I like to cook. Kim and I work as a team in everything we do, including sharing the duties in the kitchen. Much of what we prepare is done from memory, but occasionally we need to break out the cookbook to make sure we have measured out the right amount of ingredients. If I make a mistake on those measurements, I mess up the meal.
There is, however, a measurement mistake that does more than mess up a meal. It messes up your entire life!
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “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.’
“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.’
“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.” (Luke 18:9-14)
In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, both men measured themselves. The Pharisee made the mistake of measuring himself against other men. His sin was the sin of comparison, rooted in religious pride and self-righteousness.
The tax collector, on the other hand, refused to compare himself with other men. Instead, he examined himself to see how he measured up against God and His standards. When he did, he came face to face with the truth that sets you free: we don’t measure up, and that is why we so desperately need the One who does. His name is Jesus Christ.
Ever wonder why the Pharisee measured himself against robbers, evildoers, and adulterers, and “even . . . this tax collector”? Because he was sure he would measure up against them and come out on top . . . as opposed to measuring himself against Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
So . . . how often do you do the very same thing?
The tax collector refused to measure himself against other men. He knew he stood alone before the judgment bar of the Almighty, and instead of making the measurement mistake of comparing himself against other men, he pleaded for mercy. He understood the deepest truths of the Gospel: it is not about our merit and measuring up. It is only about God’s mercy.
In fact, the tax collector sounded a great deal like the apostle Paul, who referred to himself as “the worst of sinners” in his first letter to Timothy. The literal Greek translation of the tax collector’s prayer is, “Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner!” Did you catch it? The tax collector called himself the sinner. Unlike the proud Pharisee who could not see or sense his own sin, the tax collector was personally, profoundly and painfully aware of his own sinfulness.
It’s important to note the tax collector did not rattle off a long list of his many sins and ask forgiveness for them. Instead, he pleaded for forgiveness, because he knew he was a great sinner and in need of an even greater Savior.
One more thing to reflect on is the honesty of the Pharisee in listing all the “good” he was doing. He really did fast twice a week and tithe. He was very religious, not only in following the letter of the law, but going beyond the letter whenever possible. The problem with the Pharisee was not in what he did, but in what he didn’t do. He did not acknowledge God’s grace in all of his “good works,” but instead took credit for it. He did not see his need for a Savior because he was saving himself.
The tax collector “smote his breast” in repentant sorrow, but the Pharisee thumped his own chest in self-righteous confidence: “I do this,” he purred contentedly, “and I do that.” He had completely forgotten—or perhaps he never knew—that “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
So who do you most closely relate to in the story? The tax collector? Or the Pharisee? How would those closest to you answer? Only when we see ourselves as the tax collector, who believed he was THE sinner, do we begin to understand the Gospel in all of its glory and begin basking in the grace of God.
The next time you inclined to compare yourself with someone else, look up . . . instead of out! Then fall to your knees and thank God for His amazing gift of grace, nailed to a rough cross on Golgotha’s hill a little over 2000 years ago. The One who hung there had your name written on His heart. He became “the sinner” . . . in your stead and in mine. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!