Based on Biblical Text Luke 18:14b (KJV)
…for everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
Jesus tells a story to a group of people who were confident in their own righteousness yet scorned and looked down upon everyone else. In a parable, Jesus says that two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a publican, or tax collector.
The Pharisees were the people who lived good, clean lives. The tax collectors were people who swindled and intimidated others out of their money. Jesus said both of them came to church. The Pharisee is, by their own account, righteous and, at least in their mind, living holy. The Pharisee is truly blessed in that they are able to quickly recognize everybody else’s spiritual short comings. The tax collectors are confident in their craft. They are able to make a good living by taking advantage of those who are not as good at what they do. They, often times, over charge, shaving a little of what the people pay off the top for themselves.
Jesus says that these two, one the perceived good and the other the presumed evil, went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men. I am not like the robbers, and I am better than the evildoers. I am more holy than the adulterers. Thank you God that I am not even like this tax collector.”
The Pharisee wanted the Lord to know the evidence of his righteousness. He reminded God, “You know, God, I fast twice a week. Certainly, God, you, knowing everything, must be well aware that I give a tenth of all I get.” However, we can look well past all of the Pharisee’s “much speaking,” eloquent phrasing and exceptional use of communication skills. We can even look past his intent to charm us with his superior intelligence and spirituality, and we can sum up his prayer this way: “I thank you, God, that there’s nothing wrong with me.”
Jesus then turns His attention to the tax collector in his story. He shows us that the tax collector is the complete opposite of the Pharisee. The Tax Collector had been stealing money from people his whole life. In fact, the tax collector, it seems, has spent the better part of his adult life ruining the lives of others so that he could live it up. However, the tax collector recognized that his whole life had been a disaster. He appeared to be aware that he deserved to go to hell when he died.
Jesus says that “the tax collector stood at a distance,” as he must have figured his position to be so unholy that he wouldn’t even walk up to the front of the temple. The Tax collector must have considered his condition to be so despicable that “He would not even look up to heaven.”
Jesus says that the tax collector was so ashamed of his sin that he beat his breast and said, God have mercy on me, a sinner. I have not lived righteously. I have not been honest, and I have not treated people fairly. The Tax Collector’s prayer was the opposite of the Pharisee’s prayer and can be summed up this way, “God, there’s everything wrong with me. God help me.”
Jesus goes on to say that the sinful tax collector was the one that was forgiven by God, and not the perfect Pharisee. Why? Jesus tells us: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Pharisee was proud, thought more highly of himself than he ought to have and spent his time looking down on others, exalting himself. The tax collector was humble and was sorry for his sins. What is Jesus saying to us here? Is Jesus saying that you earn the forgiveness of sins by being humble? Is that how it works? The truth is that is what a lot of people think, but that’s not how it works.
It may seem confusing, however, if our being humble made us deserve forgiveness and is why God forgives us then our salvation would be completely dependent on us and our level of humility. That would be a problem because if our salvation was dependent on our level of humility then we could never be sure if we are forgiven by God or not as we would never know if we have been humble enough for God to forgive us.
The truth of the matter is, neither the Pharisee nor the tax collector deserved God’s forgiveness. The Pharisee did not because he was conceited, self-righteous and thought he was better than everybody else. The Pharisee did not deserve God’s forgiveness because he thought he was perfect. The tax collector did not deserve God’s forgiveness either because he had lied, cheated and had taken advantage of people. The Tax Collector did not deserve God’s forgiveness because of the terrible life he had led.
Neither one of these men deserved to be forgiven by God. But we ought to thank God that He does not wait for us to deserve His forgiveness. Thank God that He doesn’t wait for us to humble ourselves. We ought to fall on our knees and thank God that He is not waiting for us to come down off our spiritual high horse and stop being so conceited and self righteous. God forgives us purely out of his mercy. It is as a result of his undeserved love that God forgives us. Because of the unselfishness of Jesus and the sacrifice Jesus made on that old rugged cross taking away the sins of the world God offers forgiveness to us all. “What can wash my sins away, nothing, nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
In our text, we find that God offered forgiveness to both the Pharisee and the tax collector. But only the tax collector received God’s forgiveness. Why? Because, in his mercy, God chooses to forgive only those who humble themselves before him. God chooses to forgive those who will stand before Him and admit “There’s everything wrong with me. Lord have mercy on me. I am a sinner.” The humble, those who recognize their sin and who recognize their need for God’s help, those are the people who receive God’s forgiveness.
We must not be deceived. God does not extend his forgiveness to those who humble themselves and recognize their need for help because they’re earning it by groveling. Rather, God shows undeserved love to all who are humble and who are truly sorry for their sins.
As were enter this season of repentance and sacrifice, the humble tax collector is a picture of Lent, and the proud Pharisee is the opposite of Lent. The question is — which one are we? How do we plan to observe Lent this year?
Some of us may be planning to act extra religious. A whole lot of folk observe Lent that way.
Some of us will decide, “Maybe I will give up something for Lent.” Somebody will make the decision I’m not going to watch my favorite TV show or eat chocolate during this season of sacrifice. And then we will sit back like we have done something spectacular or done God a favor. Look at how religious I am; God must be impressed. God must be extra happy with me, while I am not eating chocolate and not drinking sodas.
Jesus speaks to us through his Word, and he tells us that Lent is a time of self-denial. But Jesus is not interested in our on the surface sacrifice. He is not concerned with our superficial sacrifice nor is He impressed with our casual sacrifice of something that we can easily do without. Jesus is not concerned with what we do on the outside. He is concerned with what’s going on in our hearts.
Lent is a time to give up some of the things that separate us from Jesus. Some of us would do well to consider giving up hypocrisy and stepping away from our bad attitude. Some of us need to put away anger and gossip. Others of us need to stop playing church, acting like a Christian on the outside and living proud and self-centered on the inside.
Lent is that humble man who stood in the back of the temple, that man who looked down at the ground, and prayed to God, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is not just a time for us to give up potato chips and sugar drinks; it is a time to humble ourselves and to give up our sinful habits. A time for us to stand before God and to ask God to forgive us for we have lied, cheated and have not been who we promised God we would be.
This Lenten Season as we begin our journey with Jesus we will begin to see just how serious our sins are. But on our journey with Jesus we will come to know how wonderful Jesus is and how deep our Savior’s love is for us.
We will march triumphantly into Jerusalem with Jesus and sup with him sharing the last meal. We will walk with Jesus into the Garden to pray, into the trial before Pilate and as He stands before Herod. We will share in the humiliation, feel the sting of the whip and the pain of the crown of thorns being forced on His head. We will experience the agony of the nails being driven into His hands, live through the pain of the spikes being driven into His feet and witness the water and the blood running to the ground from His pierced side. “The blood that Jesus shed for me, way back on Calvary, the blood that gives me strength from day to day, it will never, never lose its power.”
But, Oh Beloved, we will rejoice that Jesus’ death is not the end. We praise God that the road doesn’t end there. We will shout glory that the stone has been rolled away and tomb is empty. “Up from the grave He arose!” He got up just like He said He would. Glory, death couldn’t keep Him, the grave couldn’t hold Him. Jesus rises from the dead to prove that all of our sins have been forgiven. “I know that my redeemer lives and ever prays for me, a token of His love He gives, a pledge of liberty.”
As we approach the Sabbath
Sunday, March 9, 2014, is the First Sunday in Lent.
Join our Worship Experience at 8:00 am and 11:00 am.
Church School begins at 9:45 am.
Scripture Lesson for this Sunday
Genesis 2:7-9, Genesis 2:15-17, Genesis 3:1-7a
There is a Word from the Lord!
Sermon Texts Matthew 16:13-18
Sermon Title Do you really know who Jesus Is?