Luke 18:9-14 – The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

The following presentation is a message I plan to deliver to our youth group (middle school and high school) today at 10:30.  I pray that it would go well, and God would use this to impact them for their eternal benefit.


Today we’re going to be looking at one of the most well-known parables of Jesus – the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.  The title of the message is “Are you justified?” Open your Bibles to Luke chapter 18 and let’s read it:

First, I want you to notice who Jesus told the parable to: “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else”.

What an indictment this description is!  This attitude is not the attitude of a Christian before a Holy God.

Based on what we know about Jesus’s interaction with the Pharisees, this passage may have been directed at them (as well as anyone else who would be confident in their own righteousness).



The Pharisees were the religious leaders in Jesus’ day.  They were trying to adhere to, not only the 613 commandments given to the Israelites in the Mosaic Law, but thousands of additional rules, regulations and traditions in “the Mishna”.

(The Mishna is an ongoing compilation of sermons and sayings by Jewish rabbis meant to interpret the original Mosaic Law. The original intent of these additions was to clarify the law, but it ended up adding many layers of complicated regulations.)


The Apostle Paul himself was trained as a Pharisee (by Gamaliel Acts 22:3; Phil. 3:6).  But, after his conversion to Christ, he viewed his former life as worthless – saying:

So, we as Christians should never be “confident in” our own righteousness…

Because of their zeal for the law, the general population would’ve considered the Pharisees to be about as righteous as one could be.  Jesus even referenced this during the Sermon on the Mount when He told the people:

Even though Jesus knew that the people regarded the Pharisees as righteous and holy, He also knew that they placed a heavy burden on the people because of their legalism.  When he delivered His great rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, He opens the chapter by describing them:

(phylacteries consisted of a black box, which contained a parchment with four passages from the Old Testament: Exodus 13:1-10, Exodus 13:11-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21.

The Jewish men also wore an outer garment that had tassels on the four corners. This was a command by God through Moses in Numbers 15:37-41 and Deuteronomy 22:12. This garment became a prayer shawl and covered the head during prayer.)

Jesus went on in that chapter to call them out on their hypocrisy:

Matthew 23:27-28, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness”.

Let’s watch a little video clip depicting this scene:


Wow!  That was from a movie called “Jesus of Nazareth” from the 1970’s.

Jesus was not “Barney”!

This was only one incident – Jesus had many other challenging and direct interactions with the Pharisees.

So, with this knowledge of the Pharisees, let’s now learn a little about the other character in the parable – the Tax Collectors.

The Tax Collectors were widely regarded as great sinners in Jesus’ day.

Here are 4 reasons why the tax collectors had such a bad reputation.  First, no one likes to pay money to the government, especially when the government is an oppressive regime like the Roman Empire of the 1st century. Those who collected the taxes for such a government bore the brunt of much public displeasure.

Second, the tax collectors in the Bible were Jews who were working for the hated Romans. These individuals were seen as traitors to their own countrymen. Rather than fighting the Roman oppressors, the tax collectors were helping them.

Third, it was common knowledge that the tax collectors cheated the people they collected from. They would collect more than required and keep the extra for themselves. The tax collector Zacchaeus, in his confession to the Lord, mentioned his past dishonesty (Luke 19:8).

Fourth, the tax collectors were often rich. Many resented supporting the tax collectors’ lavish lifestyle. The tax collectors were ostracized from society and formed their own clique, further separating themselves from the rest of society.

So, in the parable, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector go up to the Temple to pray.  The Pharisee starts first.  According to the text he stands up and prays “about himself”.  Well that’s an accurate statement – in 2 short verses, he uses the word “I” 4 times!

His “prayer” hardly deserves to be called a prayer.  He starts off addressing God, but after that, all we hear about is:

  1. His morality
  2. His religiosity
  3. How the Tax Collector was just the opposite.

His Morality

He talks about how he’s morally superior to other men – he’s not

  1. a robber,
  2. an evil doer or
  3. an adulterer

His Religiosity

How he performs “religious acts”:

  1. fasts twice a week
  2. gives a tithe (1/10 of his income)

It’s almost as if the Pharisee is explaining to God how good and worthy he is and how lucky God is to have him on His team!

It reminds me of a quote from a video interview of Michael Bloomberg on April 21st, 2017, where he says this:

This is a stunningly arrogant statement…  Anyone with an attitude like that – thinking that they deserve heaven – is going to be very surprised when they are standing before a Holy God on judgement day (if their attitude doesn’t change).

Contrast the prayer of the Pharisee with the Tax Collector.  Even his posture before God in prayer is different.  The text says “he stood at a distance and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast…”

The Tax Collector’s prayer is very simple and “to the point” – “God have mercy on me, a sinner”.

The prayer contains a straight forward admission of his own guilt and a request to God for mercy.

There’s none of this in the Pharisee’s prayer.  The Pharisee doesn’t:

  1. Acknowledge his sins
  2. Ask for forgiveness
  3. Ask for mercy

It is not even clear that the Pharisee realizes his need for forgiveness and mercy!  Rather, it sounds like he is promoting himself and touting his achievements.  Yes, he does give thanks to God, but it is thanks for his AMAZING self!

The Jews during Jesus’ time, went up to the Temple once or twice a day to worship – 9AM and 3PM (Acts 3:1).  At those times also, there was the offering of the morning sacrifice and the evening sacrifice (Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 28:1-8) which came to be called the Tamid Sacrifice.

All of those offerings pointed to Christ Jesus – who made a sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 7:27, 9:22-28, 10:5-14; 1 Peter 3:18).  Every sacrifice that died on a Jewish altar pointed to the Lamb of God (John 1:29).

So, these men went up to the Temple at the very time the sacrifice was being offered.  And there’s the Pharisee – he has no regard for the blood sacrifice.  He has no regard for “substitution” – he has no regard for Divine satisfaction of God’s justice.

All he’s interested in is for God to pay attention to who he is and all of his worthiness, greatness and righteousness!  It’s like he’s saying, “On the basis of all that I am – bless me!”

But the Tax Collector sees that same offering being offered to God – he sees the blood and he beats his breast and says “God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”.

I want to explain some detail here so that you know the significance of that word “mercy” in what the Tax Collector said.  It will make you see why sometimes you can get more insight if you look into the original language of the Bible.

Our English word “mercy” is used 54 times in the New Testament.  But it is not always translated from the same word in the original Greek language.  For example, in the 18th chapter of Luke, “mercy” is used 3 times – once in verse 13 in our passage and also in verses 38 and 39 where a blind man calls out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

But the root word in the Greek in v38 Eleeo (el-eh-eh’-o) means to have pity or compassion on someone – to help “the afflicted”, which the blind man was.

However, in verse 13, when the Tax Collector says “God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”, it’s a different Greek word:  Hilaskomai (hil-as’-kom-ahee) which means to become “propitious”.


This is the verb form of the word “propitiation” (Hilasterion), which some of you may’ve heard of.

It is the word which is used when talking of Jesus’ atoning death for our sins.  I will read one small passage where propitiation is used – you will certainly have heard at least the beginning of this, from Romans 3 (NASB):

Let me read that in another translation (NIV):

And yet another (NLT):

So, in effect the Tax Collector was asking God, “Let your rightful anger with me be satisfied on the basis of the blood shed upon the altar!” – and that’s the Gospel!  It was like he was saying “Jesus died for my sins”.

Even our weeping and our repentance and our faith – that’s not going to satisfy God’s justice.  “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20) – God demands death for sins!  “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a) – The Savior and His death – that’s what satisfied God’s justice!

The Tax Collector’s prayer reminds me of that old hymn of the faith Rock of Ages:

Now let’s look at Jesus’s assessment of the 2 prayers…

Jesus says “I tell you that this man (the Tax Collector), rather than the other (the Pharisee), went home justified before God.”

It would’ve been stunning to people to hear that this rotten, sinful Tax Collector was justified with God, but the Pharisee, as righteous as he appeared, was not justified before God.

What does it mean to be “justified” before God?  It means that Christ’s righteousness is credited to us and that our guilt is credited to Jesus on the cross.

I’ve heard it said that justified means “Just as if I’d never sinned

The Bible says that God “has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12)

And if you are justified before God, you are “saved” and will go to heaven one day.  So, I ask you – are you justified?

The Bible says that most people will proclaim their own goodness (Proverbs 20:6).

You can go to the person on the street, start a conversation and ask, “Are you going to go to heaven when you die? And if so, why?”  The answer will most likely be, “Yes, because I’m a good person.”   Then if you follow up to ask why they think they’re good enough to go to heaven, the answer will likely be, “I don’t kill, hurt or steal, I’m kind, I help others when I can.”  The average person thinks that “good people” go to heaven and “bad people” go to hell.  The problem is that they don’t understand what God’s standard is.  How good would you have to be to make it?

In Matthew 5:48, Jesus told us what God’s standard is:

That’s the standard – perfection – That is an impossible standard!  But thank God for the Gospel – that we can be “freely justified by grace”, through faith in Jesus Christ.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says:

A famous Pastor, Greg Laurie commented that:

So, I hope you can answer the question “are you justified?” in the affirmative and say the words of Romans 5:9



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