Family service - Luke 18:9-14

This is a family service talk by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 25th April 2004.

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Now I want to begin this morning by asking for two volunteers to help me unwrap two presents. 1st present- Now this present looks very impressive. It's got lovely paper on it and a beautiful bow, and it is pretty big! It looks very expensive and it's probably from Harrods or a shop like that! But inside what do we discover? Actually when we unwrap it it's just full of old rubbish. It's smelly and horrible! What a let down! Well what about the second present? This one looks pretty unimpressive. The paper looks like a copy of the Hull Daily Mail to me. It's not even wrapped properly and it's very small! It's hardly worth opening! But when we look inside what do we find? A cheque for What a find! You would never have thought it looking at the outside would you! What we thought was going to be a great present actually turned out to be literally rubbish! And what looked on the outside like rubbish actually turned out to be very valuable.

You see, sometimes appearances can be deceptive. Things aren't always as they seem. And this morning, we going to look at a story which Jesus told which shows that people aren't always as they seem. Appearances can be deceptive! And if you'd like to follow along in your Bibles that will be very useful. And you'll find the story in Luke 18 vv 9-14.

Now the story that Jesus tells is about two men who go up to the Temple, or their local church to pray one day. And these two men were total opposites. The first man was a very well respected man in society. (Acetate 1- Pharisee) He was a Pharisee. And although we tend to think of Pharisees as being nasty hypocrites, in fact they were very well respected and upstanding members of society in Jesus' day. They were the bishops of today, the bank managers, the doctors, the headteachers, the chief inspectors. They were the sorts of people everyone looked up to in society. They were clean as clean and everyone thought this particular man was as good as good can be. He was proud of his achievements, and he was pleased that everyone looked up to him. In fact, he was the sort of man who would always make a bit of a show when he came into church. Everyone would stop and look at him. He'd be the sort of man who would interrupt a service, or even the preacher in full flow as he was telling.......... (Enter well dressed Pharisee declaring to one and all his fine credentials! So you can see the Pharisee was a good man who everyone loved!

But there was another man who went to the Temple that day. (Acetate 2- Tax collector). And that man was a tax collector. Now as you can see this man was very rich, and you might have thought that everyone would have loved him. Surely everyone wanted to be his best friend. But not at all. Because this man was a tax collector. And tax collectors in Jesus' day were hated. No-one liked them at all. Because not only did they take people's money, but they also took more than they should. They were liars and thieves. And you could not get a worse person in society. So when this man came into church that day to pray, then he would be the sort of person no-one would notice. He would have slipped in at the back and crept in so no-one would see. He certainly didn't want to bump into anyone! (Enter surreptitiously the tax collector!)

So those were the two people in Jesus' story. But what was the story about and why did Jesus tell it? Well Jesus told this story so that we would understand what sort of people go to heaven. And of course that is a very important question to ask. Because I guess everyone here wants to go to heaven to be with God. Surely no-one here wants to miss out on heaven do they? So how do you get to heaven? Well when Jesus told this story, he was making two points. First he tells us the wrong way to get to heaven and second he tells us the right way to get to heaven.

1) The Wrong Way to get to Heaven

(Acetate 3- Title 1) So first of all Jesus tells us the wrong way to get to heaven. And what is the wrong way? By trusting in yourself. And the big shock of this story is that the person who was not going to get into heaven was the Pharisee! And that is a big shock. Surely if anyone deserved to go to heaven it was the Pharisee. This man seemed to be as good as a angel. (Acetate 4- Angel) Just look how good he has been in verse 11: "The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God I thank you that I ma not like other men- robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." Now this man was good. He hadn't done anything obviously wrong. He wasn't a murderer. He wasn't a liar. He was far better than that nasty tax collector. He didn't go round stealing from people and fiddling their taxes so he could get more money. He was honest, he was a fine upstanding member of society. (Acetate 5- Pray-er) And he was also very religious. He loved going to church. He prayed and sang his hymns and he even did more than was asked. He fasted twice a week, in other words, he went without food so he could pray twice a week. Imagine missing fish and chips on Mondays and lamb chops on Thursdays just so you could pray. If you thought anyone deserved to go to heaven, then surely this man did.

But Jesus actually says something very shocking in verse 14. He says that the tax collector went home justified or forgiven rather than the Pharisee. In other words, the one that is going to heaven to be with God is not the Pharisee. But surely that's not right. I mean this Pharisee is a good man. He helps other people, he's very religious, he's a good honest upright citizen. Why shouldn't he go to heaven Jesus? Well the answer is because of his attitude in verse 11. (Acetate 6- Pharisee's Mistake) The sad fact is that he is trusting in his own goodness to get him to heaven. Do you see what Jesus says. He prays about himself! And look how self centred the man is. I do this, I do that, I'm better than everyone else, he says. And that was his big problem. He trusted himself rather than God. And if you trust in your own goodness to get you to heaven, then you are in for a very big shock. Because Jesus says no-one is good enough to get into heaven. In fact, no-one here in this room, even if you are the nicest, best person in the world, not even you deserve to go to heaven. Why? Because we have fallen far short of God's pass mark for heaven. Which is 100%. In other words we have to be perfect to go to heaven, because heaven is a perfect place, and God is perfectly good.

Let me show you what I mean by asking a volunteer to come and help me. Now I'm going to ask you to do three things. These are pretty big challenge! Challenge 1- Jump as high as you can and see if you can touch the ceiling! Challenge 2- See if you can lick your elbow with your tongue. Challenge 3- Tell me what football team I thinking about. Well I'm sorry to say that our challenger failed on all three accounts. And that is the problem with us and God. We cannot reach his standards. We'd actually have to be perfect. And God never bends the rules.

Now I guess we might say: Yes but hang on a moment. I'm not that bad really. I mean look at all the things I have done. (Acetate 7- List of good deeds) I mean I don't hurt other people, I'm a friendly neighbour, I love my family and take care of them, I am good at my job, I give to charity, I come to church and pray, and I even give blood! What more do you want? I'm a good person. But sadly all those good things, even though it's good to do them, yet when it comes to getting us into heaven, we just cannot meet God's 100% goodness standards. So all these good deeds don't help a jot- rip paper!

And if we think that if we can be as good as we can, then God will let us into heaven, then we are very mistaken. We're actually like this Pharisee who thought he was good enough for God. We're trusting in ourselves and we will miss out on heaven. Because we are just not good enough for God. So that's the first thing Jesus teaches us from this story. The wrong way to get to heaven is to trust ourselves and our goodness. It won't work because we're just not good enough!

2) The Right Way to get to Heaven

(Acetate 8- Titles 2) But thankfully we find also in this story that there is a right way to get to heaven. There is a way for us to be with God forever. But it's nothing to do with whether we have been good enough. We've already seen that that's what the Pharisee thought, and he was wrong. And I reckon he was very good, certainly better than me! But Jesus says he was not going to go to heaven. But the second shock of the story is who gets into heaven. And that is the tax collector! Do you remember our tax collector. (Acetate 9- Sad tax collector) Although he was very rich, yet actually he was very sad. Because he knew he had done many, many things wrong. He'd hurt many people and he'd also let God down very badly. Let's see what Jesus says about this man in verse 13: "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said: 'God have mercy on me a sinner.'" This man couldn't even lift his head up to pray, whereas the Pharisee had prayed in front of everyone. This man prayed quietly at the back of church. Everyone ignored him because they thought he was a waste of space. He'd done absolutely nothing to deserve God's forgiveness and help. He certainly didn't deserve to go to heaven, and he knew it. All he could do was to say sorry to God and to ask for his forgiveness.

So what does Jesus say about him? Verse 14: "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God." In other words, this man received God's forgiveness and was assured a place in heaven. And that is the big lesson that Jesus is teaching us in this story. That we must not trust in our own goodness to get us to heaven. Rather we must trust in what God has done for us to get us to heaven. (Acetate 10- Cross) And how can he do that? What has he done? Well he sent his only Son to die for us, taking all the wrong things we have done, and dying so we could go be forgiven and go to heaven. And Jesus sums up his point in the final verse: "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted." In other words if we think we are good enough for God and good enough to go to heaven, we are in for a very nasty shock. But if we admit we are not good enough for God and accept his rescue through Jesus, trusting his death for us on the cross, then we can look forward to a wonderful future with God forever, indeed a future which begins today. (Acetate 11- Happy person) And that is good news to be happy about!

So appearances can be deceptive can't they! We thought the good Pharisee would go to heaven, but he didn't. It was the bad tax collector. And heaven will be full not of good people, but of forgiven people. So have you received Jesus' rescue? That's the only way you and I will get to heaven. Well if not, then why not pray with me now, and begin to live life as God intended!

Heavenly Father, thank you that although not one of us deserves to go to heaven, yet you sent your only Son to come to our world and to die for us on the cross. Thank you that through the cross we can have forgiveness and a fresh start and a place in heaven. Please help us to receive that gift and to live life with you as our Saviour and King. Amen

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