Study 2 THE PHARISEE AND THE TAX COLLECTOR
TEN OF OUR LORD’S PARABLES
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: Luke 18:9-14
Dr R. A. Torrey suggested that this parable is an illustration of “a good man who was lost and a bad man who was saved”. Notice that the Pharisee, the ‘good’ man, was lost, not accepted by God; and it is the ‘bad’ man, the Tax Collector, who was saved and who “went home justified…” (verse 14). Looking at the parable in this way will certainly help us to emphasise the Bible doctrine of justification by grace, through faith, in the Person and finished work of Jesus. Read Luke 18:9-14 several times, and see the great contrast between the two men – the proud Pharisee who despised everyone and thought so much of himself, and the poor, humble Tax Collector who felt too unworthy even to look up to heaven. What a contrast!
1. Why was the Pharisee lost? Why was he not accepted by God?
- (1) Because he trusted in religion to save him. The Pharisees were the strictest and most religious sect among the Jews, but religion was an outward show. They were far more particular about that than about the condition of their hearts. The Pharisee in the parable is typical of every Pharisee who regularly visited the temple who, despite being religious, was actually far from God (Matthew 15:8). Of course, he has a great many modern descendants – multitudes of people who are trusting in religion to save them, but there is absolutely no salvation in religion. There is no salvation in Hinduism…in Christian Science…in Roman Catholicism…in Judaismor in Protestantism – because there is no salvation in any system or religion. Salvation is in a Person, and that Person is the Lord Jesus Christ. Look up Acts 4:12.
- (2) Because he trusted in his good character to save him. In his so-called prayer he stated quite clearly that he thought himself to be a fine moral man. He lived a good, upright life (verse 11). He was not an extortioner, not unjust, not an adulterer – but for all that, he was lost, because a man’s good character can never save him. See what God says about it in Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16. If we could live a perfect life from now on, and if all our past sins could be blotted out, we would still be lost, we would still be rejected by God, because there is only one way for a man to be justified, and that way is not by morality. If anyone reading this thinks that he or she is good enough to be accepted by God, let them look up Isaiah 64:6. Whatever you do, do not trust in yourself (verse 9) for salvation! If you do, you are doomed to failure.
- (3) Because he trusted religious observances, rites and ceremonies to save him (verse 12). We are reminded that multitudes of people today are trusting in their baptism, or christening, or confirmation, or attendance at the Lord’s Table, for acceptance before God. There is no salvation in religious observances; these things alone can never save the soul and justify us before a holy God.
- (4) Because he trusted in his good deeds to save him (verse 12). He gave tithes and was just like the people the Apostle Paul described in Romans 10:3. However hard and long we work, however much good we do, all this effort cannot save us. Look up Ephesians 2:8-10, and compare Titus 3:5.
2. Why was the Tax Collector saved? Why was he accepted by God?
- (1) Because he stood before God as a lost sinner (verse 13). Literally he prayed, “God, have mercy on me, the sinner”. The spirit of his prayer was, ‘I am the sinner – the only one as far as I am concerned’. Now look up Matthew 9:13 and 1 Timothy 1:15. It is the hardest thing in the world to get men and women to admit that they are guilty and lost sinners before God, but no-one can ever gain acceptance in the kingdom of God until they go in by the sinner’s door. Look up Romans 4:5.
- (2) Because he recognised God’s estimate of sin. He saw what a terrible thing sin is in the sight of God, because he stood “at a distance” and “beat his breast” (verse 13). He acknowledged that God was the Holy One and he condemned himself as the unholy one (Isaiah 6:5). The Pharisee compared himself with other men, and failed to see his need, but the Tax Collector compared himself with God, and saw how poor and needy he was. So conscious was the Tax Collector of his sinfulness and unworthiness that “he would not even look up to heaven…” Look up Psalm 40:12, and compare Psalm 51:9. Have you accepted God’s estimate of sin, and have you accepted it – in relation to yourself, and no-one else?
- (3) Because he pleaded the merit of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. He prayed, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner”. So he really pleaded for salvation on the ground of His finished work at Calvary, and this is the only ground upon which anyone can be saved. Look up Isaiah 53:6; John 1:29; 1 Peter 2:24. The Pharisee prayed, ‘Something in my hand I bring; simply to myself I cling…!’ But the Tax Collector prayed, ‘Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy Cross I cling…’ Which is true of you?
- (4) Because he definitely asked God to save him. His prayer was like a holy telegram. Compare some others – Matthew 15:22; Luke 18:39; Luke 23:42, and then look up Romans 10:13. Have you asked Him to save you?