Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Parable of the Two Sons & the Pharisee and Publican: The Power of Humility, The Danger of Pride

I had learned about God when I was 7, 8, 9 years old, into my teens, but as my life became increasingly broken I rejected God, and went my own way in anger and pride.

In my mind, I recall, I said to myself, we don’t need you God. We’re going to make this planet into a paradise on our own and show God that we don’t need him. We’re going to create utopia ourselves. We’re going to show God’s whose really boss. That is the spirit of the world, right there, the spirit at work in the sons and daughters of rebellion.

And so I began my descent down a dark hill. One by one everything was stripped away from me, thanks be to God for that, my ego was as big as a house, and piece by piece, chunk by chunk he chipped it away, but even near rock bottom, total lostness, I would rather die than turn to God, and I even attempted suicide. That’s the height of what you’d call “reprobate” one abandoned to their own sins and disaster. They’d rather die than turn to God.

And yet, that was 2009, 2010 2011, then 2012, a few year later, finally, there was no more ego left, every piece, every sliver was chipped away, and God guided me toward his son Jesus Christ, and all heaven waited in silence, as I made my choice, would I cry out or not, and I did cry out, to Jesus Christ for salvation. And then everything changed.

My ego removed, replaced with light with a soft beating heart of growing love. The Lord lovingly sent me out to work in his vineyard fields. Head out to work my child, and do my will, and I will be with you.

Which brings us to our parable today, our first parable, as we will look at two today.

It’s from Matthew 21, the same chapter, Jesus’ triumphal entry. So we understand the context. He’s speaking to the leaders, the masses, in Jerusalem, in the temple, and he says this, scandalously, he says…

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” -Matthew 21:28-32

Today Jesus might say to us, "Truly I tell you, the poor masses of India, and China, the witchdoctors and shaman of the African nations are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you Americans. For the message of the gospel came to you through countless teachers, and preachers and evangelists, and mounds of bibles reaching to the sky and even after you saw all this, you did not repent and believe."

Jesus is contrasting in this parable, two different types of people, responding to the statement from the Dad, he says, go work in my vineyard.

Son 1 says no I’m not going.

Son 2 says yes I’ll go.

Words don’t matter much here. It doesn’t matter what they say. It’s what they do that matters.

Son 1 later changes his mind and goes in.

Son 2 lied, and never went to work in the vineyard.

Jesus gives this parable to illustrate a simple point, the accredited, the powerful, the wealthy, the affluential, the esteemed, are missing the kingdom of God because of their pride.

And the lowly, the miserable, the addicted, the prostitutes, the corrupt tax collectors, they are entering the kingdom of God, though they went into sin at first, later they changed their mind and gave their lives to God and got to work in his vineyard fields.

So this was a message that Jesus gave to rebuke the scribes, Pharisees and religious leaders of his time who rejected the message of John the Baptist. If you recall John the Baptist was one who prepared the way for Jesus’ coming, calling people to a baptism of repentance from sins, getting them ready, for the coming messiah.

Jesus contrasts many of the common people who viewed John the Baptist as a true prophet of God, and embraced his message of repentance, which made them ready for the coming of Christ, and those religious scholars and Pharisees and I’m sure other common people as well who rejected John the Baptist and as well were in the process of rejecting Jesus’ message as well.

They had learned so well to follow the law of Moses. Yet despite having the entire Torah memorized, and the prophets, and the psalms and proverbs, which all point to the coming of Jesus, their pride blinded them to the truth.

Just as I was once blind to the truth. And just as many are now blind to the truth in our world today.

So this spoke directly to what they were thinking about Jesus.

Have you ever had someone not like you because of a misunderstanding and you knew that if they could get over that misunderstanding that you could have a good relationship with them? But then realized that they just can’t get past it. They won’t listen. Maybe that’s kind of how Jesus felt, he knew he could save them, but they just couldn’t get past the law of Moses. They couldn’t see beyond it to the coming of Jesus. And it cost them everything.

So since we are not Jews under the Torah, but are New Testament believers in Jesus, what can we take this from this parable today?

We can stay humble to what God is doing in our lives. And stay humble for God to correct us on our theology, our understanding of Him, on how we love people, on maybe a sin that’s in our lives that he’s convicting us about, but maybe we’re ignoring or resisting that leading from God.

It’s been on my heart lately, so many Christians in the world today have messed up theology. Many, many, many Christians I know who are otherwise very doctrinally sound don’t believe in spiritual gifts, or the five fold ministry, they say certain things have ended, they disallow the Holy Spirit’s guidance and leading, and reject certain gifts they think have ceased. Certain Christians are very focused on Mary, and the eucharist, and statues and candles, and I feel like they're missing things about God. Certain people just operate in a sort of dead religion. Others teach once saved always saved, a doctrine that can lead people to complacency and sin. Some even teach gay marriage is affirmed by scripture. Some teach Jesus isn’t really God. It’s just crazy.

We have to be so careful with how we understand who God is. Always keep scripture first. Sometimes we get caught up in these man made systems, Arminianism vs. Calvinism and we forget to keep the scripture first, and instead we make scripture secondary to our theology. Never do that. Always keep scripture first, don’t try to force God into a box. And then we can get puffed up about theology too, and get arrogant about it. Watch out for that. Stay humble. Stay hungry for the raw truth about who God is, and let your preconceptions about what you think God is be overruled time and again by new things you hadn’t seen in the scriptures before, whether it be his deep love or his severe wrath or his justice or his mercy or his forgiveness or his grace or his anger or his divine beauty.

Stay humble, don’t miss something God is doing because you’re caught up in man made systems or old ideas not based on the word of God, or worse ideas based on cherry picked verses that exclude other verses, some only take the harsh verses and make an idol of God as a cruel task master, more so today some make an idol of God who is all love and no justice, who is all mercy and no wrath, and they pervert God’s character just as much as the cruel task master version.

Stay humble, stay teachable, and let God interrupt your easy picture of who He is. God has done that for me time and again and I haven’t always liked it, but he forces me to reconsider and reconsider who He is, and He is always taking me beyond what I thought even a month or a year ago. It’s wild, and a bit unnerving, but it’s His will, and His character, I’ve got to embrace that journey. But also, make sure that journey doesn’t lead you away from God’s word. God is not going to contradict His word. That’s how cults and apostasy start, is someone changes what God’s word says to fit modern times or their own ideas.

Stay humble, stay teachable. /

Similarly, our second parable today, from Luke 18:9-14 has a similar message. It says, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

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.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.””

I want you to understand that the Pharisees were not monsters. In fact many of the leaders of the people and some of the Pharisees believed in Jesus, says so in John 12:42, but they were afraid to tell anyone, because they feared being expelled from the synagogue.

These were people who saw the disastrous history of Israel, the repeating cycle of following God and then the next generation fell away from God, and then the kingdom splitting, the civil war, then Assyria taking Israel into captivity, and Babylon taking Judah into captivity. They were desperate to do the right thing, they were so desperate to fix the nation they became legalistic. And made man-made doctrines to sort of fill in where they thought God had missed something. Sounds a lot like theologies of today, always trying to fill in what God said.

In all of that devotion and study, they faced the danger of pride, and many fell to it, so the Pharisee is praying and saying to God, look at me, look how great I am, and he judges people around him, and says wow God thank you that I’m not like these terrible people. I fast twice a week, I give a tenth of my income, I tithe.

They were getting the external things right, fasting and praying and tithing and serving God, memorizing scripture, wearing the proper attire, and so on, but they had lost God himself in all the rules and regulations. They had become self focused and it had become about them. Pride had slowly done it’s work in them.

Pride is probably our greatest danger as Christians. I certainly think so. It’s a deadly poison, and the solution to it is humility. Humility is beautiful and pleasing to God.

See the tax collectors, standing far off, refusing to look to heaven, he was repentant, beating his chest, upset with himself for his wicked ways, and he cries out for mercy from God. And he left the temple that day justified before God. The Pharisee left poisoned and arrogant.

Thankfully for us as Christians we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. And when we begin to get prideful, which is a chief danger as wealthy Americans, the Holy Spirit begins to convict us, and humbles us, sometimes by making us look stupid. Believe me, so many times in my life, the Lord has humbled me, by having someone rebuke me, or I end up saying something foolish and prideful and people look at me like I’m being ridiculous. Have you ever experienced that? It’s not fun. But it’s a gift in disguise because it’s humbling us. Hopefully we can learn then over time to humble ourselves, so that we don’t have to endure the embarrassment and shame of being humbled by God himself. But take it as a gift if you are, because it means you were on a bad road. Then again, we can also resist and rejecting the Holy Spirit’s leading. I’ve seen that as well.

There was a famous missionary, someone that I had read his books, and really loved this dream he had of the gospel and the continent of Asia, and a bridge showed before to a ripe harvest. But over the years it all began to change, instead of empowering missionaries, it became one big megachurch sort of thing. Several pastors went to this man to correct him about the way he was setting things up, and his pride, and the gathering of money under one core power instead of the original way he had set it up for missionaries to be supported and to plant churches that would be independent of a central authority, in any case, when they went to him to correct him several times, he simply said to them, “once you have the money, you have the power.”

So guard against that sort of pride in your life. Always stay humble. We are servants of God. Keep that servant attitude, and you will be like the worker, who maybe didn’t want to go right away, but later went into the harvest field to work, and like the publican, though he had sinned and cheated people of their tax money, he went before God humbly, and sought forgiveness and he received it.

I think back to when I was blinded by the pride of life and the spirit of this world, we’ll make our own utopia, we don’t need you God and we’ll show you that we can do it without you, what foolishness! The pride of life can blind us to the truth, yet thankfully, God often humbles us, and brings us low, and the ego is gone, and thankfully once that ego is gone, we’re willing to listen and embrace who God really is, in all His beautiful and terrifying glory. Keep that humble mindset of the heart, and you will walk steadfastly and firmly as a Christian servant in a world full of pride and self-exalting puffed up worldliness. Humble pie tastes pretty gross, like eating crow, it isn’t necessarily fun to keep humble and meek and serving others as God’s servant and giving God all the glory, but the payoff is beyond imagining. Eternal life, in perpetual joy and peace, in a real utopia, a permanent city, the New Jerusalem, a perfect city, with no sin, made by God himself, just us as His people to dwell in. That’s something special and worth some humble pie.