2015-5-17 Arrogance and Pride

LUKE 18:9-17                                                                                            MAY 17, 2015


I love old movies and one of my favorites is the movie Shenandoah with Jimmy Stewart as the father of a large family. In the movie he said a blessing for the meal they were about to eat. “Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it and harvested it. We cooked the harvest, it wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-boned hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food we’re about to eat. Amen. The pride and arrogance of the character is easily seen in his supposed prayer of thanksgiving. His prayer reminds me of the prayer of the Pharisee in this parable that Jesus told.

When Jesus told this parable he was not singling out the Pharisees. He meant this for anyone who thinks their good works have earned themselves a good standing before God. Luke 18:9 (NIV) 9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable.” I like the wording in the ESV, “He also told a parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” This parable addresses the danger of arrogance and pride for anyone who thinks very highly of his/her religious practices. This attitude can be clearly seen in the self-righteous prayer of the Pharisee.

Jesus provides us with a sharp contrast between the prayers of the two men who had come to the Temple to pray. First I want to look at what we can discern about the Pharisee. During the time of Jesus most of the Jewish people admired the Pharisees for their devotion to following the commands of God. People admired them for their dedication to doing their best for God.

There were two set times when prayer was held jointly during each day for prayer; 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Anyone could come to the Temple at other times to pray.  Luke 18:11-12 (NIV) 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” The Pharisee is praying out loud, so everyone could hear his prayer. The pronoun “I” is used four times in this short prayer. He speaks a word of thanksgiving and does not ask for anything, but neither does he confess any sins. Evidently he thinks he does not need to confess any sins because he has broken no commandments. He is quite proud of himself as he compares himself to the “sinner” standing nearby. He did not thank God for helping him to not rob, to not do evil, and to not commit adultery. He kept the commandments by his own efforts. He speaks to the crowd reminding them that he is not a traitor to his country like the tax collector who works for the Roman oppressors collecting their taxes.

The Pharisees then brags about himself and his dedication. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” Fasting was only required once a year on the Day of Atonement. Yet the Pharisees fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursday, having only bread and water. The Pharisee even tithed a tenth of what he bought in the market, even though the farmer had already tithed his crop to the Lord. His attitude is one of bragging, not of being thankful for what God has done.

On the other hand we have a known sinner. The tax-collector worked for the Roman government and was hated and despised by the people. It was also known that tax collectors also took more than they needed for their own benefit. So he not only is a traitor, but he even stole from the people besides. He would not have been able to go to a local synagogue because he would not have been welcome. So he went to the Temple where he could pray.

Jesus describes the hated tax collector in Luke 18:13 (NIV) 13 “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.’” The tax collector knows his sin and is so ashamed that he would not even look up to heaven, which was the practice of prayer at that time. He used words similar to Psalm 51, which was David’s prayer of confession and repentance. Psalm 51:1 (NIV) 1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.” The tax collector knew that he had done nothing good and simply asked for God’s mercy.

God looks at the heart to discern the attitude. Luke 18:14 (NIV) 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The Pharisee was prideful of his efforts in following the commands of God. We need to understand that God is pleased by our obedience in following his commands but God desires that we do so because we love God and want to please him. We are not to compare ourselves with others. We will always be able to find someone worse than we are, especially when we are judging from the outside. God judges our hearts and knows the wickedness in each of us. We all stand before God, like the tax collector, as guilty condemned sinners who are trusting in the grace and mercy of God, through Jesus Christ.

Luke then tells us the story of where the disciples kept children from coming before Jesus. The disciples thought the children were not important. They thought they were protecting Jesus, so he could spend time with the adults. Jesus rebuked the disciples. Luke 18:16-17 (NIV) 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Children have a sense in knowing who loves them. Children were drawn to Jesus because he loved them. May we be drawn to Jesus because He loves us!

We must come to Jesus, like children, with child like faith. They come to Jesus as they are, without bragging about how good they are. Luke put these two stories together because we need to understand that pride and a haughty spirit is a hindrance to faith. We must come before Jesus with an open heart and mind. We have nothing good in us, because our sinful nature has corrupted our very being.

Mrs. Dan Crawford, a missionary to Africa told this story. An African girl about nine years old repeatedly ran away from home to attend the mission school. Her parents did not want her to attend and they would beat her and drag her home. She always returned as she loved to hear the Bible stories and sing the hymns of faith. Her parents were desperate and turned her over to the witch doctor. This didn’t work either. Her mother did not want her to leave her tribal customs so she took her daughter into the jungle and tied her to a tree, thinking the lions would scare the Jesus faith out of her. In the morning a young boy found her. He saw the tracks of many lions, but none came closer than five yards. The girl said that she saw the lions, but when she saw them she thought of Daniel in the lion’s den. She prayed that the Lord would protect her. She said that God soon gave her peace and the calm assurance that he would not let her be harmed.

May we hold on to our faith in the same way, trusting in Jesus to take care of us! Don’t let your mind get in the way. Trust in Him! God sees our hearts and attitudes, so let us not pretend to be something we are not. What we are is a sinner saved by grace! Thanks be to God for his mercy!

Let us pray.

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