God, Have Mercy . . . On Me

Ash Wednesday

God Have Mercy . . . On Me

Text: Luke 18:9-14

Three days ago, 21 men in orange jumpsuits marched along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea on the coast of Libya.  All 21 were Coptic Christians from neighboring Egypt.  Each one was led as a prisoner by a masked man belonging to the terrorist Muslim cell known as Isis.  You probably heard what happened next.  Most, perhaps all, of the 21 were placed face down on the beach and simultaneously beheaded.  Those cowardly barbaric terrorists are despicable.  God, have mercy on them.

Of course, there’s plenty of shame to be found in America too.  How about Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber?  If you don’t know who Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber are, don’t worry.  Your life is better for it.  What a bunch of young punks they are, thinking they can gallivant the globe like untouchables above the law.  Their behavior is the epitome of a mostly pathetic young Hollywood.  God, have mercy on them.

Oh and Hollywood.  Have you ever been there before?  I think it’s disgusting.  It’s filthy.  It stinks.  There are adult stores and venues on every street.  It reminds me of a lot of other places I’ve been to, like Las Vegas or New York or New Orleans.  Lots of fun to be had in those place, but even more sin.  God, have mercy on them.

Oh, and speaking of New Orleans.  How about Mardis Gras?  What a fine, family-friendly celebration that is, isn’t it?  People partying it up until the wee hours of the morning, drinking like fish, exercising zero inhibitions or control.  Women proudly wearing beads like badges of honor, with every necklace clearly telling you how many times they “worked” to get those beads.  How convenient to “get it out of your system” at Mardis Gras and on Fat Tuesday just in time for Lent to start.  God, have mercy on them.

But that’s the problem with our world today, especially with our country.  What a fruit basket upset America is these days!  What a bunch of crooks we live with!  What a bunch of evil, wicked people in our country!  What a bunch of idolatrous, adulterous people we live among. God, have mercy on them all.

Yes, God, have mercy.  God, Have Mercy . . . On Me when I think like this because I’m acting just like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable this evening.  Listen again to what happened in the story, starting at verse 10:  Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself:  ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fas twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’”

Jesus purposefully picked two people for his story that were the exact opposites in public opinion.  Pharisees were considered to be the best of the best, the holy rollers of society.  They knew the most about Scripture.  They even invented and added their own laws to Scripture to be more holy.  But tax collectors were considered societal scumbags.  They were traitors because they were Jews who worked for the Roman government and most of them were cheaters who up-charged and then skimmed off the top to pocket some for themselves.  The story features the best of the best and the worst of the worst in public opinion.

And the Pharisee certainly acted like it.  He sure thought his sin didn’t stink.  His prayer to God consisted of confessing how sinful people other people were and then thanking God that he wasn’t awful like they were.  Did you catch before how Luke described these people in the first verse?  To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable.”  This Pharisee believed in his own righteousness.  He trusted in himself for salvation, and he looked down on everyone else for being less perfect than he.

It’s easy to do, isn’t it?  We hear about these terrorists, we read the magazine headlines, we catch the latest gossip over lunch break, and we instantly categorize those people.  They are way down here, and I am way up here—because I would never do those kinds of things.

I bet you’ve even done that in church before.  You see someone walk in and think, “Well look who decided to show up.  Where have they been?  It’s about time they come to church like I do.”

You survey the sanctuary and think something like, “Look at her.  I can’t believe that she is wearing that.  I wouldn’t be caught dead looking like that.”

You hear a sermon that mentions giving to the Lord and you think, “Well that was a great sermon.  It really applied to everyone else.  I hope they were listening so that they start giving more.”

We look at the other sinners around us and we start into the Pharisee’s prayer:  “God, have mercy . . . on them, because they are sinners and not as good as I am.”

What outrageous sin creates those kinds of thoughts!  It is nothing but pride and arrogance bursting from my heart that will make me want to look down on someone else as a worse sinner than I am.  It is nothing but the pride and arrogance of my sinful nature that wants to convince me that I can be confident in my salvation because of my own righteousness.  “Good luck to everyone else.  I hope you can be as holy as I am.”  What shameful pride my heart has!

That’s what Ash Wednesday is for though.  I can’t run and hide from the truth tonight.  It’s all over the place.  The black.  The darkness.  The kneeling.  The ashes.  The Scripture.  No, I can’t run from the truth tonight:  I’m not holy.  I’m a sinner, too, and I will die for it.

I spend so much time in my life like the Pharisee.  I look at other people.  I talk about other people.  I shake my head, roll my eyes, and scoff at their sins.  But I’m missing the point.  I’m comparing myself to others.  But what I should be doing is comparing myself to God.  And that is where I fall short.  Terribly short.

God’s holiness is unfathomably far out of my reach.  Every single day I fall short.  We confessed it earlier tonight.  Browse over the confession of sins on pages 4-5 again.  My thoughts.  My words.  My deeds.  What I’ve done.  What I haven’t done.  My lack of love.  My pride.  My self-indulgence.  My anger.  I don’t even want to look at the rest.  It’s pathetically awful.  I even call myself a Christian, too.  But my life often looks anything but Christ-like.  I’ve earned every speck of ash on my hand tonight.

And soon, this prideful person standing in front of you is going to be reduced to nothing but what is on the back of my hand—ash—because I have sinned.  Yes, I meant every word of Psalm 130:  “From the depths I cry to you, O Lord.”

Quickly my prayer changes from one of pride—“God, have mercy . . . on them”—to one of penitence—God, Have Mercy . . . On Me.  Quickly, I identify not with the Pharisee in the story, but the tax collector.  Verse 13:  But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

Tonight, I understand.  The black.  The darkness.  The kneeling.  The ashes.  The Scripture.  The guilt crushes me and leaves me cowering in the corner.  I can’t even bear to look up to heaven as I beg like the tax collector:  God, Have Mercy . . . On Me.

If you think about it, it is really one of the more depressing parables Jesus told once you figure out who you are in the story.  This whole day actually is awful and depressing and gut-wrenching and sad.  Until, that is, you read the last verse.  It’s incredible.  Here’s how Jesus finished his story:  I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the other, went home justified before God.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In an unexpected twist, the one who was justified (declared innocent by God) was not the one who stood on a pedestal, who looked good in the eyes of others, who possibly committed less sins.  The one who was declared innocent of his sin was the one who had sinned more, the one who had sins so great he couldn’t even bring himself to look up toward God.  How could that be?  It’s the last sentence that tells us, For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  The tax collector was justified before God because he was humble and repented of his sin.

These two men were clear opposites.  Pharisees and tax collectors couldn’t be any more different in society.  But they were even more different spiritually.  The Pharisee was arrogant and proud.  He confessed the sins of other people.  He put his trust for salvation in himself.  The tax collector was humble and repentant.  He confessed his own sins.  He put his trust for salvation in God alone.

Tonight there’s no running away from the truth.  The black.  The darkness.  The kneeling.  The ashes.  The Scripture.  I have sinned against the Lord.  I deserve to die.  Lord, have mercy.  But on this night Jesus quickly runs to us with an even better truth.  God exalts the humble.

Jesus exalts you and lifts you up off your knees.  Jesus exalts you and lifts up your downcast eyes to look up and see his empty cross stained with his own blood.  Then Jesus tells you the most extraordinary news:  One day he will exalt you and lift you up all the way to the glories of heaven.

Tonight I think about this world I live in.  I think about all the sin and all the terrible sinners around me and tonight I think, God, Have Mercy . . . On Me because I’m even worse.  And then, by his grace and in boundless love, he does.  God has had mercy on me because

Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, 

he washed it white as snow.

God has had mercy on me, a sinner.  I am forgiven.  He will exalt me to heaven.  Thanks be to God.

AMEN

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About Pastor Phil Huebner

Pastor. Missionary. Principal. Husband. Father. Serving in love as each. http://www.ctkpalmcoast.com

Posted on February 18, 2015, in Church, Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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