For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles
himself will be exalted. (Lk. 18:14)
In Luke 18, Jesus tells the story of two men, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. Now tax collectors were hated by the Jews in Jesus’ day. This is because they literally were working for the enemy. The nation of Israel was being occupied by a foreign army, the Roman empire, and in order to fund their continued occupation, they exacted taxes from the Jewish population. Thus, Jewish tax collectors were extreme pragmatists—if you can’t beat them; join them. And so they worked for the Roman army collecting taxes from their Jewish neighbors and family. Gentiles (non-Jews) and tax collectors were viewed to be outside the covenant relationship with God. However, in this story which Jesus tells there is an interesting turn of events. You see the Pharisees were the religious leaders of that day. They meticulously held to the law, even tithing “mint and dill and cumin” (Matt. 23:23). Yet, we are told in this story that the Pharisee “standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get’” (vv.11-12). He was proud of all his good works and believed that God would be proud as well. But then Jesus tells us that “the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'” The tax collector was grieved by his sin. He knew he had no right to even lift his eyes to heaven, let alone ask God for mercy. Then Jesus says something that would have shocked his audience. “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." What?! The tax collector went home justified in the eyes of God, and not the one who strove to keep all of God’s laws? Yes, because salvation is not about doing or not doing, but about glorying in what glorifies God and being grieved by what grieves God.
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