- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2005

The following are excerpts of a sermon given recently in Spanish and translated into English by the Rev. Joel Acevedo at Iglesia Presbiteriana Gracia y Paz in Alexandria:

Luke Chapter 18 tells the story of two people who went up to the temple area to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.

How does man try to demonstrate that he is important, that he is valuable, that he can accomplish things by himself? Remember the rich young man who asked Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

He was asking: How can I be declared just before God? This idea of being justified or righteous before God is a key concept in Luke 18. We are told in verse 9 that Jesus told a parable to “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.”

In this parable, we have two men, two men with two attitudes. First, there was the Pharisee, who spoke this prayer to himself: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.”

The Pharisees were very respectable men, men with religious prestige. It is said that the Pharisees followed the laws to the letter. They were very strict about their behavior. Yet, we know from Scripture that the Pharisees were often very hypocritical people, too. And that is revealed in the things this Pharisee said.

The other man in the parable is one who collected taxes for the Romans. Besides collecting the normal taxes, these men often collected additional taxes to keep for themselves. That’s why they were hated and despised by their neighbors. They were considered traitors and thieves.

So when this Pharisee and tax collector are praying, they each come to the Lord with a different attitude. The Pharisee prayed to himself. Although he mentions God, he does so only as part of his self-congratulation. He says: “Thank you, God, that I am not like the rest of humanity.” Is that a prayer?

He is bragging, right? He probably did fast one or two times a week, but why say this out loud? Why did he want others to know what he was doing?

He starts his prayer immediately flattering himself. And then, to emphasize the prayer and to conclude, he says, thank you that I am not like that tax collector over there. I hope something like this never comes out of our mouths. Nobody is better than anybody.

The first defect we can see is that he does not confess anywhere. Also, worship is completely missing. There is no acknowledgment of God. On the contrary, this religious man is praising himself.

The Pharisee is not saying: “Lord, have mercy on me.” This man is so immersed in himself, in his selfishness that he does not have room for anyone else.

Verse 13 says: “The tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’”

The Pharisee entered with a lot of confidence because he thought he was an important person in the temple. But this tax collector would not even raise his eyes from the floor.

He addresses God directly and says: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” In the original Greek, the word translated here as “merciful” is a word that means “to calm God’s anger with a sacrifice.” Theologically, it is known as propitiation, meaning that God’s anger against the sinner is appeased by the death of Christ.

Christ had to come and die for us as a sacrifice. He is the mediator for us and becomes mercy for us. Romans 3:24 says we “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

But the tax collector simply asks: “Be merciful to me, the worst of sinners.” That’s what it really says in the Greek — “the worst of sinners.” The tax collector does not boast before God. He did the simplest thing. He asked for forgiveness and mercy.

In Verse 14, it says: “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The tax collector left justified. This word “justified” is a legal term. God is a judge, and we are the accused. The judge determines that we are guilty, and a penalty must be paid. Someone must pay, but God himself determines to pay the debt. He offers His Son. Jesus steps in, and God punishes Jesus instead of us. So we are justified, as a free gift.

Grace means it is a present, not deserved. In this parable, the Lord is trying to emphasize this idea of an undeserved gift. God wants to give us this grace. Have you received it?

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