Find­ing a way to be right with God

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - RELIGION - BY REV. PETER AIKEN SPE­CIAL TO THE GUARDIAN Rev. Peter Aiken is with Birch­wood Church. For in­for­ma­tion, con­tact www.birch­wood­church.org. A guest ser­mon runs in The Guardian ev­ery Satur­day and is pro­vided cour­tesy of Chris­tian Com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Je­sus said and did many things that can be deeply of­fen­sive to peo­ple. This is true not only in our own gen­er­a­tion, but it was also true in the first cen­tury as well.

One area where we see this is with re­spect to how one can be right with God. In Luke 18:9-14, Je­sus gives a para­ble of two peo­ple, a Pharisee and a tax col­lec­tor, who went to the tem­ple to wor­ship.

In this para­ble, Je­sus chal­lenges our no­tions of right­eous­ness. To his orig­i­nal hear­ers, the Pharisees were the very model of right­eous­ness. They were zeal­ous in their ad­her­ence to the law of God and they were con­fi­dent that the Lord would ac­cept them be­cause of their obe­di­ence to it. But the same at­ti­tude de­picted in the Pharisees can sur­face in many peo­ple’s be­liefs about God to­day. It is pop­u­lar to as­sume that as long as we fol­low the golden rule (as best we can), then the Lord will be pleased with us.

The se­cond char­ac­ter that Je­sus men­tions is a tax col­lec­tor. A tax col­lec­tor was some­one who was em­ployed by a wealthy mer­chant to col­lect Ro­man taxes from his fel­low Jews. He was re­garded as a traitor and as a thief be­cause once they had col­lected their re­quired quota from their fel­low Is­raelites, they were free to keep any sur­plus for them­selves. For those lis­ten­ing to Je­sus’ story, it was ap­par­ent who was right with the Lord and who was not.

As th­ese two men assem­ble for cor­po­rate wor­ship in the tem­ple, Je­sus de­scribes how each of them prayed. The Pharisee prayed to the Lord, but it was prayer that re­flected a heart of pride and self-right­eous­ness. He thanked the Lord that he was not like other peo­ple, rob­bers, evil­do­ers, adul­ter­ers or even the tax col­lec­tor. In other words, God should be pleased with him be­cause of what he had done in life.

But Je­sus con­trasts this prayer with the tax col­lec­tor whose prayer is marked with con­fes­sion and hu­mil­ity. He beats upon His chest be­cause he knows that he is guilty be­fore the Lord. He says, "be mer­ci­ful to me, a sin­ner (Luke 18:13)." When he asks the Lord to be mer­ci­ful, he is ask­ing that the Lord’s anger be re­moved. He is say­ing th­ese words in the tem­ple at a time when an an­i­mal sac­ri­fice would have been made for sin ac­cord­ing to the Lord’s com­mand. In essence, he is say­ing, "let that sac­ri­fice cover my sins!" He was look­ing in de­pen­dence to the Lord to pro­vide what He needed. Th­ese an­i­mal sac­ri­fices, though, were but pic­tures that pointed for­ward to what Je­sus, as the true lamb of God, would ac­com­plish ( John 1:29; Heb. 9:26).

What’s so of­fen­sive about this para­ble that Je­sus taught is that He says that the tax col­lec­tor, not the Pharisee, went home with his guilt re­moved and right in God’s sight (Luke 18:14). Je­sus teaches that my right stand­ing be­fore the Lord de­pends not on what I have done, but whether I have looked away from my­self out of sense of my need to the Lord and His mercy in Je­sus Christ. The good news is not that good peo­ple go to heaven, but that even though none of us are good, when we trust in Je­sus Christ, we are right­eous in God’s sight. Whereas so many religious faiths teach that the so­lu­tion to our great­est prob­lem is to look within, Chris­tian­ity teaches that the so­lu­tion to the evil within is to look out­side our­selves to the work of the Lord in Je­sus Christ.

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