Many times during Jesus’s earthly ministry he taught using parables. The word “parable” comes from the Greek word (parabolḗ;) “para”, means beside, and “ballo; means to cast or throw. Jesus would tell a familiar story and then cast it alongside a spiritual truth to help them understand what he was trying to teach.
In chapter 18 of the gospel according to Luke, Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector; and in this particular parable Jesus tells us why. Luke 18:9 “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” The parable goes on to tell us that these two men went up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee, “standing by himself,” (literally prayed to himself) said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Did you catch that! Count them! Five times his prayer is all about “I.” Yet the Tax Collector would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, rather beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He begins with God, speaks of God’s unfailing mercy, and lastly he speaks of the only thing that he can bring to the table, his sin.
Phil Ryken says you know you’re a Pharisee when “I look around and say, ‘Thank God I am not like so-and-so’ and then fill in the blank. I am a Pharisee when I am impressed with how much I am giving to God compared to others, when other people’s sins seem worse than my own, when I can go all day, or all week, or even all month without confessing any particular sin.”
How easy is it for me, and you, to become like this Pharisee? Like him, we read our Bible, go to worship service, pray, and follow God’s law. Yet Jesus tells us that the Pharisee did not go away justified, made right with God. It was the hated Tax Collector, who could not even look to the heavens, who walked away justified. Why?
When the tax collector prayed, “Have mercy,” he used a Greek verb that effectively means to atone for sin by means of a blood sacrifice. We have talked a lot about atonement. The shedding of blood makes atonement, not only because “the life of a creature is in the blood,” but it is in the bloodshed, the life ending, that makes atonement for one’s life. One life is forfeit; another life is sacrificed instead. The Tax Collector recognized his sins and cried out for mercy. His justification, rested not himself, but on God to make blood atonement for his sin. He therefore walked away justified.
So how can we be sure of our justification? Never forget the gospel. Only Jesus lived a perfect, righteous life and died an atoning death. He died in our place as our substitute. And how do we not become like this Pharisee? Never forget that our salvation is by sheer grace. Never look at the sins of others with derision. And never EVER stop acknowledging, confessing and repenting of your own sin daily. If you remember these principles you will not trust in yourself and in your own righteousness, nor will you ever treat others with contempt.