1. This very simple parable teaches great lessons. Jesus compares two classes of people, the self-righteous and those justified by the mercy of Christ. It is summarized in the last verse: "This (tax collector, social outcast) went home justified rather than that (Pharisee) because everyone who lifts himself up will be made low and everyone who humbles himself will be lifted up. Read the Magnificat of Mary (Lk. 1:46-55). History is the story of humbling and exalting both in the church (vss. 46-50) and in the world (vss. 51-55). By the grace of God Christians humble themselves by confessing their sins. Then God exalts them. II Sam. 11-12 and Ps. 51 describe David confessing and forgiven. Php. 3:4-14 describes Paul's righteousness before and after conversion. Vss. 51-55 of the Magnificat picture God humbling the great and mighty among the impenitent in the world. Think of how God humbled Adolph Hitler. He raised himself above other people. God humbled him to the dust.
2. All men are righteous, either self-righteous or God righteous. In both cases it is by declaration. The Pharisee declared himself righteous to the exclusion of all other people. It caused him to despise all other people. It caused him to base his acceptance with God on his works, both negative and positive. (I don't do this and this . . . I do this and this). For this he thanked God. On the other hand, the tax-collector, a social outcast, could find nothing but sin in his life. He summed it up by saying: "God be merciful to me the sinner." The word for "merciful" in Greek clearly indicates that he, a Jew under the OT Covenant, believed that he was reconciled to God through the sacrifices which were a type of Christ's sacrifice. See Heb. 10:14; I Jn. 2:2. The parable says that the tax-collector went home justified. God justified the confessing believer. See I Jn. 1:9. Read Rom. 15:12-21. We summarize: In Adam all human beings (except Christ) sinned and died. They are lost forever. But in Christ Jesus all people are justified. They are acquitted. They are forgiven. Faith accepts what is already so. But first the individual must confess his sin and believe in what Christ did for him. The Gospel brings him the reconciliation and forgiveness of God. Confession is like an appetite. An appetite does not feed a person. But it is a necessary prerequisite for eating. The whole life of the Christian is confession of sin and faith in the righteousness of Christ.
3. At Is. 64:6 we read: "We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are like a filthy garment. We all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." And at Php. 3:9 Paul calls the righteousness of the sinner dung, excrement. But the world brags about its righteousness like the Pharisee in our parable. At Lk. 16:15 Jesus said to the Pharisees: "You are those who justify yourselves before people but God knows your hearts because that which is lofty among people is an abomination before God." In our parable the Pharisee justified himself before God but the tax-collector was justified by God's mercy in Christ Jesus.
4. God has given all Christians the power to forgive sins, to declare repentant sinners righteous. See Mt. 18:18 and Jn. 20:22. When we go to church we confess our sins and the pastor declares us forgiven. By virtue of his office he has this power. All people should leave the church service, like the tax-collector, forgiven and righteous by faith in Christ.
5. The Pharisee compared himself to all others and found himself the best. The tax-collector compared himself to no one but only cried for mercy. Like Paul he called himself the chief of sinners. I Tim. 1:15. But the Christian is both a saint and the sinner. He finds the attitudes of both Pharisee and tax-collector in himself. He grieves over his own pride and self-righteousness. He confesses it and finds forgiveness in Christ, his righteousness.
THEME: Are You Like The Pharisee, The Tax-Collector, Or Both?
Jesus addressed this parable to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and therefore despised all others. Are you perhaps saying that this parable is not talking about you because you are not a Pharisee? Or was Jesus just maybe talking about you, too? Let's talk about this.
I. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE PHARISEE
A. It was of his own making. He thanked God for something that he was without the help of God. First he stated it negatively. He was not like other people: not a robber, not a bad man, not an adulterer. But, most of all, he was not like the worst social outcast of his day, a tax-collector. Secondly, he stated it positively. He fasted twice in the week although God never said how often Jews should fast. He set apart for the Lord a tenth of everything he acquired. But God required only a tithe of first-fruits of the field.
B. It was according to his own standard. He says nothing about the Word of God. The whole OT said: "Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good because His mercy endures forever." Nothing like this occurs in what the Pharisee said. According to his standard the Pharisee thought he was already righteous. For that he thanked God.
II. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE TAX-COLLECTOR
A. It his own making. Vs. 14 of our text says: "This man went home justified rather than the other one." He did not justify himself. He was justified from an outside source. The story of salvation in the whole Bible is summarized in one sentence: "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness." Gen. 15:6. Righteousness comes to sinful man not by his own works or worthiness but by the grace of God through faith. Paul explains this in Rom. 4. The last vss. read: "It was not written for him (Abraham) alone that it was counted to him, but also on account of us, to whom it is counted, to us who believe in the one who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead who was delivered for our sins and raised for our justification." The suffering and death of Jesus Christ forgive our sins, reckon the righteousness of Christ to our account. That's what the tax-collector believed.
B. It was according to God's standard. All the prophets in the OT told the people to repent of their sins. The Baptist and Jesus came saying: "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is here." When the Baptist baptized the people, they confessed their sins. The tax-collector said: "God be merciful to me, the sinner." He knew the OT. He knew that he must confess his sins. He knew that the sacrifices at the Temple were shadows of the sacrifice of Christ for sin.
III. OR ARE YOU LIKE BOTH THE PHARISEE AND THE TAX-COLLECTOR?
Luther often said that Christians are at one and the same time saints and sinners. That is what the Bible teaches. The great passage on this thought is Rom. 7:14-25. Beginning at vs. 21 Paul says: "I find in me the principle, before me who wants to do the good, there lies the evil. You see, I take pleasure in the Law of God according to my inward man, but I perceive another principle in my members which fights against my renewed man and makes me a captive to the principle of sin in my members. Oh wretched person that I am! Who will deliver me from this dead body? Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! And so I serve the Law of God with my new man but in my flesh I serve the principle of sin." Oh Lord, forgive the many times when I speak as did the Pharisee. By your grace cause me to confess and believe as did the tax-collector. Thank you Lord for the righteousness of Christ which comes to me by faith!