Trying to Impress God

Cathlena Plummer

Sermond Date: October 27, 2013

Sermon Title: Trying to Impress God

Scriptural Text: Luke 18: 9-14

 

                God give us clear minds, open spirits, and loving hearts. Amen.

Have you ever tried testing God? Is it wrong to try to test God? These readings today have made me think a lot about this.

What would happen now if I spoke to God? To ask God to give me a sign… to let me know if I am doing the right thing?

I think the problem with thinking any of this is that there are too many “I’s” and “Me’s” in those questions.

This is what I think today’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is conveying to us.  We need to stop focusing on ourselves when it comes to prayer and start focusing on who’s praying beside us OR WITH US.

Let’s take a look at the passage in LUKE 18.

Now Luke makes it plain who Jesus told this parable to. In VERSE 9, it says,

“Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” 

Now if you want to know whether or not you are being addressed in this parable, let me ask you some questions: 

· Do you ever look at people who don’t go to church, and think you are better than they are because you do go to church? If so, Jesus is talking to you.

· Do you ever look at people in prison, and think you are better than they are because you are not? If so, Jesus is talking to you.

· Do you ever look at people who are divorced, and think that you are better than they are because you are not? If so, then Jesus is talking to you.

· Do you ever look down your nose at anyone for any reason, and think you might be better than them? If so, Jesus is talking to you.

I promise you, every one of you will find yourself somewhere in this story, because at one time or another, all of us are guilty of trying to impress God.

Today, we are going to find out what impresses God and what doesn’t.

1. YOU IMPRESS GOD WHEN YOU DON’T TRY TO

In VERSES 10-12, we read,

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ’God, I thank You that I am not like other men–extortionists, un-just, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’” 

I know immediately you are ready to jump all over the Pharisee because he was, to say the least, a bit arrogant. Quite frankly, he really was an Eagle Scout. He dotted every religious “i” and he crossed every theological “t.” He went strictly by the book. He had a heart for religion; the problem was his religion had no heart. 

He was standing in the center of the inner court right in the heart of the temple. The reason he stood there was because it was where he could be heard the clearest and seen the best. He let everybody know just how wonderful he was. First of all, we read that he fasted twice a week. Now the Old Testament only required a Jew to fast once a year on the Day of Atonement. But this man fasted a 103 times a year more than he was required. 

Then we read that he tithed everything that he possessed. Now the Old Testament only required that you tithe your income. But this man tithed everything that he earned and everything that he bought. In other words, he was a double thither. Now there is nothing wrong with fasting more than once a week, and there certainly is nothing wrong with giving more than a tithe.

But the problem was, this man thought back then what a lot of people keep thinking today–he thought his goodness gained him brownie points with God. He thought God accepts a person based on what they do for Him, or in other words, he thought he could get to heaven by his good works. He was religious and proud of it.

If you put your trust in anything–church membership, church attendance, baptism, religion, good works—anything at all other than Jesus Christ, to make God accept you, you are fooling yourself. The Pharisee thought that God would be impressed with all that he was doing. So now we learn the first clue on what impresses God. 

What impresses God is when you don’t try to impress God.

Five times you will read the little pronoun “I” in these two verses. He suffered from two problems: inflation and deflation. He had an inflated view of who he was, and a deflated view of who God was. He couldn’t see the truth because his “I’s” were too close together. His pride had made him too big for his spiritual britches. 

C. S. Lewis once said, “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and of course, as long as you are looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.”

This Pharisee had fooled himself about himself. He says, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men.” But he was like other men, because “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” 
VERSE 11 says,

“he stood and prayed thus with himself.” 

The original Greek manuscript actually says, “he stood and prayed to himself.” 

When you approach God with pride, you wind up talking to yourself. Someone said, “The only person God sends away empty is the person full of himself.” Prideful prayer is nothing more than an echo in your own ears.

The contrast Jesus gives would have been easily recognized to those hearing this parable. A tax collector was as different from a Pharisee as the Pope is from a Postal Worker.

Tax collectors were the scum of Jewish society. They were the IRS of the Roman government. They charged exorbitant rates, they skimmed extra money off the top, they would steal candy from a baby, and a welfare check from their own mother. They were considered traitors to the nation of Israel.

They were so despised they could not hold public office or even give testimony in Jewish court because their word was considered worthless. The tax collector was to the Pharisee what an outlaw is to the sheriff. This man no doubt was a liar and a cheat.

But now the story takes a strange twist. The Pharisee tried to impress God, but wasn’t able to. The tax collector was not trying to impress at all, he was just being humble of heart, and that impressed God immensely.

Humility impresses God. This tax collector was as humble as the Pharisee was proud. You could see it in his feet. 

VERSE 13 tells us, 

“And the tax collector, standing afar off,” 

The Pharisee went to the center of the court and stood in the sunshine where he would be noticed by the most people; the tax collector stood on the outer edges of the court of the Gentiles in the shadows, not carrying to let people see him pray. He just wanted to have a dialogue with the Lord God.

You could see his humility in his eyes. The passage goes on to say that he “would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven.” 

The Pharisee was too proud to look up; the tax collector was too ashamed to look up.

You could hear the sincerity in his voice. For he says, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” 

Well, God heard his prayer, for in VERSE 14, Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” 

A highway to heaven is paved with humility. Now on the outside you would have thought the Pharisee was much closer to God, but on the inside it was the tax collector who was close to God. We find out why in the following verse.

PSALM 34:18 says,

“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” 

What impressed God so much was this man was simply willing to humble himself before God. 

It hit me as I was thinking about this, that there is only one thing worse than being a sinner. The only thing worse than being a sinner is not admitting that you are one! 

3. LET ME OFFER YOU SOME CLOSING REMARKS.

In VERSE 14, listen to what Jesus said about the man who impressed God. “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

The Lord Jesus draws a conclusion from this story that shocked his listeners. Remember the Pharisees wore the white hats, the tax collectors wore the black hats.

If you had taken a vote in that crowd as to which man God accepted, and which man was safely in his kingdom, the Pharisee would have won by a unanimous landslide. But there’s only one vote that counts, and that is God’s vote.

The first thing we should all learn from this is that it isn’t important how we see ourselves, but only how God sees us.

The second thing we need to learn is that mercy is something we cannot earn or pay for. It is given freely by God, but only to those who have admitted that we need His mercy. 
When you finally realize that you have absolutely nothing in your life aside from Christ, you have finally impressed God.

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