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The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

June 28, 2020 - Jeremy Zilkie

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Luke 18:9-14

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[a] 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.”

What is this PARABLE talking about?

·      It is a contrast between two men living in Israel in Jesus’s day, and who both visit the Temple to worship God.

·      One man is a Pharisee – a strident keeper of the law.

·      The other is a Tax Collector – loathed by society and other Jews

The Main Point: Only by grace can a sinner be right with God.

·      Knowing that these righteous men are not in fact righteous, but are deceived…

·      Jesus is going to answer the question, “HOW CAN A SINNER BE RIGHT BEFORE GOD?”

·      If a Pharisee can’t be righteous…WHO CAN? 

1) Their Position


  • A Pharisee was a religious and political leader in the nation of Israel.
  • They are the PINACLE OF JEWISH SOCIETY, God’s special and chosen group.
  • They intended to be God’s messengers, but sadly ended up distorting God’s words to Moses in THE LAW.
  • They were the “Top of the heap” and they knew it. And many of them relished their superiority.

Tax Collector

  • They are Jews, usually pretty smart, good with accounting and numbers, who work for the Romans.
  • They collect taxes for the Romans and anything above what the Romans demand from them is theirs to keep. 
  • Because of this, they are considered immoral and traitors to the nation of Israel and her people.
  • They are denied normal religious ceremonial rights and are thus pushed to the fringes of society and Judaism.
  • They are the lowest, of the low in society, grouped together with common sinners, prostitutes, “the dregs of society”.
  • Who would we put in this group today? The homeless? Criminals or ex-convicts? Addicts? Sex offenders? 
  • I took time to ask myself…who would I put in this group?

Who do I automatically judge? Or who is “beyond salvation” in my mind?

Their Posture

Pharisee – Standing in the center of the temple area, open-faced, ready to receive from the Lord; likely very visible and this was intentional

Jesus talks about this kind of praying in Matt 6:5 – “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.

Tax Collector – However, had a very different posture…

  • The Scripture says that he stood apart from every one else – “far off”;
  • He would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept his face low;
  • He knew he was reviled and humbly accepted his place in the religious heirarchy;
  • He definitely did not deserve to be in the presence of God…(unlike the pharisee who expected nothing less)
  • Finally, in v.13, Jesus says the man “beat his breast”
  • His hands become fists and pound his own chest…he was in TRUE ANGUISH over his sin.
  • He was filled with remorse, sadness, shame…he is broken before God.

Personal Application

Are you ever been broken before God? “UNDONE” and in ANGUISH before Him?

Their Prayer

Pharisee – His prayer was as much to himself and others to hear as it was to God,

  • He prays out loud and boldly;
  • uses first person pronoun 5 times;
  • then he has the temerity to call out sinners “like the tax collector in the corner” and arrogantly thanks God he is not like them.

Tax Collector – His prayer is short and earnest;

  • a genuine and urgent plea for God’s forgiveness and mercy;
  • his humiliation there in the Temple, before God and others is complete.

How do we pray when we pray?

  • If you are like me, you can be tempted to use a lot of words.
  • Words aren’t bad…but if they can be dangerous and tempt us to “look good” and “sound good” before God and others who might hear us pray.
  • I can pray with a lot of words…and so I have to be careful to regularly STOP, THINK, maybe be quiet before God, and then USE FEWER WORDS…
  • Our flesh…our self-image and pride are always working to build us up!
  • And we have to fight, tenaciously even, to escape temptation and to humble ourselves before God. It is not an easy thing to do…


·      Both men are sinners

·      Both men need God’s GRACE

·      But what is GRACE? What is God’s GRACE? It is a term we hear all the time in church…

·      And the term Jesus uses to describe this is found in verse 14…I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.

·      Jesus uses the word – JUSTIFIED

What does this word mean?

  • Greek background – perfect passive participle, describing a past-tense, already completed reality…
  • nothing that the Tax Collector has to do or can even attempt to work for or work towards…can achieve it.
  • Jesus is teaching very directly that justification (salvation in this instance) comes through FAITH ALONE
  • This faith is seen in the Tax Collectors humility and desperation for God
  • Rom 4:5 – And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly
  • Paul is bragging about this, and says this as an obvious stumbling block to the righteous person who is reading Romans…
  • They must believe in the God who justified the ungodly…a God the Pharisees could not believe in – JESUS – It was one of their main stumbling blocks…
  • Justification is FROM GOD, and we are ALL SINNERS BEFORE HIM.
  • His Righteousness “IMPUTED” on to man;
  • it is not present within any man or woman, boy or girl.

The Tax Collector is much closer to salvation than the Pharisee

His humility and brokenness, in the Kingdom of God, put him in a GREAT POSITION to receive God’s mercy and grace…or as Jesus said verbatim…JUSTIFIED.

The Pharisee can still be saved as well, but it will be much harder for him;

He has much self-reliance; self-regard, and self-righteousness that he must unload.

How does Rooftop Church do in this area?

·      Are we humble…willing to be broken before God?

·      So that we might be in a position to receive His grace?

·      We try. 

·      One of our values is that “We take God seriously and ourselves not so seriously.”

·      Now that can be interpreted that we are “too goofy” or “too immature” sometimes…

·      And that is probably true…

·      But it helps CHECK OUR HEARTS and keeps us from “thinking too highly of ourselves” (Rom 12:3)

·      Whatever it takes to stay humble, right?!?!

Jesus closing words v.14 (Luke 18:14) - For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

·      And so it is with us today…

·      Whoever of us is broken and desperate for God, we are near to Him and His grace can and will save us.

·      For any of us who are sufficient; got it figured out; impressed with what we have done or accomplished before God…we are further off and in some danger.

·      ***Either way though…how can a sinner, Pharisee or Tax Collector, be right with God? GOD’S GRACE ALONE.