I want to focus on two lessons drawn from this scripture. #1, salvation is based on God’s mercy, not our good works/accomplishments. #2 a new way of thinking about ourselves and others, to put into practice that not everyone is as they appear.
First lesson: Salvation is only found when we turn to God asking for Him to forgive our sins. The Pharisee lists the good things he does: fasting and tithing. Those are good things. And the bad things the other people do are bad things: robbery, evildoing, adultery… The problem: nobody is good enough to deserve the salvation of God.
[The scene is] the entrance to heaven where Saint Peter is manning the entrance desk by the pearly gates. Up comes a fine looking man, all dressed up. When he rings the bell St. Peter says, “Can I help you?” And the man says, “I would like to have entrance into heaven.” And St. Peter said, “Excellent. We’re certainly glad to have you. We always want more people in heaven.
Then St. Peter says, “In order to enter heaven you have to earn 1000 points. The man said, “That shouldn’t be any problem. I have been a very good man all my life. I’ve been very involved in civic things. I have always given a lot of money to charitable causes. For 25 years I was the chairman of the Community Chest fund drive.” As St. Peter wrote it all down he said, “That’s a marvelous record. That’s one point.”
Taken aback, the man added, “I was married to my wife for 45 years. I was always faithful. We had five children–three boys and two girls. I always loved them and spent a lot of time with them and made sure they got a good education. I always took good care of them and they turned out so well. I’m a real family man.” St. Peter said, “I’m very impressed. We don’t get too many people up here like you. That’s another point.”
Sweating freely by now, the man started shaking. “You don’t understand. I was active in my church. I went every Sunday. I gave money every time they passed the plate. I was a deacon and an elder. I taught Sunday school for 20 years.” And St. Peter said, “Your record is certainly admirable. That’s another point.” Then he add, “Let me add this up. That’s one. That’s two. That’s three points. Only 997 to go.”
Trembling, the man fell to his knees. In desperation he cried out, “But for the grace of God nobody could get in here!” St. Peter looked at him and smiled, “Congratulations, you’ve just received 1000 points.” (John Warwick Montgomery, “How Do We Know There is a God?)
Salvation is a good and right relationship with God that begins in this life and extends to eternity. God meets our deepest needs of love, acceptance and forgiveness. Jesus died for sinners. The Pharisee was lost although he was good and the tax collector was saved although he was bad. We are all sinners. The only question: do we admit our sins. Is my heart ready to receive the forgiveness offered by God.
It’s a simple prayer. “God be merciful to me a sinner.” God is merciful. He sent his son to die on the cross taking my place. The price of death for my sins was paid, but it was paid by Jesus Christ. Are you ready for the Lord Jesus Christ to change your life?
Some of you nailed your sins and burdens on the cross a few weeks ago with the same message, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” (The cross is still here ~ plenty of room for you to add your own sins/heartaches…) “God be merciful to me a sinner” is simple enough. Here is a longer version that may help:
Dear God, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I cannot save myself. Have mercy on me on the basis of what Jesus did on the cross for me. I am a sinner who desperately needs a Savior. Lord Jesus, come into my heart and save me now. Amen.
Salvation is found only by God’s mercy… May this be the cry of your heart….if you are ready… if you need your life to be renewed in Christ… now is the time….
Second Lesson: Dig deeper into how the Pharisee wrongly builds himself up by tearing others down and suggest a better way of thinking about yourself and others… As we walk through this world, everything is NOT as it seems. We are wrong to look outwardly upon others and draw absolute spiritual conclusions.
30 years ago I worked in downtown S.F. for several months. Almost everyday I saw a street person that glowed, I sometimes wonder if she was not an angel… always a line of people to take a turn giving her money… when they placed their gift in her basket, she would look at them with an angelic face and say, “God bless you.” It was a surreal scene playing out daily… I sensed people were craving the blessing they received… not everyone is as they appear. This street woman was like an angel…
May our eyes be open to more of the lovely people that cross our paths… I’ve seen people in difficult circumstances, cold, hungry… but then when I listen, they know Jesus Christ! I learn from them… Check your assumptions at the door. Not everyone is as they seems. This parable is about learning to look at others with grace and dignity. READ Luke 18:9-14.
The two men in the story have several things in common: They both go to the temple to pray and they both seek God’s blessings. The substance of their prayers is the difference ~ The Pharisee tells God how much better he is than others… the tax collector makes no comparisons but simply admits his sins, seeking forgiveness. Only the tax collector is “justified before God”…. The Pharisee may look more religious, more proper, better habits than the tax collector, but it is the tax collector that is accepted by God….
Arrogance can be a problem, especially if that stops us from going to God in humility asking for mercy…. This story is exaggerated to make a point. In real life the comparison trap may be more subtle… I would never say out loud what a louse that man is down the street, but I am tempted to think it! People are often different from your first impressions.
Good advice: A man named Bruce Larson said this (the pastor of Sally’s church when I first met her) but I’ll use my name: /// “Some one once said to me, ‘Crouse, do you know what’s wrong with you? You judge other people by their actions and yourself by your intentions. If you could reverse that, it would change your life.’ Since then I’ve been trying to judge others not by what they do, but by what they meant to do. Try judging yourself not by what you meant, but by what you did – which is how people perceive you. That’s a giant step on the way to humility.”
I know a few crazy people ~ petty thieves, pill poppers, chronically unemployed people… How easy for me to categorize them as lazy, irresponsible, good for nothings… but something fascinating happens when I take time to listen. Most of them see themselves as good people, people who want better, people who are looking for a break in life. Many folks are repentant, not saying their bad behavior is good, not excusing themselves, but often they don’t know how to unwind out of the patterns. Stuckness is huge (this will probably be a targeted prayer topic...)
Many people, in their heart, are not as they appear to the world that does not know them. Some beat themselves up every day. But they know their heart and what they want. They agonize over respect from others and peace in their world. Most people judge themselves by their intentions/ the desire of their heart. If you can discover the intentions of others, rather than judging them solely by their actions, then it’s like finding a map leading to a buried treasure…
May you and I search for the intentions of others rather than categorizing them with inferior labels…What if the Pharisee would have done this with the Tax Collector, he would have seen a repentant man that only wanted to be loved, accepted and forgiven by God…. but instead he wrote him off as unworthy because he was judging only the actions of the tax collector. think of a handful of the hardest people in your world you have the hardest time understanding… give them a break. Search for what they are wanting to be. If possible ask them. Break down the barrier. If you don’t have a way of truly knowing what’s in their heart, try to imagine what the real intentions are… consider how much you don’t know about them: their background, you have not walked in their shoes, you don’t know the stresses they face, they may have a completely different personality from you and respond in ways you can’t imagine. Judge others by their intentions and your appreciation for them will rise… you will find peace, walls will break down…
Judging people by their intentions is not excusing bad behavior… it is only seeing them as needy people like yourself…when the Bible says “do not judge others” it does not mean “don’t have any standards” but rather it means, only God knows heart….
And how about how you see yourself? It makes so much sense to hold myself to the high standard of not judging myself by my intentions but rather my actions. My goal is for my actions to be reflected by my intentions… My actions are how other people judge me because that’s all they see. The Word “intending” is a killer… Intending to volunteer in that ministry, intending to help people, intending to read your bible, intending to grow in your faith, intending to quit the bad habits... as you go before the Lord base your standing on your actions! Let him be the judge. Ask for mercy for the failings, ask for forgiveness for the walls, ask for acceptance even though you don’t deserve.
Judge others by their intentions and you will learn to appreciate others. Their actions and spiritual worthiness are between them and God. Judge yourself by your actions, and let God shape you and grow you through His indwelling Spirit. Not everyone is as they first appear, not even you!
The Pharisee did everything right but had a prideful heart which built a wall between himself and God. The tax collector had nothing to offer God, but was granted mercy based on his confession of his unworthiness, building a bridge to God. If you have never given your heart to Jesus the prayer is simple, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” May we all cross the bridge to God by learning to let go of our competitive attitude towards others and instead judging others by their intentions, and judging ourselves by our actions, relying on God to forgive us of our sins and granting us the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. Amen.