Lk 18:13 A tax collector repents

Text Luke 18:13 Time 31 08 08 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I want us to look this evening at a text that is found in Luke 18:13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, God, have mercy on me, a sinner. The words are spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ as he gives the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
At the time the Pharisees, of course, were the strictest sect in Judaism. Basically orthodox in their beliefs, they were against compromise with the Romans and were generally admired by people. Where they went wrong was in raising human tradition to the same level and sometimes higher than Scripture. They were also marred by self-righteousness and hypocrisy. We get a very good idea of the Pharisee in this very parable. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself says Jesus. He prays God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.The tax collectors, on the other hand, were the very opposite. Compromisers with the Romans, they were not admired by the Pharisees or by the people in general. To add to their reputation for compromise with the enemy there was the fact that they often unfairly made themselves rich at other people's expense. They also tended to hang out with the more disreputable members of society anyway.
You see then why Jesus chooses these characters for his parable. On the one hand we have a very religious person, a churchgoer as it would be today, and on the other, someone who has turned from all that and who has been living a life that is marked by compromise and sin.
There is a contrast in who these men were then but also a contrast in the way they prayed when they went to the Temple to pray. As we have noted
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.
The tax collector, on the other hand, our text tells us, stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, God, have mercy on me, a sinner.Now what I want us to do this evening is to ask some questions and see what we can learn here about the way to pray and to come to God.
1. What sin did Jesus give this parable to warn people against?You will often find when you come to Jesus's parables that just before or just after or sometimes at both points there is a little explanation of when and why Jesus gave the parable. It is always a good idea to take note of these as they really help us to understand what is being said. So in 9 we read that it was To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable. He has particular people in mind then here, people who were confident of their own righteousness – they thought they were good enough for God – and who looked down on everybody else – they thought other people weren't good enough for God. These two attitudes often go together and we need to watch out that we don't fall into them.
What about you? Do you tend to think of yourself as good enough for God? Not perfect, perhaps, but good enough? And what about others? Do you find yourself looking down on them and thinking they are not good enough for God? It is another warning sign that all is not well.
A good test is how you react to newspaper stories of wrongdoing – do you react 'I'm glad I'd never do anything like that' or do you see that but for God's kindness you could well be doing the very same things?

2. What do we learn negatively from the Pharisee tax described here?Jesus begins his parable by saying (10) that Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The temple included not just the Holy of Holies and the Holy place and the place for sacrifices but various courts around it where people would pray in public. Jesus speaks about the Pharisee first (11, 12). He says The Pharisee stood up that was the usual posture and prayed about himself (notice that phrase). He prayed like this - God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. So in his prayer he begins by looking down on others and then boasts about his own righteousness – the very things that the parable is intended to oppose.
Now we must be very careful here. Wouldn't it be the easiest thing in the world to say (at least to ourselves) “Well, I'm glad I don't pray like that man. I'm glad I don't pray about myself”. We might even be tempted to pray something like this “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – proud, a hypocritical, self-righteous - or even like this Pharisee. I pray every day and I give to the church and to charity, etc”. Rather, we ought to see that there is at least a bit of the Pharisee in all of us and it is so easy to see the faults of others and look down on them but much more difficult, at times, to see our own faults and to realise that we have no righteousness of our own.
May be you are not very much like the Pharisee – I hope you are not - but it is worth asking yourself – do I resemble him even just a little bit? If I do at all I have good reason to be sorry and to repent from my sin and seek God's forgiveness.

3. What do we learn positively from what the tax collector did and said?There's the negative lesson then but what we want to focus on is the positive example of the tax collector. I think we can learn something both from what he did – what people today would call his body language – and then from his actual words.
1. Learn from what he didLearn from his body language. We are told three things about what the tax collector did. Each is instructive (13)
1 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He hardly felt worthy to be in this place – the temple of God. It was not that he did not want to meet with God, rather there was a sense that he was not worthy to be with other worshippers. It's a little like people sitting in the back at church. Some do it for bad reasons, some for good. Wherever we sit a sense of unworthiness ought to be there somewhere.
2 He would not even look up to heaven. He remembered that God was in heaven and who was he to look up to God? His lowering of his eyes speaks both of humility and of shame. Without these we cannot come to God. Do you humble yourself before God? Are you ashamed before God for what you have done? That is how to come to him.
3 But beat his breast. He was not only ashamed he was very sorry. He remembered his sins and how it hurt him and exasperated him to do so. How about you? Are you genuinely sorry for sin?
2. Learn from what he saidHis actual lip language. His prayer was God, have mercy on me, a sinner. He wanted God to be propitiate some how. He wanted God to deal with him in way that was favourable even though he didn't deserve it. He was seeking God's mercy, God's pity. He describes himself as a sinner, the sinner. God, have mercy on me, sinner that I am. That is why he need mercy. There was nothing he could do to win God's favour. He looked only to the mercy of God.
This is what we all need to do – to go to God and to confess “I am a sinner”, to plead for mercy – say, not just "have mercy" but have "mercy on me, a sinner". Each individual needs to come to God and to find mercy from him through Jesus Christ and what he has done on the cross. Are you looking to him for mercy like this tax collector? I urge you to it.

4. What did Jesus have to say about this tax collector?
See 14. Jesus says I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. To be justified means to be "counted righteous". There was no justification for the Pharisee? Why? He never thought he needed it. I was reading a report recently about unclaimed pensioners benefits in the UK. Something like £4.2 billion a year is going unclaimed. A spokesman from Age Concern has said “Millions of older people across the UK are missing out on money that is rightfully theirs and could make a huge difference to their quality of life.” Now I don't know if these Senior Citizens feel they don't need the money or if they just don't know how to get it but as the man from Age Concern says “There is nothing to lose and everything to gain by making a claim”.
Do you see your need of justification and do you see that you can be justified simply by making a claim - by applying to God. Don't rely on your own righteousness. Look to him for righteousness. As Jesus says here everyone who exalts himself will be humbled. The Pharisee exalted himself and he would soon be humbled. So for all who exalt themselves.
How different the case of the tax collector. He sought mercy and found it. He was justified. Why? Because he sought mercy. As Jesus says he who humbles himself will be exalted. That is true for all who humble themselves before God. So humble yourself before God tonight.