Approaching a Holy God of Grace

Notes for Jan. 28, 2017
Luke 18:9-17      

Biblical Background

  • Prayer Times at the Temple: Daily prayer times were scheduled for the morning and evening sacrifices in the temple. As well, people could go up to the temple at any time of day for private prayer. Being a very public place, you could be seen by all, or stand in a corner so as not to call attention to yourself.

  • Pharisees: These were religious leaders, some of whom were scribes, and they were very observant in keeping both the Mosaic Law and the traditions or religious laws made by the religious leaders to “fence-in” the law. In other words, they created laws to keep you from breaking the Law. They were viewed to be the most pious of people in Jewish culture.

  • Standing Prayer: This was a common prayer posture with head lifted up and hands lifted up to the Lord.

  • Fasting twice a week: this became the “law” or practice of some religious leaders in which they would fast on Monday and Thursday, some going without water. They made a show of it letting everyone know that they were fasting.

  • Tithes: This could be between 10-20% of one’s income given to the temple.

  • Gratitude for one’s righteousness: Rather than take credit for one’s righteousness, it was accepted to thank God for one’s piety and righteousness. Thus, the Pharisee praying, “Thank God I’m not an unrighteous person” might have seen normal. It is Jesus’ pivot on this statement that provides the contrast and clear pointing out of pride and sin.

  • Beating one’s breast: This was a symbol of grief, anguish or contrition. It was a visual lamentation that could be seen within the Jewish community.

  • Tax Collectors: In the 1st century world of Palestine, the Jewish tax collector was seen as a traitor to his own people as he was an employee of the Roman Empire. Many tax collectors were corrupt and would take a “piece of the pie” above the tax to make a significant living. As someone who dealt with Roman coins, they were seen as “unclean” in some circles and as a sinner.

  • Shock of the parable: Those hearing the parable for the first time in 1st century Palestine would have been shocked by Jesus’ parable. It inverted the roles of who was considered righteous.

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever been in a situation in which someone looked down upon you – thinking that they were more righteous than you? Describe

  2. Have you ever thought that you were more righteous than someone and looked upon them with contempt? Describe

  3. When have you witnessed self-righteousness to be a problem in the church? What did you do about it?

  4. Who would be the possible “Pharisees” in this story in our church today?

  5. Who would be the “tax collectors” in this story in our church today?

  6. What seems to be the issue with the prayer, fasting and tithing of the Pharisee?

  7. What should prayer, fasting and tithing look like in the life of the believer?

  8. Why would this story be shocking to the first century audience? How should it shock us today?

  9. What qualities of the tax collector are Jesus affirming and encouraging? Why?

  10. What does this parable say about the character of God and how He views us?

  11. Why is it shocking to the disciples that Jesus would spend valuable time with babies and little children?

  12. What is our attitude toward little children in our worship services, church life? How does this reflect Jesus’ view of children?

  13. What does Jesus mean when he says that we need to come to Him as little children?

  14. In what ways can we evaluate our attitudes toward ourselves, others and children? How can we be sure that our church is full of grace, truth and love towards those who may be different from us?