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Humility - Luke 18:9-14

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the morning service on 9th March 2008.

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I suspect that if we asked the vast majority of people in this country if it really matters what you believe then most of them would say it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe it sincerely.

One of the most popular catchphrases of our generation is “Each to their own.” I’m sure you’ve heard it many times before. Perhaps you have even used it. The only thing that truly matters is that you are fully convinced of the path you have chosen and you walk down it with utter devotion.

Or at least that’s what many people say until they start to think about it. Because such a motto doesn’t actually work in practice. We don’t live consistently with such a view of the world.

Consider the many people who blow themselves up in order to be guaranteed a place in paradise. They genuinely believe that if they martyr themselves for the cause of Allah then their future destiny is guaranteed.

I’m sure everyone of us believes that these suicide bombers are in for a nasty surprise when they wake up in the afterlife. They sincere believe that their actions will merit them an eternity with God in heaven and yet I’m sure all of us would say they will instead be cast out of God’s presence forever.

But wait a minute. If we really believe the motto, “Each to their own” then who are we to say that these suicide bombers will not be in heaven? Just because we don’t like their chosen way does that mean we can speak with any certainty about the location of their eternal destiny?

Each to their own? We don’t believe this do we? We always put conditions on the type of beliefs that are acceptable. Fair enough. We should put conditions on the acceptable paths to God. Sincerity is not enough.

But here’s my question: How do we know where to draw the lines of acceptability? How do we know which beliefs are legitimate and which ones are to be rejected wholeheartedly?

We’ve got to the know the answers to these questions because the stakes are high. What could be higher? The future destiny of our mortal souls.

Well, for the Christian it should be easy. We’re not a cultural club or a democratic society. We don’t come to our decisions on the basis of the cultural mood or because of the opinions of the majority of our members. We always discover our answers from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ.

His is not only the first word, it is also the last word which must control everything we think and say.

And therefore here is the challenge for us this morning. What Jesus says in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector stands completely opposed to what many people think today.

The whole parable is about how we get to heaven. Jesus is very clear about it. I think what he says is very good news for us all to hear. But what he does say rejects a view held by many people today.

What is this view? It’s a belief that says as long as you are a decent enough citizen and don’t do anyone any major harm then God will be waiting to welcome you into heaven with open arms.

It is such a popular view today. Not the best of the best, I’m not the worst of the worst. But I’m okay. I try my hardest. So when I meet God on the final day all will be well.

Do you know people who think like this? To these people Jesus told this parable.

Verse 9: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable”

I’m sure these people never admitted it. We’ll see later how you can discover if you are one of these people.

What does Jesus think of this popular view about how we get to heaven? Does he think it’s fine for you as long as you believe it sincerely?

Well let’s listen to the parable he told in verse 10:

‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am 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.’ 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.’ ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

We’ve got used to equating the Pharisees with the bad guys. If they starred in a pantomine then they would be greeted with loud boos every time they walked onto the stage.

But when you think about it the Pharisee in the story seems like a decent human being. More of him round here and our country would be much improved.

Listen to how he describes himself in verse 11 – he’s not a robber, not an evildoer or an adulterer.

•    Your wallet is safe with him around.

•    If you are out walking the streets at night and you hear a noise behind you, you would be relieved to know that this Pharisee is behind you. He won’t club you over the head. He’s not an evil doer.

•    Your wife is also safe with this guy. He’s not an adulterer.

So he seems like a very decent human being. Doesn’t do anyone any harm. Surely our society needs more people like him?

He even carries out his religious duties with exemplary devotion. Fasts twice a week and gives a tenth of all he gets. His religion has effected his stomach and his wallet. He is serious.

Tremendous shock – although he may be a nice guy to have around he was not relating to God in the right way and so therefore although he thinks he is on the road to heaven he is actually on the road to hell.

Jesus says, “It was the tax collector not the Pharisee who went home justified before God that day.”

Why? He was puffed up with his own achievements. Instead of coming into God’s presence as an unworthy guest he strolled in with his chest puffed out. He genuinely believed he was good enough for heaven.

Sincerity was not enough. He must relate to God in the right way. This guy was certainly interested in his own soul. He came to the temple. He believed you could get to God on the basis of your achievements and he sincerely believed he was good enough.

Climbing the ladder of the wrong wall.

He was trying to get right with God (that’s a good thing) but he was trying to get right in the wrong way – and therefore although he believed he was on the road to heaven he was actually on the road to hell.

Many people like him today. Both inside and outside the churches. They say these things and they genuinely believe them. But so what? Jesus says sincerity is not enough.

Bishop Taylor Smith, former Chaplain-general of the British Forces, was once preaching in a large cathedral. In order to emphasise the necessity of being born-again, he said:

“My dear people, do not substitute anything for the new birth. You may be a member of a church, but church membership is not new birth, and ‘except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’”

On his left sat the Archdeacon in his stall. Pointing directly at him, he said:

“You might even be an archdeacon like my friend in his stall and not be born again, and ‘except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’. You might even be a bishop like myself, and not be born again, and ‘except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’.”

A day or so later he received a letter from the Archdeacon, in which he wrote:

“My dear bishop: You have found me out. I have been a clergyman for over thirty years, but I have never known anything of the joy that Christians speak of. I never could understand it. Mine has been a hard legal service. I did not know what the matter was with me, but when you pointed directly at me, and said, “You might even be an Archdeacon and not be born again”, I realised in a moment what the trouble was. I had never known anything of this new birth.”

The next day the Bishop and the Archdeacon met and looked at the Bible together; and after some hours, both were on their knees, the Archdeacon taking his place before God as sinner, and telling Christ that he would trust Him as his Saviour.

Now because the stakes are so high I want to help you identify if you are similar to this man in how you think about where you will spend eternity.

How do you know if you are a Pharisee in your religious thinking?

There are two things to look out for.

First of all, look out for foolish comparisons. Do we compare ourselves to other people?

That’s what the Pharisee does, doesn’t he? He comes into the temple. A good thing to do. He starts to pray. He gets off to a good start – he mentions God. But then it all goes downhill from there.

He mentions himself all the time. It’s all about him.

He constantly compares himself with other people.

He never compares himself to God.

Frequently done today. You ask someone to define goodness. What do they do? It’s all about the horizontal not the vertical relationship with God.

Comparing yourself to others is a tell-tale symptom of someone who he thinks they are in the clear with God when in fact they are still in great danger. Do you know people like this?

Do you do this? If so then then you may be just like this Pharisee.

The second thing to look out for is foolish confidence. The Pharisee proudly boasts about his own achievements. He fasts twice week and gives a tenth of all he gets.

Again this is another dangerous sign. If you find yourself doing this then be careful.

I’ve been a member of this church for so and so, I’m given this amount…

Christianity Explored. If you were to meet God tonight and he said, why should I let you into heaven what would you say?

How would the Pharisee answer?

It is such a dangerous example to follow because people like him will not be in heaven even if they think they will be.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Good news is that there is another example to follow, the example of the tax collector.

These people were despised in those days.

Notice he is interested in his spiritual well being. He also went to the temple to pray.

What did he do when he got there? Verse 13. He stood at a distance. Doesn’t even look up to heaven. Asks God to have mercy on him because he is a sinner.

Literally says the sinner. At this point the spotlight is on him. No one else matters. It’s just him and God.

It is this man who goes home justified before God.

Very important encouragement to us.

I know I’ve tried to challenge some of you. There may be people in this building today who genuinely care for the future of their soul but who are currently relating to God in the wrong way.

There will be others who have desperate concerns for their own soul and yet are currently relating to God in the right way. Your doubts are unfounded.

You may think what the tax collector does it too simple. But that’s the essence of the Christian faith. When we ask God for mercy we receive his complete forgiveness.

I don’t know where you are spiritually this morning.

You may be currently relating to God in the wrong way.

If you are relating to God in the right way then be encouraged. You are justified before God and you can have confidence that you are definitely on the road to heaven.

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