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Mar 04, 2018

Surprise! Surprise!

Surprise! Surprise!

Passage: Luke 18:9-14

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: The Parables That Change The World

Keywords: arrogance, grace, humility, mercy, pride, redemption, salvation


How we start our life in Christ can determine how we live it out. This parable calls both "sinners" and "saints" alike to salvation through mercy in Christ and life with people based on humility and mercy, not arrogance and judgmentalism.


Surprise, Surprise!

Luke 18:9-14

March 4, 2018


Quiz Time!  Number your paper from 1-7.  This is a T/F test…with t 3rd option:  “I’m not sure.”  (Not to be confused with “I don’t know.”) 

Here you go.  (Don’t worry. I won’t be collecting your quizzes or grading them…but you will get a chance to see how your answers compared with national and Evangelical averages…but only if you play the game!)

  1. T/F/? Heaven is a place where all people will ultimately be reunited with their loved ones.
  2. T/F/? Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.
  3. T/F/? Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.
  4. T/F/? God would be fair to show His wrath against sin. 
  5. T/F/? Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
  6. T/F/? An individual must contribute his or her own effort for personal salvation.
  7. T/F/? Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin. 

Want to know how you did compared to most Americans?

  1. T/F/? Heaven is a place where all people will ultimately be reunited with their loved ones. 
  • 60% agree [64% among Evangelicals!—universalism!]
  • 26% disagree
  • 14% aren’t sure
  1. T/F/? Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.
  • 65% agree
  • 28% disagree
  • 6% don’t know
  1. T/F/? God would be fair to show His wrath against sin.
  • 57% agree
  • 27% disagree
  • 16% don’t know
  1. T/F/? Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.
  • 19% agree
  • 74% disagree (i.e. believe God grades on the curve?)
  • 7% not sure
  1. T/F/? Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
  • 54% agree
  • 46% disagree
  • Nobody was unsure???
  1. T/F/? An individual must contribute his or her own effort for personal salvation.
  • 76% agree
  • 16% disagree
  • 8% not sure
  1. T/F/? Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin. 
  • 60% agree
  • 40% disagree

So now you know how you stand in relationship to what other Americans (and sometimes Evangelicals) believe.  But how do you and the rest of Americans stand in terms of what God says about those questions?  Because, in the end, it really doesn’t matter what other Americans or even other Evangelicals in America believe; it matters what GOD says is, in fact, true.  And it matters where we each stand with or against God in relationship to that truth. 

            [Forgive me if I sound a little old fashioned by talking about “truth.”  I know we live in the “post-truth” age/generation that thinks trying to determine what is ultimately true is a useless exercise in itself.  Since we’ve all been immersed in a culture of moral relativism that says everyone can make their own truth and that those “truths” can be mutually exclusive or completely contradictory, it logically follows (from illogical relativism) that the whole notion of universal truth and the pursuit of it is a waste of time.  But I’m assuming that most of us believe God IS truth and that conforming our thoughts, actions and lives to His truth is where true life will be found.]

            We are beginning a new sermon series today called “Parables that Change the World.”  Since it’s been a while since we’ve been in one of the Gospels, I wanted to get us back in touch with the very words of Jesus.  So I thought studying and growing through the parables of Jesus would be a great way to do that. 

            Any idea how many parables Jesus told?  Some 35-40 depending on exactly what you classify as a parable.  Which leads to the next question:

            Just what is a parable?  (Responses)  A parable is fundamentally a story with a central spiritual truth.  They are usually verbal pictures of that help us grasp some spiritual reality.  They can be an illustration from daily life that everyone understood or they can be a story that is fictional for which it may be difficult to grasp the meaning. 

WHY did Jesus use parables? 

Jesus sometimes told parables in order to bring emotional punch to a spiritual truth

Quite frequently he told parables to hide the truth from most people. 

Q:  WHY on earth would Jesus want to hide truth from people? 

  • What responsibility comes with divine truth? (Obedience or  Disobedience.  To understood truth brings greater judgment than disobedience to unknown truth…though both are still punishable under the law.  Hiding further truth/responsibility from people who don’t value truth is a form of mercy.
  • To hide them from the devil and evil forces (I Cor. 2:8—“…none of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” The powers of evil had no idea what was happening until it was too late!)
  • To keep unspiritual, fleshly, evil people in the dark. (Mt. 13:13-15—“For this people’s heart has become calloused.”)

There is something more meaningful, more lasting, deeper about having to dig hard for something, right?  Discovering truth through a bit of work often helps us value that truth more.  That’s why experience is often the best teacher.  We may try this or that and fail miserably.  But when we finally get tired of failing, we may begin looking to God’s wisdom or go looking for wiser people to figure out a less-damaging way of making life work, i.e. finding God’s truth. 

So for the first couple of weeks or so, I would like us to look at a few “salvation parables.”  Jesus parables tend to group into some general categories of spiritual reality.  One of those is salvation.  And the first one I would like us to grab is Luke 18:9-14.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “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.’

14 “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.”

            So let’s start with one of the fundamental principles of correctly understanding parablesJesus sometimes gives the main theme of a parable in his comments before and/or after the parable.  So in this parable, what comes before and what comes after this little “story”? 

BEFORE:  Spoken to/at whom?  People who were “confident of their own righteousness.”

Q:  Anything wrong with confidence?  Nope.  In fact, it can spell the difference between success and defeat.  Just ask anyone who has to compete for something, be it a medal in the Olympics, an audition for a symphony or a promotion at work.  Confidence can spell the difference between success and failure. 

Q:  But how does confidence come in most areas of life?   Through hard work, lots of practice, study, exercise, etc.  We gain confidence as we gain proficiency.  In fact, there is nothing more maddening than someone who is really confident about something they are really terrible at, right? 

  • Ever study with someone who thinks they know the class material but really is horrible at grasping the concepts? How long do you stick with that guy’s study group?  (Until you both fail the first test!)
  • Ever known someone who brags about being the greatest snowboarder…and they can’t keep up with you. Or the greatest driver…and they are always getting in wrecks. 

But this story isn’t about snowboarding or driving; it’s about “righteousness,” more specifically “one’s own righteousness.”  Let’s use a simple definition of righteousness that says “righteousness it the degree to which my actions conform to God’s character. 

            So when I am confident that my actions in life conform to God’s character in life, what am I saying?  “I’m really godly!  I’m really holy!  I’m really loving, just, kind, patient…I’m really… perfect!” 

Q:  What does that kind of confidence lead to?  Vs. 9—people like that “…look down on everyone else.”  Why?  Because we all know what terrible sinners everyone else is in this world, right?  I mean, this world would be amazing if more people were simply more like me!  The human capacity to inflate others faults and minimize our own is virtually infinite!  Our ability to spot others flaws while completely overlooking our own is stunning! 

            So this parable is written to people who…

1.) tend to overestimate their own goodness.  Any of us???

2.) tend to underestimate their own faults.  Any of us???

3.) tend to see others’ faults as more pronounced than our own.  Any of us???

So…this parable is for US!

            Not go to the end of this parable, vs. 14--“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”   Which man?  The sinner in the last row, back corner, truly broken by his/her sin. 

According to this statement, what is the “point” of this story?  [Being “justified before God.”]  That sounds like a mouthful of theology.  But it’s really quite simple.  Being “justified before God” is simply being “made right with God.”  It is being brought into right relationship with God.  And isn’t that the greatest need of every human being, every human soul, every sinner, all the time

            Church theologians have long recognized the centrality of justification in Christian experience.  Martin Luther called justification the “chief article” of Christian theology “from which all our other doctrines have flowed.”   John Calvin called justification “the main hinge on which religion turns.”  Thomas Watson, the Puritan, wrote, “Justification is the very hinge and pillar of Christianity.  An error about justification is dangerous, like a defect in a foundation.” [Quoted in The Parables of Jesus by James Montgomery Boice, Moody Publishers, Chicago, p. 100.]

APP:  So, before we dissect these two very different approaches to justification before us in this parable, let me ask you, “To what are you looking to be/feel right with God?” 

  • Jesus work on the cross plus your work on earth?
  • God’s grace plus your good behavior?
  • Christ’s death on the cross plus your discipline as a Christian?

The Pharisee in this story was not intended to be seen as the villain.  Pharisees were more like hard-working teachers of our day…someone you wanted to emulate.  They were the respected professionals--doctors or engineers or lawyers of the day. They were person you wanted to be like—the successful business person, the achieving spiritual leader.

APP:  Who do you aspire to be like?  What person do you wish you were more like? 

No one would have expected the Pharisee to be the disappointment in this story, especially after Jesus gave this description of him:

11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other peoplerobbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  

Notice the identifying markers of this man:

  • He’s in a class “by himself”—he really does appear and think of himself as better than the average bear. He stood out from the crowd, “by himself,” not where everyone else experienced life. 
  • He prayed. He was a real God-seeker, wanting to make points with God. 
  • His life was not tinged by the failings of others.
    • Not a robber: not taking what rightfully belonged to others for his own enrichment. 

APP:  Most of us would not consider ourselves thieves or robbers in this room.  Paul writes in Romans 13:7—“Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”  Let’s just think for a moment about what we “owe” various people around us:

  • Government officials? [Prayers, taxes, respect….]
  • Neighbors? [Love, prayers, Gospel….]
  • Enemies? [Prayers, blessing….
  • Employers/those who provide us $? [Our best work, full hours, hard work, gratitude, service…in return for wages, SSI, disability, etc.]
  • Customers/clients/people we serve?
  • Family members/parents/spouses?
  • Not an evildoer: James 4:17 says,“ If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”  God’s standard for not being an evildoer is not simply to STOP doing evil; it is to DO the good God wants done to people.  Failing to do that leaves us in the camp of evil. 

Imagine a world where God didn’t commit any evil but didn’t do any good either.  “Every good and perfect gift [in life] comes from above…from our Heavenly Father,” says James.  So in order to count ourselves out of the “evildoer” camp, we must find ourselves at all times in the “doing the good we know we should do” camp. 

  • Not an adulterer: Wasn’t it Jesus who set the bar on this one by telling us that if we even look at another human being with desires to possess them sexually, we have “committed adultery in our hearts”?  I think the only time in my life that I’ve never had to struggle with lustful sexual thoughts was before I entered puberty.  Something changed then that even aging hasn’t erased.  I doubt that there is a single area of human experience in which most humans should honestly feel our sinfulness more frequently than this area of sexual impurity.

I’m not saying that we should feel guilty all the time because of

a.) what we rob from others that God wants us to give them,

b.) what we fail to do of what God does for them all the time, and

c.) the fact that none of us are paragons of sexual virtue

That’s not Jesus’ intent with this story.  But He does want to remind us of how far short of divine perfection we fall, even when we think (or may actually be) living better than we ever have before.    

            And then this Pharisee spots this tax collector across the Temple court in some distant corner of the courtyard and thinks, “Yah, and thank God I’m not like him!”  We all have people like that in our lives, people we virtually despise because of what they do. 

APP:  Whose on your list of really “bad actors”?

  • Child molesters?
  • Sex traffickers?
  • The super-rich?
  • Liberals? Conservatives?  Democrats?  Republicans?

CONFESSION:  How God has been convicting me of my own sin of hatred, anger, prayerlessness, lack of compassion for…those engaged in the abortion industry. 

  • My Lenten commitment/desire to walk and pray at Planned Parenthood 5 days/week, 1hr/day.
  • God has been hammering away at my heart and attitude every hour. He has been taking my hard, stony heart and exchanging it for more of His heart that loves and lives compassion and concern for
    • the people working there,
    • the people delivering supplies,
    • the people driving women there for abortions,
    • the doctors performing the abortions,
    • the men getting the women pregnant,
    • the coeds having sex outside marriage and going there for contraceptives all day long,
    • the neighbors who look the other way,
    • the people driving by, honking horns, giving me the finger, swearing out the window,
    • the construction workers tearing down the old clinic
    • the multitude of businesses around town making money from that facility,
    • the big donors (Smith-Barbieri) who funded the new $5 million building,
    • the government that continues to take roughly $5 per resident in Spokane and given those tax dollars to P.P. every year,
    • the creators of curriculum we are fighting against from P.P. that is going to teach our Spokane teens a godless view of sex, etc., etc.

Before this experience of simply praying, my anger towards every one of these people kept growing and growing.  I was, in some ways, a bigger sinner than they are because I know the good I should be doing and wasn’t! 

I’ve a LONG way to go, but seeing my own failure to care enough to even pray regularly and fervently about all these people has done a lot to reveal the Pharisee in me! 

On the other hand, what does genuine humility before God look like?  What does saving humility…justifying humility/prayer look like?

Vs. 13--“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.’

“Tax collector”—It’s pretty difficult to get the sense of disdain for this kind of person in the heart of an average Jew.  They were sort of a treasonous, citizen scamming, hard-worker abusing, rich money-grubbing, power-hungry national traitor and politician who raided your bank account with impunity whenever they felt like it and was genuinely hated by most people.  I don’t know who you simply despise in this world, but this guy was in that class.  He made life miserable for others and got rich off of it.  He didn’t deserve respect or a seat at the table. And here he was, in the Temple.    

What does it mean, he “stood at a distance”?  From what?  Where? 

            The Temple was all about the presence of God signified by the Ark of the Covenant that was kept in the Holy of Holies.  So while the Pharisee probably got as close to the Holy Place in the Temple as he could, this tax collector “stood at a distance” from where God’s presence was expected to be.  It wasn’t because he didn’t want to be close to God; he did.  It was because of 3 things that had genuinely gripped his life that related to God and related to him.

            It is what John Calvin expressed in his Institutes of the Christian Religion when he taught that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves go together.  We never have one without the other.  “To know God as the sovereign of the universe is to know ourselves as His subjects, in rebellion against Him.  To know God in His holiness is to know ourselves as sinners.  To know Him as love is to see ourselves as loved though unlovely.  To seek God’s wisdom is to see our own foolishness.  Since God is the only standard by which any of these things can be measured, we do not know anything properly unless we know Him.”  [Boice, p. 104.]

            When we truly encounter God as sinners, our sin will become to us something we hate and grieve.  What did not bother us before about ourselves will bother us greatly.  Consider a handful of examples from the Bible.

  • Adam & Eve: It was God’s presence in the Garden that unmasked their delusion that they were fine in the leaves of their own making.  It was God’s presence that enabled them to strip off those leaves, look at their (and each other’s) nakedness and receive the blood-soaked skins God clothed them with as they received forgiveness through the shed blood of a lamb sacrificed and sown into clothing for them as sinners. 
  • Job: He vehemently defended himself against the charges of sin brought by his “friends.”  It was only when he actually encountered the God he was making so many demands of to appear and contend with him that he was left nearly speechless and in a state of collapse. He replied to God, “I am unworthy…I put my hand over my mouth…Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 40:4; 42:6).
  • Isaiah: When he received the vision of the Lord, “seated on a throne, high and exalted,” the effect was not pride at such a vision granted to him. It was devastation.  He responded, “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips….” (Is. 6:5).  He saw himself as a sinner, ruined and undone in the presence of God’s holiness. 
  • We could talk about Habakkuk who was so deeply distressed with the ungodliness of the world around him that he hid away in his watchtower and waited for God to answer his questions about how the ungodly could rightly triumph over the person who was more righteous. When God responded with his presence and answer, Habakkuk was terrified so that his body trembled, his lips quivered, and his legs gave way under him (Hab. 3:16).
  • We could look at John in Revelation 1:7 on the Lord’s Day when he saw the risen Lord Jesus standing in the midst of the 7 golden candlesticks and “fell at his feet as though dead.”

This tax-collector was so aware of his sin that he didn’t just call himself “a sinner.”  He called himself “the sinner,” the really guilty, really deserving of banishment from God sinner. 

The text says (vs. 13), “He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

A true vision/understanding of God led him to a true disgust of his own sin which moved him to a genuine cry for only one thing:  God’s mercy poured out on him, a sinner. 

            The word translated “be merciful to me” or “have mercy on me” (hilastheti) is the verb form of the word for the “mercy seat” on the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies in that very Temple (hilasterion). It could literally, thought awkwardly, be translated “be mercy-seated toward me.”  “Treat me as one who comes into your very presence only because of the Passover blood shed on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant as an offering for sin.” 

[Explain the mercy-seat, cherubim and Passover blood shed once/year.]

            The whole thrust of this parable is to call every one of us to a true vision of who God really is that will move us to a true vision of who we really are:  sinners desperately in need of the shed blood of our perfect Lord Jesus Christ that enables God to exchange our sinfulness for His mercy. 

            This is why there is NO right relationship with God without submission to and faith in Jesus Christ.

            This is why there is NO salvation in any other gods or religions.

            This is why not all our family members will be with us in heaven forever. 

            This is why we are not “mostly good” or people who just sin “little sins.” 

            This is why even the smallest sin deserves divine judgment and God would be absolutely just to show his wrath against every human being. 

            And this is why we cannot add a single thing to the work of Jesus Christ for us but must simply be saved by grace through faith in Jesus. 

To try and be reconciled to God…justified or made-right with God… by any other means displays a complete misunderstanding of the nature of God and the nature of our sin.  All we can do is plead for mercy…for the “mercy-seat of Christ Jesus’ blood” over our sinful hearts, minds and lives. 

APPWhich person are you?  The Pharisee who thinks all your good and hard work, religious though it may be, will commend you to God OR the tax-collector who knows your only hope is to cast yourself on the mercy of God and be covered with the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ? 

            It is that kind of genuine knowledge of our genuine brokenness that will lead us to a life of humility, a life that will be “exalted” to the very presence of God himself for all eternity!