Summary: This is a New Year's sermon when our culture preaches "believe in yourself" and Scripture teaches us what happens when we do. It is a prelude sermon to a covert series on Calvinism.
It is the first Sunday of the new year. In our culture this is a time of getting psyched up for a new year of doing our best, setting some ambitious goals, trying harder, putting our best foot forward. Maybe you expect a little encouragement from your church; give us some spiritual justification for weight loss or stopping some bad habit, starting some good habits. Well, sometimes the Bible just runs completely against the course of our culture. So here’s the word of God for us as we begin 2010 . . .
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody 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 up and prayed about himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men-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.'
This next verse is the shocker–the whole point of this parable. Everything makes sense up to this point in the story, and then Jesus adds:
14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Introduction: This doesn’t seem like a good passage to read to get hyped up for the new year. . . unless you think there is more to life than weight loss and getting your garage organized.
One of the things that plagues many of us humans is that we overestimate our own abilities. And we usually underestimate our own weaknesses.
I’ll verbally criticize someone else’s driving, and my wife will kindly remind me that I do the same thing sometimes. It’s amazing that most people believe that they are above average drivers– statistically that isn’t possible and it doesn’t explain all the people we meet on the roads around here.
Most of us men think that we could coach the Seahawks better than the current head coach. Most guys think that we could play quarterback better too.
People on their cell phones driving is so rude, unless I get a call. We live with a double standard. When you apply that spiritually . . . . you have . . .
Moralism: thinking more highly of myself spiritually than I should (based on reality), that by my own actions, my own righteousness, I will save myself. That I am a good enough person by what I do that I am right with God. Therefore, I don’t need Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
This parable, told just before Jesus went to the cross, addresses the problem of moralism in his day and in ours.
This is the audience for this parable: to those who had confidence in their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.
Jesus could have said: “to the Pharisees”, but the problem of moralism is broader than that, it isn’t limited to Pharisees. In fact, I think it is epidemic in the spiritual life of Americans today (both people in churches and those who don’t go to church). It is one of the main things that keeps people from a true commitment to Jesus Christ. Overestimating my righteousness, underestimating my sin.
But Jesus uses a Pharisee as an example in his story,
I. The Good Pharisee is Pride Personified
The reason he used a Pharisee in this case isn’t because he wanted to pick on them, but because he wanted to use the perfect example of an outwardly morally upright and good person. If anyone had a right to brag before God for all the good moral deeds he had done, it was a Pharisee.
A. He stood up with pride. Pride stands tall–self confident. He was confident of his own righteousness.
1. You have to remember: Pharisees were lay-people (not preachers or pastors or priests), ordinary men who were dedicated to living out the law of God. Well motivated. They didn’t want the Law to be just intellectual, but practical, lived out. You believe in the Law of God? So what?
2. Consequently, these were people who outwardly were very pious, godly men.
3. This man in the temple was confident in his own morality– he was a law keeper, not a law breaker. Everyone knew that a good Pharisee was the kind of person you could trust, this was a man who prays, who fasts, who gives generously to the work of the Lord. It is not surprising to see a man like this in the temple praying . . . the people who hear Jesus tell this parable are like: of course, I’ve seen a hundred men pray that prayer, “I’ve prayed that prayer a hundred times!”