Summary: Jesus loves the lowly, broken, and sinful. A special sermon contribution from the SON OF GOD sermon packet for pastors, inspired by the SON OF GOD movie from Mark Burnett and distributed by 20th Century Fox.

I’d like to take a short quiz here today. Don’t worry, there are no wrong answers. I’d just like to poll this group to see who had childhoods like mine.

For example, by a show of hands, how many of us here have actually cried over spilled milk? Some of us are too old to remember, I’m sure …

How many hid your vegetables or gave them to the dog rather than cleaning your plate?

How many remember blaming a brother or sister for things you did… and getting away with it?

How many recall reading in bed with a flashlight?

How many put Jell-O in the fishbowl just to see what would happen?

How many put fish in the Jell-O bowl?

Okay, maybe that last one was just me.

I’m pretty sure we all misbehaved as children. And some of us just never got out of the habit.

But do you remember what it was like when you had done something wrong, and you had to face your mother or father, or teacher or pastor? Do you remember how that felt? How you expected judgment; how you knew you deserved to be punished; how anticipating someone’s disapproval was as bad or worse than anything they could do to you?

It’s natural to feel that way. It’s a very human response—a guilt reflex.

However, very often it becomes more than that. Our guilt festers and grows, and sometimes leads to shame, where we not only know we’ve done a bad thing, we end up thinking we are bad.

And sometimes we make adjustments to that feeling or that suspicion. We learn to accept it. We live with it. And it drags us down. It poisons our minds. It shrivels our souls.

Until someone comes along … and surprises us… and awakens something in us—something we didn’t know was there.

PLAY video clip from The Son of God, “The Calling of Matthew/Publican and Pharisee.”

We continue today a series of messages and worship experiences called “Who Do You Say I Am?” based on a movie called Son of God, a dramatic portrayal of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as His message and mission.

Each week we will be watching the depiction of a Bible passage as the creators of the Son of God movie rendered it, and then we will go to our Bibles to study and apply that part of Jesus’ story to our lives today.

Today we are going to look more closely at the parable of Jesus depicted in that video clip.

It is called “The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector,” and it is found in Luke 18, verses 9 through 14.

I invite you to turn there in your Bibles as I suggest to you another answer to the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?”

Last week in our study we saw Jesus revealed as “the Son of Man,” a messianic title that also refers to the fact that He identifies with us in our humanity. He gets it. He is as approachable as He is authoritative and amazing.

And this week, we see another facet, another answer, and that is this— He is:

The Sinner’s Friend

In His life and ministry, Jesus showed a startling—even scandalous—affection for the broken, the lowly, the sinful, and the struggling.

One of the most common accusations hurled at Jesus was this:

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” —Luke 15:2, NIV

You see, in those days, in that culture, to share a meal with someone was considered a big deal. Even today, someone in that culture will share a cup of coffee with you, but to invite you to dinner is an act of trust, respect, and friendship.

So when Jesus broke bread with people like Matthew and Zacchaeus, He was extending friendship to them… to such a degree that His critics said:

“Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” —Luke 7:34b, NIV

He caused a scandal by making Matthew—a tax collector—one of His first and closest disciples.

He showed mercy to a woman who had been caught in the very act of committing adultery!

He even told this striking story of two men who went to the Temple to pray.

Let’s look at it together in Luke 18:9–14:

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”’

“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.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

—Luke 18:9–14, NIV

Because we live in the twenty-first century, the shocking nature of this story is largely lost on us.

In our day and age, “Pharisee” is a dirty word. It is an insult, largely because of the way Jesus exposed their hypocrisy and the way they are depicted in the Gospels.

But in Jesus’ day, Pharisees were generally considered the good guys. They had preserved the Hebrew Scriptures—some would say the nation, the Jewish identity—and were generally respected by the common people.

So when Jesus told this story, comparing a Pharisee’s righteousness to a tax-collector’s prayer, He could not have picked a more vivid contrast.

And it is a contrast I hope can instruct us today, and help each of us draw closer to Jesus, the Sinner’s Friend.

The first way I think Jesus’ story can help us is by telling us this:

4. Resist comparisons.

Look at the Pharisee’s words, in verse 11:

“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.’” —Luke 18:11, NIV

Every single one of us—children, youth, adults—wants to feel worthwhile. We all want to know we count for something.

There is a scene in the movie, The Help, in which Aibeleen, the housemaid of a family in the 1950s, counters the mistreatment of little Mae Mobley by her mother, by telling the little girl”

You a smart girl. You a kind girl, Mae Mobley. You hear me?

You is kind, you is smart, you is important!

We all want to know that.

Most of us find it far too easy to hear,

“You are bad, you are stupid, you are no good.”

Unfortunately, we try to counter those feelings, those messages, the way the Pharisee did …by pointing to someone else, comparing ourselves to others, and telling ourselves, “at least I’m not like him … or her!”

And we think, somehow, that’s going to make us feel better. But it doesn’t.

You know why? Because you will never build yourself up by tearing someone else down.

It just doesn’t work.

Paul the great church planter of the first century said:

“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with [others]. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” —2 Corinthians 10:12, NIV

So stop it. Resist comparisons. They won’t get you where you want to go, much less where God wants to take you.

Secondly, Jesus’ brilliant story also teaches us this:

5. Renounce your own righteousness.

Look again at Luke 18:12, where Jesus depicts the Pharisee saying this:

“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed … ‘I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” —Luke 18:12, NIV

Now, this is fascinating because the Pharisee’s prayer has the form of a prayer, but the content is very unprayer-like.

One of the best places to start praying—whether you’re on your knees, in church, at the office, or in your car—is right where the Pharisee begins:

“God, I thank you …”

That is one of the best prayers you can pray.

The Bible says repeatedly,

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.” —Psalm 136:1, NIV

So “God, I thank you” is a great way to pray.

And if the Pharisee had stopped there, he would have done much better! But he didn’t stop there.

He went on, and said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.”He turned a prayer of thanks into a self-righteous boast.

And then he made it worse!

Because, you see, another great way to pray is to confess to God. The Bible says:

“If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” —1 John 1:9, NIV

But notice that says what we are to confess: “our sins.”

Not “other people’s sins.” And not “our own righteousness.”

The Pharisee did both of those in his so-called prayer.

In fact, one of the ironies in Jesus’ story is that, in trying to confess other people’s sins and trying to confess his own righteousness, the Pharisee exposed his sinful heart!

Which is what always happens.

If you try to earn favor with God, if you base your hope of salvation or your own self-esteem on whatever acts of righteousness you think are in your account, that check will bounce every time.

The Bible says:

“No one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.” —Romans 3:20, NLT

The Pharisee thought that fasting made him righteous. It didn’t. He talked like tithing should earn brownie points with God. It doesn’t.

Those are both good things—when they are the overflow of a grateful heart, not when they are done to earn God’s favor.

So renounce your own righteousness. Give up trying to reach heaven or impress God with how good you are.Because when you do that, you are just like the Pharisee.

Resist comparisons. Renounce your own righteousness.

And then, when you do that, you may be approaching where your heart wants to go, where God wants to take you… and that is to:

6. Rely on grace.

Let’s look one more time at Luke 18. After depicting the Pharisee in all his unrighteous self-righteousness, Jesus turns our attention to the other man who went up to the Temple to pray that day.

And Jesus says:

“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.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” —Luke 18:13–14, NIV

The usual posture of prayer in the Temple was to lift your face toward heaven and stretch out your arms. But the tax collector in Jesus’ story “would not even look up.”Rather than stretching out his hands, he “beat his breast.” His posture and his prayer were poles apart from that of the Pharisee.

He said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Albert Orsborn was raised in a Christian home. His parents were officers in the Salvation Army, a movement started by William Booth, the fiery preacher and evangelist.

From his earliest years, Orsborn participated in the Salvation Army’s many good works, such as feeding the hungry and giving shelter to the homeless. But Albert Orsborn never relied on his own good works, but only on the mercy and grace of God in Jesus Christ. One day, on the way to his London home during a Zeppelin attack, the following words formed in his mind. When he got home, he went to his desk without taking off his coat, and wrote:

“I have no claim on grace;

I have no right to plead;

I stand before my maker’s face

Condemned in thought and deed.

But since there died a Lamb

Who, guiltless, my guilt bore,

I lay fast hold on Jesus’ name,

And sin is mine no more.”

Like the tax collector in the Temple, he knew the truth proclaimed in the Bible:

“‘When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.’” —Titus 3:4–5, NLT

Jesus said the tax collector—of all people—“went home justified” because he had “just one plea.” He had no righteousness of his own to bank on, no comparisons to others to profit by… he had only his deep, deep need… and the infinite overflowing mercy of God.

Does that describe you today? No matter how deep your need, no matter how dark your sin, it is not greater than the mercy of God.

Do you know that you can go home justified today? You can go home forgiven. Clean. Refreshed. Healed.

You can go home like the Pharisee … or like the tax collector. You can go home clinging to your own pride and self-righteousness… or relying on the mercy and grace of God.

Whatever your need is today, I invite you to make the tax collector’s “one plea” your prayer: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

If you are ready to trust Christ for your soul’s salvation, you can pray: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

If you seek a closer, deeper relationship with God, pray: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

If yours is a need for wisdom … or peace … or strength, pray: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Whatever your need, wherever you are in your spiritual journey, resist comparisons …renounce your own righteousness …and rely on God’s grace.

Let’s pray:

“Lord Jesus, thank you for being the Sinner’s Friend. Thank you for teaching us from your Word, and through your Holy Spirit’s whispers in our heart. Thank you for your great mercy; thank you for your matchless grace. Thank you that your righteousness becomes ours when by your grace we place our faith in you, our Savior, our Lord, and our Friend. Amen.”