Sunday, November 17, 2019
In the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus is targeting a specific audience of those “…who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else…” (Luke 18:9). In our struggle to obey Jesus, it is important to keep our acts of righteousness in perspective lest we wind up in the Pharisee’s camp.
WORKS VERSUS FRUITS
“Hungering and thirsting for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6) is something Jesus challenges each of us to do in order to be blessed by following Him. However, this may mean different things to each of us depending upon several circumstances. For example, the new Christian will need to discontinue ungodly practices in order to conform to the image of Christ. Alternatively, to the seasoned Christian this may mean a deeper walk with the Lord in spiritual disciplines practiced over time.
The common danger for all is elevating the changes we make in the name of Christ to a means for measuring our personal righteousness. This is especially dangerous when we begin comparing our personal levels of maturity to those around us.
In his prayer, the Pharisee thanks God for blessing him with his own moral behaviors and over-the-top religious and ceremonial practices. This is a good thing; right? Jesus is clear. If this man believed that these admirable qualities justified him before God, he was dead wrong (Luke 18:14). As Jesus had said to the Pharisees earlier, “What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15, NIV).
CRYING OUT TO GOD FOR MERCY
The justified tax collector had a much different perspective. Recognizing his poverty of spirit and mourning over his sin (see Matthew 5:3-4, NIV), he realized–and Jesus affirmed–that his only hope for justification would be found in God’s mercy (Luke 18:13-14, NIV).
As the apostle Paul would write in Romans 5:9 (NIV): “…we have now been justified by his [Christ’s] blood.” Not, “Christ’s blood AND doing the right things correctly” but “by Christ’s blood”…alone!
What we do is the fruit of what Christ has done for us. It is not about doing the right things in the right way in order to be justified. It is because we trust in Christ, Who did the right things in the right way that we are justified. Understanding these distinctions has incredible ramifications for how we live every day and how we perceive those around us.
Perhaps Luke was concerned about Theophilus and his fellow believers (see Luke 1:1-4) as they mature in their Christian faith. Becoming confident in their walk with the Lord, perhaps they, too, ran the risk of emphasizing the wrong things in the shadow of the cross.
Certainly, we all would do well to heed Jesus’ warning about putting so much emphasis upon doing the right things in the right way that they, themselves begin to overshadow the cross. As the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians (who struggled mightily with this understanding), “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2, NIV).
Note: The following sermon is preceded by reflections upon the Lord’s Supper and by a reading of Luke 18:9-14.
A video introduced today’s lesson, entitled: “Resume Vs. Referral“.