Then Jesus told this story to some who had great self-confidence and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a dishonest tax collector. The proud Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t sin, I don’t commit adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored.” Luke 18.9-14(NLT)
There are a lot of things for which we prepare. Some years ago during a pro football game involving the Kansas City Chiefs, a fight broke out on the field. Bobby Ply, who was the reserve quarterback for the Chiefs, rushed on the field to join the fray. After a few steps, he stopped, ran back to the bench, picked up his helmet, put it on, and then dashed back into the midst of the row. He wanted to be prepared![ii]
We also must be prepared for many things in this (and the next) life! Easter –Resurrection Day – is one of those special times in the year when we ought to prepare for a special time of worship.
We can better prepare ourselves by learning from two men who went to worship – one who was accepted, and one who was rejected. The one was a Pharisee, a very religious person; the other was a Publican.
Publicans were Jews, but they were unacceptable to their own people, because, they worked for the Roman government taking an exorbitant tax and more from the Jewish nation. The Publican was a despised Benedict Arnold!
Notice, please, the similarities and differences in worship between a religious man and a renegade:
Both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector stood. The difference is in the meaning of the word. In the case of the Pharisee, the word carries a connotation of confidence. It is the picture of a man standing erect, without any fear. The Tax Collector also stood; his word meaning, just barely there. The Tax man was slumped over, hardly daring to lift his eyes heavenward.
Once again the difference between two men was attitude. The Publican asked for mercy, while the Pharisee was there to inform all within earshot (including God) just how good he really was.
Both men told God who and what they are – and they were both right! The Publican told the Lord he was a sinner. In the language of the New Testament, the man actually said he was the sinner. This was the attitude of Paul:
This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 1 Timothy 1:15(NLT)
The Pharisee, on the other hand, simply told God that he was good and didn't need mercy. He listed all the wonderful things he did, and thanked God he wasn't like ordinary men, especially the tax collector.
Jesus said that the Publican went away from the experience having received the forgiveness of God.
The Pharisee also received something – that warm and fuzzy feeling inside, that he had once again done his duty. He'd been to church, prayed, given, fasted, lived an honest life all week, and been faithful to his wife.
In all, he was a fine example of a Godly man. And didn't they all know it down there at the church house!! The only problem was that he'd had no real meeting with God.
Herbert Lockyer said about this religious praying man, He asked for nothing, confessed nothing, and therefore received nothing.[iii]
If you want to understand Pharisaism, don't look outside the church. Just look for the people who tend to judge others and stay angry. You can recognize the narrow mind. Some say a Pharisee's mind is so narrow he could walk through a picket fence head first.
If you follow the Pharisee you will remain as lost as he. The Publican recognized he was a sinner, and asked for mercy. The Pharisee was just completely satisfied with his own brand of religion.
If you want to do God's will, don't tell God how good you are; tell others how good God is! Pharisaism destroys genuine evangelism
Don't despise the resident Pharisees. Pray for yourself. Then you will be prepared for Easter!
[i] Title image: Palm-Honduras, via Wikimedia Commons
[ii] Proclaim Magazine, (Nashville, SS Board)
[iii] Herbert Lockyer, All the Prayers Of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishers, 1959)