Sunday Services at 10:00am
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To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men-- robbers, evildoers, adulterers-- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 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.’” (Luke 18:9-14)
You know when you’re sitting in church, listening to the sermon, and you find yourself saying, “I really hope my spouse/child/friend is hearing this,” or “I really wish so-and-so were here to listen to this”? I know I often have those moments, when I am sure that someone I know needs to hear the message, while I sit there oblivious to the fact that I probably need to hear it just as much as they do.
I was reading a book called The Calvary Road by Roy Hession recently, and he was sharing some insights on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. In the parable, Jesus contrasts a Pharisee who goes to prayer thanking God for his own righteousness with a tax collector who has nothing to boast about but simply throws himself as a sinner on God’s mercy. Jesus tells the crowd the shocking reversal: it is the one who knows he is guilty who will be declared innocent, while the one who thinks he is innocent will be pronounced guilty by God.
The point that really hit me, however, was when Hession said “The Sunday School teacher was never so much a Pharisee as when she finished her lesson on this parable with the words, ‘And now, children, we can thank God that we are not like this Pharisee.’” How terribly ironic it would be for us to read Jesus’ parable and come away doing the exact same thing that the Pharisee did, thanking God that we are not like the person we see in front of us.
In his first letter, John writes, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). God has given many of us the “gift” of being able to spot the faults of others a mile away. But if we are blind to our own sin, then we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is meant to reveal the awful truth that we are just like that Pharisee, justifying ourselves by comparing ourselves favorably to others, thinking that somehow we are more righteous because “at least we don’t do the terrible things that THEY do.” This is nothing less than sinful arrogance before God. It is only when you recognize your complete spiritual poverty before God and your desperate need for His mercy that you will see things clearly. You will see your own sins and faults clearly enough to abhor them and humbly repent of them, you will see the sins and faults of others without an unmerited sense of superiority, and most importantly, you will see the amazing grace and mercy of the God who died in your place and pronounces you, the one who deserves punishment, not guilty, and who welcomes you as His beloved child.