I usually find that I just can’t get everything I’d like into a sermon. But not giving everything is a good thing. Sermon overload makes it hard for people to actually hear, understand, believe, and obey the Word that’s being preached. So, it seemed like a good idea to begin offering “sermon overflow” posts. These will be posts that give some direction and resources related to the sermon that will help people better understand and apply the passage.
Yesterday, I continued my series through Luke, coming to chapter 18, verses 9-14. It’s a pretty famous passage about two men coming to the temple to pray–a Pharisee and a tax collector. The parables of Jesus are not meant to be nice stories with a religious moral at the end. They are meant to be more than that. Albert Mohler says they are meant to be “spiritual hand grenades.” They are meant to blow up our expectations and reveal hidden attitudes and lifestyles that stand contrary to God’s will and word. And Jesus once again tells us that kind of parable. It begins with two men: a Pharisee and a tax collector. Through his prayers, we see how to be made right for God.
The Pharisee recognized that it came as God’s gift. That was good. We should all recognize that whatever righteousness we have has come to us as a work of God’s grace. But that righteousness is not sufficient to save us. That’s the problem. This Pharisee is looking at his own righteousness to save him, to justify him. But it can’t. This man will never be saved by trusting in his own righteousness. But the tax collector prays ‘be merciful to me.’ And he is not using the usual word for mercy in the New Testament. Instead, he using the same word that is translated as propitiation–the satisfaction of God’s wrath toward our sins. He knows he has sinned. He knows that he deserves wrath. But also knows that God has made provision for his sins. So, he asks for mercy. He asks that God look on that sacrifice that has been made, to look on the blood that was spilled, and find his wrath against his sins satisfied there.
Jesus has put into his man’s mouth a biblical theology of atonement. Jesus is teaching us how we can be saved. How we can find mercy, even today—not by trusting our own righteousness but in the mercy of God. Though the prayer of the Pharisee ultimately looked to himself, the prayer of the tax collector completely looks to God. The tax collector is trusting God alone for salvation. In fact, this is exactly what Jesus says when he comments on the prayer. He went down justified. To be justified by God means to be declared righteous and acceptable. All that Jesus himself did and taught was in light of his work on the cross. This is why Jesus has the tax collector look to the mercy seat for his justification. Christ knows that he himself will become the mercy seat for the salvation of his people.
John Piper has a wonderful (and short) book on the importance of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in our justification. It’s called Counted Righteous In Christ. You can grab a free pdf version from the Desiring God site. Or, you can get a print or Kindle version from Amazon.
Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence preached a series called “Pierced for Our Transgressions.” Here they cover all of the major passages that deal with God’s provision of atonement for sin. It’s well worth the listen!
Here are some other “odds and ends” to help you think through the passage and apply it to your heart:
- For more background, check out the a good article answering the questions, ‘Who were the Pharisees?’
- According to Ligon Duncan, Augustus Toplady’s famous hymn “Rock of Ages” was originally entitled, “The Prayer of the Most Sanctified Man Who Ever Lived,” and partially inspired by this passage. You can read about it here, towards the conclusion of his sermon.
- Collin Hansen interviews professor Jay Skylar on the importance of Leviticus–the source of atonement theology that Jesus fulfills.