WORTHY? – God welcomes those who approach Him in humble and simple faith.
MEMORY VERSE: LUKE 18: 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
When we look in a mirror, our adjustments begin. The mirror gives us a clearer picture of who we are. The same is true of the Bible. We don’t just read the Bible, the Bible often reads us. By nature, we are prone to view ourselves more highly than we ought. Real faith is demonstrated in and through humility. God welcomes those who approach Him in humble and simple faith.
THE CONTEXT (LUKE 17:1-18:30)
Jesus constantly interacted with three groups of people as He traveled toward Jerusalem. Pharisees appeared along the way. Some of them apparently traveled with the crowds that followed Jesus. They used every opportunity to mock Jesus’ teachings and His ministry to sinners and outcasts. Jesus firmly responded to them, sometimes with rebuke and at other times by teaching spiritual principles.
Jesus also continued His disciples’ preparation, even as He spoke to the Pharisees. He used conflicts with Pharisees to educate the disciples in the ways of the kingdom. Chapter 17 begins with a continuation of Jesus’ introductions to the disciples. Referring to the Pharisees, He noted that offenses would come, but God would hold such persons accountable. At the same time, believers must be willing to forgive (17:4). The disciples were not sure they had the faith to live this way, so they asked Jesus to increase their faith. He taught them that the quality of faith was more important then the quantity (17:6).
The third group varied as Jesus traveled. He stopped in towns and villages, preaching and healing people who met Him. As Jesus approached Samaria southward from Galilee, He turned eastward along the border between the two regions. On the way, Jesus met ten lepers who asked for healing. Although Jesus healed all of them, only one – a humble Samaritan – returned to offer thanks (17:11-19).
Luke is not a step-by-step chronology of Jesus’ journey. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Luke included incidents that were important to the gospel. The Pharisees’ questions about the kingdom provided opportunities for Jesus to teach His disciples as the time of His death was drawing near.
Jesus continued using parables to demonstrate kingdom principles as He contrasted the self-righteousness of the Pharisees with the humility of sincere seekers of the kingdom. Some people, like the blind beggar, came to Him in desperation and went away healed and rejoicing (18:35 – 43). Others, like the rich young ruler, left sorrowful and unfulfilled because they were not willing to humble themselves and follow Him (18:18-23).
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector rebuked self-righteous people and summarized the necessity of humble faith. Jesus wanted the disciples to value humility. No one is worthy of the kingdom of God. By grace, God grants admittance to people who repent of their sin and place their trust in Jesus as Savior.
RELIGIOUS PRIDE (LUKE 18:9-12)
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:
Our attitudes toward ourselves and others often reflect our opinion of God. Pride was the original sin of Satan and of Adam and Eve (Isa. 14:14; Gen 3:1-7). It continues to be the source of sin today (1 John 2:16). If we approach God with humility, understanding our neediness before Him, we are more likely to have similar humility toward our fellow human beings. The reverse is also true. If we arrogantly consider ourselves superior to other people who are created by God, we are likely to be insubordinate toward God. The parable’s depiction of the Pharisee exemplifies persons who do not see their need for God or other people. They think they are self-sufficient; therefore, they become self-centered.
The focus of self-trust involved their belief that they were righteous. This term refers to someone who is just before God. Ironically, it also carries the connotation of being without prejudice. The Pharisee in Jesus’ story was very prejudiced. Pharisees believed they had special status with God because of their heritage and their positions regarding the law. To trust in themseves that they were righteous meant they believed they had achieved righteousness by status and works. They did not understand God’s grace; consequently, they saw no need to confess sin.
When people consider themselves spiritually superior, they tend to look down on everyone else. They scorned tax collectors and notorious sinners but also sneered at Jesus because He associated with these individuals.
10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
These individuals represent two kinds of people. The first includes those who think they enjoy an exclusive relationship with God. The second character exemplifies societal outcasts who recognize their neediness before God. The tax collector symbolized sinners whose occupation, heritage, or behavior was contemptible to the religious people of their day.
Jews generally observed three hours of prayer at the temple: 9:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, and 3:00 in the afternoon. The Pharisee’s idea of prayer was an attempt at impressing God. The tax collector’s prayer involved humbly seeking God and His forgiveness.
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.'
Remember that the practice in the past was to pray speaking rather than praying silently. This Pharisee would have prayed loudly to call attention to himself and to insult the tax collector near him. Prayer should be either about God (as in worship and praise), about others (using intercession), or about oneself (in confession, repentance, and petition). The Pharisee was not praying in any of these ways. Instead, he bragged about his perceived righteousness. He claimed to thank God, but in reality he was listing reasons whey God should be thankful for him.
People so easily fall into that old trap of comparing themselves to others by feeling superior. The Pharisee generalized other people as being detestable sinners and inferior to himself. The Pharisee was like persons who fasted to gain the praise of other men (Matt. 6:16-18), Jesus warned scribes and Pharisees who were proud of the extensive tithe but neglected the weightier issues of “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23). He called them hypocrites – not because tithing is wrong but because they had the wrong attitude. Jesus affirmed they should honor God with the tithe and also treat their fellow human beings with love and respect. Jesus pronounced a “woe”, a warning of impending judgment, against such persons who put on a show of righteous actions while treating other people unjustly.
Believers must safeguard against religious pride. The parable does not argue against doing good works, but anything we do must proceed from humble hearts. We cannot earn righteousness. True righteousness comes from God’s grace as we confess our neediness and place our faith in Christ.
GODLY HUMILITY (LUKE 18:13-14)
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.'
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."
Verse 13 contains several ways the tax collector demonstrated humble worship. He did not feel worthy to come any closer to the sacred holy place. Second, he did not respond to the Pharisee’s insult, but focused on his own relationship with God. Third, bowing his head demonstrated he did not feel worthy even to gaze toward heaven as he prayed. Fourth, he showed remorse by continuing to strike his chest. The tense of the verb indicates continuing action. He kept striking his breast and kept asking for mercy.
As Jesus stated “I tell you”, he wanted His listener’s attention. Jesus spoke directly about people who considered themselves to be righteous apart from God’ grace. The tax collector “went home justified before God”. He knew he was a sinner and needed God’s forgiveness. Jesus indicated God responded to his prayer with forgiveness, bringing the man into a right relationship with Himself.
Jesus affirmed the kind of person who humbles himself. Godly humility results from recognizing our extreme poverty before Him. Such an individual will be exalted. Believers must confess their sins to the Father. We have no basis to claim any merit before Go
d. All of our efforts at righteousness cannot cancel a single transgression. Like the tax collector in this parable, our only hope for reconciliation with God requires humbly acknowledging our sins, engaging true repentance, and placing our faith in Christ.
CHILDLIKE FAITH (LUKE 18: 15-17)
15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.
The following scene continues Jesus’ emphasis on the childlike humility necessary to become a part of God’s kingdom. To His disciples, it seemed there were more important things for Jesus to do rather than just blessing the children. Jesus wanted to make a point about the importance of one’s faith in Him, even from a childlike trust in Him.
16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
Luke drew a contrast between the disciples’ attitude and Jesus’ compassion. While the disciples tried to discourage the parents, Jesus invited them. Jesus was emphasizing the childlike humility and faith necessary for someone who desired to be part of God’s kingdom (Luke 9:47; Matt. 18:1-4).
Whenever Jesus wanted to make an especially important point, He used phrases similar to this one “I tell you the truth”. As with the humble tax collector, these children displayed simple, open-hearted faith. By contrast, anyone who does not exhibit qualities “like a little child” can never hope to receive and enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus used a second word that also sheds light on the meaning of “kingdom”. The term “enter” implies going into or becoming part of something. By eagerly receiving Christ’s rule by faith, we can enter a place and a position. The place is the presence of God. The position is a right relationship with Him.
God builds His kingdom on childlike trust and honesty. By humbly repenting of our sins and recognizing we are unworthy of His kingdom, we place our faith in the worthiness of Jesus. Through Him, we enter the kingdom and enjoy blessings found only in His presence.
John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Acts 4: 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
Colossians 1: 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.
22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation--
23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.