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Broken but Forgiven

May 26, 2024 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Miscellaneous Sermons

Topic: Expository Passage: Luke 18:9-14

 

Introduction

I’d like to begin with a fictional story about two close friends we’ll call Jane and Jill. These ladies do everything together, and they truly rely on each other. But Jane is under extreme pressure. Her marriage is struggling, credit card debt is mounting, and she feels overwhelmed. So, Jill takes her to coffee hoping to encourage her. Instead, Jane explodes. She accuses Jill of being a horrible parent, she nitpicks at Jill’s quirks, and she even rants about how fat and lazy Jill’s kids are. Jill is crushed.

A couple days later, she hears a knock at the door, and there stands Jane with a bouquet of flowers. She shoves them in Jill’s direction and says, “I’m sorry I said those things in public. I’m under a lot of stress. I had to cancel my pedicure that morning because I can’t afford it, and it’s just that it really bothers me what you feed you kids.” Then Jane pauses, waiting for Jill to accept her apology

How would you respond? It’s not much of an apology, is it? Jane didn’t truly own her sin or the damage she did. She just made excuses and downplay her cruelty. Frankly, it’s more offensive than helpful.

You know who hears this sort of apology more than anyone else? The Lord does. He listens as people who excuse their sin, downplay the judgment they deserve, and pretend they aren’t that bad. God is not impressed.

This morning I want to consider a story that contrasts empty repentance with true repentance. The bad news is that God despises token apologies, but the good news is that God welcomes any sinner who comes in true repentance (read). This is a great parable because it gives such clear, compelling examples of the person God rejects and the person God accepts. Which one are you? Are you the Pharisee or the tax collector? I pray you are the tax collector. That you are truly repent of your sin and resting in the mercy of God. That said, Jesus begins by telling us…

I.  The Purpose of the Parable (v. 9)

Luke tells us that Jesus addressed this parable to people “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt. It was a real problem in Jesus’ world. Many of the Jews were incredibly proud of all their good works and religious credentials. They couldn’t imagine how God would reject someone as righteous as they were.

That arrogance is repulsive, isn’t it? But you want to think you are a pretty good person too. You aren’t perfect, but surely you haven’t done anything deserving of hell. You may not be as brazen as this Pharisee, but you may be more like him than you want to admit. We are all prone to self-righteousness.

This includes genuine Christians. It’s so easy to drift toward the pride. God wants to use this parable to remind you that you came to God as a beggar desperate for mercy.

It’s also very easy to, “view others with contempt?” Do you ever look down your nose at people? You may know better than to verbalize it like the Pharisee, but you are harsh and critical.

Jesus has some shocking news for you. He’s not impressed by the same things as men. But he loves humility and true repentance. He wants us all to face the darkness of our sin, repent of it, and rest in his mercy. Then notice…

II.  The Context of the Story (v. 10): This verse introduces us to…

The Two Men: The first is a Pharisee. Most of us are naturally suspicious of a Pharisee because we’ve heard Jesus’ criticisms. But Jesus’ audience revered the Pharisees. If anyone were righteous and deserved heaven, it must be the Pharisees.

However, they despised tax collectors. They were traitors who worked for the evil Romans. Imagine if China conquered the US and hired Americans to go door-to-door collecting taxes. You would despise those traitors.

On top of that tax collectors were thieves. They always collected a little extra for themselves. They got rich abusing the poor people of Israel.

So, when Jesus introduce his characters, his audience had a strong emotive response. They knew who was righteous. It was the Pharisee—certainly not the tax collector. But they are in for a shocking, surprise. God does not love the same things as us. Verse 10 also tells us that both men went to offer…

Prayers at the Temple: When the Jews heard that these men “went up into the temple to pray,” they would have assumed this story takes place during the morning or evening sacrifice. Remember that for later.

Jesus pictures two very different men with very different religious credentials entering the temple courtyard to pray and to watch the morning or evening burnt offering. Their attitudes are dramatically different. First, Jesus describes…

III.  The Prayer of the Pharisee (vv. 11–12)

You must remember that the temple represented God’s holy presence. It was sacred space with stringent rules of decorum. God demanded reverence and respect. But if anyone deserved to be there it was a Pharisee.

So, he walked into the complex like he belonged with his head high and his chest sticking out. He followed all the appropriate etiquette. He’s a Pharisee, after all. But he wasn’t the least bit intimidated by God’s holy presence. He believes he is righteous. He showed up assuming, “I deserve to be here.”

It’s terribly ironic because he is watching a lamb die as a sacrifice for sin. God designed this ritual as a symbol of our sin and our need for atonement. But this Pharisee is too amused by himself to get the point. It never crosses his mind that he needed mercy.

Sadly, this happens all the time even in Christian churches. People stare at the cross and observe rituals about the cross. But they ignore the fact that the cross is a symbol of our desperate need for mercy. Jesus had to die to pay for my sin. The cross should drive everyone to humble repentance.

But so many people see it as a mere good luck charm. Or they observe rituals about the cross to earn their own righteousness. That’s not the point! They are blind like the Pharisee. Do not make that mistake.

Then the Pharisee begins to pray proudly and loudly. His prayer is so snotty and distasteful. By the time he’s done, you can’t stand this guy.

He begins by thanking God, but then he doesn’t thank God for anything. He only brags on himself. What is the most common word in his prayer is? He uses I 5 times to brags on his own works. And he doesn’t make a single request. In particular, he never asks God for mercy.

Instead, he boasts that he is so much better than other people. Naturally, he picks on some low-hanging fruit. No one likes a swindler/thief, and the Law strongly condemned adultery. Instead of praying for their salvation, he despises them. Sadly, we’re often not any better.

The 3rd group, the unjust, may not grab us but it’s important to the story. Verse 9 said Jesus is addressing people who thought they were righteous. Now, the Pharisee tells us he thinks he is righteous, because he boasts that he is not unjust (same Greek root).

But ironically, v. 14 will say that the Pharisee, did not go home justified, or declared righteous (same Greek root). So, he brags about how righteous he is, but he has no clue how unrighteous he really is. God emphasizes that term because he wants you to evaluate your own righteousness. Don’t make the same mistake as the Pharisee and fail to see how unrighteous you really are.

Finally, he thanks God that he is better than the tax collector. It’s not even a question. Of course, he is more righteous. Of course, he is far more acceptable to God than a swindling tax collector. How could he not be?

But the more he talks, the more he condemns himself. He doesn’t revere God; he reveres himself. He doesn’t love his neighbor, the tax collector; he despises him. He knew how to look spiritual, but his words betrayed the ungodliness of his heart.

He may have been more righteous, but you won’t get into heaven for being more righteous than another man. You will only be judged by the standard of God’s righteousness. Your pride and judgmentalism may seem small, but they look so ugly in this Pharisee. Yours is just as evil.

And no amount of your good works can overwhelm them This Pharisee had good works. The Law only required that the Jews fast once a year on the Day of Atonement, but he boasted that he fasted twice a week.

He also gave tithes of everything he possessed. He is probably saying that he tithed 10% of everything he bought, just in case the grower hadn’t tithed. Again, God never required this, but the Pharisee boasts that he went beyond what God required. He is so amazed at himself.

Jesus wants you to be completely put off. The Pharisee’s arrogance is nauseating. But then Jesus wants you to turn the mirror on yourself. Do you boast in your religious achievements? Do you assume God shares your amazement at yourself? Do you despise other? If so, you are unrighteous. You may have every religious credential, but you are still a sinner.

And Christian, don’t forget where you came from. You became a Christian by the humility of the tax collector. Don’t revert to the Pharisee. Examine your heart. Despise any pride and harsh judgmentalism you find. Never forget the judgment you deserve and the mercy you’ve received. This brings us to…

IV.  The Prayer of the Tax Collector (v. 13)

Jesus paints a beautiful image of the true repentance God loves with this man. While the Pharisee marched into the temple courtyard thinking, “I deserve to be here,” the tax collector thought, “I don’t deserve to be here.” Instead, he chooses to “stand afar off.”

He wasn’t amazed at himself; he was amazed at God’s holiness and his sinfulness. So, he stood at edges of the crowd, overwhelmed by the significance of where he was, afraid to come any closer.

Notice his body language as he prays. He “was unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast.” He was too ashamed of his sin to even look toward heaven, and he beat his chest as a sign of extreme sorrow. Jesus pictures of a man who is honestly facing the darkness of his sin and is deeply grieving over it.

This honesty is what Jane lacked in my opening. She hid the darkness of her sin behind a charade of excuses. And sadly, the same charade keeps many people from ever truly repenting. Before you can ever know the true mercy of God, you must face the darkness of your sin before a holy God. You must see how your sin offends a holy God.

Only then will you be ready to verbalize the profoundly simple prayer of the tax collector (read). He humbly refers to himself as “a sinner.” Actually it’s better translated “the sinner.” He saw himself as the worst of sinners.

As a result, his only hope is to plead for mercy (read). It’s significant that he doesn’t use the normal verb for mercy. Instead, he uses hilaskomai which points specifically to the idea of blood atonement.

So, while the Pharisee is basking in his own glory, the tax collector was focused on the priest as he slaughters the lamb and offers it on the altar. He understands the symbolism, and pleads, “Lord, please provide atonement for me the sinner.”

This same term for mercy is used several times in the NT to describe the salvation Jesus provided on the cross. For example, 1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to bethe propitiation for our sins.

Jesus was the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin. He took the wrath we deserve so that our sin could be removed, and we could receive everlasting mercy. So, our hope for mercy is not in a daily animal sacrifice but in Christ, the perfect Lamb of God.

The tax collector knew he did not measure up. He knew he couldn’t do anything to make himself acceptable to God; therefore, he did the only thing he could do. He confessed his sin, and he begged God for mercy.

He provides us with a wonderful example of the humble, repentant, desperate plea that God loves. He is not waiting for you to impress him with all your good deeds. He’s not waiting for you to hide your sin behind a charade of excuses and good works. He’s waiting for you to honestly face your guilt and to repent, to just admit how broken you are. Then plead for the mercy of the cross.

I must be clear about a couple things. First, God is not saying this man’s emotional display saved him. The cross saves, not my grief. You must face your sin and truly repent. You won’t get to heaven with Jane’s apology. But please don’t base your assurance on how emotional you got.

Second, true repentance produces genuine change. We shouldn’t think that this man grieved and then went out and continued robbing people. Afterall, Luke 19 tells the story of a real tax collector who got saved. His name is Zacchaeus. Not only did he stop robbing people; he committed to repay those from whom he had stolen.

That action did not save, but it was a necessary fruit of true repentance. If you are comfortable in your sin and not driven to obey God’s will, you’ve probably never faced how evil it is. You’re more like Jane than the tax collector.

Please, humble yourself like the tax collector. Stop making excuses and stop hiding behind your good works. Repent of your sin and plead for mercy. Why? Notice in v. 14…

V.  The Evaluation of God (v. 14): Notice first…

God’s Judgment: Jesus says that the tax collector went home justified, not the Pharisee. Jesus’ audience would have been shocked by his conclusion. How could the tax collector be the righteous one and not the Pharisee?

The answer is that God doesn’t accept anyone based on how righteous they are. The tax collector was a sinner. He was a thief and a traitor. He wasn’t righteous in himself. And neither is anyone else. Even the most religious person fails to love God and love his neighbor like he should. We are all unrighteous.

Therefore, when Jesus says the tax collector went home justified or righteous, he doesn’t mean he earned a righteousness standing somehow. Rather, God covered his sin based on Christ’s death on the cross, and God declared him righteous. He was saved by grace, not works.

That’s the only way you can be saved also. You can try all you want, like the Pharisee to achieve righteousness, and you will always fail. But there is forgiveness in the cross. You can be justified by faith. What’s that look like?

God’s Promise (Read): Jesus warns that if you boast in yourself, God will humble you. You will face his wrath after death. Don’t be the Pharisee. Don’t turn your religion, your social cause, or your virtue signaling into a way to exalt yourself. You won’t impress God; you will only inspire his wrath.

In contrast, Jesus promises to accept the one who humbles himself before the Lord. Imitate the tax collector. Come to God in repentant humility. God will justify you and welcomed you into his family.

Which man are you? Be honest. Maybe you have always approached God more like the Pharisee. You may not be as brash, but you’ve always thought God ought to accept you because you aren’t that bad.

Or have you ever come to realize the weight of your sin like this tax collector? Have you ever come to grips with the fact that your sin is terrible, that you deserve God’s wrath, and that there is nothing you can do to make yourself acceptable to God?

Maybe you identify with the tax collector in the sense that you are overwhelmed with guilt, and you can’t imagine how God would ever fully accept you. Please believe Jesus’ promise. Jesus will exalt, or save, all who humble themselves at the foot of the cross.

Just come to Christ today with the humble plea of the tax collector. Repent of your sin and rest in the mercy of God. You can leave today forgiven and forever made right with God. I hope you will do that today.

And if you are saved, this parable does a beautiful job of taking you back to the beginning of your faith. It’s so easy to forget that you were that tax collector until God rescued you. You’re not here today because you are something great. You’re here because God forgave you and rescued you. Don’t forget who you are. You are a debtor to mercy.

So, don’t ever slip back into Pharisaical thinking. Be honest about your sin, continue to repent every time you fail, and rest in the mercy of God.

And remember this as you look at the people around you. Don’t “view others with contempt.” There’s a lot of evil all around us, and we should hate every ounce of it. But we must never forget that what separates us is not our wisdom or our discipline. We are who we are solely by the grace of God.

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