Holiday Club Family Service - Luke 18:9-14
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
(Slide 1) Now I want to begin this morning by asking for two volunteers to help me unwrap two presents. Let me ask you too which present you would like to open. 1st present- Now this present looks very impressive. Itís got lovely paper on it and a beautiful bow, and it is pretty big! It looks very expensive and itís probably from Harrods or a shop like that! But inside what do we discover? Actually when we unwrap it itís just full of old rubbish. Itís 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. Itís not even wrapped properly and itís very small! Itís hardly worth opening! But when we look inside what do we find? A cheque for £500,000! 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. And actually both of you wanted the much nicer present!
You see, sometimes appearances can be deceptive. Things arenít always as they seem. And this morning, we going to look at a story which Jesus told which shows that people arenít always as they seem. And if youíd like to follow along in your Bibles that will be very useful. And youíll find the story in Luke 18 vv 9-14. (Slide 2) And this is another of Jesusí parables, or stories that weíve been looking at throughout this week at the Jungle Jamboree. Weíve listened to four different stories and all four have told us amazing things about Jesus and his love for us. And today weíre going to look at one final story.
Now the story that Jesus tells us today 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. (Slide 3) 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 Jesusí day. They were the bishops of today, the bank managers, the doctors, the head teachers, 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. 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. (Slide 4). 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 Jesusí day were hated. No-one liked them at all. Because not only did they take peopleís 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 want to notice. He would have slipped in at the back and crept in so no-one would see. He certainly didnít want to bump into anyone!
So those were the two people in Jesusí 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. And itís important for us to understand that heaven is not a dull and boring place. All through this week, weíve seen that being with God in heaven is like a big party. Heaven is not some weird spooky place up in the sky. Heaven is being with God in his new perfect world and itís going to be fantastic. So how can we be there?
1) The Wrong Way to get to Heaven
(Slide 5) 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. (Slide 6) Just look how good he has been in verse 11: "The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ĎGod 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 hadnít done anything obviously wrong. He wasnít a murderer. He wasnít a liar. He was far better than that nasty tax collector. He didnít 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. (Slide 7) 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 thatís not right. I mean this Pharisee is a good man. He helps other people, heís very religious, heís a good honest upright citizen. Why shouldnít he go to heaven Jesus? Well the answer is because of his attitude in verse 11. (Slide 8) 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, Iím 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 Godís pass mark for heaven. Which is 100%. (Slide 9) 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 Iím 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 Iím 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. Weíd actually have to be perfect. And God never bends the rules.
Now I guess we might say: Yes but hang on a moment. Iím not that bad really. I mean look at all the things I have done. (Slide 10) I mean I donít hurt other people, Iím 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? Iím a good person. But sadly all those good things, even though itís good to do them, yet when it comes to getting us into heaven, we just cannot meet Godís 100% goodness standards. So all these good deeds donít 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. Weíre actually like this Pharisee who thought he was good enough for God. Weíre trusting in ourselves and we will miss out on heaven. Because we are just not good enough for God. So thatís the first thing Jesus teaches us from this story. The wrong way to get to heaven is to trust ourselves and our goodness. It wonít work because weíre just not good enough!
2) The Right Way to get to Heaven
(Slide 11) 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 itís nothing to do with whether we have been good enough. Weíve already seen that thatís 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. (Slide 12 + animations) Although he was very rich, yet actually he was very sad. Because he knew he had done many, many things wrong. Heíd hurt many people and heíd also let God down very badly. Letís 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: ĎGod have mercy on me a sinner.í" This man couldnít 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. Heíd done absolutely nothing to deserve Godís forgiveness and help. He certainly didnít 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 Godís 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. (Slide 13) 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.
Let me show you what I mean. Now I have here a video. And imagine if on this video there was the whole of my life. It says "Nathanís Life" on the box and on the video. And imagine if it contained not just the things I have done, but also every thought that has gone through my brain and everything I have ever said. Now that would be some video. I tell you now, it would not be fit for a family service, in fact it would not even get into the cinema because it would be so horrible and foul. It would have to be rated at least triple X. So here on this video is my entire life. A terrible thing to watch. But I have also got another video. This one says "Jesusí Life" on the box and on the video. And imagine that this video contains everything Jesus has ever said and done. It would be a beautiful thing to watch. It would be classified ĎUí because it would be suitable for all to see, such is its beauty and love. Now when Jesus died on the cross for your and my wrongdoing, it was as if Jesus took my life, and that triple X rated material and took it on himself. He took it away so I would not have to deal with the consequences of my life before God. But in its place he put his life. (Swap videos). And so when God looks at Nathan, he sees Jesusí life. And when he looks at Jesus he sees my life. Jesus takes the punishment I deserve for my life of evil. And he gives me a brand new life. Forgiven and cleaned up. And that is why Christianity is such good news. And a Christian is someone who has quite simply accepted that incredible offer of Jesusí on the cross. Itís an offer open to all. A Christian has realised heís not perfect and a Christian has accepted that forgiveness Jesus offers. They are imperfect people, but they are also forgiven people.
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. (Slide 14) And that is good news to be happy about! And in fact as weíve seen all the way through this week, we can be at (Slide 15) Godís party with him in his perfect home for ever and ever. And that will be far more wonderful than any of us can ever imagine.
So appearances can be deceptive canít they! We thought the good Pharisee would go to heaven, but he didnít. It was the bad tax collector. And heaven will be full not of good people, but of forgiven people. So have you received Jesusí rescue? Thatís 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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