God’s Great Mercy
Taught August 27, 2023
Table of Contents
Watch & Listen
Our lesson this week is the final lesson for the summer quarter. Throughout this quarter we have taken a look at the kingdom of heaven and, essentially, a look at who will be a citizen within the heavenly kingdom. You see, everyone through faith can inherit the heavenly kingdom because of God’s love and mercy; by His love and mercy, we can become holy, righteous, and fit for the heavenly kingdom.
Warning Against Self-Righteousness
In our lesson this week, we take a look at a parable that I referenced in a sermon not too long ago – Moving in Sincere Faith – where Jesus speaks against self-righteousness. You see, there are many who live in the world today that are righteous, but they are righteous in their own eyes. The only way that one becomes righteous is through sincere faith in the Lord.
The self-righteousness of the Pharisees
To teach about true righteousness, Jesus shared the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. You see, there was an attitude that Jesus noticed within the Pharisees in that they believed they were righteous but they despised (v.9). To be very clear, the Pharisees were self-righteous – perfect – in their eyes but nobody else was. Sadly, there are many so-called believers who live in the world with this same mindset which, as we will see, is incredibly dangerous.
In the parable, Jesus tells us that two men went to the temple to pray with one being a Pharisee and the other a tax collector (v.10). Pharisees were very highly regarded people because they were seen as the religious leaders. Tax collectors, however, were not loved and were highly disregarded because of their work.
This brings to mind who is or is not highly regarded in the world and how simple-minded we can be as to why we like or dislike others. Mankind has determined whether or not one is worthy to be loved based on the color of their skin, nationality, and religious beliefs for too long. The way we treat others has simply been wrong, especially considering that Christ said that we should treat others the way we desire to be treated (Matt. 7:12).
As we will see in the prayer of the Pharisee, this man thought very highly of himself. The Pharisee gave thanks to God that he wasn’t like extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or like the tax collector that was in the temple praying (v.11). Now, there are a lot of things to give thanks to God for but certainly not this. Honestly ask yourself, what kind of prayer is this? Does this really sound like the prayer of a righteous person?
The Pharisee’s prayer didn’t stop there as he continued and prayed about what made him better than those he had mentioned. What was it that made him better? Well, the Pharisee said it was the fact that he fasted twice a week and gave his tithes (v.12). Let me point out to you that none of these actions that he mentions has anything to do with sincere faith!
It was in the Mosaic law that Israel was to tithe and to fast, yes, but the Pharisee was not doing it out of sincere faith. The Pharisee was one of those that suffered from the “checklist” mindset – a mindset of religion. The Pharisee believed he was righteous because he fasted and gave his tithes.
Listen, you can fast and tithe all you want but that does not make you holy nor does it make you righteous. Again, faith – sincere faith – is what makes us holy and righteous. I want to be very plain and clear about this: this Pharisee was not a righteous person nor was he a man of sincere faith.
The one that is truly righteous
On the other side of the temple, afar off, stood the tax collector who was saying his own prayer. The tax collector’s prayer, you will notice, was drastically different in comparison to that of the Pharisee.
Jesus tells us that the tax collector, with his head lowered, beat his chest, and humbly said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner (v.13)!” I said it before and I will say it again, excluding Jesus’ prayers, this prayer, to me, is arguably the greatest prayer found in scripture! The reason I say this is because the tax collector did not use many vain words in his prayer; he kept it short, simple, and to the point. Not only that, but the man was as truthful as it gets and acknowledged that truth, first, in himself and then to the Lord.
You see, this is how one goes about being justified and saved by the Lord: the tax collector was not self-righteous – he was very humble. John wrote in his first epistle that those who confess their sins to the Lord will find that God is faithful and just to cleanse us of our unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Of the tax collector, Jesus said that he went home justified rather than the religious leader (v.14).
Jesus also concluded that those who exalt themselves will one day be humble while the humble will one day be exalted by the Lord. You see, there is a very important lesson in this short parable from Christ for all believers to learn. We must learn to always remain humble and truthful with ourselves. When we remain humble and truthful with ourselves, then we will rely even more on the Lord and remain holy and righteous.
Sadly, the problem with many so-called believers today is once they join church and are baptized, they get big headed – prideful. You see, many join church for the wrong reason; they do not join out of sincere faith but out of religion. Sincere faith remains humble and moves out of the love of God, whereas religion moves mechanically. In fact, many of those who are of religion rather than sincere faith, are susceptible to be influenced by the worldly mindset.
The Pharisees suffered a great deal in their hearts because they were heavily influenced by the world. As we see in our lesson today, this Pharisee suffered the spirit of superiority. Pride, we must understand, causes one to go blind to the Lord which is why it always leads to a great downfall.
So, we as believers should aim to be more like the tax collector than the Pharisee. Yes, the world may disregard us but so long as we continue to move humbly and in truth in the Lord, everything will be alright. As Jesus said, we will return to our eternal home justified rather than being unjustified due to our self-righteousness.