Summary: The publican, Paul, and Isaiah
Conviction and Repentance
Luke 18:10-14; I Tim. 1:15; Is. 6:1-7
June 26, 2011
The main thing I listen for when hearing someone giving his testimony are the elements of conviction and repentance. When a man tells me how he became aware of his great need for forgiveness because he’s so offended God, and then how he was brought to a point where all he could do was cry out to God, I can’t help but rejoice with him in his pardon.
But I’ve noticed that a good many people don’t even seem aware of sin or repentance in their stories. I’ve heard people talk about praying a prayer or walking an aisle, and I’ve heard people talk about not wanting to go to hell, yet they totally leave out the part about the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
I’ve heard stories about how an angel kept a car from crashing, one man saw a leprechaun-like angel sitting on a dresser, and others have some emotional experience in which they make a vow to God. But in all these there’s no apparent understanding of repentance.
This morning my goal is to preach to you in such a way as to cause you to examine your story and see for yourself whether yours is a story of conviction and repentance or a story that’s…well, just a story.
To do this we’re going to look at three men in the Bible who were brought low in conviction and then raised up in repentance: the Publican, the Apostle Paul, and the Prophet Isaiah. First let’s look at…
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Luke 18:10-14).
Now I want you to note with me that both these men had knowledge. The Pharisee’s knowledge was profound—he had at least the first five books of the Torah and all the Psalms memorized. He knew the Law and was respected and revered for his piety. His knowledge of the Scriptures exceeded probably more than anyone’s in this room.
And yet it was to him that Jesus asked, “Have you not read?” (Mt. 21:42; Lk. 6:3). What an insult to insinuate that this religious zealot had not read the Scriptures! But all his study and knowledge was worthless because he had no faith. He was no better off than the Israelites who saw the wonders of God in Egypt and yet died in the desert because of unbelief (Heb. 3:17-19).
The Apostle Paul will say of him that he “being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish [his] own righteousness, [has] not submitted [himself] unto the righteousness of God” (Romans. 10:3).
All his knowledge and piety was an attempt to please God through goodness. What he didn’t realize is that good deeds and religion don’t cover up the debt of sin. God, being a good Judge, can never forgive a man’s debt through the man’s merits. “The soul that sins, it shall die” (Ez. 18:20) because “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).
Now contrast that to the knowledge of the publican: “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”
He only knows one thing: he is a sinner! He’s so aware of his situation that he can’t even stand near or look up. He doesn’t raise his hands in pride but instead beats his own breast. His heart and mind accuse him of his guilt, and he is aware that his offense is against the Deity, against the King of Heaven and Earth!
And look at the difference in the way he’s treated: “this man went down to his house justified.”
Nothing changes for the Pharisee. He arrives as a religious hypocrite with a head full of knowledge, and he leaves the same way he came. His arrogance blinds him to the most basic truth that he, a mere man, stands inestimably guilty before God.
But the publican only knows guilt. He is a thief and a fraud. He earns his living through oppression, and he’s hated in society. He has nothing good to offer God, so he does the only thing he can possibly do: he begs for mercy.