Summary: Jesus told a story in Luke’s Gospel to teach us about the irony of God’s righteousness and man’s sinfulness.
Imagination: I can hear the Pharisees thoughts: “Why God should be pleased to have someone like me addressing a prayer to him. This is God’s lucky day! How often does God get the chance to listen to a prayer from someone who has such a clean life. God is really fortunate to have me on His team.” You get the feeling that he’s ready to negotiate some kind of spiritual contract with God as an equal partner in the Trinity. I think it is clear; he trusted in his own self-sufficiency. But that’s not all. Because of his attitude of self-sufficiency, he is setting himself up to miss the greatest opportunity of a lifetime – to receive the free gift of salvation and the Kingdom of God that the Messiah came to offer.
Application: When we demonstrate this attitude of self-righteousness, and strengthen this attitude by comparing ourselves to other people like the Pharisee did, we’re in trouble. We are in danger of missing the opportunity of a lifetime. The Pharisees act of comparison with the robber, or the fraudulent, or the adulterer, reminds me of a story about two brothers.
Illustration: They were known all around town for being as crooked in their business dealings as they could possibly be. They grew wealthy together but unexpectedly, one of the brothers died. The surviving brother found himself in search of a minister who would be willing to put the finishing touches to the funeral service that he had planned for his brother. Given the reputation of the deceased, it was not easy to find someone. He finally made an offer to a minister that was hard for the minister to refuse. “I’ll pay you a large sum of money if you will just do me one favor. In eulogizing my brother, I want you to call him a ‘saint’ and if you do, I will give you the money.” The minister, who was living on a limited income, never hesitated and agreed to the deal. When the funeral service began, all the important business people and associates who had been swindled through the years by these two brothers filled the sanctuary. Unaware of the deal that had been made for the eulogy, they were expecting to be vindicated by the public exposure of the man’s character. “Surely,” they thought, “a minister would finally tell the truth.” At last, the much-awaited moment arrived, and the minister spoke. He said: “The man you see in the casket was a vile and debauched individual. He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, a manipulator, a reprobate, and a hedonist. He destroyed the fortunes, careers, and lives of countless people in this city, some of whom are here today. This man did every dirty, rotten, low-down thing you can think of. But compared to his brother who is here, he was a saint.”
I love that story because it reveals in a comical way that we can compare ourselves to someone else and end up feeling pretty good about who we are when in reality, it is we who stand in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. When we think things such as: “I might be bad, but compared to those people, I’m a saint.” That doesn’t cut it with God. It distorts the true picture. The issue is who you are and what you are becoming if you persist in living life your way. Those who choose to live a life of separation from God and His righteousness, will eventually get what they have wanted all along - eternal separation from Him. The Bible names this place Hell.