Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The first theme of our text is: what kind of prayer is pleasing to God? The text reads: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a publican."
The Pharisees were a party among the Jews known as very strict in their obedience to the law of Moses. In fact, the Pharisees observed more rules than the Law of Moses demanded. They enjoyed a reputation as pious and religious men with the respect and admiration of many of the people. Therefore, the Pharisee prayed in this way: "Standing up, he prayed by himself in this way: God, I thank you because I am not like other men, thieves, unjust, adulterers, or even like this publican, fasting twice a week, I give tithes of everything I own. "
What a good man! At least, his exterior works were good. But, although the exterior deeds were good, he had a problem inside his heart. He did not approach God in humility and reverence, but with selfishness and pride. He spoke to God about his good works and his merits.
At that time, the Jews thought of their land, their homeland, as under the rule of a foreign and pagan empire. They did not like to pay taxes to the Romans. So, they thought of the publicans, their countrymen who worked for the Romans, as traitors. In addition, publicans generally demanded more than the Romans commanded to fill their own pockets. As traitors and thieves, the publicans did not have the respect and admiration of anyone and their only friends were other publicans and people of bad reputation.
However, the publican in our text recognized his sins and wanted a good relationship with God. So, I pray like this: "But the publican, being far away, did not even want to look up to heaven, but beat his breast, saying: God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
The word for showing mercy is the same used for the sacrifices of animals in the temple to avoid the wrath and punishment of God. God, through Moses, commanded propitiatory sacrifices for the sins of the people until the coming of the Messiah. All those sacrifices were signs to the perfect sacrifice of Christ. On the cross Jesus paid with his blood not only for the sins of the people of Israel, but also for all peoples. God answered the request of the publican, "be merciful to me, a sinner" with the death of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Therefore, all of us can bring God covered with the righteousness of Christ, not with our own righteousness. The Pharisee trusted in his own justice, but he was wrong. "I tell you that this one went down to his house justified before the other, because whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
The first theme of the text is how we should pray to God. The second is the justification.
The purpose of the parable was like this: "And he also said this parable to some who trusted in themselves as righteous, and despised others." We are all sinners and we know this in our hearts. But, those who want to justify themselves continue in this way: I am not perfect, but I am better than that man.
As the Pharisee said: "I am not like other men, thieves, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this publican." But, in the eyes of God, the comparison is not with other men, but with the perfect law of God. Only one, Jesus Christ, perfectly fulfilled this law, we are all justified by faith in Christ, and not by our works.
Those who approached God by trusting in their own merits will receive what they deserve: The wrath and punishment of God. If we trust only in the righteousness of Christ, we will receive above all the promise of eternal life and all other good things.
Every Sunday we begin with the confession of our sins and after the absolution, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, we can offer our requests and praise in the security of God's love and the peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen.
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