Today’s Reading: Luke 18
In today’s reading, Jesus tells a story on prayer. But I think through the story, He wants us to pick the guy we think God likes best so He can teach us a lesson. Sometimes we assume that God likes who we like and what we like. It should be easy to pick out who God likes best:
He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’
“Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”
Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” (Luke 18:9-14, MSG)
The two guys were a Pharisee and a tax man. Really, it’s the story of the church guy and the street guy. The church guy basically says: “I haven’t done bad stuff and I have done all the good stuff.” The street guy says: “I have done all the bad stuff; I am a sinner.”
They are both seemingly doing the same thing at the present—praying. But for prayer to be prayer, God has to hear it. Verse 11 (NASB) says, “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself.” God wasn’t listening. I love how Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard sums it up: “It is so much easier to become a Christian when you aren’t one than to become one when you assume you already are.”
If my wife and I have a disagreement and I am in the wrong, I have two ways to try to fix it:
The first way is that I do a lot of good things (self-righteously) for her. I give her gifts, do the dishes and laundry. I am being a good boy now. I am making myself acceptable to her. I keep doing stuff until the guilt is gone. That’s the first guy who prayed. He is trying to make himself right before God—to show how good and righteous he is. But the problem with this is that the offense is never addressed and fixed. It’s still on the account.
Or I can pursue the second way. The atmosphere is thick. What needs to happen? I need to offer an apology. I ask her for forgiveness. Why do I want her forgiveness? Because it puts the relationship back in order. Happy home, good meals, good conversation. I want to be forgiven so things can be happy between us. Things can be set right because the thing that separated us is now addressed, and the relationship can be restored. Forgiveness is the way to remove the obstacles so we can talk with each other.
The second way to find yourself back in relationship is by saying you are sorry. That is the heart of the gospel.
The only way to become a Christian is to understand that forgiveness is the starting point, not good deeds.
You are not raised into being right with God. You can’t make yourself likable to God. But you can come to God and say that you are sorry for the things you have done against Him.
Two men went to the temple and both prayed. But they didn’t leave with the same thing. One left right with God. The other left in the same condition as when he walked in.
I remember the story of a lawyer and a doctor sitting in the same church service and both heard the same message. The doctor made a decision to be born again that day. The lawyer did not. Like the Pharisee and the tax collector, one left with God and the other left exactly the same way. It took the lawyer three weeks to make that born-again decision of saying to God, “I’m sorry.” The lawyer said to the doctor, “How did you do it faster than me? I could have died and gone to hell.” The doctor said: “While I pleaded guilty, you were pleading your case.”
That’s Luke 18 and the two guys who prayed one day. I thought it would be easy to see who God liked best—but it’s the worst guy, because he asked for mercy.