Lombard Christian Reformed Church (Archive)

A Hypocrite, Who, Me! Part 5 - I'm Glad I'm Not Like Those Others or There's a Big Difference Between Righteousness and Self-Righteousness

Jesus says,

I tell you, this bad man,

rather than that good man,

went home justified before – made right with – God.


There isn’t a harder or more offensive teaching

in all of the Bible.

Nor a more confusing parable.

There’s a reason we don’t read any reaction

from the disciples or the crowd or anyone

after Jesus has spoken these words.

Later on in this chapter Luke records

the responses of some to what Jesus is telling them: one man responds sadly,

the disciples respond questioning,

at the healing of a man the crowd praises God.

But here, no one says anything;

it doesn’t make sense to them.

How can the tax collector go home justified,

how can the Pharisee not?

How can Jesus say that? and why?


Here we have a good man – the Pharisee.

He is a church going family man.

A generous giver.

Faithful in worship.

Thankful for his blessings.

Striving to follow God’s commands.

Going above and beyond when it comes to

prayer and devotion and goodness.

And at the other end of the temple is a bad man – the tax collector.

You can sum up his life in one word: sinner.

In fact, if you translate what he says literally,

he says about himself that he is ‘THE sinner.’


On their way home from worship,

Jesus pronounces judgment:

the bad man goes home justified,

not the good man.


And right now if you’re thinking

this has nothing to do with me,

let me remind you what being justified is all about.

To be justified is to be made right,

to have right and healthy relationships,

it is to be accepted and approved of.

This is basic to who each of us is

and what our lives are about.

We all yearn to be accepted,

to find approval,

to know that our lives and efforts are appreciated.

We need this even from God.

And if I asked you how we go about this,

we’d most likely point to something like

what the Pharisee is doing.

Some of us might say something like:

well, I’m a church member

I’ve been baptized,

I know enough of the Bible to say

God has saved me,

I made a profession of faith,

I go to church sometimes

I pray sometimes

I give sometimes

I’m all set.


Others might say:

I work hard.

I stay out of trouble.

I live a healthy lifestyle.

I’m all set.


A teenager here might say:

I go to youth group

I learned all I need to know in Sunday School

some of you would add I go to a Christian school

or you might say I’m raised by Christian parents

I’m all set.

That’s not what Jesus says here.

The Pharisee is not the one who goes home justified.

His life is not approved of.


Now do I have your attention?

But we’ve found a loophole in the Bible reading:

you see this Pharisee had a problem:

Luke says Jesus told this parable

“. . . To some who were confident

of their own righteousness

and looked down on everybody else . . .”

Ahh! See?

This man has contempt for other people.

He thinks he’s better than others.

Did you hear what he said in his prayer?

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 . . .’

So this Pharisee receives the wrath of God because of his self-righteousness.

But that’s not me, you defend yourself.

I don’t do that . . . so I’m okay.

And this is the typical way

we read and understand this parable,

this teaching by Jesus.

Here’s a quote from a typical message on this parable:

What does this parable mean for you and me?

Jesus does not want us to be like the Pharisees,

to have hearts that are hard towards God,

to have hearts that are hard towards other people whom the world considers “obvious sinners,” “outsiders,” “back sliders.”

Jesus wants us to have the heart and attitudes

of the tax collector.

Jesus wants us to be humble,

to be honest in our self assessment of our sinfulness.


Do you see what we’re doing

when this is our only application of the story?

We’re being just like the Pharisee:

We don’t say,

God, I thank you that I am not like other bad people . . .

But we are thinking,

God, see, I’m not like this Pharisee!




Most times after we read this parable

we make the wrong application.

We judge the Pharisee for saying

I thank you I’m not that other man.

We conclude being thankful

we’re not like the Pharisee!


We hear it all the time.

If we’re honest we’ll admit

we say it all the time without thinking:

I’m not perfect,

but at least I don’t do what they have done.

I’m not the most religious guy,

but at least I go to church.

I’m not a churchgoer

because the church is full of hypocrites.

At least I’m not like those catholics,

or those fanatics,

or those funadmentalists,

or those . . . well you fill in the blanks.


We read this story

and we’re looking for a moral application,

we’re looking to be able to say I’m ok,

we’re looking for what to do,

and we get stuck.

We have to admit

we’re more like the Pharisee than we thought.

But what’s the alternative.

Do we really want to glorify the tax collector?

Is Jesus saying it really doesn’t matter how you live,

what you do,

how you behave?


if one thing we understand is that

you can’t get to God by being good

for sure then you can’t get to God by being bad!

If it’s wrong to think the lesson of this parable is

don’t be like the Pharisee,

it’s just as wrong to think the lesson is

be bad like the tax collector.


Tim Keller – from the beginning human beings

have tried to be their own masters,

their own gods,

their own saviors.

There are two ways to become your own savior –

one is breaking all God’s rules;

the other is by keeping all God’s rules.

In such a way that you can feel so good

about what you have done on the outside

that inside you can say God,

now you owe me.

But both these ways are ways of being lost.

Both good people and bad people

are being what they are for the same reason –

to get God off their backs to be their own master.

Here’s a call to repent not only of bad deeds,

but also of good deeds.

To repent of the motivation underneath

the good that I’ve done

when it leads to a self-righteousness.


Jesus I revealing to us here

that to step away from hypocrisy is to see

that there is a big difference between

righteousness and self-righteousness.


Jesus doesn’t tell this parable to say

don’t be like the Pharisee

and do be like the tax collector.

To find the wisdom and blessing

let’s remember where this story takes place:

Two men went up to the temple to pray,

is how the story starts.

This scene takes place in the temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus told this parable

while on his way to Jerusalem and the cross.

If you study the book of Luke you’ll see

that there is a main section of the gospel

that begins way back at chapter 9:51

as Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem,

and concludes in the next chapter at Luke 19:45 when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem

and immediately goes to the temple,

and drives out all the buyers and sellers.

And after that he seems to

take up residence in the temple,


And that’s the point –

you remember one of the charges

that was brought against Jesus

by those wanting to crucify him:

he said he would destroy this temple

and raise it up in three days.


From Luke 9 thru Luke 19,

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem

in order to sacrifice his life for the sin of the world

and provide atonement, forgiveness and new life.

So these final stories in Luke 18

are Luke’s summary

of Jesus’ heart, desire, passion and mission.


What Jesus is teaching here

is that first of all we are all the same,

each person has a temple,

is looking for a temple

where one goes to be justified,

accepted, approved.

From those who want dad to be proud of them

to those who want God to save them

and everybody in between.


You might try to do that by

being the best person you can be,

you might try to do that by being

your own person and doing whatever you want.

You might try to do that by going to church.

To justify myself.

To be accepted, to find approval for my life.


That’s the first thing Jesus reveals

about our condition,

and it applies to those who are

as good or better than

the good and religious Pharisee

and to those as bad or worse as

the robbers, evildoers, adulterers and tax collectors the Pharisee looks down upon.

It applies to those who are in church this morning,

those who know they

ought to be in church this morning but aren’t,

and to those who wouldn’t think of ruining

their Sunday morning by going to church.

We all need to be justified,

that’s the first thing Jesus teaches here,

and it is the truth.


Then Jesus teaches,

He alone is the temple.

He replaces the temple.

He alone can provide the approval you so need,

he alone justifies,

it’s his acceptance that your heart yearns for.

You might think all you want

is a boyfriend or girlfriend,

you might be trying to convince yourself that

all that matters is if you can feel good about yourself,

you might post something on Facebook

 and think you’ll be fine if you get

just one like on your post . . .

but Jesus says it’s deeper than all that.

You want to go home justified,

and only God can do that.


Because this acceptance and approval

doesn’t come by our successes

nor does it come by our getting off the hook,

it comes by the sacrifice of Christ

it comes by his taking your sin,

all that’s broken and empty inside,

and nailing it to the cross.

It comes by his atoning for your life.


This is the substance of the tax collector’s prayer.

He prays,

'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

But the thing is,

he doesn’t use the normal word for ‘mercy.’

He’s not saying,

Lord, please just look the other way on this one

and let me off.

No big deal.

No, the word he uses effectively means:

Lord, atone for my sin.

To atone means to make amends for what has been done.

There’s a debt incurred,

pay the debt for me.


That’s what the cross of Christ is all about.

Jesus gave his life to pay the costs

incurred by this broken world.

In order to raise this world,

you and me,

sinners that we are,

to new life.

Not improved,

not better,

but brand new,

not of our own making,

where transformations like

grace, truth, peace, love, joy

become the lasting experiences,

the desires and activities of life,

rather than buying and selling,

getting and keeping,

and living for what’s in it for me.


Luke is directed to summarize the parable,

because no one says anything:

so Luke says,

whoever exalts himself will be humbled,

and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.


He’s not saying


humility is the ticket to my salvation.

He’s saying the life we were created to live

will only happen

by Christ’s raising us up in his mercy.

And it takes a humble heart to know that

and respond to this good news.

It takes a daily relating to the Christ of mercy

to learn the health of living this way.

Nobody ever perfects it,

we are all on the way.

So your spiritual health is not something

you’ve somehow learned and now you can move on,

it comes by a daily relating with Jesus and his church.


Elsewhere Jesus said it starkly:

here’s Matthew 9 from the Message –

Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” (Mt 9:13)

Spend your life figuring this out,

not propping yourself up,

not coasting on your achievements.

Figuring this out only happens

following Jesus daily,

a daily conversion regarding sin,

a daily reliance on the cross,

a daily thanksgiving.



I exercise humility when I gladly understand

each person as my equal.

The very opposite of the Pharisee’s statement:

I am glad I am not like others.

Jesus is saying

but you are.

We are all like both

the Pharisee and the tax collector,

we are all like one another before God.


I am created by the God of life,

I am made to live in an ongoing relationship of faith with Jesus,

I am deeply flawed by sin

and require forgiveness.

And because of Jesus I am made new,

in his image,

to grow into righteousness.


Humility is a deep and assured self-confidence

in who I am because of Christ,

not based on my power

or excelling over others

or my less than satisfactory comparison to others.

Because of Christ I am precious in God’s sight,

and so are you.

Robert C Roberts:

The church is a society of people

who have undertaken the struggle

to love one another with a spiritual love.

They teach one another,

week in and week out,

the beauty and duty of humility.

The gospel has taught us that we are children of God, so we are learning to view one another

not as competitors,

but instead as brothers and sisters

all equally loved by the Father,

all equally bestowed by grace

with a place a belonging in the family of God.

And if you would say it all sounds good,

but I don’t experience or share that here.

Remember that this is a journey,  

it is a provisional, struggling foretaste

of these kingdom promises.

Touched by this vision,

we yearn to live out such grace,

knowing we fail,

but knowing more the atoning,

transforming work of Christ in us,

so that we do succeed,

sometimes despite ourselves,

to bless and welcome others in this humble activity.


Convinced of God’s mercy in Christ,

I yearn for this way of relating.

So I sense more clearly when I fail

and am caught in sin,

the mercy of Christ.

He will accomplish this.

That’s why we worship the LORD God.

He is our temple.

Our life and our hope.

He makes you a new person.








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