Luke 18 v 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.”
So we saw that the Pharisee took his stand before God, on his own merits. He did not realise that his own merits have no standing before God. He should have taken his stand on different grounds but he did not and so we read that he went home from the temple, unaccepted, unjustified and still under the judgement of God – for that is what it means to be unjustified.
The tax collector on the other hand, took a different stance. We read that he “stood at a distance” (v 13). Remember the ten lepers in 17 v 13? They also stood at a distance. They were unclean. This man realises that his sins had put a gulf between God and himself. He did not try to talk about any good deeds he had done because there probably was not much to talk about. He had nothing to his credit. In that regard he is just like us.
We next read that “he would not even look up to heaven”. Instead he beat his breast, which is a typical eastern way of showing great distress. This is a point for us all to remember. If we feel no distress for our sins, we shall never get to the point of repentance that causes us to turn from them. There are many today who lightly claim to be Christians but their behaviour shows a great leaning towards secular values. They have never felt the burden of their sins and guilt. This is the reason why so few turn to Christ today.
But the tax collector confesses his sins and by implication accepts the absolute justice of God’s condemnation of his sin. “God have mercy on me, a sinner” he cries. In his utter spiritual bankruptcy, he simply casts himself upon the mercy of God. That is exactly how God would have it with all of us. On those grounds God accepted him.
Now notice, he did not have to wait until the second coming to know that God had accepted him. In this parable he went home justified. He carried the assurance home with him (18 v 14).
This is the wonderful thing about ‘justification’. All the distance between God and us is removed forever, and we can await the coming of our Lord with confidence and peace.
Notice the importance of verse 14. All who exalt themselves, i.e. put themselves up as righteous having no need of mercy, will be humbled. This humility will be the revelation on the great day of reckoning that they are not amongst God’s elect.
On the other hand those who humble themselves i.e. see their sinfulness and cry for God’s mercy, will be forgiven, accepted and justified. Their exaltation will be plain to see on that great day.