Saturday, January 14, 2012

Authentic and Counterfeit Prayer

Christ tells the parable to "some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others." He describes the Pharisee. A Pharisee was a member of a religious sect which rigidly observed the written Jewish Law and insisted on observing the "oral" [traditional] law which grew out of the popular usage of Jewish law.

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise 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, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee

The religious leader in Christ's parable essentially, trusted in himself. And, as the parable enfolds, the Pharisee actually prayed to himself. Apparently, he prided himself in his religious observances and heritage. He asked no petition from God, but only congratulated himself!

Furthermore, the Pharisee was not conscious of any need that he may have had. Instead he denigrated and "put down" other people, as highlighted by his remarks about the Tax Collector:

"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.'" Luke 18:11

The Pharisee exhibited no devotion; no dependence upon God; no contrite emotion, but only pride and self trust, despising, others.

It might as well be noted, that the Pharisee's prayer was showy. Far be it for me to judge the religious / spiritual intents and motivations of a person's heart, but, I think it is fair to question people and professed Christians, such as the current and popular football star, Tim Tebow, for ostentatious behavior in public. [Luke 20:47 ; Matthew 6:3] That behavior, no matter how religious it may appear, smacks of a "Pharisaical nature," as noted by Christ's parable of the proud Pharisee and the humble Publican (tax collector). Luke 18:9-14

The Tax Collector

The Tax Collector's attitude and character, as opposed to the Pharisee, was so much different. You could say that it was the exact, opposite. Tax Collectors in Roman times often were unscrupulous characters. They had the habit of cheating the public and keeping some of the collected tax money for themselves. They had a "thing" going with Roman soldiers who were in, "on the take." The Tax Collectors would pay off the soldiers who would then make sure that the people paid their taxes. The tax bill would be exaggerated and, unfair, for the common people, but lucrative for the Tax Collectors and the accommodating Roman soldiers.

Christ states in His parable, that two men went to the Temple to pray. The Tax Collector was truly humble. He realized that he was nothing before God. His body language was such that he did not make a big show, but beat upon his chest, sighing the simple prayer:

"God be merciful [propitious] to me -- the sinner!" Luke 18:9-14

The Tax Collector's Prayer Sprang Out of a Deep Conviction of Sin

It is apparent that the Tax Collector's prayer is evidence of a conscience at work. The man was definitely "struck!" He doesn't pray: "God, be merciful to me, 'a' sinner," as some translations of the Bible have it, (as the original Greek language makes it clear). He prayed: "God be merciful to me, "the" sinner!" The Tax Gatherer takes personal blame for his sin! He doesn't blame other people!

Not only, does the Tax Gatherer understand that he is "the" sinner, he knows that his sins are against God! He comes to God, with no excuses. He readily recognizes that he has sinned against God. He isn't only concerned about his outward conduct, but he is grieved in his heart about his wicked inward conduct. He recognizes God's Law pointing to an offending sinful attitude, desire, disposition and thoughts.

Unlike the holier-than-thou Pharisee, the Tax Collector is so overwhelmed with his own sin, that he gives no thought at what others are doing and how they are behaving in the Temple, but he cries out as if he were the only one guilty before God: "God be merciful [propitious] to me -- the sinner!" Luke 18:9-14

The Tax Collector's Prayer Sprang Out of a Sense of Helplessness

The tax gatherer's prayer was a prayer for mercy. Without making any excuses, he readily acknowledged his sin before God. His urgent and earnest cry was not based upon any merit of his (own) as he realized that he could do nothing to gain God's favor. And, that's the reason why he plead for God's Mercy. He had no merit on his own behalf and had to throw himself upon God's favor, for the forgiveness of his sin.

Doesn't the Scripture say:? "It is by grace you have been saved; through faith; an that, not of yourselves; it is a gift of God; not by works - lest any may should boast." [Ephesians 2:8-9] The Pharisee was boasting, but not the Tax Collector! God puts every human being on the same level. The Scripture says: "There is no difference - for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!" Romans 3:23

It is, at this point where many Christians, fail. At times, Christians give vent to the devil, the push and pull of the corrupt culture - and, their own fallen sinful natures. Like the holier-than-thou Pharisee, Christians, often love to pat themselves on the back and take credit for whatever good they think comes from them and from whatever they feel, "they" are accomplishing. Christian churches in their weekly worship service bulletin announcements, are rife with examples of Christians self congratulating themselves for special monetary offerings and works of service to the local church. Christians, often daily forget that God's Mercy and their own merits are incompatible. They often overlook the reality of the words of that one notable hymn: "All depends on our possessing, God's abundant grace and blessing."

You who would access network TV or Internet video "Christian" preachers and worship services - beware of those who preach a mixture of [human] merit and mercy!

It isn't that we "find Christ," but rather that "Christ finds us!" "We love Him, because He first loved us!" [1 John 4:19] Turn off the radio or TV; close out the Internet video when you hear that mixture of merit, your own self worth and effort, coupled, with God's Mercy! That wicked convoluted message, isn't the Bible's message, but the diluted message of sinful humanity! If you can't detect within a supposed "Christian" message, the Scriptural truths of Christ's atonement for human sin and that by grace through faith the good Lord justifies the sinner, [Ephesians 2:8-9] then, above all, be very suspect and highly skeptical!

The Tax Collector's Prayer was a Cry of Faith

The New Testament Greek text makes it clear that the Tax Collector was aware of the "atonement." [Ιλασθητι - hil-as-kom-mai] -- Ιλασθητι means, mercy. This mercy that the Tax Collector sought was God's Mercy that was based upon "sacrifice," - blood. He prayed that prayer in the Jewish temple where there was a continual burning of animal sacrifice. He was approaching God, only on the basis of sacrifice - the blood that God required! The Scripture tells us that it is only through Christ's sacrifice - His holy precious blood shed for us that makes it possible for us to approach God. It isn't our own sense of self importance. It isn't our own worthiness. It isn't our own efforts or our own merit - but, only through the merits of Christ and His finished work on the Cross for us!

In short, the Tax Collector did not attempt to justify himself. He was truly penitent. He was truly humble and sorry for his sins. He trusted in God's Sacrifice for Him. He trusted in God's justification. He had faith - not in himself, but in God's Mercy - God's sacrifice of blood for him!

You who trust in yourselves and your own goodness - know for a spiritual reality that your attitude and practice of self righteous prayer is anathema before God. The Scriptures declare that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." [Matthew 16:17] God will not hear your prayers of pride and self importance. Like the prayer of the Pharisee, he will turn His ears away. You will only be praying to yourself. Prayers not based upon God's Mercy will be only words without penitent thoughts. They will be like the prayer which Shakespeare described: "My words fly up; my thoughts remain below; words without thoughts, never to heaven go!"

Authentic (genuine / successful) prayer is the prayer of the Tax Collector, as told by Christ, in His parable. Unless we approach God, because of His Christ, who was sacrificed for our sins, our prayers are only human pleas without true merit. We must come as the Tax Collector in true humility and earnestness. We must make our appeal to God on what He has done for us on the bias of His Mercy in Christ! May the Lord grant that we pray like the Tax Collector:

"God be merciful [propitious] to me -- the sinner!" Luke 18:9-14


Above Message and Related Scriptures [below] -- Intended to be utilized in a simple worship format:

Also: For a couple of other (more formal) worship formats:
The Order of Morning Service
The Order of Matins

Related Scriptures To the Above Message

Psalm 51:1-19
Ephesians 2:8-9
John 1:12-13
Luke 18:9-14

Of Whom Does the Prophet Speak" -- by Victor Buksbazen -- Isaiah 53:1-12 -- an in-depth view of and the prophecy of Christ, hundred of years before his birth. Isaiah 53:1-12 underscores the truthfulness of Divine Revelation as exemplified in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.

Please note: Topical Messages, by subject

Pastor (emeritus) Nathan Bickel

Please also note:

The "Words in Season" topical messages and related worship format are not intended to discourage or replace the Christian worship and assembly of Christians at their particular places of church worship. As this website's author, it is my prayer and hope, that many souls will find the topical messages, related worship format and other material, a useful and valuable Christian resource.

The Christian Faith: Parts 1-3
2 -- How the saving (believing) process of the Christian Faith takes place
3 -- What are the tell-tale signs that a person has been “Saved” [is a Christian]

Note: This edited message was previously posted online by Pastor emeritus Nathan Bickel

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