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Newtown Bible Church

A Tale of Two Faiths

 

John Calvin rightly said: “Justification by faith is the hinge on which all true religion turns.”.

I don’t want to lose sight of this as we go through the Sermon and look at true righteousness and hypocrisy. So, there is perhaps no better place in all of Scripture to go to lay these two truths side by side than the parable of Luke 18:9-14. I have referred to this several times, but this morning will take a closer look.

It is a parable that holds before us the great truth of justification through faith, in contrast to justification through self-effort. It distinguishes, then, between a faith that saves and a faith that condemns.

And Scripture is full of warnings that both kinds of faith exist among those who confess Christ. As Christ warned in Matt. 13, there are tares among the wheat; by outward appearance the tare looks identical to the wheat while growing, but becomes evident when it reaches maturity, at which point it yields a small black seed that can be poisonous to humans.

In our passage this morning, Luke 18:9-14, the Lord exposes the heart of what may look like wheat on the outside but yields only the poison of hypocrisy and self-righteousness; and the true heart that yields the grain of humble repentance. [READ: LK 18:9-14].

In order to help us walk through this story we will break it up into 3 sections: 1) The Context [9] 2) The Comparison [10-13] and 3) The Consequences [14]

 

The Context (9)

Lk. 18 is in the flow of discussion regarding the Kingdom of God first mentioned in 17:20, and more specifically about the return of Christ, mentioned in 17:22-37, where He teaches about the glory and the surprise of His return – it will come at a time that is unexpected; and will fall on those who are least expecting it.

In chapter 18 He introduces the parable of the persistent widow to assure them that though His judgment will be severe and unexpected, yet it is still under the direction of His sovereign control, and God has not forgotten those who truly belong to Him. He will indeed answer their prayers for deliverance.

But then He ends by asking a very important question for both His hearers, and you and me: verse 8, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” In other words, God will be found faithful to His word and to those who belong to Him, but the bigger question for you is, who will He find able to enter into His Kingdom and so escape the judgment that is to come?

They were concerned about the signs of the kingdom, the Lord was concerned about who would enter the kingdom. And He will now address the question: “What is the character of faith of those who will enter the Kingdom of God?” - And it is not the religious, the good, or even the faithful, but the broken, humble, who trusts in God’s grace alone.

So, He begins (9) “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and looked on others with contempt.” This phrase could also be translated, “who have persuaded themselves that they are righteous.”

This is a general statement. The Lord will use the example of the Pharisees, but this applies to everyone, at all times, who are in the category of trusting in themselves, that is, based on their own effort, that they are right with God.

So the point of the parable is to show that that is a false and damning confidence. Justifying, saving faith, is a broken, humble faith.

Now let’s look at the *Comparison.

 

I. The Comparison [10-13]

“Two men went up into the temple to pray.” There is nothing unusual about this scene; this would be Herod’s temple, which was a magnificent structure and the center of Jewish worship, and it was customary for all the worshippers of YHWH to come at either the appointed times for public prayer (9am & 3pm), or at anytime during the day. This is a common event, a snapshot taken out of everyday life.

Next, He identifies two men, “The one is a Pharisee and the other is a tax-collector.” And with this statement the Lord introduces the first striking element of the story. To His first hearers, this would have been a real attention grabber.

These men represent two extremes; the two polar opposites of Jewish society. Certainly, those who heard it would have been sure the judgment of 17:22-37 was reserved for the tax-collector; while the answer to the question of 18:8 was most certainly the Pharisees.

And it is important that we grasp this. You see, for us today our only introduction to the Pharisees is through the lens of biblical revelation; therefore, when we hear the term Pharisee we automatically picture self-righteous religious hypocrites. However, this is not at all the picture a first century Jew would have had.

And it is important that we understand this, or otherwise we will miss the true impact of the Lord’s teaching. Apart from biblical revelation there is no reason to think that the hypocrisy of this group would have ever been exposed. They were the most religiously respected, influential, and honored members of the Jewish society.

So, let’s take a moment to understand them as Christ hearers would have understood them.

Pharisee:

The root meaning of the term is “to separate” - those who had separated themselves from ungodliness, unto the Law of God, and Josephus estimates there were approximately 6,000 Pharisees residing in the city of Jerusalem during the first century.

Their origin can be traced back to the Maccabaean period around the 2nd century BC. This was a significant time in the nation, a time when the Greek culture dominated and the people were once again sliding down the slippery slope of paganism, and many had already turned from obedience to the Law; and caved to the religious apostasy thrust upon them by the antichrist precursor: Antiochus Epiphanies IV.

To counter this shift a group of pious Jews then known as the Hasidim, who were committed to the absolute obedience to the Torah, under the leadership of Mattathias, rose up and stood against the idolatrous tide of the Greeks and even their own country men (Maccabean Revolt); and essentially preserved the purity of the Jewish faith through the centuries before Christ; withstanding both persecution and the shifts of culture. They became distinguished as a separate group within Judaism that was marked by a commitment to exacting obedience to the Law of God.

However, because the Law was not always specific – such as in keeping the Sabbath holy - there developed an authoritative interpretation of the Law meant to set a hedge of protection around it so as to be very careful not to break one of the commandments.

This hedge was the interpretations of the Scribes and the Pharisees; and thus both the Law and the oral traditions became the “Twin Pillars” of Pharisaism, and much of the Judaism at that time. The problem, however is that the traditions actually came to take on greater authority than the Law itself. To illustrate this, one Rabbi is recorded as saying,

“It is more culpable to teach contrary to the precepts of the scribes, than contrary to the Torah itself.” And another said, “He who interprets Scripture in opposition to the tradition has not part in the world to come.”

So, the Pharisees were - in their own minds and the minds of many of the people - the authoritative interpreters of Scripture, and the most pious and faithful of all the Jews. The distinction between the religiously clean and unclean was between those who obeyed the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law and those who did not. So, there were essentially two groups that existed in the land of Israel: 1) those who were the true congregation of Israel, and 2) those who were simply the “people of the land,” known as the am-haarez.

Coming into the first century the Pharisees by far wielded the most spiritual authority and influence over the people and were basically the architects of the Jewish religion. When we meet the Pharisees in the NT we are not meeting radical religious hypocrites, in the minds of the people, but those who represented the very essence of Jewish faithfulness; the epitome of the Jewish religion; zealously committed to the Law of God.

We meet a group who are the most theological and doctrinally accurate; affirming authority of the entire OT Scriptures, a strong commitment to the sovereignty and providence of God, a belief in the resurrection, and of eternal punishment for the wicked and eternal blessing for the righteous, and were missionary minded. The Lord never rebuked the Pharisees for their theology, but their hypocrisy. So, this is the first man in our story: “a Pharisee”

 

Tax Collector

In contrast the religious piety of the Pharisees the Lord introduces another man, a tax-collector, who would represent the very opposite extreme of Jewish commitment. Whereas the Pharisee represented the very epitome of the Jewish commitment, the tax-collector represented the most hated element of Jewish culture; the very picture of unfaithfulness to the Law and a traitor to the Jewish nation.

The term tax collector is inaccurately translated in the ASV ERV and KJV as “publican.” “publican” was a wealthy land owner, typically a Roman, who paid Rome a large sum of money for the right to collect taxes in certain localities (arcitelwnhs “chief tax-collector” / Zaccheus). A tax collector (telwnhs), which in the term used in our passage, refers to those employed by the publican who was charged with the actual business of collecting taxes.

Essentially, the tax-collector collected money for the publican and made his own income by whatever he could collect over the set amount. In order to accomplish this they often resorted to such means as extortion and violence.

In addition to this they were viewed as traitors and turncoats to the Jewish nation because they were supporting Roman Empire at the expense of their very own people. So obviously they were not well liked or trusted by the people.

With this introduction the Lord sets the scene: “two men go up into the temple to pray…” one the epitome of Jewish faithfulness, the other the very picture of apostasy and rebellion to God. In the minds of those listening, the outcome of this tale would be obvious – the Pharisee would model all that pleases God, and the tax collector all that would incur His judgment.

And the Lord begins with the Pharisee, “The Pharisee stood praying thus to himself …” The posture of standing during prayer was nothing unusual and in and of itself suggests nothing of the heart condition of the Pharisee. But that would change as soon as he opens his mouth: “God, I thank You…’”

He starts off pretty good, but what follows has been said to be one of the most thankless prayers of thanksgiving every uttered. Rather than an expression of trust and dependence upon God; first thing he does is singles himself out as above “the rest of men.”

He begins his address to God, but then doesn’t mention Him again, but replaces Him with the personal pronoun “I,” which is used 5x in the next two verses. The prayer is addressed to God but it never rises above the preoccupation with self to ever reach His ears.

The prayer that follows reveals the heart and faith of the self-righteous religious hypocrite. So, what does a the faith of the self-righteous trust in?

(1) What they don’t do: “I give thanks to you that I am not like the rest of men, a swindler, unjust, immoral, or even like this man the tax-collector.” pretty arrogant.

(a) He is not a “swindler”, that is to say that he deals honestly with other men, he does not wrongly take advantage of or cheat another person.

(b) He is not “unjust” (“unrighteous”) but conforms to the moral law of God in his relations with others, he is not unfaithful to teaching of the Law; his life and character are marked by righteous obedience.

(c) he is not “immoral”; he lives his life in a way that does not step over the bounds of sexual immorality; he is chaste and pure.

When he looks at the product of his life he is a religious, moral, and upright person.

(2) What they do do:

(a) “I fast twice a week” lit: “two times of the Sabbath.” This far exceeds the requirement of the OT Law which called for only one fast a year on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29; Num. 29:7-11). However, in their zealousness for the Law, they added to this requirement partial fast of bread and water throughout the week as an expression of devotion to God.

These fast took place on Monday and Thursday and were meant to correspond the days that Moses went up on the Mount Sinai to receive the Law, and the day that he came down. Now it is also convenient that these were the main market days in which the people of the country came into the city to buy food; they were also the days in which special services were held in the synagogue and that the Sanhedrin would gather to meet, but it was also a convenient time for their devotion to be noticed by all.

(b) He pays “tithes of all that I acquire.” Again, far exceeding the requirement of the Law (Deut. 14:22-23), which called for tithes on only certain produce of the land; yet they went even further to give of even garden herbs such as “mint, dill, and cummim,” as is mentioned by the Lord in 11:42. Not an uncommon attitude:

 

I thank Thee, Jehovah my God, that Thou hast assigned my lot with those who sit in the house of learning, and not with those who sit at street corners. For I rise early and they rise early: I rise early to study the words of the Torah, and they rise early to attend to things of no importance. I weary myself and they weary themselves: I weary myself and gain thereby, while they weary themselves without gaining anything. I run and they run: I run toward the life of the age to come, while they run toward the pit of destruction.”

 

 

Rabbi Simeon, the son of Jochai, said: The whole world is not worth thirty righteous persons, such as our father Abraham. If there were only thirty righteous persons in the world, I and my son should make two of them; but if there were but twenty, I and my son would be of the number; and if there were but ten, I and my son would be of the number: and if there were but five, I and my son) would be of the five; and if there were but two, I and my son would be those two; and if there were but one, myself should be that one.”

 

It is the same attitude of the apostle Paul expressed in Phil. 3:4-6 If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eight day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”

And, just as with the apostle Paul, It is absolutely reasonable to assume this description as true. There is nothing, in and of itself, by looking at this man, from the outside, for anyone to assume that he was not right with God.

However, in contrast to this self-righteous Pharisee, the Lord now turns His attention to the other man in the story the tax-collector, who “stood far away” probably indicating that he stood at the outer part of the temple area, maybe the court of the Gentiles; wanting to be in God’s presence, yet he had such conviction of his own unworthiness that he could not bring himself to go any closer. And it is almost like the Lord uses this term to indicate not only the spatial difference but also the difference in the spiritual state of these two men, which were utterly opposite of each other.

Unlike the Pharisee who boldly rushed into God’s presence to proclaim his own righteousness, “he was not willing even to lift his eyes toward heaven” – why? Struck with his own sin and unworthiness before a holy God.

Not only that he stood “beating his breast” as an act of contrition (tense/repeated action). Why? Because it was the closest he could get to his heart; it was a display to show that he was painfully and grievously aware of the pollution and iniquity that filled his own heart; he knew he was unrighteous.

So aware was he of his own sin, guilt, and unworthiness that he could only utter the simple prayer, “God, be merciful to me the sinner!” The term translated here “be merciful” is an imperative, it is a forceful and emotional plea to God to remove from him the guilt of his sin. The tax-collector knew full well that God’s wrath justly abided on him; he was under no delusion of his own self-righteousness.

There is not even a trace of self-reliance. So he prays the only thing he can pray: “Be merciful to me, the sinner!” Not “a sinner,’ as it is in many translations. There is a definite article in GK. NASB is one of few trans. to reflect this! It’s not “A sinner” BUT “THE sinner.”

Why is this important? Because many people will admit they are a sinner in a general sense, that they have committed sin. However, true faith apprehends personal guilt; the weight and burden of personal sin.

He is not just saying, “O yeah, I know I’m a sinner.” He is crying out, “I am in a desperate situation, I have sinned and offended a holy God whose wrath is rightly bearing down on me; I am hopelessly condemned unless You, O God, help me. O God, please be merciful to me the sinner.”

This is someone who knows that grace is their only hope.This is the beatittude attitude “mourns” over sin. The Pharisee could only see his goodness, the tax-collector only his sin.

So, he cries out: “Be merciful” He is asking God to turn His wrath away. He is on the train tracks with the locomotive of omnipotent wrath headed for him and he is crying out to be rescued; to be set free.

The term is iJla/skomai - it is from the same root term translated as “mercy seat,” to describe the lid of the ark of the covenant on which the blood of the sacrifice was placed once a year on the Day of Atonement by the high priest.

The verb form is used only one other time in the NT in Hebrews 2:17 “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful Hight Priest in a things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” it speaks of Christ satisfying God’s wrath on behalf of His people.

It is the fulfillment of God’s promise in Isaiah 53:10-11 “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering … As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied.”

Beloved this is always the grounds of God’s mercy and grace; it is why He is able to forgive sinners, and why He is the only way a sinner can be saved.

All sinners, since Adam to the last are saved based on Christ atoning death (Rom. 3:25). At this point, however, He was not yet crucified, though He soon would be.

And don’t miss the dripping irony here:

(1) The self-righteous Pharisee who is congratulating himself before God would soon be among the number crying out in murderous hatred for His blood (“Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”)!

(2) The unrighteous, but broken tax-gather is was among the number who were and would be crying out to be cleansed by that same blood.

He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

 

III. The Consequences [14]

“I say to you, this man went down to his house, having been justified [or made righteous] rather than the other man.”

And with this pronouncement the hearers would have been utterly shocked; this is an absolute reversal of what would have been expected by the people. If anyone would have been expected to be accepted by God, it was the moral, obedient, religious Pharisees, certainly not the tax-gather. But what they failed to understand is that human merit – no matter how great – cannot make one right before God.

The term translated “justified,” is used only here in the gospels, and is in the perfect passive. The perfect means that it was granted at a that point in time with ongoing results (justified and stayed justified). The passive means that it is not a righteousness he achieved by his life, but it is status of righteousness granted to him through his faith. Romans 4:4-5 [TURN TO]

One man assumed a relationship with God; the other had a relationship with God. One man assumed he was righteous; the other was made righteous in God’s eyes.

This was the problem Paul addressed in Romans 10:2-4 “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Beloved, this is the truth behind the Lord’s teaching in the Sermon. Matthew 5:20 “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Both of these men were exercising faith; and both of these men addressed God as the object of their faith; but really only one exercised a God-centered faith that saw their only hope in His mercy. One faith was in self, the other in the mercy of God One left confident but condemned; one left broken but justified.

And with that the Lord gives the principle: (14) “For the one who exalts himself shall be humbled; and the one who humbles himself shall be exalted.” Or a more literal translation would be, “The one who lifts himself up will be made low; but the one who makes himself low, will be lifted up.” And both the making low and the lifting up are in the future passive voice, which means, Christ is referring to what God will do in the future time of judgment.

The one who exalts himself, trusts in his own good works and religious activity to make himself acceptable to God, will receive the praise of men here, but on the Day of Judgment will be made low.

However, the one who recognizes his true condition here and now before God, and makes himself low, humbles himself, acknowledges that he is a sinner in need of God’s grace, will be lifted up in the Kingdom of God; is lifted up to the very presence of God.

Have you ever wondered: If justification by faith is so glorious, so wonderful, why do people reject it? Why do they hate Christ and His gospel?

It requires humility, the full admission of sin, guilt, helplessness. It utterly and completely strips man of their self-sufficiency; self-glory; self-righteousness and calls for self-denial; It is requires the full admission of need; It is completely God-centered; men truly love their sin.

Now, let me make a few applications before we come to the Lord’s table:

(1) Believing, in and of itself, is not the mark of a true Christian; many who believe the facts of the gospel and now enduring eternal punishment; it is believing unto repentance; unto obedience to God’s Word; believing which produces humility before God and an inward bent toward righteousness – out of recognition of who God is and what He has done in Christ.

It is easy in today’s Christian environment of man-centered theology and particularly in the environment of this culture where so many grow up “churched” and assume relationship with God without ever having done the piercing work of self-examination and evidence of true signs of repentance.

(2) Shallow/false repentance is fed a by a shallow view of our sin; this is why the gospel must begin with the greatness and holiness of God, so that the sinner may see themselves in the right light; as they really are; may rightly understand their condition before a holy God.

What does this mean to you personally? Not just the doctrinal definition, but the apprehension of the incredible grace of God. Let me make a few suggestions.

You are not going to the hell even though you deserve to.

You are in God’s favor, you need earn nothing, Christ has already done it for you - God is on your side. He is for you not against you.

You have a sure hope that cannot be taken away no matter the suffering and difficulties experienced in this life.

I pray that the faith of the old hymn writer would be all of ours this morning:

 

“Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy Law’s demands; Could my zeal no languor show, Could my tears forever flow; these for sin could not atone, Thou must save and Thou alone; Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked come to Thee for dress, helpless look to Thee for grace; Foul I to the fountain fly, Wash me Savior or I die; Rock of Ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.”

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