|Two men were in the temple on the same day, at the same time, in the same place, doing the same thing, for the same reason. Though they had several things in common, there were striking contrasts between the two. One was religious, the other was wretched. One was respectable, the other was despicable. One was good, the other was bad. One was a Pharisee, the other a publican, or tax collector. Had you been there that day, you certainly would have been far more impressed with the pious intellectual than the political scoundrel. However, when you read their story (Lk. 18:9-14) it is worth noting which one of the two impressed God.|
Secondly, the Pharisee was extremely man-centered. In verse twelve he elaborated on his twice weekly fasting and faithful tithing. Did he hold up two fingers and then ten just in case God couldn’t count! In a sense, he was handing in his Christian service report card to God. By doing this publicly, he certainly drew the attention of other worshipers to himself. From Matthew 6 we learn that the Pharisees had mastered the use of a trumpet when they gave, their loudest voice when they prayed, and a sad face when they fasted. Jesus had pointed out that Pharisees did all this to be seen by men (Mt. 6:1-5,16). We might say that when a Pharisee appeared in the temple, it was show time!
What Impressed God
So why was the publican the one who was justified? The simple answer is that he was God-centered, not self-centered. He stood alone, he would not lift his eyes, he beat his breast, and his only words were addressed to God Himself: “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk. 18:13 nkjv). His simple prayer was for mercy, because he knew he was a sinner. Though the temple may have been crowded with people, no one noticed – no one, that is, but God. This humble sinner called out to a holy God and confessed his unholiness. The sinful one pleaded for mercy from the Sinless One. Unimpressed with himself, and having no desire to impress the crowd, he looked to God. The simple result was that “this man went down to his house justified.”
There are many folks in church on Sunday morning who desire the favor of God. They know what is right, and do what is right, yet they are not right with God. In James 4:8 we read, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” This is the sincere desire of many Christians, and probably was even the desire of the Pharisee that day in the temple. Unfortunately so many fail to understand that the only way to go down the path of personal revival is by taking steps of humility: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord” (Jas. 4:10). The publican saw himself as desperately needing God’s mercy.
When a person comes before God like the Pharisee – with a list of what he knows or what he does or who he is – he may impress men, but he does not impress God. There may even be an announcement about his achievements, followed by applause, but only people will be impressed – not God.
The beautiful hymn, “Nearer Still Nearer,” written by Leila N. Morris (and printed below) is a prayer which begins with these words: “Nearer, still nearer, close to Thy heart, draw me, my Savior – so precious Thou art!” But the words of the second verse have a different tone: “Nearer, still nearer, nothing I bring, naught as an offering to Jesus, my King; only my sinful, now contrite heart.”
The publican never heard the words of this hymn, but they express the attitude of his heart. He saw himself as a low-down sinner with no other option but to throw himself upon the mercy of God. In and of himself he had no goodness to offer, just his badness. He did not see himself as a spiritual hero, but rather as a spiritual zero.
What Revives Us?
Revival results when men and women respond to God with the publican’s heart. James 4:10 tells us this: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” The publican does not lift himself but rather lowers himself. God, who dwells in the “hill of the LORD” and in “His holy place” (Ps. 24:3) draws near and brings this person into His presence – forgiven, cleansed and justified. There is no more blessed experience than coming away from meeting God with a heart that is revived.
By Tom Palmer
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org