Summary: “There’s nothing wrong with me” can be a very dangerous thing to say.
Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)
Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ
Sunday, February 21, 2010
by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter
"In a Manner of Speaking": The Parable of 'The Pharisee and the Publican'
The following account is based on a true story. “There’s nothing wrong with me,” the man said. The paramedic pleaded with the injured driver. “But sir, you’ve just been involved in a terrible car accident. You’re bleeding and have some deep bruises and contusions. There may be internal damage!” Again the accident victim protested: “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with me … I’ll be just fine.” But the paramedic kept insisting, “Sir, at least have a doctor check you over. We have an ambulance right here and the nearest hospital is just a few blocks away … it shouldn’t take very long.” The injured man, annoyed at this point, said: “I told you, there’s nothing wrong with me!” “But sir! …” said the paramedic as the injured man walked over to his wife’s car, got in, and drove away from the accident scene. Later that same night the man died at his home. The cause of his death? … Yep, you guessed it, he died from internal bleeding!
“There’s nothing wrong with me” can be a very dangerous thing to say. And this is especially true when it comes to a person’s spiritual life. Imagine someone having the gall to stand before God and say, “There’s nothing wrong with me!” which is just another way of saying, “I’ve done nothing wrong!”
Conversely, for someone in all sincerity to say, “There’s nothing right with me!” conveys godly sorrow and genuine contrition.
We’ve now entered the season of Lent, which is a period of forty days leading up to the celebration of Easter. It’s a time for the Christian to look inwardly and to be mortified by his sinful behavior. But Lent is also a time for the believer to give thanks to God for He promises “to forgive us our sins and to cleanse from all unrighteousness” [1 John 1:9]. In a word, it’s time for all of us to “fess up” and to come clean!
In this parable, Jesus draws a distinction between two nameless individuals. But notice their similarities as well as their differences. First of all, BOTH INDIVIDUALS WERE INTENT ON PRAYING (repeat).
Previously, Jesus had been addressing a group of Pharisees in which He shared a trilogy of parables about the “Lost Sheep,” the “Lost Coin,” and the “Prodigal Son.” The Lord then turned to His disciples, and told them another parable entitled the “Unrighteous Steward” which was an obvious reference to these religious legalists because immediately following we read: “Now the Pharisees who were lovers of money; were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him” [Luke 16:14]. Jesus rebukes these hypocrites and says to them: “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly esteemed among men is detestable in God’s sight” [Luke 16:15].
Jesus wasn’t one to mince words for in verse 9 Luke writes: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable” [Luke 18:9]. Jesus begins this parable by saying: “Two men went up to the temple to pray – a Pharisee and a tax collector.” In other words, both men went to the temple for the same expressed purpose … to pray. So far so good; after all, what could possibly be wrong with praying?
Tony Evans, well-known conference speaker and author and the Senior Pastor at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, has this to say about prayer: “For many of us, prayer is like the playing of the “National Anthem” at the beginning of a sporting event. It gets the game started, but it has no connection with what’s happening on the field. It’s a courtesy call!”
Unfortunately for many people prayer has become perfunctory; it’s almost an afterthought! We go to God in prayer when our backs are against the wall and there’s no one else to turn to! It’s a kind of “foxhole” mentality where we seek to bargain with God saying something to the effect, “God, if you get me out of this situation, I’ll never bother you again. The only problem is that God expects us to come to Him with all of our needs. If the truth be known, God not only expects it … He demands it!
But there’s a difference between what I call a “horizontal” prayer and a “vertical” prayer. A horizontal prayer is when we pray aloud so that others can hear us. In other words, it’s a collateral form of communicating.
Let me illustrate. It was Christmastime and the small boy knelt down by his bed to pray, “Lord, please bless mommy and daddy, my sister and my brother and bless grandma, too. And Lord let me have a bicycle especially from YOU! The boy’s mother could hear him praying so loud that he was almost yelling. She walked into the little boy’s room and said, “Son, you don’t have to scream, God can hear you.” The boy looked up with his eyes all aglow and said, “Yes, mommy, I know God can hear me, but grandma doesn’t hear very well and she’s the one with the money for my bike!”