By Scott Brown
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Waverly
Focal Passage: Luke 18:9-17
James reminds us that, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” This is a story of two very different men who come before God in prayer. Those listening would immediately recognize the characters, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
Pharisees were respected with tax collectors being despised in Jewish society. The tax collector prays with humility, knowing that he is a wretched sinner desperate for mercy and hopeless without grace. He would not even look up but cries out to God for mercy.
The Pharisee stands alone and boasts before God and man the wonders of his own greatness. He was using public prayer as a brag sheet to make sure everyone knew how spiritual he was, though he wasn’t at all. He boasts of all the great things he has done for God and is even praising God that he is better than so many others, even the tax collector. Of the two, it is surprising which one truly understood prayer.
Genuine prayer is essential to Christian growth. As illustrated here, prayer develops a deeper sense of our dependence upon Christ. Spiritual growth, too, is not growing to need grace less, to need Him less, to need His mercy less. Spiritual growth is a deepening sense of our own continually desperate need for Him, His grace and mercy, His presence, His power in our lives. The tax collector recognized his need for Jesus.
The Pharisee was blinded by his own sense of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. His own righteousness kept him blinded from seeing and receiving the righteousness of Christ. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke immediately follows with a story to further drive the point home. Jesus rebukes His disciples for rebuking the people after bringing children before Jesus.
He even holds them up as the example for the Christian life, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” This could be a comment on a child’s ability to trust entirely by faith. Maybe, but it is most definitely a comment on an infant’s complete dependence on another. Infants can do almost nothing for themselves. They know they are entirely in need of mercy and unashamedly cry out for it.
As we grow and learn to become more independent in this life, we tend to also think we are less dependent on Christ. To the contrary, Jesus illustrates, we can only receive the kingdom like a small child. We must come to Jesus through faith and in utter dependence upon Him. We don’t then grow to ever need Him less but only to recognize our deep, constant need of Him even more. B&R