INI + AMEN.
((5. Oops!: We claim to be the hero, which is Old Adam’s religion.))
We always want to be the hero of the story, and when Jesus tells “this parable to those who trust in themselves that they are righteous,” that’s exactly what we do. We read ourselves into the character of the Tax Collector. No one signs up to be the Pharisee. We want to go home redeemed, justified, forgiven, right with God, and so that means we’re the Tax Collector. We have to be! But when we claim to be the Tax Collector, we’re exalting ourselves like the Pharisee. Want proof? So often we think this way about this parable, “Now pastor will finally go after those self-righteous people over there!”
That’s actually Old Adam’s religion at work. In Old Adam’s religion we’re redeemed because of what we do or don’t do. If I’ve gotta be righteous, I’ll do that. If I’ve gotta be humble, well, watch how humble I can be! That’s just how we’re hardwired as sinful human beings. We’re selfish. Team me first. We’re the good guy and can’t possibly be the bad guy. That thought would never enter our minds! Why not? Because we’re good people, we’re nice. Maybe we’re even religious! And Jesus’ Parable traps us. Because no one really signs up to be the loser, the cheat, the thief, the villain, the worst, the sinner. And even if we do, that becomes our redemption bargaining chip.
The Pharisee isn’t just good. He’s religious. We would want the Pharisee as a member of our church! Think about it. He doesn’t steal. He’s just and fair. He’s a family man. He cares for his wife and doesn’t cheat on her. He goes to church. Helps out, too. He puts 10% straight off the top of everything into the offering plate! Make that guy a member, a voter, a congregational officer, right away! But the thief, the traitor, the partier, the guy who maybe hangs out with not so good people. We won’t just keep that guy in the back, but far away. We wouldn’t want someone with a record here, after all. What would people say?
((4. Ugh!: We know the truth of the parable, but we don’t believe it.))
I know what you’re thinking. “We wouldn’t do that, Pastor. We know what Jesus is saying. Works aren’t part of the salvation equation.” The problem is we say that, but we don’t actually believe it. We still this this parable is about being good and acting right. We destroy the parable with works because we all know what the next visit to the temple looks like, right? Especially for Tax Collector! What do we expect from him? Don’t we expect him in a week or a month or a year to show up with the Pharisee’s speech in his pocket? One day he’ll finally show up respectable, save-able, just and good—a proper religious person.
There’s no redemption games with the Lord. No way to work or weasel your way into His redemption and forgiveness. Jesus’ parable destroys all bets and wagers at the table. He ends the game. That doesn’t stop us from trying with the Lord. “I’ve got a firm 20 on the table, Lord. I’ll stay. I’ve got good odds of beating the house’s at blackjack.” “We’re not end playing a game,” the Lord says. “What about Poker? Let’s play deuces wild.” “Don’t you understand the game’s over? And besides, you’re not even playing with a full deck,” the Lord answers. “Not a full deck? Let’s try Pinochle, then. I’ve got a couple meld to play, don’t I?” Jesus tells us in the parable: “You’d be better off being like the guy who lost his cards before even got here.”
Works are the way men deal with men. They aren’t how we deal with God. No work does. Not good works. Not bad works. Not religious. Not being sorry or confessing the right way. No amendment of life. No games. No nothing. Works are for your neighbor. Works aren’t for your God. The game’s over. We’re all losers. We’re all dead. We’re all sinners.
((3. Aha!: This Parable destroys Old Adam religion.))
Jesus destroys Old Adam’s entire religious system and all redemption games with this parable. He shows us for what we are: dead, corrupt, sinners. Sinners who always angle to have control and at least some small part to play in our redemption. If not before redemption, certainly after we’ve been redeemed and forgiven.
Redemption comes only from one place. That’s what Jesus lays out in our parable. God redeems only—only!—in Jesus. He’s Redeemer and Lord. He’s even the Redemption of God, as Paul puts it. And the Lord only—only!—deals with you by His Word of Promise. God’s glory has its way with us when we receive from Him who has mercy, who forgives, who redeems, promises and gives, and not from our own efforts.
((2. Whee!: JESUS REDEEMS YOU FROM YOU!))
And this Jesus only way, this way of the Word of Promise, clears the way for the best news ever. JESUS REDEEMS YOU FROM YOU! He shed His blood for you. That’s your redemption. That’s how He buys you back. That’s how He saves you.
He redeems you from your sins. Whatever got the Tax Collector that title, and whatever he did to get the evil eye from the Pharisee, that was redeemed, paid for, forgiven. The Lord did. He’s the true Hero of the Parable. He’s the Hero and Savior of your story, too.
But He also redeems you from your religion. You’re being good. The good we often pit against our bad so that we can even out the scales. JESUS REDEEMS YOU FROM YOU! The game’s over. The winnings are yours. Jesus’ blood pays for it.
Every bit of you redeemed by Jesus. All of you covered, redeemed, forgiven with His blood—your sins, your works, all of you. JESUS REDEEMS YOU FROM YOU!
((1. Yeah!: The Lord delivers His redemption to you in the present tense.))
And this is good news right now, today because the Lord Jesus delivers His redemption in the present tense. It’s not a redemption that happened in the past that you’ve got to earn by being good. It’s not redemption in the past that you’ve got to hang on to by getting better. It’s not future redemption that you’ve got to get by being sorry enough, fixed enough, religious enough. Any “but” or “no” to any of that is Old Adam religion trying to play the game again.
None of that! Jesus redeemed you in the shedding of His blood, and He redeems you present tense by delivering that His redemption right now in His Word of Promise. That’s the only way. Delivering His redemption, His very blood shed for you. Splashing it over you at the font. Putting it in your ears, mind, and heart with His Absolution, His preaching, His Word. Placing redemption within your mouth with His body and His blood. All His Word, all His Promise, all His Redemption—yours!
The Tax Collector goes home justified, forgiven, redeemed, right with God. Because of Jesus’ redemption delivered and received with no other claims or games—that’s faith—you do, too. No further redemption games required. Works aren’t how you and I relate to God. In relation to God, JESUS REDEEMS YOU FROM YOU.
Works are how we deal with each other. But even those works are gift from the Lord. He “prepared them beforehand” for you, as Paul said. With His redemption, His forgiveness, His mercy, His justification, His making you right with Him—with all that gifted to you in His Son’s blood, you are what He created you to be: His forgiven, baptized, redeemed child.
Paul related to the Ephesians and all his other churches as an Apostle. He talks about that in 1 Corinthians: “By God’s grace, I am what I am.” God’s grace is “His favor,” His forgiveness, His mercy, His redemption. By His favor you are what you are. And so only with the Lord’s redemption gifted to you will you overflow in “faith toward God and fervent love toward one another.”
INI + AMEN.