The Law of Humility
In this parable, Jesus brought together two individuals that we would consider to be complete opposites- one that would be considered notable and one that would be considered notorious:
- First, we have a Pharisee. Now the Pharisees, as you may know, were the religious leaders of the land during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Many of the Pharisees sought to know God’s Word, to understand it, and to apply it to every aspect of their daily lives. And for the most part the Pharisees held to sound biblical doctrine. For this reason the Apostle Paul, when on trial in Jerusalem, was not ashamed to refer to himself as a Pharisee, as we read in Acts 23:6.
- In stark contrast to this Pharisee the other character that Jesus confronts us with is known as a tax collector– or, to use the old King James Version term– a publican. Now the publicans, as you may or may not remember, were Jewish people who were working for the Roman Empire, which was the tyrannical government that was keeping the Jewish nation in slavery. Publicans were tax collectors for the Roman government, and they were infamous for hiring mercenaries to aid them in their work and to extract much more than their fair share from the taxpayers around them. As Martin Luther noted when preaching on this text, those hearing this parable of Jesus would have known the publicans to be a group of people “living in open sin and vice… [serving] neither God nor man” and making it their business to rob, oppress, and harm, their neighbors.
Now this word “justified” mentioned by Jesus at the end of the parable means that the publican was made righteous in God’s sight. God considered this known sinner– this man who had lived in open rebellion against His Law until this time– to be completely free from sin, whereas the Pharisee, who had devoted his life to keeping God’s Law, went home without even having his prayers heard by God.
How can this be?! As Martin Luther asked of this passage, “Will God now speak and decide against his own law, which justly prefers those who live according to it, to those who live opposed to it in open sin? Or does God delight in those who do no good and are nothing but robbers, adulterers and unjust?” No, beloved, but there is a higher Law at work here– a Law that can only be apprehended by faith– a Law that Christ refers to at the end of this passage, when He teaches, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This Law– the Law of humility– is absolutely crucial to your life if you wish for your life to have eternal value and to be accepted by God.
[More to come...]