TEXT: Luke 18:10-14
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
We are in a series of messages titled “Praying Through the Bible: A Series on Every Passage and Verse Regarding Prayer in the Bible.” The purpose of this series is to encourage and motivate you to pray to the God of the Bible. We highlighted each of these over 500 verses and passages in the Prayer Motivator Devotional Bible. So far, we have completed 172 messages in this series.
This is message #173 titled, The Necessity of Being Humble When You Pray
Here we have another parable of Jesus regarding prayer that uses depictions of every day people to make a point about the nature of God when it comes to prayer. In this story, we are presented with two individuals from two very different walks of life.
First, we have the pharisee — a religious leader, well-versed in the law, no doubt well-to-do. The pharisee would have been looked up to in the community as an example of great righteousness.
Then, we have the publican. A publican was a person who collected taxes for the Roman government. The publican was allowed to add on whatever fees he wanted to add to the taxes as long as he delivered to the Roman government what they were due. Publicans got rich by charging their fellow citizens exorbitant fees. For this reason, publicans were hated by society. Jews especially hated other Jews who had become publicans. To them, collecting taxes for the Roman occupation government was like turning your back on a family member.
Both of these men, the pharisee and the publican, realize their need to communicate with God. Jesus says these “two men went up into the temple to pray.” I believe that, at some point in life, everyone will realize that they need to communicate with God. Some are forced to it by tragedy and suffering; others pursue it in order to find purpose in their lives. Some people say they experience God in nature; others only come to God when they are in need of something. But most people, at some point, will realize that they need to have some kind of relationship with God.
However, we cannot just approach God any way that we want. We must approach Him the right way, and that is where the two characters in this parable are different.
The pharisee approaches God arrogantly. Jesus says, “The Pharisee stood…” Look at his posture — he stands and prays. There is nothing wrong with standing when you pray, but this pharisee’s posture is a reflection of his attitude. Not only is he standing physically, but he is standing up on the inside as well. He views himself as important enough to stand before God.
In most ancient kingdoms, there was a certain way in which everyone had to approach the king. You could not just come before the king any way you wanted. You had to bow or you had to come kneeling. In some cases, you had to get down on all fours and put your face to the ground. In other cases, you had to kiss the ring on the king’s hand or kiss his sceptre as he extended it to you. You might recall from the book of Esther that the Queen of Persia could not even come before the king unless she had been called. If she did, she risked execution. And she was his wife.
The pharisee in our passage does not understand this. He thinks that he can come standing in the presence of the King of kings. But he’s not done. Look at how he prays: The pharisee “prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” He is not praising God, he is not confessing his sins, he is not interceding for others, he is not even asking God for something. He is simply boasting to God about his accomplishments. Marvin Pate said, “It is entirely possible to address your words to God, but actually be praying to yourself, because your focus is on yourself, not on God. Your passion is for your agenda, not God’s. Your attitude is my will be done and not Thy will be done. The man was full of praise, but he rejoiced not for who God was but rather for who he was!”
Now, let’s turn our attention to the publican. He has an entirely different approach to God. Jesus says, “the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven.” This hated tax collector had money, he had a mansion, he had all the material things he could ever want. But, he felt wretched before God. He did not even deem himself worthy enough to stand in the front of the temple in front of everybody else. He stood in a corner so he couldn’t be seen. He did not even think enough of himself to turn his eyes toward heaven as he prayed. Rather, he “beat upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”
Unlike the pharisee, the publican recognized his true standing before the King of kings. He didn’t come boasting about his accomplishments and the good things he had done. He knew that none of that would put him in good standing with God.
Another thing we notice is that the publican’s prayer was short and to the point. While the pharisee used a bunch of words to say nothing — he didn’t even make a prayer in the true sense of the word — the publican simply said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” The publican stated who God was — “God.” He stated who he was — “a sinner.” And he stated his request — “be merciful.” There is power in humble prayer. There is power in simple prayer. Charles Spurgeon said, “Oh, that men would learn to pray with less of language and more of meaning! What great things are packed away in this short petition! God, mercy, sin, the propitiation, and forgiveness.”
Now, we would be inclined to think that God would at least appreciate the righteousness of the pharisee. He was not an extortioner. He was fair to everyone. He had never committed adultery. He fasted often. He tithed faithfully. He certainly wasn’t like the publican. Surely, God saw all of this and determined that this man was in right standing with him. But, no! Jesus says, “I tell you, this man [the publican] went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
The publican was successful in prayer because he came before God humbly. He did not come trusting in his accomplishments and good deeds to gain God’s acceptance and favor. Rather, he recognized his need and threw himself wholly upon the mercy and grace of God.
When we pray, we too, must come humbly, recognizing that we are nothing and that He is everything — that we are needy and He is our supplier — that we are sinners and that He is our Saviour. Please understand the necessity of being humble when you pray. Humility before God is the way to great blessings in life.
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Now, if you are with us today, and you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour, your first prayer needs to be what we call the Sinner’s Prayer. First, please understand that you are a sinner, just as I am, and that you have broken God’s laws. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”
Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Also, the Bible states in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
Now this is bad news, but here’s the good news. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will.
Romans 10:9 & 13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved… For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
If you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead, and you want to trust Him for your salvation today, please pray with me this simple prayer: Holy Father God, I realize that I am a sinner and that I have done some bad things in my life. For Jesus Christ sake, please forgive me of my sins. I now believe with all of my heart that Jesus Christ died for me, was buried, and rose again. Lord Jesus, please come into my heart and save my soul and change my life today. Amen.
If you just trusted Jesus Christ as your Saviour, and you prayed that prayer and meant it from your heart, I declare to you that based upon the Word of God, you are now saved from Hell and you are on your way to Heaven. Welcome to the family of God! Congratulations on trusting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. You have done the most important thing in life. For more information to help you grow in your newfound faith in Christ, go to Gospel Light Society.com and read “What To Do After You Enter Through the Door”. Jesus Christ said in John 10:9, “I am the door, by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”
God loves you. We love you. And may God bless you.