Letters to the Family of God
by Joe Franzone | March 24, 2022 | Pastor's Blog
March 24, 2022
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone 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 by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—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 all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Jesus presents a clear contrast between self-righteous religion and the proper response to His Gospel message.
The two men in the parable are two ways people respond to God. On the one hand, we have a person who has tremendous confidence in themselves, whose outward life is apparently spotless. On the other hand, we have a man that everyone, including himself, would consider a sinner. But far worse, as a tax collector for Rome, he would be thought of as a traitor to his people.
On the outside, the contrast could not be any clearer. But Jesus, who knows all things, tells of the most important difference between these two people: God accepts and justifies those who humbly look for mercy, and he rejects those who make much of themselves and think they need very little forgiveness, if any at all, from God.
It can't be any clearer. To those who know themselves well, the Gospel is good news indeed. In it, Jesus is not calling us to a plan of moral improvement, but to the one thing, we can all pursue no matter our failures or brokenness. It is to humble ourselves before the living God and cry out for mercy. Only this will bring the gift of justification which alone is needed to enter the kingdom, stand before God as perfect, and inherit eternal life with Him.
Someone once said, (I think it was Elizabeth Elliot) fear arises when we imagine everything depends on us. Even in the arrogance of the religious, external rule-keeping Pharisee, I suspect he had a tremendous amount of fear. A fear he dealt with in his behavior first and not out of his need for God's mercy. It was almost like he said, see God, see God look what I did here and there. Look how hard I am trying and good I am doing.
As a consequence, he turns to himself first and not God. He looks down on everyone else, which included God, and his pleasures with God ran through his behavior and not through confession and repentance because of a felt need for mercy. In a phrase, his justification with God depended on him. A terrible way to live and a subtle form of self-righteousness, which we need to be mindful of, as the righteous can only live by faith.
In the second part of the book The Pilgrim's Progress, Christian encounters a poor shepherd boy in The Valley of Humiliation. Although dressed in plain clothing, living an honest life, the dear boy is happy and content. The song he sings explains why.
He that is down needs fear no fall,
He that is low no pride;
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.
I am content with what I have,
Little be it or much;
And, Lord, contentment still I crave
Because thou savest such.
Fulness to such a burden is
That go on to pilgrimage;
Here little and hereafter bliss
Is best from age to age.
The parable from Luke’s Gospel has often humbled me and given me hope. We all need honest hope, not a beat down from a dishonest religious person all hyped-up on themself looking to spread their pain boasting in their works. The parable has hope-filled good news all over it. Many people need to hear this. May God have mercy on us as He equips us to tell them this Easter.
God bless you this week big. I am so thankful God is merciful and He relates to us by His grace and not our works.