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"Get Over Yourself! The Righteous One was Stuck Up for You"

May 29/16 Luke 18:9-14


Pride is one of those faults that can be so hard to spot in ourselves, but everyone else around us sure knows about it! A heavily booked commercial flight out of Denver was cancelled, and a single agent was rebooking a long line of inconvenienced travelers. Suddenly an angry passenger pushed his way to the front and slapped his ticket down on the counter. He insisted, "I have to be on this flight and it has to be first class!" The agent patiently replied, "I'm sorry, sir; I'll be happy to help you, but I have to take care of these folks first." The passenger was unimpressed. In a voice loud enough for the passengers behind him to hear, he demanded, "Do you have any idea who I am?" Without hesitating, the gate agent smiled and picked up her public-address microphone. "May I have your attention, please?" she broadcast throughout the terminal. "We have a passenger here at the gate who does not know who he is.If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to the gate." As the man retreated, the people in the terminal burst into applause.

      The nerve of some people! Not that I’ve ever been tempted to jump queue, of course... I remember in the long lineups at Expo 67, my father was using a cane due to his arthritis, and it was such a blessing – they allowed our family to go to the front of the line!

      Pride is just like that fellow trying to skip ahead in the line – it wants to put oneself first, without regard for other people, dismissing their rights and worth. At first blush, Luke 18:9-14 might appear to be a passage about prayer, involving two individuals praying at the temple. But really, the issue Jesus is addressing is much deeper. We find the clue in the opening and closing of the passage. V9 “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable.” Confident in or trusting in, relying upon their own righteousness, having faith solely in their own worth. And looking down on everybody else – NLT “scorned”; the lexicon definition has “to despise utterly”, view as contemptible.

      Pride is closely related to PRAISE. Why are you here this morning? Why have you bothered to come to church? Are you here to worship God, because you treasure and appreciate Him and all He’s done for you? Or are you here because it’s the “respectable” thing to do? In the latter case, you may be here to parade your religiosity, to impress others by what a fine upstanding citizen you are. But then the object of worship becomes YOU rather than God.

      This verse suggests a couple of other self-diagnostic questions. On what do I base my self-worth? Do you consider yourself more than a waste of good air because you’re intelligent, or buff, or pretty? Why would raters rate you anything near a “10" – your looks and “hotness”, your athleticism, your smarts and good grades? That ingredient to your make-up may be the factor you’re most tempted to take pride in. Overtly or subtly, that MAY be causing you to have confidence in yourself, to worship yourself.

      Luke notes some people “looked down on everybody else” (v1). Ask yourself: “Who am I tempted to look down on?” Is there anyone here you have not really seen or noticed this morning because they’re old, or young, or poor, or not particularly good-looking? Has your unconscious filter screened out some people so you haven’t noticed them even being here? Do you view as contemptible those parents who’ve been struggling to hush their noisy children? Have you been annoyed by that person “making a joyful noise to the Lord” just a few notes off pitch? We subtly judge and rate people on all kinds of bases.

      V14 Also shows that pride, not prayer, is the main issue here: it has to do with our ATTITUDE. V14b “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” To exalt oneself is to elevate oneself, puff oneself up, putting oneself in the best possible light while trying desperately to mask our imperfections. But our frame of reference is all wrong. It’s like the attitude that says, “I don’t have to be able to outrun the bear: I just have to be able to outrun YOU!” We’re just comparing ourselves to other people. Whereas, in truth, it’s GOD’S frame of reference we ought to be concerned about. Paul scolds the early church in Romans 14:10 “You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” When it comes to ultimate judgment, it’s not the horizontal plane that should concern us, but the vertical. And compared to Jesus Christ, in whom God’s glory was most fully revealed, we all fall short.

      Those we LOOK down upon, we may also TALK down. Some of the more “respectable” people in Jesus’ day tended to MUTTER about those they looked down upon. Luke 15:2 “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."” Lk 19:7 “All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’"” What categories of people might those around you have heard you MUTTERING about recently? That’s probably who you look down on.

      In today’s parable, Jesus contrasts the attitude of two very different people, individuals who are at the very opposite ends of the “respectability spectrum” in the Jewish culture of His day: a revered religious leader, a Pharisee; and a despised civic official associated with the hated occupying political power, a tax collector.


Vv10-12 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men— robbers, evildoers, adulterers— or even like this tax collector.I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” Jesus notes this man prayed “about himself”, literally ‘toward’ or ‘with regard to’ himself. What’s out of whack here? Prayer is meant to be a conversation with God, but this man turns the focus toward himself. Commentator Robertson calls it “a soliloquy with his own soul, a complacent recital of his virtues for his own self-satisfaction...” And - dare we add? - for the edification of all those bystanders within earshot! He’s praising and congratulating himself, not His Maker. He’s broadcasting his brownie points, his boy scout badges, in an echo chamber: not so much for God to hear as probably for those other humans within earshot. In 20:47 Jesus criticized the teachers of the law who “for a show make lengthy prayers”.

      Superficially, this man is a paragon of virtue in the Jewish religious system. Not a ‘robber’ / NLT ‘cheater’ / CEV ‘greedy’. Not an ‘evildoer’ - literally ‘unjust’ or ‘unrighteous’; NLT ‘sinner’. Hmm...Not an ‘adulterer’. He ‘fast(s) twice a week’ - wow! The Jewish law required fasting only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Though Pharisees went beyond this, fasting on Mondays and Thursdays. And he dutifully tithed his income; Jesus elsewhere noted such religious types tithed even spices - “mint, dill, and cummin” (Mt 23:23).

      You get the idea. He’s so busy piling up a list of his religious accomplishments that he’s forgotten the focus of praying is to be on God, not himself. It’s become all about “How good I am” rather than about “How good GOD is”. He’s developed what might be called ‘attenders’ amnesia’: going to worship has become so routine that he’s forgotten the One worship is meant to be about.

      Our Pharisee friend is so busy checking off his list of accomplishments that he’s overlooking Old Testament warnings about the fault that we risk developing when we’ve mastered all the other temptations: that is, pride. Repeatedly we’re warned a stuck-up spirit precedes a fall. Proverbs 3:34 “He [God] mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.” This verse is cited twice in the New Testament, by both James (4:6) and Peter (1Pet 5:5). Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” 29:23 “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honour.”

      Are you so ‘full of yourself’ that your pride meter’s leaving you “cruising for a bruising”? Pride and haughtiness will bring you down. At God’s judgment, you’re going to find out His evaluation scale is very different than those things you’ve been patting yourself on the back for.

      A rich man once invited many honoured guests for a feast. His own chair, richly decorated, was placed at one end of the long table. While he was away, each guest seated himself according to his own esteem of his position in sight of the master. When time came and all were seated, the master moved his chair to the other end of the table!

      As Jesus pointed out in Mk 10:31, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”


Then there’s the other guy in Jesus’ parable. He’s so conscious of his bad reputation and scorned class he doesn’t even dare stand anywhere near the religious man. V13 “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.’” Note his placement, his gaze, and his self-abasement. His placement: “at a distance”, not even considering himself fit to be compared with the others. His gaze: “not even look[ing] up to heaven” - eyes downcast, completely humbled, even ashamed. His self-abasement - beating his breast he’s so ripped up inside over how he’s disappointed God by his behaviour; admitting with his lips that he’s ‘a sinner’, far from bragging on a long list of his accomplishments like the Pharisee.

      This is an example of what Jesus calls “he who humbles himself” in v14. The lexicon describes this as: “to have a modest opinion of one’s self; to behave in an unassuming manner; devoid of all haughtiness.” There’s not one ounce of conceit in the tax collector’s prayer. The emphasis is on, “God, have mercy on me...” For the Pharisee, the focus was “How good I am”; for the tax collector, the focus is “How gracious God is” (and, how sinful I am – though that’s just accepted as a ‘given’). He’s just grabbing at grace, assuming no right to it; He has no claim on God. Thus Christian worship is to be a safe place for CONTRITION and CONFESSION not SELF-CONGRATULATION.

      Commentator Bruce Larson contrasts the two men’s attitude this way. “Our opinion of ourselves reflects who we think God is.The man who said, ‘I am not like other men; I fast; I give tithes’ seemed to see God as a big corporation in which he owned a large block of stock.I’m sure he felt he would one day have enough stock to be a director in the corporation.The publican saw God as unmerited grace, burning love, and endless forgiveness.He was awed by the God he knew.”

      I like that analogy – the proud person sees God as a big corporation in which you own a large block of stock! In some sense, the corporation ‘owes you’ – you have a ‘claim’ on God. Some day you may decide to ‘cash in your chips’. Hence the long recitation of accomplishments in prayer - fasting, tithing – reminding God how much He ‘owes’ you so He’d better grant your request. Sounds like you’ve got God on a leash. Such a ‘god’ though is, in fact, no ‘God’ at all.

      By contrast, the tax collector pleads the gospel in a nutshell: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” No claim here other than sheer grace poured out at the cross of Christ. The Pharisee was proud, stuck up, confident in his own works-righteousness. Christ-followers on the other hand, like the attitude of the tax collector, know the Righteous One became “stuck up” on a cross for their sakes. Salvation is by Jesus’ work for us, not our works for Him.

      Jesus concludes in 18:14a, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.” Went home ‘just’ or ‘righteous’ in God’s sight, reconciled to the Almighty, “put right” with God. Not because of fasting, or tithing, or long-winded eloquent praying, or his honesty, or anything else he might boast of: but simply because he trusted God to be merciful. Justification – being put right with Holy Almighty God – happens on HIS terms, not ours! Galatians 2:16 “...a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” It’s not by our works, which could give us grounds to boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”


Jesus left His place at the Father’s right hand, emptied Himself of His heavenly glory, to become one of us, display God’s miraculous power, suffer and die and rise again so our sins – our many, many sins – could be forgiven. He humbled Himself, submitted to being “stuck up” on a cross so we could be saved from our own faults and pride, being consumed with being ‘stuck up’ ourselves. So He calls us to not be proud, not look down on others, but humble ourselves.

      It’s so easy to fall into the trap of judging others based on superficial features such as appearance. 'USA Today' ran a story about John Barrier, who didn't like the way a bank manager in Spokane, Washington, looked at him because of how he was dressed. John was wearing construction clothes. The problem began when Barrier went to Old National Bank to cash a one hundred dollar cheque. When he tried to get his parking slip validated to save sixty cents, a receptionist refused, saying he hadn't conducted a transaction. "You have to make a deposit," she told him. When told he was a substantial depositor, she didn't believe him. He asked to see the manager, who also refused to validate the ticket. Barrier went to the bank headquarters threatening to withdraw his money unless the manager apologized. No one called. So the next day, he withdrew over $2 million! All because they looked down on his construction-garb appearance.

      Robert E Lee was once riding on a train to Richmond, Virginia. The general was seated at the rear, and all the other places were filled with officers and soldiers. An elderly woman, poorly dressed, entered the coach at one of the stations. Having no seat offered to her, she trudged down the aisle to the back of the car. Immediately, Lee stood up and gave her his place. Then, one man after another subsequently arose to give the general his seat. "No, gentlemen," he said, "if there is none for this lady, there can be none for me!" General Lee knew as part of his Christian beliefs that good manners and humility demand consideration for people in all walks of life, not merely for those of high social ranking like himself.

      As for us – here and now? Your “General” - Jesus - gave up His seat in heaven to bring you there. His mercy has been shown graciously to us sinners. No excuse for us now to act “stuck up”. Now we can share His kindness with others, and express gratitude eternally to Him! Let’s pray.