The Blindness of Sin (Luke 18:9-17)

            On May 9, 1864 Union General John Sedgwick led his Union forces against the Confederate army at the Battle of the Spotsylvania Court House. Confederate sharpshooters stood 1,000 yards away and starting firing shots at the Union army. As the shots were fired, the Union soldiers ducked for cover. Sedgwick stood tall and looked down with contempt at his men saying, “What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line?” The shots continued to come and his soldiers continued to duck for cover.  The proud Sedgwick scolded his troops again and derided the Confederate forces saying, “Why are you dodging like this? They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance.”

            General John Sedgwick held his own men in contempt and mocked the Confederate forces.  Within moments after demonstrating his proud contempt, Sedgwick was hit below the left eye and fell dead. Sedgwick was the highest ranking Union casualty during the Civil War. He walked in pride, and he was humbled as Daniel 4:37 states, “And those who walk in pride the Lord is able to humble.” Sedgwick is a great example of how quick our words can come back upon us. He was the top in his field before his pride led to his sudden demise.

            We all probably can think of individuals that were on the top in their field, but quickly fell from grace: Tiger Woods, Richard Nixon, Lance Armstrong, Mark Sanford, Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, etc. They were looked up to and respected, and then, the scandal breaks and they become social pariahs; the top to the bottom overnight. Our natural response is to crucify the fallen and join the public with the verbal lynching, but is this the best response? Is it best to focus on the sins of others and how we are different from “them”? Or would it be more beneficial to focus on how we are like “them” to guard against the pride in our own hearts?

            We all have sin in our hearts.  We all have the potential for grievous sin.  How we respond to the sin of others may be a warning to us in how we may be blind to our own sin? The sin of others should be a warning to us that we are capable of the same sin.  If we only see the sin in others, we are blind to sin that lies in the heart.  Jesus says in Matthew 15:19-20,

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.

We all have the seeds of these sins in our hearts and therefore, we have the capacity to commit any of these sins.  And because these sins lie in our hearts, we are defiled and we should not trust in ourselves.  Seeing the sin in our hearts, should expose our need for a Savior.

            Jesus tells this parable to people who were blind to their need of true righteousness and to those whose pride showed itself in contempt for others.  Luke 18:9,

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:

Jesus does not want us to trust in ourselves or to treat others with contempt so we must first examine our hearts by asking, “Are we blind to sin?

Are you Blind to Sin?

            Jesus continues to teach on prayer as this parable consists of two men going to the temple to pray. There are two men, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Let us first ask how we are like the Pharisee, Luke 18:10-12,

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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.’

The Pharisee was doing religious activity.  He was going to the temple to pray.  He fasted twice a week. Remember that it was required for Jews to fast one day once a year, but the Pharisees implemented voluntary fast twice a week for the deliverance for their nation.  They tithed on all their income.

            If you met a Christian that prayed regularly, fasted twice a week for our nation, and tithed on all their income, we would look at them as pillars in the church.  Think about it. The average Christian today only attends church twice a month, let alone twice a week.  Christians give a lesser percentage today than they did during the Great Depression.  According to a Barna research poll, in 2012 only 12% of evangelical Christians gave their tithe (10%) of their income to the church and/or charitable organization[i]. We may want to distance ourselves from this Pharisee, but on the surface, he was doing everything a religious person should have been doing. 

            The main problem with the Pharisee was not his lack of activity, but how he did his activity and what he thought his activities earned him.  Notice that this man places his trust in his service.  “‘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.” This man places the emphasis on his own strength and his own efforts to please God.  He believed that his efforts made him righteous in God’s sight.  1 Peter 4:11 says,

Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.

He was robbing God of glory, because he was not giving God any credit for his service. He was taking the glory that belongs only to God. 

            He thought that his service set him apart from other men. He said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Here is where we see the Pharisee’s blindness.  He puts himself above other men.  He is denying his sin and his need for a savior. The truth is that this man is just like other men for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but he has been blinded by his sin. C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity,

As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man... It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.”

 The proud person is always looking down at others rather than up towards God. 

            We should open our eyes and examine our pride.  “Are you blinded by sin?” is a difficult 
question to answer, because if we are blind to something than we do not know it.  Are you like this Pharisee?  Do you take comfort and pride in how your religious activities are superior to others?  Do you compare how much better you are doing than others? The truth is that many, if not all of us, probably practice some form of this pharisaical pride.  It is subtle, and very dangerous.

            There are certain activities or talents that we may think that we do better than other people. And when we focus on those gifts in comparison to others, our hearts can creep towards contempt. For example, someone may start to think how their priorities are better than others because how much time they spend in evangelism.  They focus on how much evangelism and outreach they are doing, then they start to focus on how little evangelism and outreach others may be doing… “I thank God that I am not like other people who do not care about lost.” Or someone may think how much more faithful they are to the church than others.  They focus on how they attend more services and rarely miss while others appear to be part-time church members… “I thank God that I am not like other people who do understand the importance of the church.” 

Our good works can blind us. We may not be full blown Pharisees, but we all may be tempted to think like one in certain areas. 1 Corinthians 4:7 says, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Everything we have, our desire for evangelism or our faithfulness to church, has been given to us.  If then we have received it, why do we boast as if we did not? Boasting in our gifts blinds us to our sin.  The same person who has a heart for evangelism may not tithe or the one who regularly attends church may not share their faith. Beloved, ask yourself, “How often do you try to distance yourself from others by your behavior?” It may be more beneficial to your heart to realize how much you are like other men.

Are you Burdened by Sin?

            The second man came to pray in the temple, but his demeanor was much different. Luke 18:13,

But 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!’

This man was burdened by his sin.  We know tax collectors were outcasts from their kinsmen because of they were working for the Romans. The Romans would allow them to overcharge the people so many tax collectors became wealthy through their dishonesty.  We do not have any details about this tax collectors behavior, but we know this tax collector understood his sin. He knew what his sins deserved. 

  Friend, if you are not a Christian, please know that we are happy to have you here today, there is no other place we would desire you to be. Have you thought of yourself as a sinner? The prevailing view in our culture is that humans are fundamentally good, but the Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The core of the human heart is not good, but sinful. And if we are sinful, have you ever thought of what we all deserve because of our sins? The Bible says that we deserve death because of our sins.  God is good and kind to us, yet we have spurned his kindness by rejecting Him. Sin is ultimately a rejection against God.  And it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of Almighty God.  Friend, the first step towards forgiveness is realizing your need, like this tax collector.  He beat his breast saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” He confessed his sin and his need for mercy. 

            There are always people who trust in themselves and believe in their own righteousness. Jesus says in Matthew 5:20,

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

We need righteousness. And God sent us righteousness through Jesus Christ. Christ came to suffer for our sins; the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.  The mercy is not giving us what we do deserve.  Although we deserve death, God sent Christ to die for us, in our place so that we could receive life.  Jesus died, but God raised Him up on the third day for our justification. Hear Romans 4:25,

Righteousness will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

We receive God’s righteousness not by our religious activities, like the Pharisee thought, but by believing that God raised Jesus our Lord from the dead after delivering him up for our trespasses. 

When we believe in Jesus, we are declared not guilty or justified. Jesus drives home this point in the parable in verse 14,

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.

The sinful tax collector left justified by God while the Pharisee remained in his sins. The one, who understood his sin, humbled himself and was accepted by God while the one, who exalted in his own righteousness, was rejected.

            Are you burdened by sin or are you burdened by your own sin? As Christians, we are too often known for maximizing the sins of others while minimizing sins of our hearts.  The more we understand our own sins, the more we will pray for God’s mercy and the more we will be burdened for sinners not by them.

Are you Burdened by Sinners?

            I am convinced the more we understand our own sin, the more we will be welcoming of sinners. Luke 18:15-17,

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

In the first century, children were not treasured and valued.  They were viewed more as a nuisance and a burden.  The disciples rebuked people who were bringing infants to Jesus.  Jesus completely flips the situation. While most rabbis diminished children, Jesus exalted them in saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

Jesus goes one step farther by telling the disciples to not only allow the children to come, but to become like them. He says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” The humble, dependent attitude of a child is the same attitude that Jesus wants of his people.  Jesus is applying the previous parable to the disciples.  We should not hinder the humble from coming to God, but welcoming them with open arms for no one can receive the kingdom without humility.  “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The disciples were burdened by these little sinners when they should be burdened for these little ones.  Beloved, as a church, we must always protect our hearts from pride and self-exaltation.  The proud will be humbled.  How we receive people into our community will reveal if we have the heart of a Pharisee or of a tax collector!! Will we be burdened by sinners or will we be burdened for sinners?

This is a crucial question for us.  What kind of church will we be? Will we be the kind of church that welcomes the sinner with the grace in which God has welcomed us or will we be a church that grumbles when sinners enter our community? Will we identify ourselves with sinners or we will look down on sinners with contempt?

Beloved, I pray we will be a church that is burdened for sinners. Jesus Christ was not burdened by us, but for us.  Will we do the same for others?

[i] accessed 9.13.2014
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