or to worship God? And if your worship of God is not interesting, it isn't God's fault; you might look at yourself.

Another thing about going to church, and I want to make sure this doesn’t transition into a sermon about why you need to go to church, but a good preacher can’t miss this commercial opportunity. In spite of the problems in the church in the days of Jesus, in the days of Jesus there had a lot of Pharisees in the church. There were a lot of hypocrites and the church. Indeed, the people who are going to condemn the Son of God to death went to church. Jesus never failed to be seen in the temple, in the synagogue. He was in church. He prayed in church. He taught in church. He worshiped in church. And Christ is an example for us. So whatever excuse you might come up with for not going to church, you want to follow Christ, you need to at least, as a bare minimum, do what the publican and the Pharisees did; they did go to church.

Something else we notice they have in common; they prayed. Believed in God, they went to church and they both prayed. Matter of fact, if you read in Luke 18, the beginning of this same chapter, Jesus says, He told the parable saying that men, “always ought to pray and not lose heart.” Always ought to pray. So, it's important to come to church; important to pray. By the way, the Pharisee went to church because Solomon had said that they were to come and to pray towards this place. The publican went to church because it was to be called a house of prayer for all people. And they both went and they prayed. Now the Pharisee, he went up to the front. By the way, you could come to a Jewish church or temple or synagogue, it wasn't open once a week. They had special services on the Sabbath, but they could come through the week and pray. Jesus taught daily in the temple.

I remember going visiting some churches in Italy years ago. I was kind of an agnostic back then. I was with a tour group and we went to see the beautiful stained glass in this one church and there was a sign on the door that said that they were only open once a week. And our tour guide, this was a new change and he was kind of miffed he says, “I guess God is not available.” He was being very sarcastic about it. And I never forgot that. Really, it was to be a place where the doors were open. You’ve probably been there in cities like this were all week long they keep the doors of the church opened. And people can go in there any time. You can go in there and find people praying. It was like that in the synagogues back in the time of Christ. So sometime during the middle of the week they wandered into church during the time of prayer and there’s only two of them there that day. So they both prayed.

Now, I ought to take a moment and explain some of the distinctions between these two individuals. You’ve got the Pharisee and you’ve got a Publican. Start with the Pharisee. Who were the Pharisees? The word Pharisee as near as we can tell, it comes from the word in Hebrew meaning “the separated ones.” Now even though in the story it seems like the Pharisee is the most arrogant man in the world that was not typical of all of them. The Pharisees were a conservative element of believers that were very zealous about the scriptures, the law of God and the purity of the worship of Jehovah. And part of the reason for that is, back in the times before Jesus, when the Jewish nation had been conquered by the Babylonians, one of the things they had been told by the prophets is, “You were overcome because of your unfaithfulness to God.” So when they came back from the Babylonian captivity, in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, this sect developed because the Persian influence was coming in. And then the Greek influence was coming in. Then the Roman influence was coming in. And they said, “We are never going to allow ourselves to be influenced by the pagans around us. We’ve got too much history in the Bible of what happens. When we get into idolatry, God withdraws His protection.”

So there was this group who followed the thinking of Ezra and Nehemiah that were very zealous for loyalty to God. And it was a good thing. They were good people. Now you could be a scribe and be a Pharisee. You could be a priest and be a Pharisee. Of course, many of the priests in the time of Christ were Sadducees. Sort of a lot of nepotism in it back then. You could be a lawyer. Christ talks about the scribes, the lawyers, the Pharisees. You could be a lawyer and still be a Pharisee. It’s like you can be a lawyer and be a democrat. You can be a lawyer and be a republican. So the Pharisee was a mindset of thinking that was an umbrella of this conservative, spiritual, zealous group. They even had a view factions of the Pharisees, one were the Essenes. Have you heard about the Essenes? They're the ones who wrote what we discovered in 1948 as the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were a very devout group of Pharisees. Some of the Pharisees would try to influence the Romans. The Essenes said they’re hopeless and kind of went off by themselves. And they got all out of politics. The Pharisees did involve themselves in politics. Part of the Sanhedrin--great political body in Israel--were Pharisees. Now they were very devoted and rigorous in their prayers. Very rigorous in their washing. They condemn the Jesus once because the disciples did not go through the ceremonial hand washing and Christ said it's not what goes in your mouth that defiles you but what comes out. And Jesus said, “ you are so zealous about cleaning the out side of the cup, Pharisees, but you’re not cleaning the inside.” And he wasn't condemning them for being the fastudious and clean, He said it make sure you clean the a right part. And it was the Pharisees.

Remember, He went to the house of Simon, who had been a leper that was healed, she was a Pharisee. But he was looking down at Mary , “why if this man was a prophet he would'nt let this unclean woman with this sordid reputation touch him.”

That was the Pharisees mindset, “don't let the Samaritans touch you. Don't let the shadow of a Samaritan get on you.” And so they were separating themselves from anything that could defile them and make them unholy. Very zealous of the law. Very zealous for the worship of God. Very zealous for faithfulness in the little things. What did Christ say to the Pharisees? “ You pay tithe for your herb gardens. Your mint, and your anis and your cummin: but you will omit the weightier matters of the law—Justice, Mercy, Love"

And so, there is this ongoing battle where Christ is telling the Pharisees, “I'm thankful for your devotion but your priorities are messed up.” And in this parable this Pharisees was exhibit “A” of a self-righteous, hypocritical Pharisee who was not thinking about loving his fellow man or the inward change. He was preoccupied with external religion. The Pharisees were always thinking about a form of godliness and not having the power and on the inside. So here you’ve got the Pharisees.

Oh, A little more history. They began to exist at about 144 years, this group, before Christ and they had separated themselves. They wanted to preserve the worship of God. And you can find out more about them in the writings of Josephus. They always wanted to make sure they were right. Who was it that said, Jimmy Hoffa, you remember the union boss that disappeared, the leader of the Teamsters. He said, “I may have my faults but being wrong is not one of them.” So that was a Pharisee mentality and Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Nothing is so shallow as dogmatism." The Pharisees were also very zealous of their ancestry. Jesus as you clean and you and you wash and paint the tombs of the prophets, but your ancestors are the ones who killed them. Someone else said “some people are so proud of their ancestors you would think they felt responsible for them.”

Now all the Publicans. Let's find out a little more about who were the Publicans? If you've got a Bible translation that is a little bit newer. As a matter of fact even the New King James doesn't use a word Publican very much. It uses the word tax collector. Now in case we have any people here, we are the capitol of California; we might have some tax collectors here today. The Bible says we should love our neighbors and our enemies. So we love everybody. But the tax collectors today are different than the tax collector in Bible times. You could be an upstanding Christian and still be a tax collector. But it’s hard. No, I’m just teasing. Actually, I know, we do have some people that work for the IRS in our church. I’m just giving them a hard time. Back in Christ’s time the tax collectors were considered traitors because they were not collecting taxes for Israel. They were collecting taxes from the Jews for the Romans. And what you could do is you could secure a contract. You probably had to pay something or bribe somebody. You had to know someone in high places. It was kind of like the Mafiosi. And they would go to the Roman authorities and the Romans said, “Look, we don’t speak the language; we don’t know the culture. We don’t want to collect taxes, but we need the tax money. We will subcontract to you, publicans, tax collectors, to collect this much tax from these districts. And once you give us our required due you get to keep the leftovers.” And they would exploit and extort vast sums, not only so they could pay the Romans what they owed, but they’d keep it for themselves. This is how Zaccheus became fabulously wealthy. He was a publican. He was a tax collector in Jericho. Great place to have a contract for being a tax collector. But because they were considered traitors, taking God’s money from God’s people and giving it to the pagans, they were hated. And as you look through how the tax collectors were referred to. For instance, even Jesus often lumped the word sinner and tax collector together. They were a pretty bad bunch. They were known for keeping the bars open, for getting involved in pimping and prostitution. It was not a pretty picture. They were the bottom of the spiritual food chain.

Listen to this, Matthew 11:19, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton; a winebibber; a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” Notice the length. They’re tax collectors and sinners. Luke 15:1, “Then all the tax collectors and sinners drew near to hear Him.” Interesting, of all the professions mentioned to be lumped with sinners in general it was the tax collectors. They were sort of Exhibit A of sinners. So when Jesus tells this parable about the two people going to the temple to pray they are diametric opposites. One is the antithesis of the other. Two complete extremes. The Pharisees were considered the most pure, religious, zealous. They were obeying in the minutest detail of the law. Obedient, holy, godly; didn’t want to be defiled, pure.

By the way, not to be too hard on the Pharisees, most of us would vote them into leadership of our church. Because from the people’s perspective, they always looked upon the Pharisees as the ones who were the closest to God. They looked upon the publicans as the most God-forsaken, untouchables that were lost. So when Jesus tells this parable a roar of consternation went through the crowd when they heard His illustration that the publican is saved when the dust settles and the Pharisee is lost. It was a shocking thing to say. You can understand why they killed Jesus in the end, that He would say something like this.

One more, Matthew 18:17, when someone was disfellowshipped from the church because of unfaithfulness. These are the words of Jesus. “But if he neglects to hear the church, let him be to thee like a heathen man and a tax collector.” Not only were the publicans compared to just sinners in general, they were compared to anything other than a Jew, a heathen, a pagan. But you know what? They both went to pray to the same God, in the same place, and they both went to pray.

So we’re going to look at some of the qualities of their prayer now that distinguish them. First we’ll take the prayer of the Pharisee. By the way, as we go through this story, friends, I hope that you will have the courage. I’m going to present to you two pictures. To examine those two pictures and see if you’ve got any genes that resemble either publican or Pharisee. You might find you’re related to both, but I’ll do it; you do it. But I think we need to ask ourselves sometimes; do we fall into one of these categories?

As you look at the prayer of the publican, and you might want to return to Luke and just read that through one more time. Luke 18:11, “The Pharisee stood.” He wants to be seen praying. “And he prayed thus with himself.” Sounds strange, “prayed with himself.” I don’t know if that means prayed within himself or he’s talking to himself. “God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.” Meaning, in his prayer he must have glanced over his shoulder and seen in the back of the church. Notice, it says, “The publican stood afar off.” This publican’s in the back and he won’t so much as lift up his eyes. His head is down. The Pharisee is standing, probably, arms stretched out. His head is up. Just very opposite posture. He’s in the front. Now I don’t want to make anyone sitting up front feel bad today. Probably we have all the publicans in the back today. There they are. Just kidding.

We notice that it says that the Pharisee was conscious of his giving. They were giving visually. They liked to have people know that they were giving. They gave to be seen. Christ began His ministry by saying, “The hypocrites give to be seen of men. That’s all the reward they get.” Matthew 23:6, “They love the best places in the feasts, the best seats in the synagogue.” Something about a Pharisee, position is important to them. Now I know we have no Pharisees here today, but I have seen some churches, when they go through nominating committee procedure, if somebody gets their position or if they are voted out of position, little Phariseeism starts to bubble over. “That’s my position! How dare you give it to somebody else.” I’m sorry to say, I’ve seen people transfer out of a church to another church because the church felt that someone else ought to use their gifts and fulfill this position. And they were so indignant, the thought that someone else would get that position. Is that the spirit of humility or the spirit of the Pharisee? And you might think the sect of Pharisees died out back in Christ’s day. That’s not true. They’re very much alive today. This parable is not just for the time of Christ.

By the way, it’s really important that we study this carefully because the Lord can’t heal you of Phariseeism unless you recognize it first. It is the hardest condition to reach because it feels no need. It doesn’t acknowledge that it has any problems. Do you see anything in the Pharisee’s prayer where he says, “Lord, I’ve got this problem.” He doesn’t list any problem that he’s got. He is blind to his problems. All he sees is his virtues. When it comes to singing our own praises we usually sing a little higher than normal, don’t we? Also, when we’re singing the praises of our children. That usually works there as well.

Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you, unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” When did Jesus say that? “Pastor Doug, I thought that Jesus had consigned all the Pharisees to be lost.” No, they had a lot of righteousness. So when Jesus said, “Your righteousness must exceed their righteousness,” He’s talking about a higher quality of righteousness. Their righteousness was before men. Our righteousness must be before God. They were always comparing themselves with what people saw. And then again, Matthew 6:1, “Take heed that you do your charitable deeds not before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward of your Father, which is in heaven. Therefore, when you do your alms.” When you give an offering or give a donation, “do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogue and in the street, that they might have glory of men.” If you’re going to give something to somebody you don’t want everybody to know about it. Then you have to ask, “Why am I doing it? So people can think that I’m generous and holy? Or because I really care about the need and the person?” So their giving was public. They pray to be seen. The Pharisee went to the temple because it was a public place.

Jesus said, Matthew 6:5, “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing.” Now is there anything wrong if you stand and pray? For personal prayer I believe kneeling is the appropriate posture to humble yourself before God. It’s appropriate also in church to have a benediction where we close and stand. Solomon did that in the Bible. But to make a spectacle of your prayer is the idea. Are you wanting everyone to see you pray? Not only sometimes would they stand so people could see them praying, the content of their prayer was a spectacle.

You’ve probably seen it before. I’ve done it. Where you pray and because you’re praying in a group you become so conscious of those in the group who are listening to your prayer that you’re praying for the benefit of what they’re going to hear as opposed to really talking from your heart to God. And we’re real good doing this with our kids. We’re kneeling down and we’re praying, “Dear Lord, please help Johnny get good grades and do his homework.” And Johnny’s there kneeling with you, right? “And help him clean his room.” Are you praying or are you preaching in your prayer? We’ve all done that. You try and make little innuendos and messages in your prayer. That’s standing in your prayer. That’s the prayer of the Pharisee, “Lord, I thank thee that I am not as other men.”

Another sign that you could have some Pharisee DNA is if you are chatting with other believers and you say, “Have you heard what so and so did? Why, she went to lunch with her business associate, just she and him alone, and she’s married.” Could be what you’re really saying is, “Lord, I thank you I’m not as other men.” Or you might be talking to someone else and say, “Have you seen what that fellow wears to church? That’s not at all respectful. Unlike my modest attire.” And what the Lord hears is, “Lord, I thank thee I am not as other men.” Do I need to give any more cases or you get the idea? I always say you should give at least three examples. I can’t think of a third one. I could talk about potluck. Do we sometimes gossip about each other? You know what the most famous thing, is when we gossip and disguise it as a prayer request. This happens all the time. Someone is telling somebody else, they say, “Well, I’m not gossiping, but I just wanted to mention this so we can pray about it. Ever seen that one done before? And really they didn’t need to know and you can pray by yourself, but in your heart it could be, “Lord, I thank thee I am not as other men.” What spirit is that? Which spirit is it that makes it to the kingdom? So they pray to be seen.

Now let’s look more specifically at the Pharisee’s prayer. In the prayer you notice something. He considers himself morally superior to others. Isn’t that right? He despises those with a lower spiritual caliber. He sneers over his shoulder and say, “I’m thankful I’m not like that extortioner back there. I thank you I’m not like other men. I’m better than other men.” There’s something unhealthy about that. He condemns his neighbor. What does Jesus say about condemning others? Can we be judging ourselves when we do that? We can’t look on people’s hearts. He’s exalting his own religious practices at the expense of his neighbor. He trusts in his own good deeds to make him acceptable to God. Do you ever hear him pleading the merits of Christ, or is he extolling his virtues? There are a lot of good people that do this.

Have you ever read the prayer of Hezekiah in the Bible? When God said through the prophet, Hezekiah, “Get your will finished up. Get your house in order. You’re going to die.” And Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and he began to cry. Have you ever read what he cried when he prayed? “Lord, I have served you faithfully. Haven’t you been reading the papers? I got rid of all the paganism in the kingdom. I got rid of all the idols. I got rid of all of the sodomites. I’ve tried to be faithful. I’ve exalted you. I’ve prayed to you. I’ve trusted in you. How could you do this to me?” And you know, God did hear his prayer. Later He had to show Hezekiah what was in his heart when he began to boast about; he was boasting to the Babylonian ambassadors about everything in his house, wasn’t he? Hezekiah was a good king. It says he walked in the commandments of the Lord. But he had the Pharisee mentality. “Haven’t you heard? Lord, you owe me.” That’s the idea in the Pharisee’s prayer, “Lord, you owe me. I’m good.”

It goes on to say that he failed to sense his sin and his need for God. God owed him. “He measured himself with others rather than with God. He lacks a humble or a contrite, repentant spirit.” And notice something else about the Pharisee’s prayer. He feels the need of God so little there is not a single request in his prayer. He is so full of himself he doesn’t even ask for anything. His thanks is not thanking God for being God. His thanks is for himself. “I thank thee I.” And you notice in the prayer, five times he says, “I, I, I, I, I.” Now most people when we’re selfish in our prayers it’s because we’re saying, “Lord, please do this for me,” and, “please do that for me. Please give me this. Please take care of that problem, this problem.” We all do that. It’s ok. It’s ok to pray about your needs. The Pharisee doesn’t even present one of those selfish prayers. He is so self-righteous he doesn’t need anything. He’s basically just basking in his righteousness. Which is the one thing that’s going to most disqualify him to be saved. You hear that? Trusting in our own righteousness is what will disqualify us according to the parable.

Proverbs 11:2, Solomon said, “When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom.” C.S. Lewis said, “When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less.” Have you ever read the Lord’s Prayer? How many times in the Lord’s Prayer do you find the word I? The Pharisee’s prayer is full of I. He had I problems. It is a self-centered salvation. He thanks God not for all that he has, but he thanks God for all that he is. It’s a brilliant parable. The way that Jesus worded it, it’s just really brilliant because it is the epitome of the self-centered prayer. The publican and the Pharisee both go to the temple to worship God, but really one is worshipping himself. He prays with himself. And he despises the one who is depending on God’s mercy.

You know how the Bible begins? Two brothers bring their offerings to God, worshipping the same God. They both pray, but Cain does it his own way. It’s an offering of his works, the fruit from his vegetable garden. Abel brings a sacrifice. He’s claiming the blood to cover his sin. The one who is worshipping himself, Cain, despises and kills his brother. That’s going to be repeating itself in the last days. Ultimately, it’s the Pharisees in the last days that get the mark of the beast. It’s all about worshipping themselves. Because who’s behind the beast? Easy question. Ultimately, who’s behind the beast? The devil. How did the devil get started on his road to destruction? Wasn’t it self-worship? So everybody involved in the devil’s church models the devil. It’s all self-worship. Trusting in their own ability.

I had to laugh, as I was preparing for this sermon I ran across this old song. Someone here may still remember Mack Davis, the country singer from Lubbock, Texas. He’s still alive today. He wrote a song once, “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror because I get better looking each day. To know me is to love me. I must be one really great man. O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, but I’m doing the best I can.” That goes back a ways. That’s the Pharisee. That’s his prayer.

He’s famous for his fasting. You notice he begins to tell the Lord about his goodness and one of the things that he cites is, “I fast.” It was only required by the Jews to fast once a year at one of the feasts, during the Passover [note, Day of Atonement is in the fall festival season, not Passover]. He says, “I fast twice a week.” That day he’s praying could have been one of those days. Jesus talked about that, Matthew 6:16. “Moreover, when you fast don’t be like the hypocrites with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they might appear to men to be fasting.” I suppose they took their belts and they cinched them up a notch or two so they’d look a little hungrier than they were. And they’d pucker their faces so they’d look a little gaunter than they really were. And they’d not do their hair, but try and look a little disheveled. And folks would say, “What’s up?” “Oh, I’m fasting.” And you go, “Wow, you’ve got to respect that.” I went out to dinner with somebody one time and they didn’t order anything. I said, “Maybe not Chinese? You want to do Italian?” They said, “No, I’m fasting.” “Why didn’t you tell me that? We didn’t have to meet over lunch.” I felt really dumb. “So let’s talk during lunch.” And so they meet with me and they, “I’m fasting.” I felt really bad. I felt like a glutton just eating a normal meal because they’re just watching me eat, looking hungry.

Matthew 9:14, you remember the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and they said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often?” Anything wrong with fasting? We ought to do more of it. Nothing wrong with that. John the Baptist’s disciples fasted. Pharisees fasted. “But your disciples don’t fast. Jesus said, "They will when I’m gone. The bridegroom’s with them. After the bridegroom is gone then they’ll fast.” So there’s nothing wrong with fasting. Nothing wrong with praying. And there’s nothing wrong with giving. You know what’s wrong? Is the Pharisee, he lived based on making comparisons horizontally. When he wanted to find out what the standard was, he looked around and he compared himself to other men.

How does God feel about our comparing ourselves among ourselves? Paul addresses this, II Corinthians 10:12, “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves, with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” You will always find somebody else out there that you can point to and say, “But I’m better than they are.” And keep in mind, the great danger among Christians when we have the horizontal mindset.

Notice the big difference between the publican and the Pharisee. The publican, he is comparing himself to God and he says, “Lord, have mercy on me.” It’s like Isaiah, when he was brought into the presence of God he said, “Woe is me.” The Pharisee, he said, “Well, compared to these guys I’m pretty good.” And I think we all kind of fall into that trap a little bit. Something about, we grapple for self-esteem. Maybe it’s an insecurity, that we find it easier to criticize others around us because we feel guilty about our failures. It’s like a survival mechanism. We recite to the Lord what virtues we do have and it makes us feel a little better and we point out the failures of others around us.

What happens is when the church does that the standard, kind of like the water washing out of a swimming pool, it just sloshes back and forth and gets lower every time. And when we compare ourselves with each other, my standards will little by little be dropping because I’ll always find someone lower I can compare to. Yours will be dropping because you’ll be comparing yourself to me. And it just keeps going down. The only way to turn that trend around is who should we compare ourselves to? The only way we’re going to pull ourselves up, by grace, to be a different kind of people is by keeping Jesus before us as our example. The Pharisee was looking horizontally. Those that compare themselves among themselves and by themselves are not wise.

You notice, “I thank you I’m not like other men.” This Pharisee back here, “I’m better than he is.” When we gossip about one another in the church, publican or Pharisee? Pharisee. That’s the mentality that can’t make it into the kingdom. The Pharisee is horizontal. The publican is vertical. If you want to be in the kingdom and become like Christ you need to live by the vertical. You can’t be saying, “What is my standard?” and living by the horizontal. Someone once said, it was Billy Graham, I think, “The smallest package in the world is somebody wrapped up in themself.”

What is the right prayer? Let’s finish on that note. Luke 18:13, in English it’s seven words. You notice how much longer the Pharisee’s prayer is than the publican’s prayer? The best prayers in the Bible are short and to the point. Peter’s prayer, “Lord, save me!” when he was drowning. Great prayer. It worked. Three words. In Greek this prayer is four words. And in English, of course, it ends up being seven just because we break it up in more places. “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” In Greek it starts with Theos and ends with “me a sinner” is like one thing. Four words in his prayer. Now I am not against longer prayers. Personal prayer is the one that should be longer. Jesus condemned the Pharisees that loved to stand and pray long prayers to be heard of men.

But Christ said, “I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” He doesn’t say, “Believe it or not, the publican’s saved along with the Pharisee.” No, He contrasts them. He says, “Rather than the other. Only one went home forgiven.” Only one went home just in the sight of God. It was the one who trusted in God’s mercy. He came before God looking for grace. He was not pleading his value based on his works.

Now would the publican have been different after he was forgiven? Let’s hope so. The essence of his prayer, Psalm 51:7. What’s the essence of the publican’s prayer? “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, these O God, you will not despise.” He came before the Lord broken hearted. Couldn’t even find the words. The Holy Spirit had to make his prayer eloquent. It just said, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” He confessed. He repented. He believed. He was justified. He went through the steps in that prayer. He humbled himself. He stood in the back. He said, “I’m not worthy.” Stayed in the back. Now I’m not; please, don’t everybody think we’re supposed to fight for the back seats. You already do that. We have such a hard time Sabbath School; I can’t figure it out. Every week we beg people, “Please sit up front.” We won’t call you a Pharisee. Come up front. Just don’t stand and you’ll be ok.

James 4:10, “Humble yourself before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” You know what’s wonderful about this story; you might wonder, can God reach a person that seems utterly hopeless? Can He reach a publican and a harlot? And you’ve got the story in the Bible about how God called. It’s interesting; He called Zacchaeus from a tree. Jesus came to Zacchaeus and looked up. But when He called Paul, Paul was on the ground, a Pharisee. And He had to lift Paul up as he’d been knocked down by God’s glory. And He brought Zacchaeus down. And the Lord was able to reach both the publican; Matthew was publican. Do know who took care of Jesus when he was taken off the cross? Two Pharisees, Nicodemus, John 3:16. Christ was speaking to a Pharisee. Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus was put in the tomb of a Pharisee. It was a Pharisee that has blamed him, and they paid for and subsidized his burial. Now that tells us that there is hope for each of us. I will tell you what God can't help, is that Laodicean condition. This is the Pharisee condition and by the way this is how God identifies the church in the last days. Revelation 3:17

Name:

Email:

Prayer Request:


Share a Prayer Request
Name:

Email:

Bible Question:


Ask a Bible Question

Back To Top