Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash
Bethlehem Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO
Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO
Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO
INI + AMEN.
Are you righteous? Are you just? Are you honorable? Are you a good person? That’s what most of us think. That’s what’s real about us. Isn’t it? Or at least it should be, right? We’re on the road getting better, right?
What, then, do expect from others? We have expectations about how they should measure up to our standards. We’re a good parent unlike them. We’re a better citizen than others because of who we vote for. We’re a better Christian than others based on what we do.
You and I put ourselves first in all of this because we like to be star of our own show. We’re the hero of our story. Better than before. Will be better in the future. We’re either crushed by that expectation, or we’ll crush others with it. The parable Jesus tells today brings that out in spades.
((3. What do we expect of the Tax Collector?))
What do we expect of the Tax Collector? The reality is, he’s a Tax Collector. He would’ve been a despised member of society. Not just because he was collecting taxes, which is bad enough. No body likes the IRS. No, tax collectors were seen as traitors to their people because they worked for the Romans who occupied their homeland. Also, most likely they were thieves who charged more.
We expect him to become like the pharisee, don’t we? We expect the tax collector to knock it off. We expect that the next time he goes to the temple, he’ll stand there just like the Pharisee with all sorts of good works to show for his effort. A tax collector turned himself pharisee would be a great transformation indeed! Sinner and traitor to religious leader and teacher! Fantastic! That’s our expectation, the burden we lay on sinners. A load, a debt they’re unable to bear.
Reality is, he goes away forgiven. That’s what’s meant by “justified.” It means innocent and forgiven before God. He doesn’t go away forgiven because he turned over a new leaf, or would. He’s not forgiven because he fasted or tithed or cherished the 7th, the 6th, the 4th, or the 9th and 10th Commandments, like the pharisee. No, he goes away forgiven because of the Lord’s mercy. Because that’s what the Lord does: He forgives and saves sinners. He takes their sins away, and sinners stand forgiven in His sight.
Aside from whatever expectations we would have of a sinners, big ones little ones, the Lord forgives and takes their sins away so that in His sight they aren’t sinners. Not at all! No, they’re are “righteous and pure forever.”
((2. What do we expect of the Pharisee?))
What do we expect of the Pharisee? He’s a pharisee. We need to put aside our bias for a moment. We now view them as the enemy. In some sense that can’t be helped, but we have to understand that to Jesus’ hearers, well, they would’ve wanted to be the pharisee! Pharisees were looked up to, respected, especially so for their outward piety, their outward religious devotion. They were religious leaders and teachers. A close comparison would be seminary professors and pastors and district presidents all rolled into one. They were upstanding citizens. Faithful Jews in both a religious and political sense.
In fact, we want the pharisee types around. He doesn’t cheat people, doesn’t lie, doesn’t cheat on his wife. He gives big offerings. Sign him up! But that’s not the point at all.
Our viewing pharisees as the enemy and evil rather than that makes it impossible for us to put ourselves in their shoes. We make ourselves the tax collector, always. Gotta be the hero of the story, don’t we? “This is the parable where Jesus beats up on those holier-than-thou religious types. We would never think that way, would we? We often pray, “Thank God, I’m not like other men, even like this pharisee.” We masquerade as the tax collector—a pharisee in tax collector’s clothing—and thus think we’re righteous because of it, better than others because we’re not like, well, they are.
The reality is, and it would’ve been shocking to Jesus’ hearers, is that the pharisee in Jesus’ parable doesn’t go home justified. The reality is He’s not righteous. He’s not holy. He’s not forgiven. He goes away not as God’s friend like the tax collector, but He goes away as separated from God. Enemy of God. Unjustified. Unholy. Sinner. He’s left in His sins—the “good works” he used to say he was a good person. His works, good in human eyes, are actually evil in God’s sight.
((1. What do we expect of the Lord?))
So, when it comes to the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector, what do we expect from the Lord? Reality is He’s the Lord, and that means He saves, He forgives, He shows mercy. That’s who He is and what He does.
Our expectation is that He does His part and we do ours. We do what’s in us—we’re good people, after all—and He does what’s in Him. He shows mercy, forgives, but only if we do our part. Or His mercy only lasts as long as we keep heading the right way. What if we mess up? Mess up enough? He’ll cast us off, right?
Do we expect His forgiveness to be enough, do enough? No, we don’t. Something else has to be added by us. Right? We have to do something, right? God and His mercy, His salvation, His forgiveness come up short. That’s our expectation. Maybe not for us. We always have our excuses. Even though the tax collector offers no excuse except His sin. Others run out of excuses, don’t they? That’s how we live.
The reality is that in God’s sight and in His salvation His action is enough! That’s the Good News, that’s the Gospel. He saves and His forgiveness takes our sins away. “He died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” That Gospel is preached to you, that’s the Gospel you receive, that’s the Gospel that saves. Full stop.
Nothing added by you, by me, by anyone else. That’s the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. He saves sinners. He forgives sinners. Sinners don’t have to add anything. Just full mercy, full forgiveness, full and free salvation. No works from sinners earn it. Sinners’ works don’t keep it either. “they’ve gotta be confessed sinners.” Oh, so that’s the work sinners have to do, then?
No, all the Lord. Him for you. He is merciful and gracious in His death and resurrection. His forgiveness really is enough. That’s His mercy, His favor, His grace. And His forgiveness has fruit that He himself works within sinners. He Himself works the confession of confessed sinners. He brings it out. He brings out the true good works that flow from faith. As Paul says, “By the grace of God I am what I am. I worked harder, but not me, the grace, the favor of God with me.”
THE LORD TAKES AWAY OUR SINS NOT US. He forgives. That’s what’s real and true. You can have your works. Your doing of a proper confession, your fixing your life, your getting your good works big enough, good enough, more enough. Unjustified, unforgiven Pharisee. You could have your sins, too. Your stealing, lying, cheating, loving of money, whatever it is. Being dead while you live.
The Lord does neither for you. He does what He does for the tax collector and Paul. THE LORD TAKES AWAY OUR SINS NOT US. He dies for them. He rises for them. He washes them away in Baptism. Forgives them away in the Absolution. Enlivens you with the forgiveness He delivers in the Supper of His body and blood. Through His Supper He will work within you His forgiveness and His fruit: faith toward God and sincere love for each other.
THE LORD TAKES AWAY OUR SINS NOT US. He really does. He does it now. Faith and fruit now. Eternal life without any sin forever. Faith expects Him to do it. He does it. He’s the Lord. He forgives. He saves. He’s merciful. For sinners. For you. He makes them righteous, makes you righteous. He does it. To Him, your Crucified Savior, be the glory forever and ever.
INI + AMEN.