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July 1, 2018

Trust

by Matt Fray

...He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14 (https://pcpc.us1.list-manage.com/track/click?u=eba67192d3a27da52e93fefb8&id=bbaf9a4f7a&e=82a9a8f891)

 

Jesus is a master storyteller, and the parables are among His best. The settings and characters are earthy, but they reveal heavenly realities (Matthew 13:34-35). They are brief, but then linger in our minds (Mark 4:30-32). The plots seem familiar at first, but the endings always surprise (Luke 15:11-32). In the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, we see all three of these features on display. But it is the surprise ending to this parable that makes it the best of the best.

To appreciate the surprise ending, we must read the parable as a whole, and pay close attention to what happened after the men leave the temple. The surprise ending comes, as it should, in the last verse of the parable. Jesus concludes the story by revealing something otherwise invisible and unknown: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” For the sake of clarify, we can fill in the specific identities of the men in this way: “I tell you, the tax collector went down to his house justified, rather than the Pharisee.”

There are two aspects to the surprise ending contained in Jesus’ divine pronouncement.

First, Jesus’ words reveal that it was the tax collector who received favor from God, rather than the Pharisee. Like Jesus’ original audience, we tend to assume that it is the outwardly good and openly religious who please God. But Jesus surprises us; He upends our assumptions and exalts the outcast sinner who humbly prays for mercy. Jesus doesn’t ignore or normalize the tax collector’s professional or personal sins, and He doesn’t suggest the Pharisee’s concern for holiness is worthless. And this parable certainly does not teach us to pray, “God, thank you that I am not like this Pharisee!” Instead, through this parable, Jesus shines a light on the necessity and beauty of humble dependence on God’s gracious initiative to save us.

Second, and most surprising of all, Jesus’ words reveal that the tax collector received far more than he asked for. He asked for mercy: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” In his earnest pleading, the tax collector begged God to withhold the just punishment he deserved as a sinner. But the tax collector did not merely go down to his house unpunished; he went down to his house, “justified.” This is the word the Bible uses to describe being in a perfectly right relationship to God. The tax collector wasn’t begrudgingly treated by God as not guilty; he was positively accepted by God as perfectly right in His sight. How could a just and holy God treat such a sinful and guilty man with such obviously unfair grace? Not by ignoring the tax collector’s sin, but by giving His own Son as the substitute.

The genius of this best-of-the-best parable is that it quietly but powerfully directs our attention to the storyteller, Jesus Christ Himself. The only way the tax collector could go down to his house justified is by Jesus coming down out of heaven to take his place. The themes of humility, justification, and the work of Jesus that we see swirling in this story are organized for us in Philippians 2:5-8.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus did this in love (Philippians 2:1) so that we, like the tax collector, may receive the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:8-9).

Both those who struggle with a spirit of pride before God and those who struggle with a spirit of unworthiness before God find their struggles strongly rebuked, tenderly quieted, and faithfully overwhelmed by this parable of gospel grace. This best of stories has come to life in us who wholly lean on Jesus’ name! In Christ, God has given us far more than we have asked and far more than we dare hope. And so we all can join in singing:

Great Father of mercies, Thy goodness I own,
And the covenant love of Thy crucified Son.
All praise to the Spirit, whose whisper divine,
Seals mercy, and pardon, and righteousness mine.
—John Stocker, “Thy Mercy My God is the Theme of My Song” (1776)

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About the Author

Matt Fray
Assistant Pastor of Spiritual Formation
Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Matt grew up in South Florida and first sensed a call to pastoral ministry while a high school student at Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCA), in Dallas. After graduating from St. Mark’s, Covenant College, and Westminster Seminary in California, he spent four years serving as the assistant pastor of a PCA church in Savannah, GA. In 2014, he returned to serve at PCPC as the Assistant Pastor of Spiritual Formation. Matt and his wife Erin have three children: Lydia, Hudson, and Samuel.

 

 

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God's Holy Fire from Heartlight

God's Holy Fire is a daily devotional about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
  • Sent by the Spirit

    The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him.

    Mark 1:12-13 NLT

    Key Thought

    Jesus' time in the wilderness was not an accident. It was not an afterthought. Jesus was compelled to go into this time in the wilderness. He had no place to hide in this wild and rugged place. In this wilderness, a harsh place we call the desert, God's Son had to depend upon God for his survival. In the desert, God's Son had no apparent companion to help him in his fight against evil and temptation. Isn't this how we sometimes feel? Do we wonder how and why the Holy Spirit led us into a decision or situation when there is trouble and trial? Yet as we follow the Spirit's lead, we find that we are not alone and we realize that God's special grace, the presence of the Spirit and the angels, is there to sustain us in ways we could never imagine or design.

    Today's Prayer

    Father, help me to see the leading of your Spirit and to receive the ministry of your angels as I face my times of trial, temptation, and trouble. Lead me to a better place and use my life to bring glory to you! In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.


    Ⓒ 1996-2018 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent. The Thoughts and Prayer for God's Holy Fire are written by Phil Ware.

    Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

    Scripture quotations marked MESSAGE are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

  • Moment of Glory

    The moment [Jesus] came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God's Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him.

    Mark 1:10 MESSAGE

    Key Thought

    Winning the Super Bowl, winning the World Cup, winning Wimbledon, winning the British Open, winning the Daytona 500, and winning the World Series are considered lifetime achievements for those involved in the respective sports. Yet none of these victories even approaches the significance of the moment in today's verse. Jesus, with droplets of water from the Jordan River running down his face, is honored in a powerful way by God. More than just the words of affirmation that Jesus receives (Mark 1:11), heaven is torn open — surely a sign of a world-changing event. The Holy Spirit of God comes in a visible form to show heaven's approval. Jesus is recognized as awesome: not awesome in the sense of some great athletic achievement, but as one who is worthy of awe and reverence. God the Father and God the Spirit show the majesty of God the Son. The new age of God's grace is signaled by the heavens opening, and the power and peace of this grace are seen in the coming of the Spirit.

    Today's Prayer

    O God, revealing yourself as Father and Son and Spirit, thank you for your majesty — your glory, holiness, and might. Thank you as well for your proximity — your willingness to be incarnated in Jesus and being present again through your Holy Spirit in us. Forgive us — please forgive me — for not reverencing you as you deserve. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.


    Ⓒ 1996-2018 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent. The Thoughts and Prayer for God's Holy Fire are written by Phil Ware.

    Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

    Scripture quotations marked MESSAGE are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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