A Tale for All Sinners

Veljko Rogosic holds the world record for the longest distance anyone has ever swum, according to the Guinness World Records website. It took him over 50 hours to swim the record distance of 139.8 miles. As impressive as this is, if he tried to swim across the narrowest portion of the Atlantic Ocean, he would be 1,630 miles short.

Why do I bring this up as we dig into the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector? We will get there after we meet the two main characters in Jesus’s story.

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” (Luke 18:10)

When Jesus began this story, people may have expected a lesson on the evils of the tax collector as compared to the holiness of the Pharisee. In this culture, Pharisees were considered the cream of the religious crop while tax collectors were despised. They collected taxes for Rome and extorted their neighbors in the process. In the eyes of Jesus’ audience, tax collectors were vile, wicked traitors.

The Pharisee agreed with this assessment. He made this clear with his prayer in verse 11: “God, I thank you that I am not like…this tax collector.” In the race of religious merit, the Pharisee was miles ahead. But the Pharisee had a critical problem. No matter how religious he was, he was not righteous enough to meet God’s perfect standard. 

Now back to our world-class swimmer, Mr. Rogosic. If being religious was like swimming, the Pharisee might hold some world records. But God’s standard is not simply that we be better than others; His standard is His glorious perfection. In other words, to measure up to God we have to be able to swim the Atlantic Ocean. In such a race, would some people make it further than others? Yep. The Pharisees could go a few miles while the tax collector starts drowning immediately. But you know what would happen to both? If you said, “drown” you would be correct. 

The gospel isn’t about us swimming far enough to God by being good enough. The gospel is Jesus rescuing us and bringing us across the ocean Himself, no matter where He picks us up. The Pharisee may outswim the tax collector but only the one who trusts in Jesus will make it.

Where are you in this illustration? Are you struggling at shore like the tax collector? Or are you trusting in your own righteousness like the Pharisee? Or have you learned to quit swimming and trust Jesus to bring you home?

If you need to trust Jesus, do so now.

If He has brought you to God, spend a few moments in praise.

By Philip Jones

Philip and his wife, Stacy, have been attending Immanuel since 2015. They are blessed to be raising four kids. His passion in ministry is to help others follow Jesus through teaching, preaching, and personal discipleship.

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