The story of the Pharisee and the tax collector is a great story! We see the Pharisee acting like a Pharisee and think, “Well at least I’m not like that!” And Jesus’ point is proven, isn’t it? The truth is you are both the Pharisee and the tax collector. Your Old Adam, your sinful flesh is a Pharisee. You compare yourself to others and you can always find someone who is more sinful than you are. Someone who always messes up more than you. You can always look around and find someone that you’re doing better than. Your New Man, on the other hand, is the tax collector, living only by God’s mercy in Christ. The New Man knows we have nothing. No claim on God. No good intentions. Nothing but sin and so needs nothing but the Lord’s mercy. And so we come to church and that new man leaves justified, right with God, everything is good.
So what is it that saves us? What is it that keeps us from being condemned as that old pharisee who loves to condemn others? Nothing but the answer to the tax collector’s prayer. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The answer to that prayer is Jesus. Jesus who is the highest of all, Son of the Most High, who is humbled, brought low for you. He is brought down to the very depths of hell and death. Crucified for you. Nailed to the cross by those who are convinced they are better than Him. Nailed to the cross FOR those who think they’re better than others and Him. And therein lies the prayer of thanksgiving for our salvation. Lord, I thank you I am not like that guy. Your Son. Suffering and dead for the sins of the world. Punished for my sins! I’m glad I’m not that guy because you HAVE had mercy on me and forgiven me and sent me home justified, right with you. Of course, He comes out of the grave on Easter, justified. Proving He’s right with the Father for having taken away the world’s sins.
Now, just like the Catechism teaches, every day the Old Adam, your pharisee has to drown and die. And every day the New Man, the justified tax collector, the saved sinner, walks away justified, forgiven, righteous, square with the Lord. The problem comes, however, when we really see that Old Pharisee gaining the upper hand. It’s the struggle of our lives as Christians that we are at the same time saint and sinner, forgiven and still sinful, justified tax collector and judgmental pharisee. So when that struggle gets rough, how do we know who wins? That’s where the gifts of Jesus come in. Baptism. Absolution. The Supper. Those are the promises and guarantees that your sins have actually been forgiven. That the old pharisee is done for. That the new man is indeed justified and right with God. So yeah, when we pause and hear ourselves say, “I’m sure glad I’m not like so and so...” well, we know what to do. Beat our breasts and look up to the Lord and cry out for mercy. And here, right here in His church, He answers that prayer with the Good News in Word and Supper: your sins are forgiven. You are justified and right with God. Go in peace. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sermon Topics: Luke