Summary: People often measure righteousness and morality by comparing themselves to others. This sermon discusses a more accurate way to measure righteousness.
*Scripture references from Luke are from "The Message". Scripture reference from James is from the NIV.
We are going to take a silent moral inventory this morning. We are going to take a look at several pictures of famous figures and – as you see each picture – I want you to think about this question: how does my morality “measure up” to the morality of the person that we will see on the screen. There are no right or wrong answers in this moral inventory. Some of us may have a slightly different response to each person that we will see.
Here’s the first person. This is Mother Theresa, founder of the Order of the Sisters of Charity who spent her lifetime in Calcutta, India, serving the poor and inspired thousands of others to serve the poor in the name of Jesus.
Here’s the second person. Adolph Hitler. Founder of Germany’s Third Reich, leader of the Nazi Party, driving force behind a plan called The Final Solution that was responsible for the death of 6 million Jews and another 3 to 4 million people that they decided they did not like.
The third person is Billy Graham. Founder of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association who held crusades all over the world that saw thousands of people enter into relationships with Jesus Christ.
The fourth person is Hugh Hefner, publisher of Playboy magazine, CEO of the Playboy corporation and the one man who is perhaps most responsible for the “mainstreaming” of pornography in the United States.
Most of us, if we measure our “morality” and “righteousness” against the standards provided by a list like this will find that some of these people probably make us feel pretty good about ourselves and some of them might make us feel like we’ve still got a few rungs to go on the old morality ladder.
Now, this kind of activity – as you may already have guessed – is not a very “healthy” way to go about measuring how “good” or “moral” or “righteous” we are.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that “The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing; . . . the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.” Lewis is suggesting that measuring our own righteousness and morality by looking at the immorality and unrighteousness of others may actually lead us far closer to hell than the very people that we are comparing ourselves to.
We can never gain an accurate measurement of our own morality and righteousness by comparing ourselves to other people. It’s a bit like measuring out a mile with a 12 inch ruler. Chances are the mile that you think you’ve marked out with that ruler won’t really be anywhere close to an actual mile. Measuring your righteousness or morality by the righteousness or unrighteousness of other people won’t get you any closer to an actual understanding of who you really are.
“Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee . . .”
This particular Pharisee – like all other men who were Pharisees – was an expert in the interpreting and applying the teachings of the Old Testament. In most communities the Pharisees would have functioned like pastors and preachers do in our communities today.
The Pharisee wakes up, prepares himself and begins journeying through the streets of Jerusalem toward the Temple complex.
The Pharisee would have entered the Temple on one of two bridges that connected the main part of the city of Jerusalem with the Temple complex. The entire Temple Complex covered about 35 acres which is about 7 times the size of our property here at GCF.. As he walks across the bridge, the Pharisee can see the Temple Wall rising in front of him. On top of the wall he can see the huge colonnades rising out of the walls which provided shade covered porches around the entire Temple complex. As the Pharisee enters the area called the Court of the Gentiles, he could see the actual Temple building, rising nearly 250 to 300 feet in the air. As he walks out of the Court of the Gentiles and into the inner courts where Jews gathered to pray, he could see the sun glistening on the huge gold plated doors that lead into the inner chambers of the Temple; into the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in all of Israel. The entire Temple complex had been designed to remind the Jewish people of the amazing glory and holiness of Yahweh.