Read His Words Before Ours!
Jesus loved flipping worldviews upside down.
Sometimes He flipped literal tables.
Most often, He pierced the darkness of ordinary, self-applauding human nature with the blinding brilliance of God’s love.
In Jewish religious culture, no human was more highly lauded than the Pharisee. They had political power, money, pedigree, clout, and oh, the most important? Righteousness. These were the holy, the elite, and highly favored as God’s “super-players.” To a Jew, a Pharisee’s prestige was unsurpassed.
On the flip side, tax collectors were “most despised” within Jewish culture as the poster-children for Roman control and unbridled gluttony. Overtaxing to pad their own pockets, tax collectors were extremely wealthy; their arrogance and greed were undeniable. The swagger of their steps, the bulge of their food-ridden bodies, and the luxury of their clothing garnished disdain from every Jew. If anyone would never enter the kingdom of Heaven, it would be a Roman Tax Collector.
So Jesus, intent on penetrating the hearts of His hearers so they might see Him as the God who sacrificed Himself on their behalf to pay their full debt of sin, began His story. Perhaps He paused along the road, allowing a wide field and smooth rock to be His amphitheater as listeners pressed closer under the hot Judean sun.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray,” He began, and instantly all eyes affixed on His.
The temple to pray? These were holy men desiring God; this would be a good story!
Jesus inhaled, making eye contact with several sprawled before Him.
Spirit, bring their hearts to us. Open their blind eyes to see the Salvation before them!
“… One a Pharisee and the other?” Jesus paused, eyebrow raised. Would they hear Him this time? Would they understand He was their sacrifice and their “righteousness” could never earn them favor with God? “… a tax collector,” He exhaled.
The shudders were visible across the crowd as they recoiled at His inclusion of a tax collector in His story.
Animated, Jesus jumped atop the rock and called out, “The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself…” Jesus raised His hands with mock humility and grand sweeping gestures before continuing, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people–greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Jesus pointed His finger with the full theatrics of a condemning Pharisee.
The audience was hooked. Jesus nailed it. This is a Pharisee!
How right of the Pharisee to elevate himself to God.
Get that tax collector out of here!
He’s not like a righteous Jew, and certainly not like the righteous Pharisee.
Jesus’ demeanor instantly changed as He prepared to “flip the tables” of the peoples’ understanding. Gone was the façade of swagger. Tears pricked His eyes, and though He bowed His head and began beating His chest in the common motion of humility, His voice of authority carried across the warm field,
“But the tax collector, standing far off,
would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but kept striking his chest and saying,
‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’”
Even the bees and locusts couldn’t be heard as Jesus paused,
looking again at each face before Him,
pleading with the Spirit to light darkened hearts
with the the truth of His Perfect Sacrifice
for their utter dearth of righteousness.
His people were trapped in their sin without escape. Oh how they tried to be good enough on their own, but they must see their “goodness” was nothing more than bloody menstrual rags. (Isaiah 64:6)
Rottenness accosting the Holiness of God.
How desperately they needed a Savior!
One to part the Heavens (Psalm 18:6-19),
pay the debt they owed in full (Hebrews 9:26),
die the death they could not escape (1 Corinthians 15:3),
and rise again to conquer death and sin forever (Revelation 1:18)
on their behalf.
Here was God in the flesh standing before them.
The perfect Sacrifice.
To do exactly this.
Abel offered the best of himself.
Cain clutched his pride.
The widow held out the smallest coin, representing the entirety of her possessions.
The wealthy dropped money by the bag-full.
The tax collector beat his breast with the agony of his wretchedness.
The self-sanctioned Pharisee touted his “good deeds” to a perfectly Holy God.
Only one was acceptable before the God who took the debt of sin upon Himself. (1 Peter 2:24)
The humble heart of contrition.
Only Abel’s offering was acceptable.
Only the widow’s poverty was made much of.
And our tax collector?
Jesus lifted His voice again,
“I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other,
because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Only the humble are brought near to God, for only the humble recognize the utter disgrace of their wretched sin against the flawless perfection of Holy.
Only the humble are positioned to receive the offering of life held out by the God who Sacrificed Himself, that His people might come home to Him.
“Be miserable and mourn and weep [over your sin].
Let your laughter [of prideful arrogance] be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:9-10)
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!