Summary: Harry Houdini teaches us some fantastic truths!



One of my greatest joys as a pastor is helping people celebrate milestones as they grow in their faith in God. Penny thank you for allowing me to be involved in this special, sacred event. I trust that from today on you will know an added intimacy in your walk with Jesus.

Who’s heard of Harry Houdini?

Well, Harry Houdini, the famed escape artist issued a challenge wherever he went. He could be locked in any jail cell in the country, he claimed, and set himself free quickly and easily. Always he kept his promise, but one time something went wrong. Houdini entered the jail in his street clothes; the heavy, metal doors clanged shut behind him. He took from his belt a concealed piece of metal, strong and flexible. He set to work immediately, but something seemed to be unusual about this lock. For 30 minutes he worked and got nowhere. An hour passed, and still he had not opened the door. By now he was bathed in sweat and panting in exasperation, but he still could not pick the lock. Finally, after labouring for 2 hours, Harry Houdini collapsed in frustration and failure against the door he could not unlock. But when he fell against the door, it swung open! It had never been locked at all! But in his mind it was locked and that was all it took to keep him from opening the door and walking out of the jail cell.

That story of Harry Houdini reminds me of a story that Jesus told. It’s a story that some of us here this morning had our attention drawn to on Friday night at the Men’s Convention. It’s found in the gospel of Luke chapter 18 & verses 9-14. I’ll read it to you.


Now Jesus in those few verses tells us about two men –a Pharisee (and the Pharisees were respected as godly leaders and teachers of the day) and a tax collector (despised by his fellows).

When we look at the Pharisee we kind of picture a first-rate man – This man thanks God for making him the way he is (vs. 11). He’s morally good – we hear he doesn’t cheat or commit adultery and he’s just (vs. 11). He’s devoted to his God – he fasts twice a week (vs. 12). And he sacrifices – he gives a tenth of all he earns to God. This Pharisee is a top bloke. And he prides himself on being a good man.

The tax collector on the other hand seems to be the opposite to the Pharisee. He couldn’t even look God in the eye so to speak. And he stood far off – because he realised he was a ‘good for nothing low life’. All he could do was cry out, God, be merciful to me, a sinner! You see he had no excuse – he couldn’t deny what he was. God, be merciful to me, a sinner!, is all he could say. No wonder tax collectors and sinners were considered to be one and the same.

You may be thinking, David you said the story of Houdini reminds you of this story in the Gospel of Luke - how, I can’t see the connection?

Well I didn’t read you the whole Luke story. You see Jesus wasn’t just telling this story for us to picture two different guys. No, let me read the rest of the story to you.

(READ LK 18:9-14)

Jesus says the tax collector not the Pharisee got it right!

You see the Pharisee tried to work his way to a right relationship with God, just like Houdini tried to work his way to freedom. The Pharisee tried to earn God’s favour. He had not understood that his very best was simply not good enough!

When Houdini gave up and just fell against the door it swung open for him. When the tax collector threw himself on the mercy of God, it was like Houdini admitting defeat and failure. It was like Houdini just falling against the door – it swung open! The tax collector understood that when Jesus had proclaimed that the greatest commandments were to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul – and love others as yourself – he had no hope of being good enough for God. All he could do was throw himself on God’s mercy.

You see the Pharisee did what a lot of us do. FIRSTLY, he tried to be good enough. And that’s like trying to jump to the moon. You may be able to jump higher than me – but you’ve still come way short of reaching the moon. SECONDLY, the Pharisee compared himself with other people – thank God I’m not like the tax collector. And he wasn’t! He was much better than the tax collector. But the Pharisee should have measured himself against God. When we do that we begin to realise we can’t measure up!

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