Luke 18:9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:
Jesus lived in a culture where the most religious people received approval from others, and approved of themselves as well. But they looked down on those who were less religious, and felt superior to them. So Jesus told a story that would shock the religious establishment.
Luke 18:10 Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
These men were at opposite ends of the religious spectrum. Pharisees were devoted to God and the Bible. Tax collectors were devoted to themselves and to money. They gathered taxes for Rome, and enriched themselves by over-charging honest people. They were hated for betraying their nation, but thought the money was worth it.
Luke 18:11-12 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.
The Pharisee was quite sincere in his religion. Few people fast twice a week, or give ten percent of their money to God. Nor did he take the credit himself, but thanked God for making him that way. Compared to many others he was a very good person, and his religious devotion surpassed many of Jesus’ followers.
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.
This man was feeling the weight of his sin. He had broken God’s commands, and fully deserved to be condemned. He could make no claim to righteousness, was deeply ashamed, and could only plead for mercy. But mercy he would get. I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God (Luke 18:14a), said Jesus.
This is at the heart of Christianity. Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), and those who think they are pretty good people cannot repent of their sins. That is why tax collectors and prostitutes enter the kingdom of God ahead of many others (Matthew 21:31). The more dreadful our sins, the more we can see our need to be saved.
But even the finest sinners will see their need for repentance when they learn what God requires. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), said Jesus. Since no one other than Jesus ever lived up to this, we are all in need of repentance every single day. When we realize what God requires, and how miserably we fail, we will beg God for his mercy, and cast off any self-righteousness.
Luke 19:1-6 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today. So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
As a professional tax collector, Zacchaeus became rich by overcharging honest people, and keeping the difference for himself. He was hated by most, and many resented the fact that Jesus stayed at his house. He has gone to be the guest of a sinner (Luke 19:7), they complained.
But Zacchaeus responded with joy, and gave half his wealth the poor. He also promised to pay back everyone he cheated, four times the amount (Luke 19:8). This probably left him without a dime, but he was richer than ever. Today salvation has come to this house [said Jesus] . . . For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:9-10).
Seeking and saving the lost was Jesus’ mission, and should be ours as well. People who lose a pet will stop everything until they find it. The same is true whenever we lose our keys, wallet or phone. If the loss of these things matters to us, how much more do lost people matter to God?
A celebration was held at a city pool, and several lifeguards were invited guests. Most had a wonderful time, but when the party was over, a fully clothed body was found at the bottom of the pool. The lifeguards were so busy enjoying themselves, that they did not notice someone drowning. It is not enough to celebrate the gospel; we must bring it to those who are perishing.
Reflection and Review
What is the cure for self-righteousness?
Why was Zacchaeus filled with joy, even though he was broke?
How can we seek and save the lost?