Scripture Reading: Luke 18:9-11
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:
10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'
13 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!'
14 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."
Sermon: “The Heart of Prayer”
As some of you know, I was hospitalized this week. But amidst the situation, I also experienced the power of God working through prayer. When I experienced my small stroke, Rev. Lee and others gathered around me and prayed. As soon as the they finished praying, it was only then that I was able to move. God works through prayer!
Today's passage talks about prayer. On the subject of prayer, I would highly recommend the book The Praying Life. It was this passage that revolutionized my view of prayer. Through a parable, Jesus contrasts two ways of going about prayer.
It speaks of true righteousness before God. But before going further, let us look at the audience to whom Jesus speaks. It's not much different from us. We need to justify ourselves all the time. It's not just our culture but ourselves. Children are always justifying themselves. Some of us struggle to say "I'm sorry." John Wayne said: "Don't apologize - it's a sign of weakness." Why is it so hard? Our pride, self-righteousness. This lack of humility is what keeps us far from God!
First, in this parable, notice the attitude of the Pharisee. Before unpacking this attitude, we need to understand something; Pharisees were righteous people. We almost need to imagine we didn't know anything about Pharisees because the longer we've been in church, the more we've been programmed to think that Pharisees are bad guys. When Jesus talks about two people coming to the temple to pray, the mention of Pharisee would be like mentioning a devout Christian, maybe even a pastor. The audience would have heard Pharisee and thought a pure, holy person.
And on the surface, he gives a holy prayer. Thank God for protecting me, giving grace to grow in my faith. But it is no prayer at all. It's him justifying himself. He's rattling off his spiritual resume before God.
Next, let’s look at the other person in the parable, the tax collector. If Pharisees have gotten a bad reputation in church, tax collectors are automatically connected with good guys. Those are the guys Jesus hangs out with. But they weren't! They were pretty corrupt people. Think of someone who makes good money and has a technically legal profession but you know that there is dishonesty in the person. It would make the audience's blood to boil to think such a person would even come to the temple. Think of a dirty, filthy person you would hate to see at church.
Herein lies the offense of the gospel. God would accept a guy in a dirty profession. And I know that if we truly understand this, we know that this is not easy to swallow. About 2 weeks ago, Mark Driscoll, speaking on the subject of sexual abuse, spoke of the one who committed sexual assault as also needing the forgiveness of Jesus. I have to say, is it not hard to consider that a rapist could become your brother in Christ? Yet, that truly is the extent of God's grace and the offense of the gospel.
God doesn't look at outward appearances, but he looks at the heart. Not because of his profession but because of his heart. This tax collector comes with an attitude of repentance. He can't even go into the temple. He cannot even look to God. He cries out for the mercy of God. This is not show! He sees himself soberly, for who he is, a dirty tax collector, a sinner before God.
How can he see himself like this? He has a glimpse of the glory of God. Until you really see God, whether you are a Pharisee or tax collector, squeaky clean or dirty, you will justify yourself. But when you truly see the holiness of God, you cannot help but declare your uncleanness. When you experience the grace of God, you cannot help but be moved to repentance.
And when we do, we truly pray. We pray out of brokenness and repentance. We truly humble ourselves, not in some forced way.
We will not be justified unless we humble ourselves.
James 4:6 - But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less; that is true. But it is also becoming less inview of a great God. We must see ourselves as sinners apart from the grace of God. Apart from the grace of God, there is no end to the sin we would commit.
Without humility, there is no healing. My hospital experience taught me something about who I am spiritually, a patient; I've fallen and I can't get up! I am a patient just like you. It has been said that the church is not a haven for saints but a hospital for sinners. If we come looking perfect, we don't need God. Rather, as a church, we come knowing we are broken but rejoicing because God is healing us and he will restore us through Jesus.
And where do we find healing? In Jesus, God is the Humble King. Jesus who was truly righteous did not set himself apart from sinners, but he hung out with them; he was the true elder brother. He did not say, "thank God I'm not a sinner" but he who knew no sin became sin for us.
2 Corinthians 5:21 - For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
He who needed no justification was condemned as a dirty criminal. Does that not humble you? Thus, as we grasp the gospel, we can respond in humility.
This is where this parable confronts us. Like the audience to whom Jesus originally spoke, to what degree have we deemed ourselves righteous?
Personally, with what attitude have we come before God in prayer?
Secondly, have we treated others with contempt. Who do we deem unworthy of God's love? When we judge, we are saying, that person is irredeemable. As much as that person may need Jesus, it just also goes to show that we need Jesus to change our hearts as well.
And since we need healing, we pray. Since our church needs healing, we pray. Since our communities and families need healing, we pray. Since this world needs healing, we pray. In humility, we come to the heart of prayer.