************ Sermon on Luke 18:9-14 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 2, 2004
"Have Mercy on Me, a Sinner"
Next week, the Lord willing, we will celebrate the Lord's Supper. We are called to prepare ourselves for the Lord's Table during the coming week. Like the tax collector of our parable, we have come to the point where we say, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
As we look at this parable in front of us, we need to remember why Jesus said it:
(Luke 18:9) To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable ...When Christ looked at some of those gathered around Him He saw that they relied for their salvation on their own righteousness, on their works, on their moral purity, rather than on the mercy of God.
To destroy this wicked self-confidence, this work's righteousness, Jesus told them "The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector." Jesus tells us of two men who went up to the temple to pray. You need to realize they are part of a larger crowd of worshipers. But before they or any of the worshipers can pray a lamb is first offered on the altar as an atoning sacrifice for sins and incense is sent up to heaven.
This is a parable, a teaching story. This means the characters are not real. But Jesus and His audience have met more than one person whose words and actions resembled the men of our parable.
I A Self-Righteous Pharisee
A Jesus first draws our attention to a Pharisee. Our pew Bibles tell us that "The Pharisee stood up and prayed about (or to) himself." The Greek supports another translation that I prefer: "The Pharisee stood up and prayed by himself."
The Pharisee is in the temple with a crowd of worshipers, including a tax collector. Yet, he stood by himself. Why does he do this? The reason is simple to figure out: this Pharisee is one of those Jesus spoke the parable against. He is confident of his own righteousness and looks down on everybody else; he considers himself righteous and despises all others.
As a group, the Pharisees considered themselves ceremonially and morally clean in God's sight. And, most other classes of people were considered by them to be unclean. Now we know why the Pharisee stood by himself: to even brush against anyone else would taint the Pharisee and make him also unclean. Furthermore, by standing by himself, he was also making a statement: "I am better than you; I am clean and you are not; I can't associate with people like you."
B This Pharisee, standing apart from the other worshipers, prays to God. Since it was the Jewish custom at that time to pray aloud, we can safely assume this Pharisee is speaking loud enough for those around him to hear what he is saying. In fact, he uses the prayer to preach to those around him.
Have you ever heard prayers like that. Prayers that are used to beat people over the head. Prayers in which people say things that they otherwise would not dare to say out loud. That is the kind of prayer the Pharisee says to God.
When God's people pray they should be either confessing their sins, praising and thanking God, or making petition for needs. The Pharisee does none of this in his prayer. He makes no requests, no petitions, no intercessions. He does not thank and praise the Lord. There is no confession of sin.
The Pharisee's prayer is nothing but a boast, a mere self-advertisement. Listen to his prayer:
(Luke 18:11) God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector.The Pharisee not only acts like he is better than all other men (remember, he stands by himself apart from the other worshipers), but he also says he is better than all other men.
The Pharisee picks out the tax collector as someone who is obviously inferior to him. At that time tax collectors had a reputation as being dishonest, robbers, evildoers, extortionists. But this tax collector may have been one of the exceptions. The Pharisee doesn't know. Nevertheless, he condemns the tax collector and presents himself as being better and superior.
C The Pharisee doesn't leave it there. He proceeds to boast about himself. "I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." Moses stipulated a fast for the Day of Atonement. This man goes far beyond what Moses required and fasts twice a week. The Old Testament required tithing on grain, wine, and oil (even tax collectors paid this tithe). Again this Pharisee went way beyond the demand of the law. He tithed on everything that was his.
Here is a man who prides himself on his more than perfect observance of the law. He stands apart from all other worshipers lest he defile himself. He congratulates himself and condemns a nearby tax collector. He brags about how he not only kept the law but even exceeds its demands. This man is righteous in his own eyes. He is convinced he is a notch above all other men. He believes he has made himself right in God's eyes. This Pharisee has no awareness of sin in his life; he sees no need for repentance; he doesn't think he needs grace.
And, I want you to notice, the Pharisee says and does all of this right after a lamb has been slaughtered, cut up, and sacrificed on the altar in order to atone for the sins of the people. He is saying, then, that the atoning sacrifice is not for him because he doesn't need it.
II A Penitent Tax Collector
A As already mentioned, in Jesus' story a tax collector also went into the temple in order to pray. Like the Pharisee, this man also stands apart from the crowd of worshipers. Scripture tells us he stands "at a distance." But what a difference there is between him and the Pharisee. The Pharisee stands apart because he thinks he is better than the rest. The tax collector stands apart because he does not think he is worthy to stand before God or with God's people.
B This tax collector beats on his chest and does not even look up to heaven when he prays. The picture Jesus presents is of a broken, humble man. Now, you need to realize in that time and place it was usually women, not men, who beat or pound their breast. Men hardly ever used this gesture. The beating of his breast, then, indicates extreme pain and anguish of spirit and soul and mind. The tax collector is very sorrowful about his sin.
Why is it that the chest is beat? Why not some other part of the body? Because, as Jesus put it, "out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander" (Mat 15:19). To beat the chest is to pound by the heart. This man is truly sorrowful for his sin. We cannot help but compare him to the proud self-righteousness of the Pharisee.
C The words of his prayer also indicate his sorrow. Our pew Bibles tell us that the man prayed, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." The Greek supports another translation that I prefer: "God, make atonement for me, a sinner."
"Make atonement for me." Don't forget the setting when the tax collector makes this request. He is in the temple with other worshipers. A lamb had just been slaughtered, cut up, and sacrificed to make atonement for the sins of the people. Incense is burning and prayers are being offered up to God. "I am a sinner," says the tax collector, "and I need the lamb's atoning sacrifice." Again, what a contrast we see between him and the Pharisee.
"Make atonement for me." The tax collector is asking for three things. First, he is asking God to remove the guilt of his sin. Second, he is asking that God's anger be turned away from him. Third, he is asking that he be declared righteous in God's sight.
"Make atonement for me." He prays this not because he is worthy of forgiveness. He prays this not because he has earned God's grace. He prays this not because he is such a law-abiding man. He prays this because the lamb has been sacrificed in his place and for his sins.
III The Tax Collector is Justified
Jesus has a hard-hitting conclusion. "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God." The Pharisee was wasting his time and breath in the temple. This self-righteous man returned home unjustified in God's sight. His false pride, his false righteousness, and his condemnation of others actually intensified his guilt and increased his sin in God's sight. Ironic, isn't it, that his trip to the temple made him more in need of the atoning sacrifice than ever before?
The tax collector, on the other hand, went home right with God and justified in God's sight. He approached God with a broken heart. He approached God as an unworthy sinner. He approached God not trusting in himself but in the atoning sacrifice of the lamb. So, he went home justified.
Next week, the Lord willing, we will be taking the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper. Next week, the Lord willing, we will find ourselves in the same setting as the Pharisee and tax collector who were in the temple during the sacrifice of the atonement lamb. Next week we will be in the church and will see represented before us, in the bread and the wine, the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb, even Jesus Christ upon the cross.
How will we come to the Lord's Supper next week? Will we come as the Pharisee did or like the tax collector? Will we come with our own righteousness or will we be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ? Will we come, like the Pharisee, thinking we are worthy in and of ourselves or, like the tax collector, thinking we are a sinner in need of Christ's atoning sacrifice? Will we come boasting about how good we are or will we come in repentance and confession?
Don't answer too quickly, congregation. As you know, a number of sins came to light in the last couple of months. There are some among us who, like the Pharisees, look down on those involved. Like the Pharisees they think they are better than those caught up in these public sins. I can almost hear them say self-righteously, "God, I thank you that I am not like these people."
Don't answer too quickly, congregation. It is easy, way too easy, to be like the Pharisee:
-to put all the emphasis on ritual, on external observances
-to condemn and accuse others
-to think we are right with God just because we come to worship services once or twice each Sunday, or send our kids to the Christian School, or make donations to the church or school, or don't get drunk or do drugs or gamble
Next week if you come to the Lord's Table with even an inkling of this sort of attitude you will leave the Table empty and will go home unjustified. In fact, I warn you not to come to the Table for you will be eating and drinking judgment upon yourself.
I urge you, congregation, to come next Sunday like the tax collector. Come to God realizing and confessing your sin. Come to God realizing and confessing your need for the Savior. Come to God realizing and confessing your need for the atoning sacrifice. Come with this attitude and you, by grace, will leave justified before God.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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