Covenant Words
Covenant Words

Episode · 6 years ago

A Savior to the Humble (Luke 18:9-14)


Rev. Phil Hollstein (Guest preacher)

Well as returned today. Let us turn to Luke's Gospel and we'll be looking at chapter eighteen, versus nine through fourteen, of Luke. Chapter Eighteen here now is God's word. He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt. Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The PHARISEE, standing by himself, prayed thus God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust adulters, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give ties of all that I get, but the tax collector standing far off would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying God be merciful to me, a sinner, I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. On men, he may be seated. By the time that we reached this passage of scripture, Jesus has been doing his ministry for quite some time. He has been performing miracles. He has been a showing in himself the power of God and he has been teaching and preaching as one with authority, not like the scribes and the Pharisees and the other leaders that the people were used to hearing. and Jesus has been proclaiming nothing less than the advent of the Kingdom of God. He's been saying the Kingdom of God is at hand, it is here, and he himself has as much as shown that he is the king, not only by his works but also but his righteousness, his power in the miracles and his teachings, that he is the one that the people have been looking forward to as they together as a nation under the thumb of Rome, were looking for their Messiah, were looking for his savior to redeem them. But as Jesus has been preaching about the kingdom, one of the things that has been surprising to the people is that he is taught that his kingdom is not of this world and their implications to the fact that his kingdom is not of this world. The priorities of the kingdom are not of this world. The Way God looks at people is not the same way that sinful men look at people. And the fact that this kingdom is a redemptive kingdom by grace, is one that is fundamentally different with the way that the kingdoms of the world usually work. The way the people get political power, the way that they exalt themselves, the way that they get the privilege and the protection that they need, is fundamentally different from God and this kingdom then from the kingdoms that the people are used to. And so there were times when people would hear what Jesus had to say and they would be happy for the miracles. They'd be happy, you know, especially when he healed them or when he multiplied loaves of bread and fishes and they were able to have a wonderful meal. They loved it when he would, you know, out maneuver the Pharisees and other people who he was debating and he would win arguments, and it's kind of like watching a hero on television or something like that, you know, ultimate fighting championship or something like that. They saw his power and they heard and saw his wisdom, but they did not always apply to themselves the implications that Jesus was talking about, and so sometimes we even see, sadly, the disciples jockeying with one another for power and acting in a very worldly way, even though they have been brought into a kingdom which is not of this world. And so Jesus teaches here, among other places, how...

...different the values and priorities of his kingdom are, and he tells his parable not just the Pharisees, but to anyone who would think in a worldly way about how they were to to find their standing before God. And as he is taught elsewhere, it is not those who exalt themselves, it is not those who strive and out maneuver one another who get ahead, but rather it as those who humble themselves, who are servants of all, who will be exalted. And this also, he says, is the way in which people enter the Kingdom of God in the first place. And so he tells this parable to all who might be trusting in themselves that they are righteous, especially when they use a worldly standards, as we will see, and also those who treat others with contempt. Jesus tells US parable. He says two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. Now, the Pharisees were he might think the the the princes of the Church of their day. They were looked at as being the most devoted, the most zealous, the most passionate about the things of God. If you were to look around and say, you know, if you were living in that community at that time, and ask yourself, who are the most religious people, who are the people who are really sold out to God among us, you would naturally think of these pharisees. They they had separated themselves from other Jews. They were very strict and very stringent in the law. They knew the law and they knew the traditions that have been handed down from their fathers and they were very zealous about those things and about to things such as purity and ceremonial cleanliness, and they really prided themselves on knowing the Law and knowing the word of God. And so this Pharisee, you could almost see him strutting into the temple. You know he's one of these. He knows it's not only other people who think well of him, but he thinks well of him too, and he goes to the temple to pray and we might think, will isn't that natural? The zealous person is going to the temple to pray. Well, he's not the only one, though. We see also a tax collector. Now, the tax collectors were basically on the other end of the spectrum in terms of religiosity, in terms of being thought of by the people as the vanguards of their faith. These tax collectors were basically sell outs, not to God but to the Romans. If you could think of a more worldly, earthly occupation to have, it would be hard. These are people who worked for the Romans to collect taxes, to help with the oppression of the people that the Romans were carrying out, and they did this to their own prophet. This was their business to help the Roman Empire collect taxes and to make a profit for themselves besides. And these people were known for having abuse of tendencies, because they're incentive was simply profit. They wanted to make money, and so to them they were thinking like businessman. They would do anything they could to make a buck, even if it was the expense of their fellow Israelites. And so the Israelites looked at them really as collaborators, much like someone in France or Holland might look at it. Someone as a collaborator during World War II who, you know, went along with the Nazis and and helped them at the time when they were invading Europe. Most of the Jews despise them and certainly the Pharisees would not have thought that they were in the same league and the same category as themselves. And so these two men are there at the temple praying, they come before God, before the place that God has set his name. They're in Jerusalem, and the Pharisee we read stands by himself and he praised us.

He says God, I thank you that I am not like other men. He starts out with this PSALMA thanks. I mean that's a good thing, right to thank God, to give God thanks, but he goes on not to list the things that God has done, but he goes on to list down his checklist the ways that he is not like other men, the ways that he is in a separate category all by himself and not like these other sinners. He says, I thank you that I am not like extortioners, that is, those who who take money by force. This word could also be translated robbers or swindlers, people who either physically steal something from others or who blackmail them and connive and engage in corruption to get money from other people. He says, I thank you that I am not like them. And going along with that, he mentions next the unjust, and this word could refer generally to people who are thought of as wicked, like you know, if you think about a neighborhood that you're going to move into, you you kind of learned about the bad side of town where the undesirable people live, the people who are kind of lawless and maybe they're in a gang. He says, I'm not like those unjust people. Or this could even refer to those who are in positions of power, like judges who take a bribe those who are perverted in their justice. Interestingly, these first two descriptions, one of extortioner and one of being unjust, could have very well fit the reputation of the other man who is at the temple, the tax collector, because they too were often unjust and thieves when they collected their money. You recall what Zach he has did it when he converted, when Jesus called him down from the tree, said this day I get back five times what I've stolen from other people see. He used his power unjustly to steal. And so we see this interesting paradox here with these two men standing at the temple and the pharisee distances themselves and he says, I'm glad I'm not like that guy. I'm glad I'm not like an adulter or even like this tax collector. He puts him in this same category. We've heard during his campaign season the phrase basket of deplorables. Well, that's basically what this Pharisee is doing. He's putting all these people in this basket, this category, and he's separating himself from that category, saying I'm not like these people and I thank you God that I am better than them. And so he begins to describe himself. As he prays to God. He says I fast twice a week and I get ties of all that I get now he, like many of the Pharisees, was going well above and beyond what the law demanded. God demanded only on certain times that the Israelites fast. It was nowhere close to being on a weekly basis. And this guy fast twice a week. That means two days a week he's not eating but he's using that as part of his religious service and devotion to God. And he also says I give ties of all that I get. Indeed, going above and beyond the law. The the law commanded that you give a ten of your harvest. If you brought in, you know, wats or even with your animals, you were to give a tenth of them to the Lord. But, as Jesus mentions, these folks were so scrupulous, these scribes and Pharisees, that they would even tithe on their little garden plants. They're dill and they're mints and their human and all these other things. They would tie on that and give a tenth on that. And there's one commentator who who mentions that's just to be sure...

...that everything, every produce that they took in, was tithed on. They would even tie them what they bought in the marketplace because maybe the person, maybe the farmer, who grew that produce didn't tie enough, and so just to close that loophole, they would tieth even when they bought produce from the market place. They would tie it on that too. They were so scrupulous. They wanted to make sure they were squeaky squeaky clean. They went above and beyond and in their mind they were completely righteous. Now, if we think about you know, if you were part of a religious community, religious society, and you had to ask yourself who are the most righteous people, who are the ones who are the most passionate about God, it would be him. There'd be no question about that. In the eyes of man, in the eyes of other people, it was clearly these pharisees who are the most zealous. Well, by contrast to that, Jesus next mentions the tax collector. He stands by himself, but it's because he's standing far off. He does not get too close to God, even though he's come to the temple to pray, even though he gets close to where God's presence was, he doesn't get too close. He stands far off and he does not even lift his eyes to heaven. He doesn't want the spotlight on himself. He doesn't want the emphasis on his works, because he doesn't have anything that he is proud of. He's not even willing to look God in the eyes, so to speak, but rather he beats his breast, which is a sign of humility, a sign of debasing himself before God. And he simply says to God, be merciful to me, the sinner. He does not exalt himself, he does not want the light of God's justice to fall upon him, he does not want to enumerate all the different things that he has done. He simply puts himself in the category of this center and begs the Lord word for nothing more than mercy. Now, in many English bibles this is translated as a sinner and one might get the sense that he is simply saying I am a sinner like many others, and so he is asking for God's mercy. But in the Greek it's unmistakable. The definite article is used here. He's saying I am the sinner. He's saying I know, between me and the Pharisee, there's no comparison. I'm not the good guy in this comparison. I'm not the good guy in the situation. I am the sinner. And more than that, he may even be saying absolutely that I am the greatest sinner. The way that Paul talks about himself is being the chief of sinners. He's saying if you were to look up the word center in the dictionary, my picture would be there. That's who I am. I am the sinner in this situation. And so he casts not the good lights of God scrutiny upon Him, but he casts himself in the worst light possible and he says, God be merciful to me. He throws himself upon God's grace. And the result of this, Jesus says, is I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. And we might ask ourselves at this point, why is it that the Pharisee goes home not justified? I mean, yes, maybe he was, maybe he was a little self centered, maybe who was focusing on himself.

But but if he's right, if he really is, that just what's the problem? And the answer is that, even though he did look good on the outside, even though other people might have looked at him as being at the vanguard of their faith, as being one of the most righteous and zealous people in their community, God could see things that other people could not see. And that is the situation with us too. You might look at somebody and you might look at their religiosity. You might look at their church attendance, or you know that what they put in the offering, play it, or the different ways that they volunteer, which are all good things. Nothing against charity, nothing against volunteerism, and we may come away saying that person is truly righteous, that person could stand before God and be acquitted. And yet if we think that, if we stop there, we fail to realize that God's sight, his vision, is much more penetrating than ours. For God can see even into the heart of man, and he could see into the hearts of even those who were looked at as the most religious of people. Indeed, they could fool other there people and they could fool even themselves, but they could not full God. One of the reasons that Jesus uses a pharisee in this parable here is because these people were quintessentially guilty of this very sin. In another place in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus actually pronounced woes against the scribes and the Pharisees. He said in Chapter Twenty three, says woe to use scribes and pharisees, hypocrites, for you tithe mints and dill and Human and I'm the GLADE. It neglected the weighty your matters of the law, Justice and Mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others. You Blind Guide, straining out in nat and swallowing a camel. Woe to use scribes and pharisees, hypocrites, for you clean the outside of the cup in the plate, but inside they're full of greed and self indulgence. You Blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the Cup in the plate that the outside also may be clean. Woe to use, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you were outwardly like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hip, hypocrisy and lawlessness. He see, basically the problem with this Pharisee is that he was wrong. He was exalting himself unjustly. He thought he was right. He was self deluded enough to think that he was righteous, and certainly other people would have thought, Oh yes, he ties, you know, everything he gets. He's fasting and praying twice a week. I mean, if you knew someone like this, see you know, you'd probably think they were the most religious person around. And yet what man could not see? God could see that beyond that that glittering cleanness of the outside was the most unclean thing imaginable, death and decay and decomposition, as you would find in a grave. Inwardly, they were wicked, and that is why it was such a dangerous and foolish thing for this man to hold up his righteousness before God and say, here I am, God, look at me, look how righteous I am, as if that could justify him. That was indeed a tragic and terrible thing for him to do, to be that deluded, and it is for that reason that he walked away not justified. Well, we might ask, then, well why? What about the tax collector? We know that the Pharisee is not that righteous. So okay, he couldn't fool God, but why is it that the tax collector is justified?...

Because he just admitted that he's not righteous either? He's a sinner, and just because somebody humbles himself, just because they admit that they are sinful, doesn't mean that they're going to get off the hook. There are people, even though there's an old saying there's nobody guilty in prison. Everybody thinks they're innocent, but there are people in prison who actually admit that they are guilty. They'll tell you I did it, I was wrong and I've changed, but they still have to serve their sentence. They're still sitting in prison paying their debt, even though they admit that they are wrong. And so we may ask, why is it that this tax collector is being not only, you know, shown some mercy, but he's actually being pronounced justified as he goes home, just for throwing himself at the mercy of God and just for admitting that he is a sinner. And the answer to that we can find in one detail that Jesus mentions at the beginning of this parable. Notice what he says at the beginning, in verse ten, that two men went up into the temple to pray. This symbol here alone gives us a glimpse into why it is that this tax collector would go home justified. God gave many symbols to Israel, but the temple was the symbol par excellence of what happened when people were cleansed of sins. The priests ministered their daily. Animals were sacrifice daily, blood was shed daily as people would confess their sins and as they would be pronounced clean and forgiveness, and as those sins were toned for symbolically at that temple, what God was trying to tell his people through all the centuries, both when the Tabernacle was there and later the temple, was that he was a god who redeems, he was a God who forgives. He was saying to his people, yes, you are not good enough in yourself. Yes, you do fall short of my standards, but I am able to provide for you what you are not able to provide to me. I am able to give you a righteousness that is sufficient to meet my bar of justice. I am able to give you the peace of mind to know that what you have, because I've given it to you, is good enough to survive the Judgment Day. And that is the reason, because of the God that he was coming to, that this tax collector went home justified. He went to the right God, he went to a god of grace, he went to a God who is powerful enough to save, and he flung himself at the feet of this God and he received mercy from this God. That is why he went home rather than the Pharisee justified, because the PHARISEE did not do any of that. He did not want God's mercy, he did not ask God's mercy. He thought that what he had done was not only good enough to to pass God's borrow justice, but was good enough that he could thank God for it and also look down on others. Not I don't know if there's been a time in your life when you thought things were going well, maybe financially or maybe in your marriage. You thought things were just humming along, but then all of a sudden, one day you uncover evidence, to your surprise, to your horror, that things are not as good as they appeared. Then now that check that you wrote was going to balance because you didn't have those funds. Or now the marriage that you thought was healthy was not so healthy and now you had to reassess things and you realize I was wrong and it's a horrifying thing. Well, how much more horrifying would it be to think that you are just before the Holy God,...

...that your eternal life was secure because of all the righteous, charitable deeds and all the external things that you did throughout your life and you brought them to God like Cain bringing his fruit to God, only to have God say no. I reject that. That's not good enough. What horror that would be. But, beloved, we don't have to do that, we don't have to roll that dice, we don't have to risk that, because God has already given to us a righteousness that is more than sufficient that we can have complete peace of mind that it will pass his scrutiny, that it will pass muster, that even now we can know that we are justified before him, just as this tax collector went home to his house justified at that moment, because what God gives is sufficient. and Jesus told this parable to the people that he was hearing, or that we're hearing him, so that they would not make the same tragic mistake as that Pharisee, because before their very presence was someone greater than the temple. Jesus Christ himself was the one that all those sacrifices pointed to and the priest pointed to and that even a temple pointed to, and he was there saying I'm at guys, I'm the one who's going to die for you. I'm the one who's going to cleanse you of your sins. And so he wanted to tell them in unmistakable terms to get their eyes off of their own pretended righteousness and instead to trust in him, who could give them exactly what they needed for eternity and beloved, this is still the case today. If you are here thinking that because you know you're a nice person, you're a charitable person, you give to the right charities and you feel good about yourself when you give to night charities and you come to church and you know everybody thinks well of you and you look good and all that, and you think, I'm okay, God, God thinks of me the same way as other people. Think again, because God's law goes all the way to the heart. It's not just about the externals and it certainly is not about the way the world looks at us. But God knows exactly what is going on inside. And realize that, even though he knows this and even though he is a holy God, more holy than we could ever be in ourselves, it is provided a holiness to US freely. And if we cling to that, if we beat our breast as this tax collector and humble ourselves before the Lord that he will exalt us at the proper time. And so, beloved, let us come before God truly and not be deluded, as the world is, but come before a holy God humbly and waiting for him to be the one to lift us up, as he will when Christ returns. Let us pray.

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