Prayer and Reverence

Prayer requires reverence.

Prayer is the heart engaged in loving awe. “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God. All this is gathered up in that emotion which most cleanses us from selfishness because it is the most selfless of all emotions – adoration.” William Temple

In Matthew 6:5-13 Jesus teaches his Disciples how to pray, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Let me give some context.

The reason for Jesus’ teaching on prayer was because of inappropriate prayer. Jesus wanted to correct abuses so He provided a model prayer for His disciples. The disciples of Jesus didn’t know how to pray. They say, “Lord, teach us to pray”. The hypocrites that are being referred to would stand up in public, they would draw attention to themselves, and they would seek the attention and praise and adoration of man from their prayers.  An apostate form of Judaism led by religious hypocrites had replaced the true religion, and faith of the Old Testament. Prayer had been reduced to rituals, and vain repetition.  This was all they knew, were recited, heartless, and almost mindless prayers.

And here He shifts and talks about the act of prayer as the Gentiles commonly practiced it.  Jesus denounces the Gentile prayers for their empty phrases and for their empty words, their meaningless words. Hypocrisy was the reason that Jesus’ is teaching on prayer. Jesus denounced the prayers of the “hypocrites”. The text says that these hypocrites pray, “in order to be seen by men”. Hypocrites pray to be noticed and pray to impress. This is the type of prayer that Jesus warns about.

Contrast this with Luke 11, “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

Notice how Jesus instructs us in the Lords prayer. The very first thing Jesus instructs us to do in Luke 11 is “Father, hallowed be your name” and in Matthew 6 “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Prayer is first and foremost recognition of God’s majestic glory and it is an act of submission to that glory. The word “hallow” means sanctify. The Greek word for hallow is Hagiazō. It means to separate or to set apart. Jesus tells us to pray, “Let your name be sanctified.” Sanctify can mean make holy or treat as holy. When God sanctifies us, it means that he makes us holy. But when we sanctify God, it means that we treat him as Holy.

He is to be revered.

 

John Oswalt, a commentator, expands on this, “For Isaiah the announcement of God’s holiness meant that he was in the presence of One distinct from – other than – himself. The function of the threefold holy is the strongest form of the superlative in Hebrew. Its use here indicates that Israel’s God is the most “godly” of all the gods.”

Next in Luke 11 Jesus instructs us to say, “Your kingdom come, and in Matthew 6 he says ‘Your will be done” On earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus commands us to seek God’s kingdom first rather than seeking food and clothing. In other words, we are to seek to let God be the Ruler and King in our lives now. His kingdom is a present reality wherever he rules as King. So when we pray, “Father, let your kingdom come,” we should mean, “Father, rule in my life. Be my king. When we pray to God we have a kingdom mindset but its not always the right kingdom it’s “My kingdom”, “My life”, and “My wants.” Our prayers need to be “upward” before they can be “outward.”

God is vastly beyond us and above us. He is Majestic and transcendent. The glory of God, the hallowing of His great and wondrous name, is the foundation of all prayers. When you and I cherish the desire for God to be glorified, and God to be honored, we will then ask only for those things, which God will see as the means to that end. Hallowing His name means I have set the Lord always before me. Which means: dear God, before I ever talk about my food, my needs, my sin, my life, know this, I desire your glory to be displayed.

When we focus on praise and adoration it reorders our loves. Because of sin the things we love and identify with take supremacy. The supreme source of our enjoyment and delight is God himself. Do we really know that the culmination of all our joy in God will be attained when his name is hallowed in all the earth? Our sinful hearts lead us to be “spiritually self-sufficient.” We are always bent on being in control. Like it says in Romans 1 we still “suppress the truth.” We do not always “honor him as God or give him thanks to him.” We have “foolish hearts.” Tim Keller is spot on when he comments on our condition saying, “The ultimate reason for our misery, however, is that we do not love God supremely.”

Church, love God supremely, reverently, and fearfully. And find that by doing so, we’ll be drawn into a deeper life of prayer.

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Two Keys to Flourishing in the Digital Age

I have an iPhone. I’m sure some of you do too, if you haven’t jumped on the Android train. Either way, life in our current time is different from other generations that have gone before us. Why? The smartphone. It’s whatever you want access to anything on the planet in your pocket. This can be used for great good, or for great wickedness. How we do use our smartphones for God’s glory and the good of others around us?

Tony Reinke has a good answer that you should pause and give a some time to. Here’s his entire post below from the Desiring God blog this past week:

Always connected to the web, always connected to social media, a smartphone with a camera is the most addictive tool of communication ever invented.Packaged with all its potent blessings come the amplification of its curses. Our phones can allow unnecessary habits in the silent spaces of our lives. And our phones can feed the most insidious impulses that live inside of our hearts.We all seem to sense that — for good or bad — our smartphones are changing us, our habits, and our relationships. We all know it. We feel it. We seem to be more productive, and yet we are more distracted. We seem to be more connected, and yet we are more alone. We seem to be more knowledgeable, and yet we are less likely to understand the very purpose of our lives.The more important questions are these: What can be done about it? And do we Christians have anything relevant to say to the perplexing questions facing our digital age?After three years researching and writing my new book on smartphone habits, I say emphatically: Yes!Let me show you the relevance of the Bible for the “never-offline” smartphone generation.

Four Important Questions

First, technology is a gift from God, when we use it for human flourishing. But new technology is merely a collection of new tools we invent and share and use to make things go faster and run more smoothly. Technology makes what we do easier, but it cannot answer our deepest questions.Specifically, technology cannot answer these four questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What am I here for?
  • What am I called to do?
  • And am I succeeding or failing at it?

Technology will not answer these four foundational questions of life.Scripture does.

Luke 10

Luke 10 is a good example of Scripture’s relevance in the “never-offline” culture. The chapter begins with Jesus sending out 72 disciples to preach the gospel. All social media gospel spreading in the digital age really can be traced back to the democratization of the message in this sending moment (Luke 10:1–24). I’ll pick up the story in the next scene, in Luke 10:25, what we call the parable of the Good Samaritan.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he [the lawyer] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Here we find the two love commands. In two other similar accounts in the Gospels, Jesus himself states the same summary. Here it’s a lawyer. This scheming lawyer fishes for self-justification, and misses the point.Nevertheless, the lawyer is not stupid. He boils down the entire moral will of God into two categories:

  1. Love God with all that you are.
  2. Love others as yourself.

Jesus commends the lawyer’s summary. He’s right.

Love Command One

Here’s the primary love command: Treasure God with everything you are! This is the chief vocation for humans.
We were created to express a heart-soul-strength-mind, holistic embrace of God. Faith is a response to seeing God’s glory and goodness. In the light of his beauty, faith desires nothing on earth more than him and cherishes him above even the most beloved father or mother or son or daughter. Faith joyfully gives all our earthly assets in this life to buy a field that holds the priceless treasure of Christ. Faith considers everything in this life as loss compared to the supreme worth of knowing Christ. That is saving faith. It is seeing and hearing and tasting and touching — holistic metaphors for all the various expression of how faith is treasuring God with all that we are and all that we have (Psalm 34:8; 73:25–26; Matthew 10:37; 13:44; Luke 10:27; 14:33; John 6:35; Philippians 3:8).

In the words of Piper: “Jesus’ demand to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength means that every impulse and every act of every faculty and every capacity should be an expression of treasuring God above all things” (What Jesus Demands, 82).This is our primary vocation — and it’s a lofty one.Now, the lawyer knows that a whole-life embrace of God is the most important thing in the universe. What the lawyer doesn’t see is that this expression of faith is nothing short of a miraculous gift of God’s sovereign grace.

Love Command Two

Here’s the second love command: Love your neighbor as yourself. This is the resulting human vocation, which comes out of the first vocation.Love God.Love others.These are the two pillars of all human flourishing — true in the Old Testament, affirmed in the ministry of Jesus, and no less relevant for digitally savvy Christians today.By affirming these two love commands, Jesus is saying that these are the two load-bearing commands — on them “depend [or hang] all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).

So, if you lose the second pillar (to love your neighbor), ethics will collapse and crumble into a heap of pious religious jargon that fails to demonstrate the value of God in service to others. Or, if the first pillar crumbles (to love God), ethics collapses into secular social work that cannot, and will not, give expression to the overflow of God’s all-satisfying beauty.All human flourishing rests on these two pillars.

Who Is My Neighbor?

Next, the text forces us to ask this question in Luke 10:29–37:

But he [the lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The image of a dying man in the street is so relevant today, after the terror attacks in Boston, Paris, and now in London and Russia. Sadly, it has become a universal experience to see pedestrians bleeding out on public streets.Now, the lawyer himself misses the whole point — he’s not searching for justification in a Savior; he’s seeking self-justification in front of the Savior.

The Ultimate Neighbor

This whole episode for the lawyer will make no sense until he sees Jesus inside the story. Those with eyes of faith will see that we are the man in the gutter of sin and desolation. The pressures of the world, the sinfulness of our flesh, and the conniving of the devil have jumped us, knocked us out cold with brass knuckles, and left us in total ruin and death.In the cross, we find Christ as the Greater Levite. Christ is the Ultimate Mercy Giver. Christ is the Ultimate Neighbor. Christ is the Greater Priest who does not stand at a safe distance near the Purell dispenser. He draws near to me to get his hands dirty and to shed his own blood for me while I am in my most broken place. The One born in a barn because all the hotel rooms were booked is the Savior who makes for you an eternal home in his Father’s house. Don’t miss the echoes of Jesus in this parable.In other words, “you’ll never become a radical neighbor for others until you see that you have been radically neighbored by Christ” (Keller).

Your Neighbor

So, this text answers the question: Who is my neighbor? That phrase, “your neighbor” — appears over 60 times in the Bible, mostly in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Proverbs. The stress, as Jesus points out here, is on embodied place-ed-ness.
For the purpose of an illustration, imagine that you and I, who don’t recognize each other, are sitting inside the same Starbucks coffee shop. At that moment, I exist in the room, and you exist in the room. This is where our bodies coincide. At that moment, we become neighbors in a way that we were not neighbors earlier in the day, not because we follow one another on Twitter, but because our physical presence now overlaps in proximity.Embodied place-ed-ness.Sitting as apparent strangers in the same room, we are neighbors. In this moment, we are now responsible to care for one another. If one of us needs medical attention, the other is obligated to offer help, and to not walk away.My point is that neighboring is rooted in space and time. To have a body is to be obligated to others. We have obligations to our parents, perhaps to a spouse, to children, to a local church, to a boss, and to a neighborhood. And in many of these situations — in the home and church — we have gender-specific obligations to one another. To be a creature is to be obligated to others. That’s fundamental to neighboring.But in the digital age, when we lose a sense of our bodies, we quickly find ourselves in isolation from others, and our sense of what it means to be a true neighbor evaporates.The resulting fallout of this isolation is why the Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, has made it his mantra: “The most prevalent health issue in the country is not cancer or heart disease or obesity. It is isolation.” Social disconnection. Even in those areas that most root us — our marriages and jobs — our culture has taught us the dance of having one foot in and one foot out never quite committed to anything. We like to keep our options open.So, when a beaten neighbor is lying on the metaphorical path of our lives, we are quick to jump over to the sidewalk of escape on the other side of the street. For many of us, that escapism is found in the virtual world of our smartphones.
Never offline, always within reach, we now wield in our hands a magic wand of technological power we have only begun to grasp. But it raises new enigmas, too. Never more connected, we seem to be growing more distant. Never more efficient, we have never been more distracted.

The Main Point

All of these points in Luke 10 link our evolving smartphone habits to the ancient parable of Jesus.Here’s the point:The priest sees the man in the street, but he’s rushing off to God’s temple to dispense his priestly work. He’s clean, pure, unsoiled, and perhaps his shift begins soon — so he absolutely cannot stop to dirty himself with this filthy, bloody, dying guy in the street. The Levite sees the man, too, but he’s apparently running late for his preaching gig. He cannot stop for the same reason: ministry expectations beckon for his faraway attention. You begin to see the problem here rather quickly. Setting your mind on good and noble things, like remote ministry possibilities, can eventually callous you to the flesh and blood needs around you.Giving over your attention to virtual possibilities, even finding an important role online, can blind you to the gospel needs lying at your feet.If that is not a prophetic warning for Christians in the digital age, I don’t know what is.

Good or Essential?

Jesus clearly wants the lawyer to see the sin of his own neighbor-neglect and repent. In this parable we see the sin of our smartphone abuse, the sin of our hyperconnectivity to the virtual world — even in performing good ministry online. We so often are tempted to withhold mercy from those around us — our families, our roommates, our colleagues, our classmates, our church members, and yes, our neighbors.Neighboring, defined by Jesus, puts great stress on how our bodies root us in a particular place, as both gift-getters (receiving mercy) and gift-givers(offering mercy).Radical neighboring is embodied neighboring. Face-to-face. Real needs met. And there is no exemption clause because you have five hundred followers online.

Offline Authenticity

Taken together, Luke 10 says to all of God’s disciples: Yes, like the 72 sent out, go into the digital world as far as your online influence will spread, and proclaim the good news of Christ — but — don’t get so wrapped up in those opportunities that you forget your essential vocations: (1) to cultivate a genuine love of God above everything, and (2) to care for the needs you see immediately around you.
To put it another way, you can fake online authenticity for a while, but not forever. It will catch up to you. Our authenticity offline is always the basis for our authenticity online.So, if God has called and equipped you to be a Twitter sage, or a hip-hop artist, or an Instagram evangelist, or a podcaster, or a writer, or a social media social activist, or a digital creator of any type, you must take breaks from the scuttle of those ministry expectations — those expectations out in the remoteness of the virtual world — in order to reconnect with the ultimate purpose on this planet that grounds all our flourishing: To be embodied children of God, feeding our faith on the truth of God, cherishing him with our entire being, and then, out of our abundance, serving our neighbors.

Why ‘The Publican?’

If you say or read our name too quickly you may mistake us for a political party or a politically based blog. However, this could not be further from the truth.

The Publicans represents the statement of who we are in relation to the Lord who saved us. In Luke 18:9-14 we find a parable written to those who trusted in their own goodness and righteousness. Jesus proceeded to tell these prideful people that it was the Publican (the sinful tax collector) who was justified by faith rather than the Pharisee (the seemingly proper, collected, squeaky clean religious man). Why is this? Because while the Pharisee was publicly boasting of his own goodness the Publican shows us the definition of godly humility and repentance by not even being able to lift his head to heaven but rather beating on his chest while crying out ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner!’

So with this in mind we give you The Publicans: a group of believers dedicated to the reformed faith and the importance Christ’s work on our behalf. If it weren’t for the righteousness of Christ we would have no hope nor plea. Our goal is to serve the community of Christ by providing helpful blog posts, resources, podcasts, and conferences/retreats.

Our aim is to make much of Christ and His glory for we must decrease that he may increase. No words better sum up our thoughts on the matter better than Thomas Raffles Hymn: Lord, Like the Publican I Stand.

Lord, like the publican I stand,
And lift my heart to Thee;
Thy pardoning grace, O God, command,
Be merciful to me.

I smite upon my anxious breast,
Overwhelmed with agony;
O’ save my soul by sin oppressed,
Be merciful to me.

My guilt, my shame, I all confess,
I have no hope nor plea
But Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
Be merciful to me.

Here at Thy cross I still would wait,
Nor from its shelter flee,
But Thou, O God, in mercy great,
Art merciful to me.

(Thomas Raffles, 1831)

To Fear or Not to Fear? That is the Question

1600x1200Luke 12:4-7 says, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

At first glance this passage seems to be nothing more than a contradiction.  See it?  Jesus tells us both to fear God and to not fear God.  So what are we to do?  Do we fear God?  Or do we not fear God?  That is the question, and interestingly enough that is also the answer.

Usually we don’t know things very well when we only delve in with a first glance, such is the case with this text in Luke.  Luke is not seeking to portray Jesus as a schizophrenic wacko calling us to fear God (12:4-5) and not fear God (12:6-7).  Rather Luke is seeking to portray what we so often experience in our Christian lives: a paradox.

We must fear God.  After all, God is greater than Satan.  Satan can only kill you, that’s all he can do.  Sure a statement like that is strange, but for the Christian it is not death to die.  The end of our physical lives is not the end of us.  We are immortal beings with souls that will live forever either in hell or in heaven.  Satan can only kill us physically, we are not to fear him.  We are to fear God who can not only kill the body but then send the soul into hell as well.  God is supremely more powerful than Satan and this passage shows that.  Therefore the Christian life is to be a life where we fear God, worshiping Him in awe, treating Him with reverence and with the utmost of respect.  He is God and there is no one like Him and there is no god but Him.

Fearing God like this, leads us to a kind of ‘not fear’ as well.  When we recognize God’s supreme majesty a right fear and reverence ought to rise in our hearts, and once that reverent fear rises in us it produces a right view of God.  A right view God is that God is not only transcendent and majestic but that He is near and immanent as well.  God tells us as much here in this text.  He knows us and counts as more valuable the many sparrows.

This intimate knowing coupled with majestic power produces a ‘fearful rest’ in the heart of all believers.  There is no god but God.  That God, the only God, knows me better than I know myself, and has still chosen to draw me to Himself through His Son.  Therefore I will worship Him with a white-hot, delighted, fearful reverence.

These are not oxy-morons when described in relation to the Christian life – it is a beautiful paradox.  We fear God and love Him.

Render to Caesar’s What is Caesar’s

Luke 20:22-26:

One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”

But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?”

They said, “Caesar’s.”

He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.

D. A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited, p. 57:

When Jesus asks the question, “whose image is this? And whose inscription?” biblically informed people will remember that all human beings have been made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26).

Moreover, his people have the “inscription” of God’s law written on them (cf. Exodus 13:9; Proverbs 7:3; Isaiah 44:5; Jeremiah 31:33).

If we give back to God what has his image on it, we must all give ourselves to him.

Far from privatizing God’s claim, that is, the claim of religion, Jesus’ famous utterance means that God always trumps Caesar. We may be obligated to pay taxes to Cesar, but we owe everything, our very being, to God. [Quoting David T. Ball:] “Whatever civil obligations Jesus followers might have, they must be understood within the context of their responsibilities to God, for their duty to God to claims their whole selves.”

Gospel Coalition Conference Messages Available Online

overview-bannerA few months back the Gospel Coalition held its Annual conference.  A few weeks ago, they put up all the messages online, on their website, for free.  There is a ton of good stuff to take away from this gathering, one that many of us would do well to lean into and see what God has for us.  Click on the picture above or on this link to see the messages.  Enjoy!

Don’t Take This the Wrong Way

Luke 18:9-14 says, “And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; and I pay tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

There is one way to take this message wrongly: Don’t hear me saying that holy living, and Christian disciplines like prayer, fasting, bible reading and memorization, purity, tithing, etc. (things the first guy took part in) have no place in our lives.  Don’t hear a message like this and then pray, thinking you’re in the shoes of the tax collector, “Thank you God that I am not like that religious person!”  Do you see that that is just the same as the religious person?!  We don’t do these things so that God would bless us, love us, or accept us!  Rather, we do Christian disciplines because in Jesus we have been blessed, we have been loved, and we have been accepted!  Christianity is not a “you have do this or that in order to be accepted by God” type of faith, it’s “God has blessed me, loved me, and accepted me and I now it is the greatest pleasure in my life to live a life that is pleasing to this God who loved me and gave Himself for me!”  It is not “look at the long list of religious things that I have done”, it’s simply pointing at Jesus and saying, “I’m with Him!”  A soul that says that yearns to do those disciplines regularly.

The radical, sold out life that Jesus calls all people to does not look like the greatness we learn from this world.  Rather, it looks like a meek, humble, sinful person coming to the end of themselves, and at that end, when you realize your bankrupt of all goodness or righteousness, you embrace Jesus as your everything.

That’s what the radical life looks like.  Coming to the gospel, and living under the gospel for your whole life.

Just like the hymn says, “Nothing in my hands I bring – only to the cross I cling!”  May God bring us all to that point where we can cheerfully and joyfully, and happily confess that apart from Christ we have no merit at all.

The Publican Pleased God? YES!

Luke 18:9-14, “And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; and I pay tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Now to the tax collector.  In Jesus’ day, the average tax collector was nothing less than an extortionist, who robbed people of their livelihood.  They not only were traitors to their own people by being employed by the Jewish enemy – Rome – these people would take Jewish money and give it to Rome!  And to make matters worse, most tax collectors were filthy rich because they took more money than they needed from people, and kept it for themselves.  These people today would probably be included with the likes of those who sell drugs to children, pimps and swingers, and those leading, using, and trading in the sex trafficking industry.  These are not good people, and everyone knew it.  It wasn’t a secret that these tax collectors were frauds!  And for one of them to walk into the temple like this guy did not only never happened, it would simply be astonishing!

This guy’s prayer was different.  He came in, couldn’t even lift his head to heaven or stand up, but bowed down, probably crouched in the corner saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”  He knew who he was, he knew he was fraud, and that he had stolen more than he could count from innocent people.  He knew that he was a wretched person, more wicked than he could ever imagine.  He knew that he had sold out to Rome and was bankrupt morally.  What’s crazy about this, is that after he prays, he received mercy and was made right with God.  You see verse 13-14?  “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was unwilling to even lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other…” He was justified?  He was saved?  Yes.

There are two phrases here that I want to pause on in this passage:

a) Justified: the text clearly says that the tax collector went home “justified.”  What does that word mean?  Justified in the Bible is used as a legal term, so when one is said to be justified it means that he or she is declared righteous is God’s sight.  This is what happened to the tax collector, he came to God at the end of himself and was sent home justified.  2 Cor. 5:21 speaks about this when it says, “God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Jesus.”  This is what people throughout history have called “the great exchange.”  When you come to Jesus by faith, admitting your own sin and shame, and trusting in Him for salvation you will experience God taking away your condemnation, guilt, and shame, and will see God giving you the righteousness of Jesus.  It’s as if all our evil deeds were written in a book, and upon salvation, we see God erase all our evil deeds in that book and fill our book with all of Jesus’ perfect deeds.  God now counts Jesus’ good works – Jesus’ righteousness – as our own.

So here me: we are saved by works, but it’s not our works that save us.  It’s Jesus’ works that save us.

b) “…rather than the other.”  This phrase ought to scare the hell out of you.  You see, to Jesus’ audience, no one was better than a Pharisee and no one was worse than a tax collector, this would have simply been astonishing.  Jesus is saying that the one who everyone thought was close to God was not, and the one who no one had a hope in the world was.  This again shows that the way of the kingdom of God is the opposite of the way of the world!  You see how parable ends?  18:14 says, “…for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  True greatness is not self-elevation at others expense, it’s coming to the end of ourselves and trusting in the works of someone else!  The one who looked religious in all aspects of his life was not right with God, rather the one who was wicked, and owned up to it crying “God be merciful to me a sinner (!) was saved!”  I said that this phrase should scare you because after reading this parable we Christians have to ask ourselves one question: which person do I resemble the most?

I think 99% of us would have to say the Pharisee.  You see, you and I are too good at playing the part, putting the mask on, and acting like we got it all together, when deep down we know that we are just as bankrupt as that tax collector.  We all think that we are better than certain people, so the question is not do you think of others as under you, it’s who do you think of as under you?

Don’t come under the judgment of God, take care that you come to God like the Publican, the tax collector, lest in coming like the Pharisee, you find judgment from God rather than salvation.

Finding Judgment Not Mercy from God

Luke 18:9-14 says, “And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; and I pay tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

When we have and/or resemble the attitude of this pompous Pharisee, Jesus is offended by this attitude.  Jesus hates when we, as Christians, say or think that in order to be a Christian, one has to look like this, or dress like this, or fit into this kind of box, or not have any of this or that on your body, or vote like this, or act like this in public, etc., etc., etc., etc.  Clearly there is a fine line here that we all must walk and walk well.  As Christians we must seek to obey God’s Word and yet seek to be willing enough to know the difference between “truth to be obeyed” and “truth to be applied.”  When it comes down to it, the Bible does not address all of life, but it does give principles that do apply to all of life.  This necessarily means that the Bible allows for some grey to be involved in the Christian life, and that’s ok.

This attitude the Pharisee had, and his so-called righteousness was really unrighteousness.  Look back at his prayer.  He says “God” once, and then says “I” five times, boasting about how squeaky clean and morally upright he is.  This isn’t a prayer, it’s a boast!  It seems that to this guy, God ought to be impressed with him.  How many of us do this?  (Quick hint – all of us)

The harsh reality here for us in this example, is that when we come to God like this, or have these thoughts within us, we don’t find mercy from God, we find judgment.

Jesus is Offended at You

Luke 18:9-14 says:

“And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; and I pay tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

In the first verse of this parable, Luke sets the stage, and tells us that Jesus is talking to some people who thought they were righteous and viewed others as lower than themselves.  Then Jesus talks, says that two men went into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector (a Publican).  Jesus then says something completely crazy and really ridiculous.  But if we’re to understand this parable’s crazy ridiculousness, we must view the parable from Jesus’ culture and context rather than our culture and context.

You see, when we read that there was a Pharisee and a tax collector here, our minds immediately go to one place: the Pharisee is the bad guy and the tax collector is the good guy.  Why?  That’s what our world has been taught.  This was not what Jesus’ world would have felt or believed after reading or hearing this parable.  They would have been shocked out of their shoes, they would have been astonished because Pharisee’s in their day were the spiritual superstars.  If one of them showed up in a church today the people would be so impressed with his “godliness” that within a few weeks that they’d probably make him an elder or a deacon, they might even want him to be the pastor after a few months.  Everything about the Pharisee’s life looked perfect, his faith would be robust, his singing would be loud and confident, his praying would be full of knowledge and eloquent, his family would look neat and in order, his dress would be proper and put-together…from the outside looking in it would look like this guy is the real thing, the Leader among leaders, the Christian among Christians, and the Saint among saints.

We can see this in the text, look in verses 11-12, “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; and I pay tithes of all that I get.”  I think when we see the Pharisee say this we say to ourselves, “Man I can’t believe this guy would say something like that!”  But, I think we are more like this Pharisee than we dare to admit.

Some of you think you’re more righteous than others because of a cause you stand behind – “I can’t believe that family is not being more “green.”  Don’t they know that they should be trying to reduce their carbon footprint like we are?”  Others of you think you’re more righteous than others because when you look in the mirror you think, “God must love me more than other people, I’m an amazing specimen!”  Some of you think you’re more righteous than others because when you go to work you think, “Man, its good thing I’m here in this office, because all my co-workers are stupid!  Who knows what would happen to this company if I weren’t here!”  Some of you more sneaky individuals out there think you’re more righteous than others because of your faith.  “I’m a better Christian than that guy, I mean really, he doesn’t even know where to find the book of Jeremiah in his Bible?  He’s certainly not on my level spiritually.”  Or, “I tithe and give more money than anyone in this room!”  Or, “I’ve been serving with the youth group and children’s ministry longer than some of these people have even been Christians!”  Or, “Look at my ministry, it’s four times bigger than this guy down the road.  I must be a better pastor!”  Or, “Is that really the sin you struggle with?  I beat that a long time ago.  Man, you must really be young in your faith.”

We obviously don’t say these things out loud, but you know that we all think them.

Hear me now, Jesus is offended by this attitude.

My Happy Boast of Being Morally Bankrupt

All this week, I’m going to focus on the passage that has meant so much to me of late, and it just so happens to be the passage that this blog is based on. It’s from Luke 18 and it has had a profound impact on me because it simply turns world-views upside down for the better and provides a ballast of a foundation for all Christian living.

Growing up in this culture as a young sports fan it did not take long to learn what “greatness” really was. I learned that greatness was being the champion, standing over your defeated foe, basking in victory! I learned that greatness was hitting a home run in game seven of the World Series when the bases are loaded to win it all! I learned that greatness was throwing or catching a touchdown in the last seconds of the Super Bowl to defeat that team that no one thought could be beaten! But when I became a Christian God began to show me that His ways are not the ways of this world, and that greatness did not come in worldly pomp and circumstance, but in humility. Luke 18:9-14 presents such a case, and shows us the difference between true greatness and foolish unrighteousness.

Luke 18:9-14 says:

“And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; and I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Join me the rest of this week to explore what I think God has for us in this text.

Luke Wrote a Full History

Luke, the author of Luke & Acts said in Luke 1:1-4 (also see Acts 1:1) that he wrote a full history of what happened with Jesus and the early Church. Taking his gospel with the book of Acts together, it seems that the gave us a full history of the events that took place. Full, not in the sense of everything that occured, but in the sense of why these events occured in the way they did. Lost? Hang on…

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, (named after a roman deity), and wrote twenty volumes on Roman history. He really wanted to write GOOD history! Good history does not just record things of the past, it records how the events were influenced, what directed them and what pushed them in the direction they went. He claimed that speeches changed the course of history. The word that Luke uses in chapter 1 verse 3 of Luke to say that he will write a “full” account is the same word that Dionysius used to describe his idea of “good” history. This means, that Luke is going to include the things that tell us how history took the course it did, he is not just going to tell us events. Luke is going to tell us what actually is driving these events! Luke wants to write this kind of gospel, a full gospel. This is also why Luke wrote Acts.

It is worth noting, that 30% of Acts is speeches. 60% of Acts 1-7 is speeches. (Luke’s gospel does this also) This means that Luke thinks these speeches have changed the course of history. Also, the role of the Holy Spirit is crucial in the speeches. The Spirit fell on the disciples so that they could give a speech (or preach the gospel). This means that Luke is telling us that it is the Holy Spirit who is directing history! The Holy Spirit is taking people places, and creating the scenes for these powerful speeches. What has affected history? People’s speeches that are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Therefore Acts is an account of God’s actions that direct history through people; empowered by the Spirit, who proclaim the Word of God, the gospel! This means that in Luke’s mind Christianity is the fulfillment of History. Knowing this, we could call the book of “Acts of Jesus, by His Spirit, through His Apostles” which fits Luke’s idea of the history he wants to write.

Who cares? I DO! Why?

a) We are saved by God (through His Son by the power of the Spirit) individually into a community to take a message to the nations!
b) We can now give people an understanding of Christianity as the fulfillment of history.
c) WOW and Amen!!