Monday, October 25, 2010

A Tale of Two Men

22nd Sunday after Pentecost – October 24th, 2010
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.
2 men go up to the temple. But only one goes home justified. One has all the religion; he's the spiritual super hero. The one everyone wants to be - helping old Galilean women with their groceries, the picture of perfect piety.
And then there's the tax collector; less like the IRS and more like a creeper drug dealer preying on the innocent; a traitor to everyone he knows; a man who sold his soul, pride and wallet to Caesar just to make a buck at the expense of fellow Jews.
As Jesus everyone expects The Pharisee to be the one Jesus praises, but the shocking part is, the tax collector, the scum of the earth…the sinner – he goes home justified, saved, rescued by God.
The key to understanding Jesus' teaching is to understand why he tells this parable, to understand that Jesus is teaching and preaching against all who would try to justify themselves before God, but cannot because of their sin…as Luke 18 says, "to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteousness and treated others with contempt."
With one little word, Jesus teaches cuts to the heart of Christianity: How are we justified? Justified, this - declared righteous, saved, rescued, forgiven by God - word. So much depends on that little word, justified; it really is the difference between heaven and hell. Justified is how we, who were enemies of God, unholy and unrighteous sinners by nature, can stand before a holy, righteous God without our smithereens being blown to smithereens.
Who goes home justified, the Pharisee basking in the glory of do-it-your-self-religion?
Or, the tax collector who despairs of himself and believes in Him who justified the ungodly (Romans 4:5)? 2 men. 2 prayers. 1 answer: Jesus is on the death road to Jerusalem where everything foretold of Him in the prophets will be accomplished; He will be betrayed, mocked, shamed, spat upon, flogged and killed and on the third day He will rise from the dead – this is how you are justified.
The way you pray says volumes about what you believe. Listen to the two prayers. Count the pronouns.
How do I love me? Let me count the ways. God, I thank you that I am not like these other men: money-grubbing extortioners, unrighteous, sexual immoral or even like this tax collector. I praise you that I am good and holy. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all I possess. I lift up my eyes to the heavens and I thank you… for me.
This Pharisee appears very righteous. Don't try to be more righteous than Jesus. You simply can't get any more righteous than you are when you are clothed with Christ's righteousness, declared forgiven by His cross, justified by His sacrifice for you.
Aren't you glad you don't have theology like that? Thank God, we're not like those Pharisees.
Lord, be merciful to me a preacher…..a hearer. It's far too easy to hate the Pharisee – a man for whom Christ also died. What really angers us about the Pharisee isn't that he is so different from us – but that we're more like him than we care to admit. That's the painful irony in accusing someone of being, "Holier than thou." You can't make that accusation without being guilty of it, but then of course, we would never say anything like that. In condemning him, we become the Pharisees' Pharisee. It takes one to know one.

Jesus' parable reveals our hypocrisy. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the greatest sinner of all? Me. Apart from Christ we're Blind. Paralyzed. Dead. Sin isn't just something you possess, but rather, something that possesses you – like a man who falls off a ladder, breaks his neck and says, "I feel fine" – we don't really know how bad the injury is. We need a proper diagnosis of our condition. For a person's greatest need is one he does not by nature feel, namely the need for the righteousness that comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ. God's Law gives the diagnosis. Jesus humbles those who exalt themselves.

And yet he exalts those we who are humbled. He bears the punishment we - Blind. Paralyzed. Dead. – deserved. Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner. This is the tax-collector's prayer. It also our prayer. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength - or prayers, or wrestlings, or tithes or righteousness - believe in Jesus Christ my Lord…
Can a blind man restore his own sight? Can a paralytic make himself walk? Can a dead man raise himself out of his grave? No, but Christ can. Christ has. Christ does, for you. To heal the blind the Father closed His eyes while His Son suffered. For paralyzed sinners, Christ walked the bloody road to Jerusalem where his weary legs were nailed to a tree for you to walk in newness of life. To raise the dead in sin Jesus died our death and was laid to rest in our tomb. Lord, have mercy on me, the sinner, the Pharisee, the Tax collector. And he does. His Gospel is the medicine of life. Christ humbles Himself to death so that you might be exalted in His life. He kills and makes alive. In His death you die and dying, you live.

It all seems rather absurd, but infinitely glorious and joyous. This is the blessed irony of Christianity. Those who are free from sin, those who are Baptized and are children of the Heavenly Father – such as you and the believing tax collector – feel your sin. We are free from sin in Christ and yet sin hurts. It causes great shame and vice. We struggle; we do not do the good we want to do.

But those who are in sin – who embrace it and seek to justify themselves – they are satisfied and comfortable. That is how God's Kingdom works; it is full of irony and reversal: God becomes man to save man from the rejection of God. Life became death and Jesus' death gives life. He who knew no sin became sin for us. An execution tool made of dead wood becomes the Tree of Life. The Good Shepherd dies for His sheep. Blood atonement is made for people who can't repay Him. Jesus dies for the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, even for you.
He loves. He gives. Christ goes to the cross to shed His atoning, justifying, innocent declaring, righteous covering, raising from the dead, blood – to sacrifice Himself in mercy for you. In Christ the guilty are set free. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sinners are let off the hook.
Christianity is all about receiving. Worship is what you receive. Jesus is what you receive. Baptism – you receive Jesus. His Word – you receive Jesus. The Lord's Supper – you receive Jesus.
Just like those little children in Luke 18; just like these little children here. They are the children you must become. Even here there is irony…for we have as much to say about being a child of God as we did a child of our parents. The disciples rebuke Jesus. We're always trying to justify ourselves. But our good works will not help us stand in righteousness before God – that's about as effective as a baby before its mother, working its own righteousness into a diaper.

It's not about you; it's about Jesus for you. "Let the children come to me and do not hinder them for to such belongs the kingdom of God." Receive the kingdom of heaven like a child. Receive…Receive…Receive God's great reversal: the blind see, the paralyzed walk, the dead rise. The sinner becomes a saint and you are His children of the Heavenly Father – by grace, through faith in Christ. That's Christianity wrapped up into two simple words: FOR YOU. Christ lives perfectly, for you. Christ prays, for you. Christ teaches, for you. Christ goes to Jerusalem, for you. Christ dies, for you. Christ rises, for you. God's Kingdom for you. God's Mercy for you. Jesus, for you. And you go home justified.
In the Name of Jesus + Amen.