Summary: This message explores the contrast of the Pharisee and the tax collector, helping us see why humility matters.
Humility. It seems to be a distant character trait in our world today, doesn’t it? Even in our circle of churches, pride can creep in and become way too evident in our midst. Sometimes when I look around at our Christian culture, it reminds of this video…
[Show “It’s All About Me” Video]
Most of us are just way too consumed with themselves, aren’t we?
That video illustrates the attitude of one of the characters in our text today – Luke 18:9-14. And though the stories are centuries apart, the attitudes underneath them both are the same: Pride vs. Humility. Yes, the story in Luke 18 teaches us much about these two words and cuts to the core of our deepest attitudes. So would you take your Bible and turn to Luke 18 and let your eyes rest on 18:9? Let’s see what it means to respond humbly in a world of pride of self-confidence.
The context indicates Christ is about to teach a lesson to people who were trusting in themselves...to people who had self-confidence about their own spiritual status/value apart from the merits of Jesus Christ. And so he describes two people:
1. The Pharisee (18:10-12)
His physical posture is packed with pride. This was not uncommon for Pharisees, however, because visibility was an important element in their religious practices.
His verbal words are riddled with arrogance, even superiority. It is amazing how much he brags about how he goes above and beyond the law’s legal expectations. Comparison plagues him and his efforts to be good enough. How sad!
Perhaps you’re wondering, “Does this Pharisee represent anything?” Yes – the nation of Israel. Allow me to explain.
For some time, Christ had been preaching the gospel, calling men and women everywhere, especially the Jewish nation – his own! – to repentance. Many responded, but not the Pharisees, religious leaders, or teachers of the law. Instead, they continued to take pride in themselves and have confidence in their own ability to be righteous before God. In fact, the Pharisee in the story is representative of the nation of Israel – proud, stubborn, blind, yet lost. That attitude of pride – and subsequent denial of Jesus as their Messiah – is what kept them from justification. They heard the call and responded proudly. Yes, their refusal to simply repent and believe was the reason they were on a road to spiritual failure and destruction.
2. The Tax Collector (18:13)
His physical posture indicates humility, even self-loathing (“beat his chest”).
His verbal words resonate with desperation, even degradation about his own status and position (“mercy” is definite in the original, meaning the one and only mercy of God for him whom he calls a “sinner”). Additionally, the word for mercy is also the word for propitiation (used later in the NT), which indicates he knew needed …
I’m sure you are wondering, “Who or what does the tax collector represent?” Good question. I believe he represents all those who, though not officially “on the inside” to begin with (Jews), still found a place within the family of God by responding to the message of repentance and faith. Think about it – many others, less fortunate spiritually and physically – bankrupt! – were doing exactly what Christ was proclaiming: repenting and believing. Guess what? They were the ones finding justification – membership into the family of God even without the pedigree! No doubt this tax collector represents those who, though physically and religiously were not really qualified, simply fell on the mercy of God and begged for his forgiveness. They heard the call and responded humbly. And in return they found God exalting them to a place of spiritual success. They were finally right with God! Wow!
Interesting, isn’t it? Common to both were the elements of physical posture and verbal words – it’s how their inner attitude showed up on the outside. Yet, both ended up with completely different results. One was justified, the other condemned. Why? Luke 18:14b sums it up – would you read it with me?
“…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Here’s the simple principle:
“Responding humbly to the call of God is the beginning of true success.”
By the way, our response can be seen and heard, can’t it? You bet! Both of these responses – the proud one and humble one – were seen physically in their posture and heard verbally in their words. WOW! Yes, true inner attitudes do come out, and we should not be afraid to be honest with ourselves and others when we sense duplicity and hypocrisy, or to affirm true repentance when we see it through tears and brokenness. Yes, words and actions reveal what is really going on inside our hearts!