Summary: Jesus said the worst among us--the despised and most sinful--who are repentantly trust not on themselves or their goodness will get to heaven and those who trust in their own rightoeusness will not.
The Paradoxical Sayings of Jesus
To Be Righteous, You Must Be a Sinner
Well, I had another chance to share the Gospel this week. As a pastor, it's an occupational hazard!
Actually, the opportunity came as a result of a benevolence call. It has become our policy at Risen King that if you accept our financial help, you automatically agree to accept our spiritual help—that is, if you come to our office and we help you out, you agree to hear the Gospel—the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And so it happened that my assistant received a call from a man who is literally in a world of hurt this week, and was careful to arrange his coming to our office with my availability to share the Gospel with him. As it turned out he had just had a near-death experience—five weeks ago as he was on his motorcycle turning into his driveway, he was hit from behind by a car, thrown 20 feet in the air and came down with broken bones in his back, broken ribs and a broken wrist. So he showed up encased in a plastic girdle, with a cast on his wrist, in desperate need of gas money, which we provided.
But not before I asked him my favorite question: If you were to die tonight and meet God at heaven's gate and he were to ask you why He should let you in, what would you say?
His response was the response I almost invariably get from non-Christians. Well, I'm a good person; and then he began to cite the various ways in which he showed his goodness in relationship to other people.
But in the course of our conversation, as I asked questions and as he offered more information,t he admitted that yes, he was actually a liar and a thief, and that he had even spent some time in prison.
And so it has occurred to me that this person who was depending on being a good person to get to heaven when there is actually a mountain of evidence which he readily admits to that he's not a good person, or he's not been a good person. And somehow he is expecting that the life he has lived is going to deserve going to heaven before a God who is absolutely holy and just and says if that if you keep the whole law and break at in one point (James 2:10), you have become guilty of all.
Now the truth of the matter is that this man's attitude is absolutely typical of almost all Americans who are not true believers, wherever you find them. As I recently mentioned, one poll found that 76% of Americans believe in heaven, but only 1 percent of them believe they're not going there. Lest we think this prejudice toward our own goodness and deserving heaven is a new thing, the Bible actually states that this is endemic in the human race, for Proverbs 16:2 tells us that for all time and in all places, this is typical: "All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight."
In fact, the Bible, and in particular Jesus, tells us that we are not very adept in our own wisdom at assessing anyone's chances of getting to heaven, and especially when it comes to assessing our own chances.
And one of the places which makes this most obvious is another of Jesus' paradoxical statements, actually a paradoxical parable in which it seems that Jesus says, to be righteous, you must be a sinner.
Now, yes, that statement needs a little refinement. But that's just about what he said. To be a bit more complete, we could put it this way: To be righteous in God's sight, you must admit you're a sinner in desperate need of God's mercy.
So this morning we come to Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Gatherer in Luke 18. It was not only a paradoxical parable in Jesus' time, it was an absolutely shocking parable, a parable that absolutely contradicted the typical Jewish person's assessment of who was likely to go to heaven and who was not.
And ultimately the issue addressed in this parable is a critical one. Who or what are you trusting in to get you to heaven? What precisely is it that you are depending on as the reason God will welcome you into His holy domain, the Kingdom of Heaven? So as I pose that question, I'm asking you to answer that for yourself. What are you depending on?
Because having the right answer to that question will make all the difference in eternity!
And it's the issue that Jesus focused on, according to Luke, as He began to tell this parable. He had just been talking about prayer, and in the context of prayer, certainly the question came up about exactly whose prayers might be heard. Undoubtedly, in the midst of the crowd that day were some of the very people Jesus would refer to—the religious elite, the religious establishment, the very people that virtually everyone in Israel thought had the best chance of going to heaven.