Luke 18:9-14 – The paradox of pardon


Baptismal Service – Tony Harris

Luke 18v9-14.


BAPTISM – strange for some who may have never seen this before! What’s going on? Some would call this adult baptism BUT I would rather refer to it as believer’s baptism.

This is a symbolic act/ outward expression of what has already happened to Tony inside/spiritually. Tony has already come to God by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and has received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

He is now publicly affirming that by being baptised – this is an important act and has deep spiritual significance but in no way adds to the gift of salvation Tony has already received! i.e. this is a physical/outward act to express/explain a spiritual reality!


So what does happen in order for a person to know salvation through Jesus Christ?

Many aspects – let’s look at one – a foundational/fundemental element!


A Parable of a religious-man and a tax-man.


A  Parable  about two kinds of people.

two kinds of prayers.

two kinds of guilt.

two kinds of outcome.


1. Two kinds of people.

A Pharisee and a tax-man // both go to the temple to pray // This is a very praiseworthy thing to do, surely! –  both leave the temple believing that they have prayed and yet we are told that one leaves having been heard by God and the other not. [the Jewish Temple in Jesus day in Jerusalem- Very familiar to all the hearers]


Who are these men? the shock factor is lost on us but not on Jesus’ hearers.

TAX-MAN – In our culture a tax-man, while the butt of a few jokes, is generally a respectable member of the establishment – NOT so in 1st C Israel – more like a town official collaborating with the Nazi’s in occupied France – this man collected taxes for the occupying Roman army – the Jews didn’t just make jokes about them but would lynch them given a chance and would spit on them and curse the ground they walked on.

PHARISEE – they have become known to us as religious hypocrites but this was not the view of Jesus listeners. He was a churchman, a Bible scholar, diligent in his observance of God’s laws, a model of religious righteousness, an ardent supporter of Mary Whitehouse, ‘Keep Sunday special’, and the Moral Majority.


So why is it that the tax-man is heard and not this religious leader?


2. Two kinds of prayers.


What is so wrong with the Pharisee’s prayer and right with the tax-man’s prayer, that God’s expectation is so radically different from our expectation?

It is not that difficult to see why!!

Luke 18:11 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. (NIV)

prayed about himself – could be ‘to himself’ a soliloquy! This is a frightening thought. Possible to go to Church thinking you want to meet with God, leave believing that you have YET to be self-deceived!!


Why is his pray rejected? Not difficult to spot.

ILLUS.: [Roy Clements] – A man going to his doctor and saying: “Doctor I want you to know that I am in superb health; my lungs are functioning perfectly, my muscle tone is ideal, my digestion couldn’t be better, my circulation is A1, I have no infections, no ailments, no diseases. In short, doctor, unlike the miserable specimens I see in your waiting-room, there is absolutely nothing wrong with me at all!”


What could the Doctor do for this man? He would leave the surgery unchanged having benefited not at all! His visit was pointless – except to parade himself.

He asks for nothing as he thinks he has no need!!

Had the doctor been allowed to examine him he over confidence may have been somewhat dented if not shattered!

Doctor – “Your blood pressure is a bit high — we need to do some tests on  that mysterious lump – you should see your dentist about that tooth And did you know that you are a diabetic!!

His complacency doesn’t invite such an examination!!


This is exactly the kind of person Jesus is talking about when he said

Matthew 9:12    …., “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (NIV)


The Pharisee is a good example of this – he came to the temple- not to seek God but to congratulate himself – he is also an exhibitionist – he wants all around him to know how good he is.


TAX-Man can of course hear …….

Luke 18:11-12 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ (NIV)

Tax-man is all too aware of his need – he beats his breast – a sign of profound emotional distress – with a broken and sorrowful heart he cries to God in anguish –

Luke 18: 13  “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (NIV)

This is the kind of pray God hears –

If we feel no need of God – if we are self-satisfied and self-sufficient we will feel no need –


How hungry are we for God? how desperate for his grace?


This tax-collector didn’t go to church to be entertained or like the Pharisee to entertain others. He went in need – like the sick go to a doctor – God heard his prayer because God always hears the prayers of such a person – crooks, rogues, adulterers, no matter!


3. Two kinds of guilt.


paradoxical irony – the Pharisee is feeling innocent yet Jesus implies he went home condemned // the tax-man feeling guilty yet Jesus says he goes home acquitted!!


Strange – we know there is such a thing as irrational guilt – psychiatrists deal with this kind of anxiety often. BUT it is equally possible to feel no guilt whatever when in fact we should feel guilty.


ILLUS. just this week on BBC radio 4 the programme “Vice or Virtue” were discussing guilt and many panelist were saying it is not helpful – it increases stress levels ….


Yes – I am sure the Pharisee had little stress – he had no pangs of guilt whatever.

BUT there is such a thing as guilt – it is not just an irrational feeling // it is a fact!


But in the modern day guilt is often not something to be repented of before God but to be treated by a psycho-therapist – I am not saying psychotherapy is all bad but to paper over real guilt is foolishness in the extreme.


The Pharisee uses some very well-worn techniques to deal with his feelings of guilt in respect to his position before God —

  • he focuses on what he has not done!! – ‘I don’t do this //that …’ this can be a convenient smoke screen behind which we try to conceal the many sins we have committed.
  • he focuses on rules!! – he goes to an extreme in this area – he fasts twice a week when the Jewish law requires only once per year // he gave a 10% of everything right down to the herbs in the garden when the law said 10% of income was adequate — a classic way to try and avoid feelings of guilt is to try and accumulate enough Brownie points to compensate // this is fatally flawed logic  // “Yes your honour, I was doing 90 mph down the High Street but I never park on Double yellow lines surely you can take that into consideration!!”
  • he focuses on comparing himself to others – “I thank you that I am not like other men!”  In our self-righteous smugness we can so easily  tut-tut about the antics of others “I would never do that!”                              ILLUS.: It is like the SS teacher who after teaching this parable drew the obvious moral lesson [he thought] “Now children let’s thank God that we are not like that proud Pharisee!!”


It is so easy to think like this Pharisee – it is easy to FEEL all right but do our feelings correspond to the real state of our souls??


The tax-man had no illusion about himself  – he didn’t try to rationalise he guilt away – or persuade himself that he wasn’t so bad after all — or hide under a cloak of legalistic practices ………… He simply cried to God – ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner –  and Jesus says that he went home not just feeling better BUT his moral standing before God turn right around.


4. Two kinds of outcomes.

Luke 18:14   “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (NIV)


justified – this is the language of the court room NOT the psychiatrists couch!

It has nothing to do with how the Tax-man felt and everything to do with what GOD had to say about him. He was declared innocent before God – justified – not guilty.


What made the difference between this man and the Pharisee? It was the grounds upon which that sought acquittal before God.


The Pharisee was confident in his our self-righteousness and looked down on every one else. He was confident of getting to heaven by his own effort – he would be able to boast to God about how hard he had worked to get to heaven  BUT .. listen to Jesus everyone who exalts himself will be humbled –


The Tax-man is humble and pleads for mercy – a weak translation  – old English “propitiates” — this is the language of sacrifice – the sacrificial ritual of the temple is which this story takes place.

His hope of forgiveness is not simply in God’s love and compassion –  His eyes are on the altar where that priest has offered sacrifice for the sins of the people.

Please God, I see the blood stains of the altar. Accept that sacrifice on my behalf and be propitious towards me!! . He is not appealing to God’s better nature but laying claim to God’s remedy for sin.


Some think that forgiveness is easy for God – its his business, isn’t it?? NO!  God is not morally indifferent or inconsistent — he can’t say that sin doesn’t matter — he is loving and merciful BUT he is also righteous and Holy — that is why in the OT there HAD to be an altar and a sacrifice.


The sacrifice is a symbol of how serious sin is before God — some people are squeamish about blood — WELL God is squeamish about sin — it repulses him.

The sacrifice speaks of death – the penalty for sin.. Nothing except sacrifice expresses adequately the anger and revulsion of God towards sin.

Forgiveness is offered to the sinner freely BUT never make the mistake of thinking it is cheap!!


The Tax-man has understood this about God — so he cries “God be propitious to me, let my sin be atoned for. I don’t minimize the seriousness of my wrongs. I don’t underestimate the punishment they deserve. I see the blood. I know the cost. Please God turn your anger away from me. Be satisfied with the sacrifice that has died in my place today. Have mercy on me the sinner!”


Have you sought God’s pardon this way or are you like the Pharisee banking on your own moral achievements.


The sacrifice this Tax-man saw was an animal sacrifice – it could not really take away his sin -BUT it pointed to the real sacrifice that did and still does take away sin – JESUS CHRIST dying on the cross – the Son of God shed his blood once and for all to make atonement for the sins of the world.

So you and I must pray, “God have mercy on me. I don’t ask for cheap forgiveness. I do not underestimate the seriousness of my wrongdoing. I deserve death. BUT please God be satisfied with Jesus who died in my place to take away sin  and be merciful to me, the sinner!!”


When we do that we hear the word “This one went home justified before God!!”


We are all guilty before God until we come to him like this Tax-man – to be justified // to receive the peace of God // to become a child of God in his kingdom.


This is what Tony has realised – he came to God like this — this baptism is a public recognition of what God he done for him and he obeys Christ’s command to be baptised.


ILLUS.: In the 18th C a British slave trader – a hard, uncouth, foul-mouthed drunken sailor was at sea in the midst of a storm and thought his life was about to end — in desperation he cried out to God “Lord have mercy on me!” God heard him  and saved his life and his eternal soul. YES it was John Newton!!  Some time later he wrote these words …

Amazing grace – how sweet the sound-

that saved a wretch like me;

I once was lost but now I’m found ,

was blind but now I see.

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