Today's scripture focus passage: Luke 18:9-14
And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
MacArthur says in his first sermon:
"As is true of so many of our Lord's story, they are counterintuitive. But not just counterintuitive, really outrageous, shameful by all existing religious standards. And this is one that fits into the category of an outrageous and shameful story for in this story Jesus describes the unrighteous man as the one who was right with God and the righteous man as the one who was not. This is the reverse of everything the Jews believed, everything their religion at the time of our Lord taught them, it is a shameful story, it is an outrageous story, it is an idea that has no place in their theology. It is another reason to reject Jesus. To say that a self-confessed wicked man left the temple ground justified rather than a self-confessed righteous man is to completely overturn religious thinking. But that's exactly what Jesus said."
Since 17:20 Jesus has been talking about the Kingdom of Heaven ~ who gets in, and how they can get in. And his audience knew it was a matter of being right with God, but the age-old question (expressed already in Job's story) is how can a man be right with God?? And yet right here, Jesus says one man ~ the one everyone would have seen as loathsome, unrighteous, and hideously sinful ~ went home JUSTIFIED. Guiltless before God!
So God, in this story, accepts the hated tax-collector and rejects the jot-and-tittle-of-the-Law-abiding Pharisee. A classic example of Jesus' words about the first being last, and the last being first.
It's interesting ~ MacArthur points out in his second sermon ~ that both these men would have believed basically all the same things about God and about salvation/justification. So what is it about these men that gives them standings so completely opposite in the eyes of man and in the eyes of God? It's brokenness. One had it; one didn't.
The first assumed he really had nothing he needed to repent of; the second knew there was nothing he didn't need to repent of. The first believed he had earned the right to justification; the second knew there was nothing he could do to deserve it. The first proudly listed his human accomplishments; the second humbly begged for God's mercy.
It is always tempting to fall into the trap of listing our accomplishments when we're trying to think what it means to be a Christian. Certainly, there should be ample evidence of our salvation and of a growing relationship with God all our lives, but we should never forget that those are not the things that get us into the Kingdom of Heaven in the first place.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year reading: Hebrews 3; Ecclesiastes 5; Jeremiah 27-28
Tomorrow's scripture focus passage: Luke 18:15-17