Jesus exalts…What it is to be humble-Luke 18:9-17
Jesus begins with understanding the true attitude and heart of a man. The text says “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.”
To be confident of our own righteousness is to not see clearly God or ourselves. We have a heart problem and a problem with a the focus of worship. To put confidence in ourselves is to put confidence in the flesh and flesh can only produce flesh but the Spirit can produce its fruits in our lives. To put confidence in the flesh is folly because all flesh even at its best will eventually fail. There is no such thing as coming close to the righteousness of God only falling short.
Putting false confidence in ourselves and our righteousness creates a skewed perspective. In not understanding that true righteousness comes from God we begin to trust ourselves and begin to find fault in others. Looking to God first and worshiping Him helps us to put ourselves in perspective. Understanding our standing and relationship before God helps us to rightly view ourselves in relationship to one another.
When we puff ourselves up we can also be easily deflated. That type of righteousness has to be maintained by us and is always one crisis or comparison away from being exposed as inadequate. Scripture describes the righteousness of man as “filthy rags.” In our best attempt to prop it up against the perceived righteousness or lack thereof of another person is to engage in the greatest folly of all. Righteousness is about our right standing before God and only God is qualified to say if we are in right standing.
Jesus exposes the heart and nature of man with a parable. The parable describes two men. They might as well be any two men or women at any time in human history. They go to the temple to pray, one was a Pharisee (or Jewish law keeper) the other a tax collector.
The first man stood and prayed about himself, beginning drawing a comparison to others. “God, I think you that I am not like other men.” Thanking God that he is not like other men implies that he believes his own righteousness makes him better than these “other men.” For this man it is a form of religious pride. We can only boast in the Lord. In his letter to the church of Ephesus Paul reminds us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
These “other men” he lists as robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector.” He lists generally people that he perceives as some of the worst in the world. It is easier to speak about nameless and faceless people who are doing these things somewhere. It would be like us saying that I am better than some murderer or evildoer somewhere. We set up the image of what we think of as bad or worse than us, and in doing so we are looking around and not up.
There is no proper bearing when we look around, and by the truest definition we will are lost. Like a person lost in a vast forest, looking around all the trees look pretty much the same and a lost person will remain lost. Look instead to the sun, moon, stars, and sky, look above to gain perspective, bearing, and eventually a purposed direction.
When one is lost like this will they make grand claims about their own goodness. The claims of righteousness are in comparison to a generic made up “bad” person to try to inflate or puff up that we can feel better about ourselves. This only lasts until someone “better” than us shows up. We then would be constantly comparing ourselves.
This man sees only himself in view of others and in exalting himself is stealing the glory that belongs to God because of all He is and the great price of grace. Then the height of hypocrisy he looks down and compares and condemns the second man down the road. The second man in his own humility confronts the puffed up religious pride of the first man.
The Pharisee then begins to brag by talking about fasting and tithing as badges of courage rather that humble service to the Lord. This man looks around and feels good about what he has done rather than seeing the Holiness of God and the working of His costly grace.
The tax collector did not feel that he could enter the temple stands at a distance and humbles himself and cries for mercy. This man recognized who he was in relationship to God and understood apart from the mercy of God he would be doomed.
The one who thought he knew better trusted himself and his work and worth under the law, choosing to look around rather than to God. Exalting to the point that God will not. This man’s reward was the applause of others and will soon be empty as the claims he makes.
The second man sees himself before God and does not look around but rather agrees with God that he is a sinner, and pleads for mercy. Only one man was justified before God. God humbles those who exalt themselves and exalts those that humble themselves. The second was justified and to the first puffed up man, “sorry to burst your bubble.”
It may seem disconnected to have this encounter with Jesus, His disciples, and the children following this parable of Jesus. The truth is this scene is a continuation of the same lack of understanding. People are bringing their children to Jesus and the disciples begin to rebuke. We don’t really know why perhaps there were many or they were running around? Maybe the disciples thought Jesus had more important people to meet or talk to?
Jesus quickly corrects them saying let them come for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. He goes on to say anyone who does receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. What does this mean? Jesus loves children, but also think of a child and what they represent…innocence, excitement, trust, love, joy, genuine spirit…and this list goes on and one. It is not an issue of if but how, how one receives the kingdom of God.
A young child is voiceless to communicate or be prideful, but they do discover their cry. Their cries become a place of response of a loving parent. A young child isn’t able to do as much or to understand pride per se and so the young child’s sense of worth and identity is given to them through their family. And so whether it was the children trying to come to Jesus excited to be in His presence or a much older child discovering the primal cries to the Father for both grace and mercy, but also for provision for daily living, and guidance in to out true identities as sons and daughters of the king.
It would be better to think of ourselves as being part of the kingdom and begin to discover our identity as sons and daughters of the king than to assume such and wake up one day to find the dream taken for granted was only that to begin with.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him (not ourselves), and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6