“God Has Mercy”
If there is one thing in your walk with God that challenges you more than anything else, what would it be? For some, it might be the use of money and wealth. For others, it might be spending time reading the Bible or praying to God. My guess is, the issue of pride and humility is a really big deal for most people. I know it is for me. Having an attitude of pride instead of humility is challenging, isn't it? That issue especially gets our attention when we see others who we believe have a pride problem. And yet, that might only cause us to think we are better than such people. Oh, it is true, as followers of Jesus we are to always live with a spirit of humility and to avoid an attitude of pride. Today, on "Key to the Kingdom," we will notice some of Jesus' teaching on that very subject. He does it through a story, or parable. As He shares the parable, it catches those who hear it off guard. They were not expecting such a message; and, no doubt, it made them evaluate their own attitudes when they worshiped the Lord. As we work our way through the parable, I trust we will keep an open mind. I also hope we will hear it as if Jesus is sharing it directly with us. Perhaps more than anything else, I hope we are reminded of the fact that God loves and forgives us, and that He saves us through His son Jesus Christ. When we come to worship and honor God, everything is to revolve around who He is and what He has done. Please stay tuned to this station for the next few minutes, as we look at the lesson entitled, "God Has Mercy."
Have you ever been around people who think they are better than everyone else? They perhaps believe they are the most important person in the room and they look down their noses at everybody else. They consider those who are not as nicely dressed as inferior, and perhaps they're even tempted to abuse those who are less fortunate. Oh, we don't like to be around such people, do we? They irritate us, they get under our skin, and we want to avoid them if at all possible. And yet, at the same time, people like that allow us to ask some important questions: Am I like that; How do I treat people around me; Do I think I am better than everyone else? One of the greatest challenges of being a follower and a disciple of Jesus Christ is that we do not think too highly of ourself, but rather we live with a spirit of humility. And there are a number of places throughout scripture where that very command and warning is given. For example, we read these words from the Apostle Paul in Romans, chapter 12: "Do not think more highly of yourself than you should. Do not be proud. Do not be conceited." And then again he writes in Philippians, chapter 2 and verse 3, "Do nothing out of conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." You know, for even the most dedicated Christian, that is hard to do, isn't it? It is a challenge to live without any kind of pride or arrogance and to live with humility. Well, in today's lesson, Jesus tells us the dangers of living such a prideful life. He tells us about the dangers of worshiping God or even praying to God with that prideful attitude. The story he tells is about two men who come into the temple to pray. One man is a Pharisee and the other man is a tax collector. One man is proud, while the other man is humble. One is at the top of the social ladder, while the other man is at the very bottom. One man is respected, the other is outcast. One man's prayer is heard by God, while the other man's prayer is refused. Let's go to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18, and let's read the story which Jesus shares with us today; as we begin reading in verse 9. <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 he 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.”> The Pharisees were considered experts on the Law of Moses. These Jewish men spent their time reading and studying the Law. They spent their time interpreting all of the Law. And then, they imposed the Law on other people. They wanted to make sure that everybody followed the Law; and yet, even they themselves did not always follow it as they should. The Pharisees separated themselves from others. They viewed themselves as being separate or special from everyone else, and the other people recognized that. And yet, they still respected such individuals. Jesus often times had some conflict with Pharisees. In fact, more than any other group of people, during His public ministry, Jesus dealt with and had trouble with the Pharisees. He even condemned them for some of their actions and their attitudes. Well, such a man goes into the temple to worship and to pray. As he does, he knows that all eyes are on him. Everyone sees him walk in and they know that he is a Pharisee. He is someone special. Perhaps he looks around and he separates himself from the other worshippers. Maybe he goes to the front of the temple and people are watching where he will stand and they're listening to what he will say. And then he begins to pray, and in his prayer, he seems to point out the other worshippers. He identifies them as being less important and certainly less righteous than himself. The people there are offering their sacrifices and their prayers, but the Pharisee does not want to have anything to do with them. He basically has an attack on those other people. He identifies them as evildoers and adulterers. And then he says, "Oh God, I thank you. I am not like this tax collector. I'm certainly glad that I'm not as evil and as wicked and as sinful as he is; but, I guess he needs to be praying to you also." Well, all of his prayer is based upon his idea of his righteousness. He believes that he is superior to everyone else and that he provides an example for others to follow. Well, on the other hand, there is the tax collector. Such people were condemned by others. They were not well liked. In fact, they were despised and they were hated. When Jesus told the story, Romans ruled the world, and everybody paid taxes to the Romans. However the Romans themselves did not collect the taxes. They hired other people to do that work for them. They would hire Jews to go and collect taxes from their fellow Jews. And that was a very disrespectful job. It was a very meaningless and thankless job. People hated to see the tax collector come around, perhaps the attitude that we might have even still today; but often times, the tax collectors would collect more money than what was actually due from their own countrymen. They would take that money and they would give the proper amount to the Roman authorities, and then they would keep the excess for themselves. That is why they were hated. They were viewed as being dishonest and lying, even to their own fellow Jews, and that did not set well with the rest of the people. It was a very demeaning job. It received no respect. Well, such a man enters into the temple to pray about the time as this Pharisee. And he too knows that all eyes are on him. He knows people are watching where he will stand, and listening to what he will say. And he too separates himself from the other worshippers, not because he is special, not because he is more important, but because he feels that he is unworthy to be there. And so he separates himself, perhaps toward the back of the temple, away from everyone else. With his arms outstretched, he begins to beat upon his chest in a sign of submission. He cries out to God for help, for forgiveness. He recognizes the sin in his life and he wants God to have mercy upon him and to forgive him. Well, these two men are at the opposite extremes, both religiously and socially. The Pharisee congratulates himself. He reflects upon the good things that he has done, and the kind of blessing that he has been to other people. Oh, he is pleased with his life. He finds no room for improvement. There are no adjustments or changes he needs to make in his moral standards or his public behavior. And yet, the tax collector's prayer was much different. We have recorded only seven words of that prayer. He prays this, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." Oh, he does not talk about his accomplishments or about his good deeds, because perhaps there are none. He does not draw attention to himself. He does not recall all the things that he has done to be a blessing to other people. They are simply not there. Yes, we find a big contrast between the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee was wasting his time because he did not see himself as a sinner. Perhaps he was simply going through the motions of offering the prayer and the sacrifice and the worship. It was a ritual. It was a tradition that he did on a regular basis. And it really meant nothing to him. He sees everyone else as a sinner, but he sees himself as being holy and righteous in the sight of God. And yet, the tax man only sees one sinner. And that is himself. He feels unworthy to stand in the presence of other worshippers. He knows he has messed up. He knows he has lied and cheated some of his own countrymen. He knows that he is not worthy to be there or to even pray to God, in his own estimation, and he cries out to God for help. He asks for God's mercy. He pleads for His forgiveness. And no doubt, he wants to make some changes and adjustments in his life. And so, we have two different people and two different attitudes and two different prayers, and two different results. As the Pharisee and tax collector leave the temple, we notice that one of them goes back to his house justified, or right, in the sight of God; and that is the tax collector. And yet, the Pharisee goes back to his home as if he did not even show up in the temple in the first place. He is not justified. He is not right or holy in the sight of God, and God has rejected his prayer. When we think about our worship and our attitudes and our prayer life, there are times when we need to do some careful evaluation. Maybe there are some good things that we have done, and some blessings that we have been to some other people. And we think about that. We want to continue to do those good things. We evaluate the opportunities and the people that God puts before us and we consider ways that we can be of assistance. In the midst of that, we also consider some adjustments that we might need to make, some errors that we have committed, some mistakes along the way, and we try to clean that up and to make some adjustments and be the kind of representative that God calls upon us to be. And in the midst of all of that evaluation, and in the midst of our prayer life, as we see from this story, we recognize, or we are to recognize, our need for forgiveness. It really does not matter who we are. We all make mistakes. We all sin. We all fall short of God's glory. And we need His forgiveness. We are to cry out, like the tax collector, for His mercy and for another chance. Yet, it seems there are some people of the world today who believe they don't need any of that. They don't need the mercy. They don't need the forgiveness. They believe if they say enough prayers, if they live a good enough life, if they give enough of their money, if they attend worship service every time, then that's good enough; and based upon that, they deserve God's salvation. They deserve eternal life. In fact, they might even think that God owes them something because of the good life they are living. Yet, there is nothing in all of the Bible that says anything like that. That is totally not there. Instead, what is there is that we inherit salvation by God's grace. We receive it by His mercy, not by the good deeds we do. Yes, it is by His goodness we are saved and not because of ours. As we think about the story Jesus tells, here in Luke 18, there are several observations we can make. I want to highlight just three for our consideration. Number one, God hates a prideful spirit. Yes, that is quite obvious here in this story, isn't it? Now that does not mean God hates people. He doesn't. He loves all people everywhere, but sometimes He does not like, and even He hates, the spirit or the attitude within some people. Well, there is never a time in Scripture when God praises pride and arrogance. He wants that kind of thing to be totally eliminated from our heart and from our life. We are to do just that. We are not to seek to draw attention to ourselves but rather divert that attention to God. We are His representatives, and any attention that we receive is to be deflected to the glory of God. And that is number one: God hates a prideful spirit. Well then, just the opposite is true; number two, God blesses a humble heart. Yes, we are to live with a spirit of humility, represented by this tax collector. We are not to seek to draw attention to ourselves, rather we are to live with thankfulness for what God has done for us. We are to recognize that we deserve nothing, and that God has given us His grace and His mercy. He has given us a number of opportunities and second chances to make up for the mistakes of the past. We live with humility. And that's why Jesus said, there at the end, "Those who humble themselves will be exalted." But then, there is one final observation, and perhaps this is the most important: God's sacrifice is for all of us. No matter who we are and no matter where we live, we all stand in need of God's forgiveness. No matter the color of our skin or the language we speak. We all stand in need of God's mercy and grace. It does not matter how rich or poor we might be, male or female. It does not matter what we think of ourself or what other people might think about us. We are all one in that we need the forgiveness of God. And yet, God has a solution for us. And this is the good news, that God provided a solution for the sin problem in your life, and in mine; and, it comes through His one and only son, Jesus Christ. God sent Him to this earth to live an exemplary life among people. And many rejected that ministry. They rejected Jesus. And as a result, they even put Him on a cross, where He died a very painful and humiliating death. With that death, He took our sin with Him. He was then buried in a tomb, and then, on the third day, He rose victoriously from the grave. And that sacrifice, that free gift of salvation, is what God offers to us. And we receive it, today, when we die to the sin in our life, when we are buried with Jesus Christ in baptism and in submission to Him, where our sin is washed away, forgiven and forgotten, and then we rise up to walk in a new life; one that is devoted to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Yes, that is Good News, isn't it? The sacrifice of God's son, Jesus Christ, gives hope and forgiveness for all of us. As we think about this story, we know that it was told many years ago, with Jesus, but let me put it in some modern day application that perhaps we can relate to even better. One day, a mother went to a judge on behalf of her son. Her son had committed a terrible crime, and the sentence was death. He had violated parole. There were no more second chances, no more opportunities, and justice demanded that his life be taken away. And as any good mother, she pleaded with the judge for that to not happen. And she said, "I plead for mercy and not for justice." And the judge responded by saying, "Well, he does not deserve mercy." And the mother said, "I understand that. It would not be mercy if it was deserved. And mercy is all I seek." And with that, the judge said, "Then mercy he will receive." And her son's life was spared. We can relate to that, can't we? The sin in our life deserves punishment, it deserves death. And yet, through God's son, Jesus Christ, we have a second chance. We have another opportunity. We are able to receive the forgiveness of our sin through the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on our behalf. Yes, we deserve to die because of the sin and the mistakes and the rebellion that is within us. Yes, we are not worthy of God's forgiveness; yet, because of Jesus' sacrifice, we are forgiven. Indeed, that is Good News. God has mercy on sinners. And when we recognize our need to receive that mercy and to receive that forgiveness, He is more than willing to give it. We can go back to our home, justified in the sight of our Holy God. In our prayer life today, we are to follow the example of this tax collector and not the Pharisee. We are to eliminate pride and arrogance and to pray in such a way that we are depending upon God to provide mercy, to provide that forgiveness. And as we present ourselves to God, as His humble servants, we can look forward to the day when we will be exalted in His Kingdom, and we will be a part of His eternal family forever.
Many of us have entered into a church building like this one, and we have done so a number of times. We go into such a building to fellowship with other believers, to worship God, and to draw closer in our relationship with Him. Have we ever checked our attitude, however, when we do such things? Do we consider all of the other people who are there? Do we think about them not being there in times past, or do we consider the life they are living and we perhaps think in our mind, "it's about time you showed up"? What is the attitude with which we enter into a church building to worship God and draw closer to Him? We recognize that we all sin, we all make mistakes, and we all stand in need of God's love and forgiveness and grace. The Bible tells us, a number of different times, the simple phrase, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." As we enter into a church building or as we worship God and approach Him, wherever we might be, it is important that we do so with a spirit of humility. We don't do it with an attitude of judgmentalism. We don't look down our nose at other people and believe that we are better than them, but we come into the presence of God with a humble spirit, knowing that we all need forgiveness and grace and mercy and salvation. My encouragement for us today is that when we encounter God and worship him, we do so with a humble heart, seeking His love and His mercy.
Thank you for joining us for today's broadcast. Hopefully, this message blessed you spiritually and challenged you to live with an attitude of humility. As we seek to live as Jesus' disciples, we need to be reminded from time to time of what that is to look like in our own lives. Now, this message is available to view or to listen to again. It can be found on our website, keytothekingdom.com. It, along with many other messages, is free to download in a variety of formats. Other resources are on the website as well. If you have not visited it in a while, I encourage you to do so. Some recent updates have been made and new features have been added. I really hope you will work through the questions at the end of each lesson. There are some new Bible studies. And all of these things are designed to help one make some practical application of the lessons. As always, we offer one minute devotional thoughts and short inspirational videos. A monthly newsletter is available, and other helpful information. Yes, we are seeking to make good use of the media opportunities available. A free app can even be put onto smart phones. And we have a Facebook page. Perhaps, some of these tools can be useful in your efforts to walk daily with God. Remember also, if you have specific questions or thoughts, do not hesitate to call the number on the screen. We will be happy to assist you in any way possible. Thank you again for being our guest today. Please join us again next time, as we study the Bible on "Key to the Kingdom."