Every Sunday we begin the divine service with a hymn of invocation and the formal invocation of the Holy Trinity by the pastor. After that, we pray to God for the cleansing of the Holy Spirit and with the words of exhortation, the pastor invites everyone to confess their sins against God and their neighbors.
Why do we start the service in this way? Without confession we can not truly worship God in a way pleasing to Him, If we do not confess our sins in the general confession, we must do so at home or in private with the pastor if there is a grave sin to confess. In the general confession, we have the opportunity to confess together that we are by nature sinful in thought, word and deed. To repent our sins and receive absolution from the pastor in the place and by the command of Christ is necessary before the rest of the service.
The text for today explains why. "Two men went to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a publican." The Pharisee was an example of a religious man in the eyes of the people. He never disobeyed any civil or ecclesiastical law, and did many good works. But he did not do this for the love of God or his neighbor, only to obtain a good reputation and the admiration of the people. He had no fear and reverence for God, He just wanted the respect and honor of men.
Indeed, his prayer was not a petition or thanksgiving to God, Rather, the Pharisee congratulated himself for his righteousness.
Nobody respected the publican. In the eyes of his own people, the publican was a traitor, a tax collector for a wicked, foreign empire. The Jews and Romans both thought he was a thief whom kept most of the money for himself. They were probably right.
However, look at the difference in the attitude of the publican versus that of the Pharisee. "But the publican, standing afar off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." He did not think he could stand before God on his own merits. And what did our Lord say? "I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
We are all sinners like the publican, regardless of the opinions of men. Humans can not know the desires and most intimate secrets of the heart, but God does. If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. These words are part of the liturgy, and are found in the Bible as well (1 John 1.8-9).
But is it not true that good works are the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Yes, it's true. However, the proud and unrepentant sinners can mimic the true believers for a while to deceive themselves and the crowds. But no one can deceive God. In the parable for today, our Lord shows us God's point of view when He listens to our prayers. He always can distinguish the true believers from the false.
Furthermore, while the proud hypocrites may conceal their true nature from others for a time, their deeds are poisoned fruit. When they do not stand to gain the admiration of men, they show a different face.
Justified by faith alone means we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, not our own righteousness, because we are not righteous. We are saved by the blood of Christ on the cross, not by our own works. This is good news for us, because no matter what our sins, we can be forgiven by the grace of God. Our Lord said, for his repentance the publican received forgiveness, but for his pride, the Pharisee did not.
Therefore, in our public worship and in our private devotions, let us take the attitude of the publican, not the Pharisee. Approach God in Christ's name with reverence and humility, receive absolution and then the gifts of God in preaching the gospel and the true body and true blood of Christ. Amen.
Send Pastor David Ernst an email.