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Trinity 11 – Luke 18:9-14

by pastorjuhl ~ August 24th, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

You might think it’s the Pharisee’s prayer that does not justify him. He thanks
God that he is not like the rest of men: extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or
even this tax collector. If you were to look at prayers in our service book or
in other prayer books, chances are you will find prayers that sound a lot like
the Pharisee’s prayer. Consider the last two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer:
lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. When you see someone fall
from a sterling reputation, you might say, “There for the grace of God go I.” or
“I’m glad I’m not in their shoes.”

The Pharisee’s prayer is not the problem. The problem is the Pharisee’s heart.
Luke describes the attitude of his soul and the attitude of the Pharisees’ souls
when he prefaces our Lord’s parable by saying that Jesus spoke this parable to
some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.
The Pharisee’s prayer is modestly orthodox. It is good to thank the Lord for
making you who you are and keeping you away from evil. It is good to thank the
Lord for the ability to fast and tithe. Nevertheless, when the prayer is prayed
with a heart that is focused on justifying yourself and displacing God as the
most important thing in your life, you make a home for yourself with Satan and
other self-justifiers.

Self-justification is idol worship. When you refuse to give Almighty God full
credit for everything you are as a human being, especially for making you a
child of God in Holy Baptism and providing preachers who preach the Word and
administer the Lord’s Supper, you go to your house not merely unjustified but
also condemned to hell because you fear, love, and trust in yourself above all

Consider Cain. He killed his brother Abel because Abel’s sacrifice was given
with a heart of joy. Abel loved the Lord. He gave the first fruits of his labor
back to the Lord as the Lord first gave to him. Cain also brought a sacrifice.
His sacrifice was brought from a heart that knew he had to give back to God a
sacrifice. Do you see the difference in the attitude of their hearts? Abel knows
where he stands with the Lord. So does Cain. Yet Cain is jealous of Abel because
God accepted his brother’s sacrifice but not his own sacrifice. Cain’s jealous
heart got the best of him even after God warned him to be careful about sin
crouching at his door. The first murder in the Bible according to Blessed Martin
Luther’s Genesis commentary was a disagreement about how to worship God.

The Church Militant still suffers from the fallout of Cain’s murder. The
so-called “worship wars” rage in Christian communions all over our country. One
of the sticking points of how to worship God is the matter of objectivity versus
subjectivity. You can see the battle in Cain and Abel. Cain took a subjective
approach. He thought that God would be happy with any old something that came
from the ground. Cain’s focus was on what things might please God. Abel, on the
other hand, brought the best that he had, knowing that his Father in heaven will
give the best He has to us. However, Jesus Christ’s coming is not yet in the
flesh, Abel trusts in an objective promise that shapes his response to God.

Fast forward to today. Christians desire to respond to God’s mercy and love for
us. What do they give Him in return? They give Him far from their best. They
compose liturgical texts and hymns that glorify man rather than God. The focus
becomes how relevant we can be or how something makes us feel rather than how
God shows us our sin and our Savior from sin. Human beings want to be the light
rather than describing what they see from the Light of the world.

The tax collector knew who he was before man and before God. A tax collector
procured his office by paying a certain sum of money to the Romans, under whose
rule the Jews were largely under at that time. This is why tax collectors did
not shy away from cheating people in various ways and were regarded as vile,
godless men. However, a man who is supposed to be vile and godless turns out to
be humble and full of God. He would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but
beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”

Maybe the bluegrass gospel song is right: “The first step to heaven is down on
your knees”. Consider the prophet Jeremiah’s words: Thus says the LORD: “Let not
the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor
let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness,
judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the
LORD. The tax collector stands before God an unworthy sinner. He returns home
justified not because of who he is or what he does. He returns home justified
because he trusts in God’s abundant mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in God’s

Saint Paul tells the Church in Corinth: I declare to you the gospel which I
preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also
you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you
believed in vain. The Gospel of forgiveness proclaimed by the Old Testament
Prophets and New Testament Apostles saves those who hold fast to that Word, lest
their belief is in vain. The Pharisee does not hold fast to that Word. His heart
is focused on self-justification with no need of a Savior. Jesus presents a
danger to their way of life and their power. Their foolish belief in Christ’s
so-called “danger” condemns. The tax collector holds fast to that Word. His
heart is focused on the Father’s promise of Messiah coming to save him from sin
and death. He is filthy with sin but cleansed in the blood and righteousness of

You stand beside the tax collector today as a forgiven child of God.
Justification is not merely a subjective feeling. Justification is an objective
declaration of forgiveness from a tenderhearted Father Who loves you by sending
His only-begotten Son to die for your sin and rise from the dead for your
justification. Justification is also an objective state of being. You are
forgiven. You are redeemed from Satan’s grasp. You are rescued from the lake of
fire. You are a child of paradise. You will die only once because you have two
births, one according to the flesh and another according to the Holy Spirit
through the washing of regeneration and renewal.

In this life, there are two principles that fight for superiority. One principle
seeks to lead us home lacking God’s justification. The other principle seeks to
lead us to our heavenly home because of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
As a baptized child of God, the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and
repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, in order that a
new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and
purity forever. Living this new life in humility is not easy. The Holy Spirit is
your helper, pointing you back to the certain, objective Means of Grace in Holy
Word, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion in His Holy Church. You
are not as the rest of men. You are forgiven because of Jesus Christ.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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