Two Prayers

October 5, 2020

Luke 18

“I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:14 (NLT)

Big Idea: We all come to the Son of Man on equal footing.

In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus told a parable of two prayers and the men who prayed them. A Pharisee, faithful and religious, prayed with bold confidence. He waltzed up to the Temple, lifted up his eyes to Heaven (the normal pattern for prayer in the entire Bible) and thanked God that He was not a sinner like other people – including the tax collector he had walked past – and told God about the good works he did. His prayer sounds almost like a campaign ad, explaining to God why he deserves to be blessed. In contrast, the tax collector did not even approach the Temple. He beat his chest as a sign of mourning, simply recognizing his sin and asking for forgiveness. He gave no justification for blessing him, except a plea for God’s mercy. 

The prayer of the one who made a strong case was rejected and the prayer of the one who made no case at all was accepted. God accepted the publican because he trusted in God’s mercy – not his own righteousness. The Pharisee was rejected because he believed that he had earned a higher footing with God, not recognizing that as sinners, none of us merit God’s love. We get everything we have by grace alone, not by our merit, but by Christ’s. If we want intimacy and blessing from God, the only path is to recognize that we could never deserve it.

Pride is a particularly dangerous sin for at least two reasons. The first is that its cost is so high: it keeps us from receiving God’s blessing. The second is that pride is always within arm’s reach. Even – maybe especially – when we are doing something good, pride is crouching in the shadows, waiting to pounce and consume us. The Pharisee looked at the tax collector and sinned even in his prayer. But let’s be careful, lest we read this story and say “I thank You that I’m not like other people – or even like this Pharisee.” Self-righteousness is the enemy of self-awareness and pride is the enemy of blessing.

Discussion Idea: How can we follow God without being proud? Why is a comparison with other people always a losing game, whether we think we are doing well or not?

Prayer Focus: Pray for God to break the brokenness in our hearts that leads us to compare ourselves with others, and simply come to Him through the cross.