Summary: The tax collector as a model of saving faith
Count Leo Tolstoy was a man who unashamedly called himself ‘Christian’. He once penned these words into his diary:
‘I have not yet met a single man who was morally as good as I. ...
I do not remember an instance in my life when I was not attracted to what is good
And was not ready to sacrifice anything to it’.
Time and time again Tolstoy proved this statement a lie. He was a constant womanizer and he often neglected his family. Tolstoy’s diary goes on to say that he felt in his soul, ‘immeasurable grandeur’ and he was baffled by the failure of other men to recognize his qualities: ‘Why does nobody love me? I am not a fool, not deformed, not a bad man, not an ignoramus. It is incomprehensible’.
Alex Haley wrote the famous book called ‘Roots’. He had a picture in his office showing a turtle sitting on top of a fence. He put the picture there to remind him of a lesson about humility that he learned long ago. ‘If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he had some help’, says Haley. ‘Any time I start thinking, “Wow, isn’t this marvellous what I’ve done”! I look at that picture and remember how this turtle—me—got up onto that post’.
Tonight we are looking the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector—a tale of two men. It’s a well known parable but one that’s easily misunderstood through a neglect of context. There’s a saying, ‘a text without a context is con’. So rather than con ourselves, let’s look at where this parable in Luke 18:9–14 fits into Luke’s flow of thought.
And to do that we need to go back to the previous chapter and verse 20. And when we do, we see that the issue is the coming of the kingdom of God. When will it come? How will it come? What sought of people should we be until it does come? What sought of faith will save me from the judgment to come?
As Jesus talks about the coming of the kingdom of God, he gives us fantastic insight into the nature of the Christian life. For the whole of the Christian life sits between two great events. Two events that forever change the course of human history. Two events that we cannot avoid. Two events that profoundly effect us.
The first event is the coming of the Lord Jesus into this world.
John says that ‘the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14). The Lord Jesus came into the world as the suffering servant who laid down his life as a ransom for many. As the Son of God he exercised his authority in this world. He healed sickness, calmed storms, fed thousands on the side of a hill. And then he died as an atonement for sin. Then he rose from the grave as the first of many who will rise from the dead. Now he sits at his Father’s right hand as the ruler of the world.
The second great event we cannot avoid is the return of the Lord Jesus. He will come as the Son of Man who will bring justice to the nations. The Apostle Paul says that God ‘has set a day when he will judge the world by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead’ (Acts 17:31). All of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ. And those whose names are not written in the book of life will be consigned to eternal punishment. But those who have a saving faith will see the new heavens and the new earth.
Jesus says that these are the two great events which shape our lives. The first coming of the Lord Jesus and the second coming of the Lord Jesus.
The Pharisees slip up because they don’t get the first coming of the Lord Jesus. Have a look at Luke 17:20, ‘Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is”, or “There it is”, because the kingdom of God is within you”’.
The Pharisees want to know about the second coming but they haven’t got their head around the first coming. The Messiah is talking with them and they still don’t get it. It’s shear and utter blindness. So Jesus says to the Pharisees in verse 20, ‘The kingdom of God is within you’, or more helpfully, ‘the kingdom of God is among you’ (footnote).