I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1

God, Be Merciful to Me, a Sinner

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Anderson sermon
St. Luke 18:9-14 “God, Be Merciful to Me, a Sinner”
August 20, 2023 | Christ Lutheran Church

In Nomine Iesu
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Lord God, heavenly Father, we beseech You so to guide and direct us by Your Holy Spirit, that we may not forget our sins and be filled with pride, but continue in daily repentance and renewal, seeking comfort only in the blessed knowledge that You will be merciful to us, forgive us our sins, and grant us eternal life; through Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, by Veit Dietrich, p. 161)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Rom. 1:7, etc.)

The sermon text for today is taken from the 19th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke. We read selected verses in Jesus’ name:

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by Your truth, Your Word is truth. Amen. (Joh. 17:17)

In Christ Jesus, who hears your penitent prayers when you confess your sins, the ones that cause you to not raise your head, wiping your slate clean with His death on the cross, dear fellow redeemed:

When someone asks you how your prayer life is going, what prayers come to mind? There are many Christians who strive to have a good relationship with God. When we look in Scripture we see how the Bible is full of prayer. This is the way that we talk to God. Like all good things that we have, we see in our text that the goodness of prayer can be shadowed by using it improperly. Sadly because we are human beings, our prayer life can sometimes be lacking, or be used in a way that our requests sound more like demands. Or as our text shows, maybe our prayers can turn into a form of gloating before God. Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector teaches about the use of prayer and more importantly the repentance that belongs in prayer. As you go to God in prayer, wondering if you can even approach God, you hear forgiveness from your Savior as you exclaim, God, be merciful to me, a sinner!

As Jesus teaches the parable, there were some of them in the crowd who did not believe that they were sinners. The Pharisees reveal how deep their misunderstanding goes with God’s law. They only have one thing on their mind. They believe that they are too good. They are better than the common people. They always challenged Jesus as to why He was with sinners. To stand out above the rest, they work very hard to keep all of the laws that they created. In the parable we see the Pharisee bringing up these laws. He brags about what he supposedly hasn’t done by bringing up what all the other men do. In his prayer he says they are “extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” This Pharisee looks like a good religious leader. Let’s tear apart some of these.

The Pharisee said that He is not an extortioner. Yet in our text last week, we watched Jesus remove the money changers out of the temple. The Pharisee says that he is not one who is unjust. Yet again last week they were seeking a way to destroy Jesus. He had done nothing wrong, and they want Him dead. The Pharisee’s believed that they were keeping God’s law but it’s their own law that they have kept. The Pharisee talks about all of the fasting that he does in his prayer. The Jews only had one law given to them by God to fast on one day in the whole calendar year. As the Pharisee continues to go on about all of the good that he is doing, we see that his prayer is not really a prayer at all. This man’s pride swallows up all the good that he does. He says, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men,” and King David records, In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised” (Psalm 10:2).

To pursue the weak and to scheme are not the ways of God. As we look in our own lives, we might think to ourselves that we don’t do those things that the Pharisees did. We can try to deny that we don’t act like the world. Pride however, comes in all different shapes. Like that Pharisee we can look at what other people do. We can forget that God is the only judge. The moment that we compare our worth and compare how we have lived to the life of someone else, we are no better than the Pharisee. We look with favor on our sacrifice. Our prayer turns into a prayer of bragging. The devil is quick to tempt us with pride in our prayers. Instead of thanking God for our blessings and for His most gracious mercy, we exclaim to God how great we are doing in our lives and maybe God should get to work and make it better.

Now as the Pharisee went up to show off his own righteousness, a tax collector also went up. This man could barely step inside the temple. He hung around away from the group, but within an ear shot of the Pharisee. Not only does he hear the Pharisee, he believes what the Pharisee prays is true. When he looks at himself all he sees is all of the bad he has done. Like that tax collector, maybe we have a hard time walking into this sanctuary. Maybe we have a hard time looking up at the altar. We look at the sins that we have done, many of them we probably told ourselves we will never do that again. And again we did do it. We look at ourselves and think not only are we not righteous, but can God even forgive me? Can God smile at me? The devil smiles when we are here at this point. He wants us to believe that there is no hope. That God can’t forgive us. The tax collector could have thought that too. He couldn’t pray like the Pharisee could pray. Maybe we think we can’t pray like those other Christians can. All the tax collector could do was “standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”

How is God merciful to a sinner who can barely lift his gaze to heaven? How can God be merciful to me? Jesus gives the answer in the parable. The Pharisee looked at himself and thought that God would love him just the way he was. His righteousness shows God he is better than everyone else. The tax collector looked at that Pharisee, looked at his own life and he humbled himself before God. He knew God hated his sin, so he did the only thing he could do. He graciously, barely lifting up his eyes, asked God to be merciful to him and he looked toward God’s promise of sending a Savior to take away his sins. He then left the temple. Did this man instantly feel better? Jesus doesn’t tell us that. Jesus says, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” This man may not have felt better instantly, but he was justified before God. The sins that bugged him so much that he didn’t even want to go into the temple; they were taken away from him. Not because he could do anything, but because he understood he could do nothing.

As that tax collector looked toward the promise of God that is all that you have as well. It is not the good that you do as you see in this text that your righteousness is not sufficient. Seeing that you either will look at your works with pride or look at your sins with despair, you utter the same prayer as the tax collector. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Jesus tells you that you are declared righteous. He looks upon you with His favor. You heard his voice at the beginning of the service as He tells you “I forgive you all your sins!” Like the tax collector, your penitent heart, your broken spirit, that is what God wants. He wants you to come to Him as His dear child. And when you come to Him, knowing that you can’t do it, He forgives you all your sins. He blots them away forever. He says that you are justified by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ who is the atoning sacrifice for your sins.

This is the greatest mercy that you will ever know as long as you live. You have never once deserved it. He sees the sin, and He sees the pain. God kept that promise to the tax collector. He kept the promise for you. Jesus tells this parable to assure you that your sins have been wiped away. He saw the pain and He took it all away. He perfectly, humbly, took your sins on His back to the cross.

Now the death of Christ was long ago. You see what He has done, you know it to be true, but how do you cling to the cross? How do you know that God is merciful? As you hear God keeping His promise to you in His Holy Word, He instituted His sacraments for you. Here is the visual promise. Every time you confess your sins you look to the font where the water of Baptism washed you into the death and resurrection of Christ. Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation was brought to you at the font through the Word and water. And as life is unrelenting, Christ instituted the Supper. This is where you receive the forgiveness of sins on your tongue. God is merciful to you!

As we are humbled low by our sins day after day, it does seem that we are far from God’s mercy. On the days that we are repeat offenders, committing those same sins, we will think that we do not deserve His mercy. God won’t argue with us. As we repeat the same sins every day He does say that we deserve punishment for them. But in those mistakes, as our penitent prayers rise up once more to the throne room, God hears our prayers for mercy. He tells us once more to look in His Word. It is here that we see Him keeping His promise. He sent His Son who has taken away all of our sins. The cross of Christ is God being merciful. We can come into the sanctuary with joy and we leave knowing the beautiful news. Our prayers for mercy have been answered as we are exalted heavenward because of Christ’s death and resurrection. We hear the comforting Words, the answer to our prayers at the beginning of church and we will soon hear them at the rail. Go with joy, your sins are forgiven! Depart in peace. Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
forevermore. Amen.
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