Summary: The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector shows us two different approaches to God.
When someone comes to the Session in order to be interviewed for communicant membership, we always ask the following two questions, which we have borrowed from Dr. D. James Kennedy and Evangelism Explosion.
First, we ask, “Suppose you were to die today, are you sure that you would go to heaven?” How would you answer this question? There are essentially five answers that one can give to this question. One could answer, “Yes,” “No,” “Maybe,” “I hope so,” or, “I don’t know.” This question basically deals with assurance of salvation. A person has assurance of salvation ranging from certainty to uncertainty.
The second question we ask is this, “Suppose you were to die today, and you were to stand before God, and he asked you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ how would you answer?” How would you answer this question? Take a moment and try and answer it as clearly as you can. There are essentially two answers that one can give to this question. Now keep your answer to the question in mind.
Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector illustrates the two different answers people give about why God should let a person into his heaven.
Let’s read the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14:
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
While Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, where he would soon be crucified, he continued to teach his disciples and even the Pharisees many important truths.
Jesus had just taught his disciples to pray with perseverance for the arrival and consummation of the kingdom of God. Then he taught them about the requirement for entrance into the kingdom of God. Essentially, Jesus taught his disciples how to answer the second question I mentioned above.
In verse 9 Luke said that Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. In this important parable Jesus taught about how a person gains entrance into the kingdom of God.
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 shows us two different approaches to God.
Let’s use the following outline:
1. Two men (18:10)
2. Two Prayers (18:11-13)
3. Two Results (18:14)
I. Two Men (18:10)
First, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector has two men.
A. One Is a Pharisee (18:10a)
First, one is a Pharisee.
Jesus said in verse 10a, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee. . . .”
In Jesus’ day the temple consisted of the sanctuary as well as the outer courts. People went to the temple to offer sacrifices, to listen to teaching, to fellowship, and to pray. So, it was normal for a Pharisee to go to the temple in order to pray. It is not clear whether or not he went there during the regular hours of prayer. But it did not matter. People expected to see a Pharisee at the temple praying, since the Pharisees were considered to be pious and very religious.
B. One Is a Tax Collector (18:10b)
And second, one is a tax collector.
What is fascinating in Jesus’ parable is that the other man who went to pray was a tax collector (18:10b). Tax collectors were hired by the Roman government to collect taxes for them. These tax collectors were corrupt and were considered among the lowest in society. The Jews despised tax collectors.
So, when Jesus said that the other man who went to pray was a tax collector his audience would have been a bit puzzled. Yes, they could understand that a Pharisee would go to the temple to pray. He was a religious person, after all, and one would expect him to pray at the temple. But, a tax collector? That was very unusual. Why would an irreligious tax collector go to the temple to pray? God surely had no regard for him!