Sunday, October 29, 2017


Jesus Enters Jerusalem

This event is often called The Triumphal Entry.

After staying with Zacchaeus in Jericho, Jesus headed toward Jerusalem. The road took him up the Mount of Olives, or Mount Olivet, to the village of Bethany. Bethany was on the east side of the mountain.

Mount Olivet is the middle of three peaks in a mountain ridge just east of Jerusalem. It was named for the olive groves that once covered it. From Bethany, Jesus could follow the road up and over the ridge, then down into Jerusalem.

Jesus intended to enter Jerusalem on a young donkey to show that he is the Messianic King. He would fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, which says:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 

Therefore, Jesus sent two of the disciples into the village, telling them they would find a colt, a young donkey, that no one had ridden. They were to bring it to Jesus. (Luke’s account only uses the word “colt”, but Matthew 21:2 describes it more fully as the colt of a donkey.)

In the Old Testament law, animals sacrificed for the atonement of sin could not have been used for common, non-sacred, tasks previously. They could not have been used to plow fields or pull wagons. (Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3) Similarly, here, the donkey which would serve the Lord was not used by anyone else before.

The two disciples found it just as Jesus said they would. (32) They followed Jesus’ instructions and told the owners the Lord had need of it. That was all the owners needed to hear; they allowed the disciples to take it. Of course, all things belong to Jesus, including this donkey. He created all things and all things were created for him. (Colossians 1:16)

In a sense, Jesus was acting as king, as king of kings. He has the right to claim ownership of everything that was made. He owns what we all possess and may call for it as he wills. The owners of the animal must have agreed with this idea, for they let the disciples take the donkey without protest.

The disciples brought the donkey to Jesus. They threw their cloaks on it and set, or lifted, Jesus onto  it.  (35) This the disciples tribute to Jesus as king. He was too exalted to sit directly upon the donkey, so they put their cloaks on it. They exalted him further by lifting him onto the donkey.

Jesus then began riding the colt up and over the ridge on the road to Jerusalem. He was presenting himself as king in fulfillment of the scripture in Zechariah.

We see that the disciples recognized this, because, as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the ground in front of him so that the colt’s feet touched their cloaks and not the ground. This was an act of reverence and honor to Jesus the king. For example, when Jehu was anointed as king of Israel, the army commanders laid their cloaks on the ground for him to walk on and proclaimed him king. (2 Kings 9:13)

As Jesus began the descent down the mountain toward the Jerusalem, the disciples began to rejoice. They praised God loudly for the mighty works they had seen Jesus do. They yelled “blessed is he king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” (38)

They were using the words of Psalm 118:26, which says “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!. But they changed the word “he” to “the King”. Clearly they understood that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem as king.

They also seemed to refer to the words of the angels who appeared to announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. The angels said “glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased”. (Luke 2:24) Here the disciples said “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest”. (19:38) It was great praise.

However, they misunderstood the kind of king Jesus came as. They thought the Messiah had come to be crowned as victorious king, ready to drive out the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel. Despite what Jesus had taught them about the coming of the kingdom, they believed it was about to happen. Certainly, Zechariah 9:9, referred to the coming of a king. But they missed, or ignored, the part which says he was coming in a humble fashion, represented by the donkey.

Israel had, for a long time, been dominated by greater powers. Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Syria and Rome had controlled them. Their intense desire to be free of foreign rule colored their expectation and their interpretation of scripture. The Jews longed for a new David who would be mighty in deed, leading a new exodus, driving out the foreigners. It would be the beginning of a kingdom of righteousness and peace.

But Jesus did not come to Jerusalem on this occasion for a coronation. He came to die for our sins. He had told his disciples this three times before but they did not understand it.

There was one group that did not share the joy of the disciples: the Pharisees. They did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, the king, or the Son of God. We see this in their address to him: they called him “teacher’. Therefore, they saw the praise of the disciples as blasphemy. They told Jesus to rebuke his disciples.

But Jesus did not heed the rebuke. He acceptable the disciples’ worship and praise because he was entitled to it. He deserved it. He said, in fact, if the disciples did not praise him, the stones along the road would cry out in praise. (40)

Jesus deserved the praise of all of creation. All things were created for him. He will be praised. Romans 8:19-21 tells us that all of creation groans for the day it will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain freedom of the glory of the children of God.

We today must give Jesus the honor he deserves as king. He is no longer the suffering servant. He is the highly exalted king, sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven. He has a name that is above all names. (Philippians 2:9)

Jesus Wept for Jerusalem

When Jerusalem came fully into view for Jesus, he wept for it.
Although he was in the middle of disciples who worshipped him, he knew most in Jerusalem would reject him. His coming presented them a dilemma: follow him or execute him.

We see the humanity of Jesus on display here. He was grieved that God’s city, the city of the temple, will reject him. He wept over it. (41) He preferred that they had believed that they could have peace with God through him, but they could not see it.(42)

Jesus also grieved for the consequences Jerusalem would suffer for rejecting him. He told them what that would be: the city would be attacked and destroyed. (43-44) The Romans did it in 70 A.D.

This is an interesting paradox that teaches us something about God: God ordained that Jerusalem be destroyed for rejecting the Lord Jesus, but Jesus grieved for them and  the suffering to come. God is just & will punish sin. But God does not enjoy punishing and wants men and women to repent.

In Ezekiel 33:11, God said:
“Say to them, as I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from you evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel.”

We should share Jesus’ concern for those who are lost and headed to judgment.

As we worship him and enjoy him, let us also tell others about him.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


Parable of the Minas

This parable is the last teaching of Jesus before he entered Jerusalem. All of the events that occur after this teaching occur in Jerusalem except for Jesus’ retreat to the Mount of Olives.

This is another story where Luke told the reason for the parable at the beginning rather than the end. Jesus told the parable because he was nearing Jerusalem and because his disciples thought the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. In other words, Jesus knew those who believed he was the Messiah thought he would become an earthly king when he got to Jerusalem. Jesus told this parable partly to counter that belief, and to instruct his disciples how to live until his return.

Some believe this story has an allusion to a historical even. Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. One of his sons, Archelaus believed the Roman Emperor would make him king. He went to Rome to receive the royal title from the Emperor Augustus.

The Jews did not want Archelaus to be king. Once during a Passover, he slaughtered several thousand Jews at the temple to quell a disturbance. The Jews sent a delegation to Augustus to seek another king. They failed, though, and Archelaus became king. He then executed his opponents.

Jesus said a nobleman went away to a far country to receive a kingdom. He, like Archelaus, went to be declared king of the country where he lived. It was not the “far country” where he would rule, but his home country.

Before the man left, he called 10 of his servants and gave them responsibilities.

To the servants, he gave money to invest while he was gone. He told them to “engage in business until I come”. He gave 10 minas to each one. (13) A mina was about three month’s wages for a laborer. Ezekiel 45:12 says it was sixty shekels. So, in the absence of the king, the servants were to be about his business and make a profit for him.

The king’s servants are the first group of people, and the main group, involved in the story. The second group is composed of his enemies. Jesus said his citizens hated him and sent a delegation to the far country saying they did not want the man to reign over them. (14)

When the man returned, he indeed returned as a king. (15) He called his servants to account. The first two servants made money with the king’s money. The king called them good servants and said “well done”.

He also rewarded the good servants proportionately to their service. The one who made 10 minas was given 10 cities. The one who made five minas was given five cities.

The one who did not engage in business, and made no money, lost his minas and they were given to another

The man who received a kingdom represented Jesus. Jesus would not receive his kingdom simply by going to Jerusalem. He would go to the far country of death and burial before being raised and ascending to heaven to receive his kingdom from the Father. Remember Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man coming to the Ancient of Days, who gave him dominion and glory and a kingdom. (Daniel 7:13-14). That is a picture of Jesus receiving the kingdom from the Father.

One of the things we see in the parable is the concept that Jesus’s return is not immediate. It is delayed. The man in the parable traveled far away and it took long enough for his servants to work and invest his money and make money for him. We also see this concept in the fact that Luke told us the story was told because some thought the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. (11) In fact, the next story shows us many people calling him king and hailing his entry into Jerusalem.

This is also another example of Jesus preparing his disciples for their life between his ascension and his return. They did not understand it at first, as evidenced by their question at his ascension: “will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel”. (Acts 1:6) But they would come to understand it later.

When the Jews spoke of the Kingdom of God coming, they meant the full and final realization of the kingdom in Christ’s rule over all the earth. Jesus was teaching them that the kingdom had come with him, but it would not be fully realized until his return. He came in humility the first time. The second time he will come in glory.

We still live in this interim time. The kingdom has come and is growing, but is not fully realized. The question for us, then, is how do we live while we wait for Jesus to come in glory? Jesus answered that question in the parable by showing what the king expected of his servants.

Since he used the number 10, he did not refer to the Twelve only, but all of his disciples, represented by the number 10.

We are to take what Jesus gave us and engage in business until he returns. What Jesus gave us was and is the gospel. He gave us good news of salvation through grace by faith because of his death for us. He entrusted the gospel to us to use to make his kingdom grow.

Paul wrote: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 4:2)

That is the essence of the Great Commission: go and make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:18)

In the parable, the man gave the same thing to all of his servants. He expected the same thing from them, that they would engage in business to make a profit.

Jesus gave the same thing, the gospel, to all of his servants. He expects all of his servants to engage in the business of sharing the gospel to the increase (profit) of his kingdom.

We know that the gospel is effective to accomplish the work of the kingdom. In Romans 1:16, Paul wrote “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Since the Great Commission passage is so often preached in sermons about missions, some have come to think that the only way we faithfully serve is to serve as a missionary. But we are faithful servants if we work hard for the kingdom.

Certainly, missions and witnessing are crucial parts of the work of disciples. But, so is every activity that evidences that we are changed by the gospel and are servants of Jesus.

We do this by faithfully growing in spiritual maturity through Bible Study and prayer, by faithfully gathering together to worship, by raising families in the faith, by depending on God rather than ourselves and by serving others. We also faithfully serve by sharing the gospel with others, by doing the work of missionaries and by giving to support the work of missionaries and evangelists.

We see that Jesus will hold us accountable for our service. The king called each servant before him and made them account for what they had done with his money.

We also that the king not only demands faithful service, he rewards it. The king said “well done, good servant”. He gave rewards for service, proportionate to the service. Yet, the reward was also disproportionate to the service. The servant made 10 minas, but received 10 cities!

Even greater, the Bible says that Jesus’ faithful servants will reign with him. 2 Timothy 2:12 says “if we endure, we will also reign with him”. In Revelation 3:21, Jesus said “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne”.

Sadly, there was one servant who failed to serve. He did not engage in business, he just kept the money wrapped up in a cloth. He resisted his master’s instructions and refused to use his gift. Jesus said he was a wicked servant. The king took his money away from him and gave it to the faithful servant. Jesus had already taught that “whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it”. (17:33)

The second group of people are the enemies of the king. They hated him and said they did not want him to rule over them. (14) The king had them killed. (27)

There will be many who reject Jesus. They refuse to serve him. They refuse to acknowledge him as Lord and as King. The Bible is clear that those who reject Jesus will suffer the second death, which is eternal punishment and torment.

I am grateful to have heard the gospel from faithful believers from an early age. In addition to my parents, there were many women who taught Sunday School for children. They told us the stories of the Bible. They told us about Jesus. There were also pastors and evangelists who preached the gospel and singers who sang it.

This often occurred in small churches and small towns with no glory attached. There was no fame for these people. They were simple people who received the gospel and gratefully invested it in others, including me.

May God grant us the grace to serve him in all aspects of life and the courage to tell the gospel to others. May we long to hear the words “Well done, good servant”. And may we indeed hear them on that day.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Jesus Foretells His Death

This event seems like a transition of sorts. Jesus has been heading to Jerusalem for some time.  Back in 9:51, Luke wrote “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

Now he is close to Jerusalem, just outside of Jericho. He is around 20 miles from Jerusalem. From here, events will move more quickly toward his death. So he warned the disciples again about his destiny. He said “See, we are going up to Jerusalem”. (31)

Jerusalem is where Jesus will be killed. He reminded them of that, telling them again that he will die. This time he gave very specific details. He said:
he would be delivered over to the Gentiles (the first time he said this);
he will be mocked, shamefully treated and spit upon;
he will be flogged;
he will be killed; and
on the third day he will rise.

Notice that Jesus said “everything that is written abut the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished”. (31) He meant that all of the events he detailed about his death were written about by the prophets and these events fulfilled those prophesies. We know that because he put the word “for” between “accomplished” and the list of events.

Thus we know that Jesus’ impending death was not unknown to God. Peter said that Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. (Acts 2:23) God knew it, planned it, and told the prophets about it.

There are many prophecies in the Old Testament about the Messiah, his suffering and sacrificial death. You could start with God’s curse of the the serpent (and by representation, Satan) in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel”.

Psalm 22:16-18 says:

“For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet -
I can count all my bones -
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”

This is a prophecy of the crucifixion.  

Isaiah 53 also portrays a suffering servant who is wounded, crushed, flogged, slaughtered and buried.

Daniel 7:13 speaks of a son of man ascending to the throne of God and receiving glory and a kingdom.

All of these prophesies and more were fulfilled in Jerusalem in Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Jesus knew he was going to die. But he also knew he would be raised and ascend to the Father.

Despite their knowledge of the prophecies, the disciples did not understand. They understood his words, but not their ultimate meaning. They did not understand why the Messiah would be killed by Gentiles because they thought the Messiah would run the Gentiles out of Israel and restore the kingdom. They did not understand the resurrection.

Luke, in fact, wrote that the saying was hidden from them. He did not say why God did that. But we see that, they see Jesus after his resurrection. And we see that, after the Holy Spirit came upon them, they understood the prophecies and their fulfillment. Peter’s first sermon referred to Joel 2, Psalm 16 and Psalm 110:1.  

The Beggar Who Believed

This story starts with the words “as he drew near to Jericho”. This tells us something about his route to Jerusalem. If he had walked straight from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jericho would have been out of the way some 18 miles to the west. But we know that some Samaritans refused to let Jesus enter their villages with his disciples. (9:51) That is when Peter wanted to call down fire on them.

It is possible that Jesus took the route that devout Jews often took to avoid Samaria. He would have gone over into the area of the Decapolis to the east, walked south through Perea, then crossed the Jordan into Jericho. From Jericho he would walk to Jerusalem, passing through Bethany.

On the way into Jericho, a blind man sat by the road begging. It was a good place to beg, for Jews traveling to Jerusalem and the temple would pass by and be inclined to give alms to him.

When the beggar discovered Jesus was passing by, he yelled out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”. Others told him to be quiet, but he yelled out even louder. Jesus had him brought to him and asked him what he wanted Jesus to do for him. He asked to recover his sight. Jesus said “recover your sight; your faith has made you well”. (42) And the man recovered his sight.

Let’s look at how this passage fits into the ones we recently studied. First, the man was persistent. Jesus told a story of a persistent widow to show that we should always pray and not give up. (18:1-8) This man did not give up.  

We also studied a story about approaching Jesus humbly. One involved a tax collector. The tax collector said “be merciful to me”. (18:13) Because he sought mercy he was justified. The beggar likewise said “have mercy on me”. (39)

Jesus also demonstrated by receiving children, that we must receive him in child like faith to enter into his kingdom. (18:17) The beggar had faith. He called Jesus “son of David”. (18:38) He referred to the promise God made to David in 2 Samuel 7 that the Messiah would come from his lineage. In other words, the beggar believed Jesus was the promised Messiah.

Because of the beggar’s faith in him, Jesus made him well. (42) The beggar received his sight. He responded by following Jesus and glorifying God, as should anyone who has been saved. This caused others to glorify God as well.


This story occurs as Jesus entered Jericho on his way through to Jerusalem. The story involves another tax collector, this time a chief tax collector who was very rich. He was also short, so he climbed into a tree to see Jesus.

Jesus saw Zaccheus in the tree and told him to come down because Jesus must stay at his house that day. (5) Jesus had already been criticized for eating and drinking with tax collectors, so you can imagine how they would feel about him spending the night in a tax collector’s house. Luke says “they all grumbled” and they said “he has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner”. (7)

It is sad that the “righteous” people criticized Jesus for eating with sinners rather than pray and hope Jesus would make those sinners righteous.

Zacchaeus received Jesus joyfully. (6) He seems to have believed in Jesus. He bore the fruit of salvation and repentance, vowing to make restitution four fold to anyone he defrauded in his tax collection. Plus, he vowed to give half of his goods to the poor. (8)

Notice the comparison between Zaccheaus and the rich ruler. Jesus told the ruler to give up his possessions to the poor and he could have eternal life if he followed Jesus. He refused. But Zaccheaus, of his own volition, borne of his joy in meeting Jesus, gave up half of his possessions plus made restitution to others he had wronged. Zaccheaus proved the point Jesus made: “what is impossible with men impossible with God”. Indeed a rich man can be saved. (18:27)

To make sure everyone knew what had happened, Jesus declared “today salvation has come to this house”. (9) Yes, Jesus had gone to the house of a sinner. Then he brought salvation to Zaccheus and his family. And that was the mission of Jesus, to seek and to save the lost. (10)  

It is still his mission today, and he carries it on through us.

Sunday, October 08, 2017


The Rich Ruler

This story continues Jesus’ teaching of how one enters the kingdom of God. The ruler who approached Jesus asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. (18) The rest of the story is an answer to the question.

The ruler believed he could earn his way into eternal life. That is why he asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.

The “ruler” who asked the question must have been a religious leader. The Jews did not rule themselves other than in religious matters. He may have been a ruler of a synagogue, the one who led the services. Or he may have been a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, who ruled much of the daily life of the Jews. Either way, he was an important person.

The ruler addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher”. He recognized him as one who went around teaching about God. He may have been flattering Jesus in hopes of getting a favorable answer to his question. He did not address him as Master or Lord, indicating he did not believe Jesus was the Son of God.

Jesus challenged him on that point, focusing on the word “good”. He asked the man why he called him good, since only God is good. Jesus is God, of course. And he was leading the man to see that receiving Jesus as savior and lord was the path to salvation rather than works.

Jesus carried on his point by saying essentially “you know what to do, obey the commandments”. He listed some of them. (20) Truly, if one could obey all the commandments, never sinning, he could earn his way into the kingdom. As Paul wrote, Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due”. (Romans 4:4) But no one can. (Romans 3:10)

The ruler had a sense of self-righteousness like the Pharisee in the temple. He said “All these I have kept from my youth”. (21) In other words, he said he never sinned.

Jesus responded that he lacked one thing to have eternal life. (22) What he was actually doing was confronting the ruler on the first commandment. It was a subtle way of saying “you say you keep all the commandments, how about the very first one?”

Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give the money to the poor, then to come and follow Jesus. Jesus said, if the ruler gave up his treasure on earth, he would have treasure in heaven. By that he meant eternal life.

What Jesus demanded was total commitment. He demanded that the ruler put Jesus, the Son of God, above all else. And the ruler could not give it. He was sad about this, but unwilling to give up his riches. (23) Jesus showed that the man had not kept the very first commandment: “you shall have no other gods before me”. (Exodus 20:3) Money was this man’s god, his idol, and he rejected the Son of God for it.

To drive his point home, Jesus said it was difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. He said it was more difficult than getting a camel through the eye of a needle. (25) He picked the largest animal around and the smallest hole to show how difficult it is.

Why is that? People with lots of money and things tend to be self reliant. If everything goes well every day, it is difficult to think you need anyone but yourself.

The disciples were shocked. They were so shocked the said “then who can be saved?” That is because most people of that time thought that riches were a sign that God recognized a person’s righteousness. The idea still exists today.

Jesus answered the question by saying what is impossible with men is possible with God. (27) Salvation comes from God as a matter of his grace upon those who believe and repent. God can draw a rich person, or a poor person, to himself and save them. But it will never be because of their righteous deeds or wealth. It will be because of his grace.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing: it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Luke often wrote using contrasts. One example is the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. There is a contrast here also.

The preceding story involved Jesus and children. Jesus received the children. He said you cannot enter the kingdom of God unless you receive it like a child. (17)

It is easy for a child to depend on Jesus. They know they are not self sufficient. They depend on others for everything. In contrast, this ruler depended on himself and on his wealth. He did not want to relinquish his self-reliance to rely on Jesus. He did not want to give up his pleasures nd comforts to follow Jesus. The ruler wanted Jesus only if he could have him on his own  terms.

Peter took this opportunity to compare himself and the other disciples to the ruler. He said the the disciples had left their homes to follow him. In other words, they had chosen Jesus over money, property and comfort. It was true. Luke 5:11 says they left everything and followed him.

That meant that they would have eternal life, as Jesus told the rich man. Maybe Peter was seeking reassurance from Jesus that it would be worth it.  Maybe he wanted to ingratiate himself to Jesus. Maybe he just wanted to know if it was worth it.

Jesus responded that everyone who left home and family for the sake of the kingdom would be repaid many times over in this life. They would receive a new family, the family of God. They would be welcome in the homes of other believers.  (Psalm 68:6)

And, best of all, they will also receive eternal life. (30) It was a promise of both present and future blessing to those who follow Jesus.

Sunday, October 01, 2017


The Story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

As in the previous parable, Luke telegraphed the meaning of this story in his introduction to the story. Luke wrote that the parable was directed to those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt”. (9)

The immediate audience must have been the Pharisees. They worked to obey all kinds of rules they invented to help them obey the law. As a result, they considered themselves righteous. And they looked at all others with contempt, or looked down on them, because they did not keep these rules.

Self righteousness and contempt go together. Almost anyone who feels he or she obeys all the rules will feel contempt for those who do not. Those whose religion has devolved into rule following, with no real love for God, are involved in legalism. Legalism breeds pride and pride breeds contempt. Legalism also tends to kill one’s love for God, for people come to feel that God owes them. If they are blessed, they deserved it. If they are not blessed, God is not doing his part. Grace and gratitude are lost.

Jesus conveyed his message by constructing a story around two characters: a Pharisee and a tax collector. (10) They were opposites in status. One would not expect a tax collector to go to the temple and pray, whereas Pharisees were very religious. The two men were also opposites in their approach to God.

A little side note: Jesus said the went up to the temple to pray. They had to go up because it was built on a hilltop.

The Pharisee

The Pharisee stood to pray, as was the common practice among Jews. It appears he stood in a prominent place to be noticed. He stood apart from everyone else. But he did not pray so much as brag. He bragged that he was not like other men, and named some sins others committed. He distinguished himself from the tax collector also. As we have seen, tax collectors were looked at as Roman collaborators and cheats.

The Pharisee then bragged about his specific acts of righteousness. He fasted twice per week. The Pharisees had come up with this requirement. The Law did not require it. The law only required one fast every year, on the Day of Atonement. (Leviticus 16) There is nothing wrong with doing more than the law requires, unless you interpret it as making you righteous through your acts and, especially, more righteous than others.

The man also tithed all that he received. Tithing was required under the law. It required them to tithe their seed, wine, oil, and the firstborn of the flocks. (Deuteronomy 14) Even then the Lord allowed them to consume the parts that were not burned in sacrifice. They were to eat it before the Lord and rejoice. In this instance, the man was obeying the law by tithing. He even tithed where it was not required. But he was bragging about it.

The Tax Collector

In contrast to the Pharisee, the tax collector went off by himself. He was contrite. He beat his breast with his hand, a sign he recognized his sin and was sorrowful and repentant. He also seemed to be ashamed. He would not look up to heaven as the Pharisee did, deeming himself unworthy.

In his conviction of sin, the tax collector cried out to God for mercy. He said “be merciful to me, a sinner”. (13) He realized that he was a sinner and that sinners are under the wrath of God. Paul wrote it clearly: “the wages of sin is death”. (Romans 6:23) He did not have the self righteousness of the Pharisee. So, he asked God to be merciful.

God gave the commandments, the law, to be obeyed. Yet, he knew men and women could not keep all the commandments. He knew they would sin. So, he gave them a way to obtain mercy. It was through the animal sacrifices. A man would place his hand on the animal sacrifice and confess his sins. This symbolized that the sinner’s guilt was transferred, or imputed, to the animal. The animal was then sacrificed, killed, on the altar. The animal died as a substitute for the sinner.

On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would take the blood of the sacrificed animal and sprinkle it on the mercy seat. This was the lid of the ark and the place where God’s presence dwelled. The ark was the container for the stones of the commandments. The sprinkled blood was the proof that that atonement had been made. The sacrifice had come between the Holy God and his sinful people.

The blood covered their sin and their guilt was removed. Additionally, God’s wrath was turned away from the sinner. The blood showed that God’s justice was satisfied and his wrath turned away. Then God could look on the sinner with favor rather than wrath.

This is what the tax collector was asking of God. He was asking God to cover his sin, turn away his wrath, and save him from eternal judgment.


God answered the prayer. Jesus said the tax collector was justified, made right with God. And he said the Pharisee was not.  Jesus pronounced the tax collector righteous because he repented and asked for forgiveness. The Pharisee did not receive anything from God, including forgiveness, because he did not believe he needed it and did not ask for it.

To sum up, Jesus gave a principle he gave several times: those who exalt themselves will be humbled; those who humble themselves will be exalted by God. We must come to God in humility, acknowledging our sin and seeking mercy and forgiveness. He is the exalted one. We are not.

An Example of Humility - Children

The next story is a demonstration of the principle Jesus taught. People brought children to him, even babies, so that he would touch them, meaning to bless them. (15) These people, at a minimum, realized Jesus was a prophet and man of God. They thought he could bless their children.

The disciples rebuked the people. This was in keeping with the culture. Children were at the bottom of the social order, having no status at all. Nobody told children they were special in those days. So, the disciples figured that the children would annoy Jesus, who was, at least to them, an important person.

But Jesus countermanded the disciples. He wanted them to come. And he used them to point out a truth. It was, in fact, basically the same truth as in the previous story.

Jesus said it was those who receive the kingdom of God like a child who will enter it. They come in humility and in faith. They come because they love Jesus.

Even today, children love Jesus. Pick a young child and read him or her Bible stories about Jesus and they love him. They love him finding the little tax collector, because they are little people. They love him healing the sick, because they have been sick. They respond to Jesus’ love, compassion and mercy with no hidden agenda. We have to come to him the same way, in humility and love.