Our Sermon text is Luke 18:1-14 (HCSB)
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’
“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me—a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Did you bring your meter today? Actually, your meter is your heart. We use it to judge situations and people. For people we have two standards: one for judging success, the other for judging moral rightness. In our parable for today we see both being used. One the success meter, the tax collector was obviously high. On the moral rightness meter, the Pharisee was on the high end; and he despised the tax collector. The tax collector on the low end didn’t need help understanding where he was.
Calibration of the Meter
Notice that in both cases the standard for the meter is the person himself. But that can be messed up. What if the person doesn’t know all the facts to make a true assessment? What if the meter is not calibrated correctly? In order for a meter to be useful it needs to be calibrated, especially on the moral meter.
Jesus provides that calibration: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 HCSB). Now, the meter used by the Pharisee is no longer valid. His own behavior cannot be the standard, only God’s own holiness and perfection is the standard.
But the lower end of the meter needs calibration as well: “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all” (James 2:10 HCSB). So, on God’s meter there are only two extremes: either absolute perfection or absolute sin and guilt. The tax collector was well aware of this latter meter reading.
The Meter in Practice
So, how does this translate into daily life for us? Are we like the Pharisee or the tax collector? On my trip to Denver three weeks ago I waited in line to get inside the Southwest screening. A woman came behind me and we began chatting. She asked about my travel—going to our Youth Gathering, visiting seminary students, and conducting a wedding. She was heading to New York. So I asked her what she did. She leaned in and whispered, “I own a porn movie company.”
Okay, so now which meter was active at this point? The pastor on the far high end and her at the far low end? That might be (sinfully) natural. And the result would be to despise her and harangue her about what she was doing. But I didn’t. Why? Because I knew that such meter was the wrong one. And I didn’t want the next Christian to have to overcome any kind of harangue by me in an airport line.
The calibrated meter on both ends showed that I was at the bottom with her. For you see, it wasn’t just that woman in the airport that is despised. I am too.
The Solution to Meter Reading
While the Pharisee despised the tax collector, we find Jesus turning everything upside down. While He was perfect as His Father in heaven (Heb. 4:15), He became the despised One to take the failures, sins, guilt, shame on Himself. Isaiah wrote about Him this way:
“He was despised and rejected by people. He was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. He was despised like one from whom people turn their faces, and we didn’t consider him to be worth anything” (Isaiah 53:3 GW)
It was not enough to judge based on moral meter-reading. Rather, Jesus became despised that we would not be despised by God the Father. He gives us the top meter reading and credits that to our account. And then He took care of the bottom reading, too.
He certainly has taken upon himself our suffering and carried our sorrows, but we thought that God had wounded him, beat him, and punished him.
He was wounded for our rebellious acts.
He was crushed for our sins.
He was punished so that we could have peace, and
we received healing from his wounds. (Isaiah 53:4-5 GW)
And now, all this is given as a gift. For those who believe, life is transformed. Oh, there will still be meter-reading people checking up on us. But we have the perfect assured result of meter-reading and fulfilling that Jesus accomplished. Meter reading for moral comparison is out, no longer valid when we believe in Jesus Christ. We have something far better.
And now we can bring that message to others who are despised, forsaken, rejected. Jesus experienced all that. He knows exactly what that is like. But He overcame—for us. For you! For everyone!