The Man Justified Before God

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10″Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The 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. 12I 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14)

This parable is on the subject of prayer and concerns itself more with the inner attitude or heart of prayer. In this parable, the contrast is between a self-righteous Pharisee and a penitent tax collector; no two people could be further apart than these two. Jesus shocks his audience by saying that the penitent tax collector went away justified rather than the Pharisee.

Both men were praying in the temple precincts. From the way the passage reads, I can picture the Pharisee standing up close to the front of the Temple Courts. His posture was that of standing up straight and looking up to heaven, congratulating himself out loud. I’m sure that others nearby could hear how he so righteously lived his life. It is mentioned that the penitent tax-collector stood at a distance, perhaps at the back of the Temple courts near the entrance, because he felt so unworthy. He could not even look up to heaven, which was the normal posture of prayer. (Our tradition today when called to prayer is to look downward, mainly due to the words of this parable.) It is interesting to note that often when Jesus is mentioned praying, it records that He “looked up to heaven.” In the Pharisee’s case, his posture of looking up to heaven is seen as his own self-righteousness and self-importance, which the parable later points out.  In the Pharisee’s prayer, the Greek words record him saying 5 times “I—I—I—I—I.” We find him praying “about himself” (verse 11), the literal rendering of the Greek is that he’s praying to himself. This man certainly was not maximizing his time of prayer, his prayer never got off the ground! His self-righteous attitude never brought him into a true relationship with God, he has no appreciation for grace, and in fact he disdains it. He’s far too righteous to need the grace of God! His life is all about keeping various laws to earn his right standing before God. He fully expects that his eternity is secured with a great mansion, but fails to look deep within himself to see his own character flaws. His boast was that he fasted twice a week. William Barclay tells us:

“The Jewish law prescribed only one absolutely obligatory fast- that on the day of Atonement. But those who wished to gain special merit fasted also on Mondays and Thursdays. It is noteworthy that these were the market days when Jerusalem was full of country people. Those who fasted whitened their faces and appeared in disheveled clothes, and those days gave their piety the biggest possible audience.”[1]

Like a good Pharisee, he tithed even on his spices, the mint, dill and cumin (Matthew 23:23), but yet he had no regard for the tax collector, in fact he despised him as he looked back at the man who could not even hold up his head. The man who has standing before God is one who has genuine humility and sees his need for mercy and grace from God:

“These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).

Keith Thomas

[1] The Daily Study Bible, Gospel of Luke, William Barclay, Page 223.

Are You Guilty Before God?

Several years ago I was driving through France when a red light came on in the dashboard of my car. I had to stop and visit a garage to make sure that the engine was okay to travel further. Just as the red light is to the dashboard of my car, guilt is to the soul of a man. Guilt is like a red warning light that tells you to stop and correct the problem before going on. Where is the conscience? Can’t we just turn off the red light in our souls? Brain scientists have found no area of our physical makeup where the moral conscience lies, that part of our nature that tells us we have done something wrong. That is because it is part of our soul—our invisible nature that goes on beyond physical death. Dear reader, this is critical stuff—you must take care of guilt before this life finishes because this is what God says:

6“Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty (Exodus 23:6-7).

You may say to me that you have never sinned and do not feel guilty. Then let me ask you a question—Have you kept the Ten Commandments all your life? Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen something that belongs to another? The greatest commandment in the law is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Have you kept that commandment? If not, then even though you might not feel guilty, upon your death the Law of God and your conscience will stand and accuse you before God in the courtroom of heaven. Your conscience is just the early warning light. In the court room of heaven, the God of creation has seen and will see every act and every thought you have ever committed. You must make peace with guilt on this side of eternity. We cannot be wrong about these things. Each of us only has one life to live. There is no second chance after death. The Bible says, “It is appointed to man once to die and then to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). We must make sure that the red warning light of guilt that shines on the inside of us is satisfied and that the guilt has been washed away. The good news is that the God of heaven loves you with an everlasting love and has initiated a plan to save you from your guilt and eternal destiny without Him. This is what He has said to you:

“For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them (Isaiah 61:8).

“The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. 
27And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Romans 11:26-27).

God has loved you so much that two thousand years ago, He came down in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus, and gave Himself as the Sin Bearer. The God of justice cannot just weigh your good works beside your bad works—which sin would be the tipping point? All sin is an act of rebellion against a Holy God and His law. His justice demands payment of the life of the individual for even just one sin (James 2:10). His plan right from the beginning was to take the punishment for your sin. It would be a New Covenant or agreement between each of us that takes up His free offer of taking your guilt away and on to Himself. It was a covenant signed in the blood of a sacrificial lamb—Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). In our fallen human nature, we have a tendency to want to accomplish our salvation ourselves by working hard at overcoming our sinful nature—but this just brings pride, which is ugly toward God—and it doesn’t take away the problem of sin and guilt. God has made it so simple that even a child can know the joy of sins forgiven and cleansed. Turn to Him, repent (change the direction of your life before God), and believe the gospel (the good news about sin being paid for). Place your life into the hands of Christ and believe (trust) Him:

28Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29). Keith Thomas

What on Earth are you Building?

As Jesus was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at these tremendous buildings! Look at the massive stones in the walls!” Jesus replied, “These magnificent buildings will be so completely demolished that not one stone will be left on top of another” (Mark 13:1-2).

Herod’s Temple was one of the Wonders of the World in its day. In the time of Christ it had been in the building for 46 years (John 2:20) and as Christ was talking, the building had still not been completed. The Jewish people were very proud of Herod’s Temple; it was one of the ways that Herod was trying to win his way into the Jewish people’s heart, even though he lived an ungodly life. I have lived in Jerusalem for more than a year and a half of my life and many times have walked up on the Temple Mount and reflected on the fact that every stone was literally thrown down just as Christ prophesied. It was totally destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Roman General Titus. Josephus the historian speaks of more than a million Jews were killed while the Romans set fire to the Temple. The gold of the Temple melted into the cracks between the bricks so every brick was separated, looting the gold and throwing the large magnificent stones from the Temple Mount.

When Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman in John 4, the big issue to her was whether or not she should worship at the temple that was in Samaria or the one in Jerusalem. Jesus said, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (vs.21-23). What was He saying?

God is not as interested about buildings as us. What He is more concerned about is the temple of the heart. Paul the Apostle wrote about this when he said “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). It’s seems to me like he was writing something that was 101 basic Christianity to the Church in Corinth using the words “Don’t you know” to remind them.

Isn’t it easy to get sidetracked into building what can be seen by men rather than what is seen only by God? I notice that the first Temple was called Solomon’s Temple, the second being Herod’s Temple. Maybe that is why God allowed the magnificent structure of the Temple buildings to be destroyed. The buildings were about what men had built. I don’t want to be disappointed at the end of my life by what I have built with my time, energy and money, and I don’t want you to be disappointed either. Jesus said that we were to not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-3). Is it about me? Does it have my name on it? Why am I building it? Is my labor truly glorifying to him or is it bringing glory to me? Is it magnificent to men but lacks value to God?

The things we build here on earth may be magnificent for a time but have little if any lasting value. The things that last are issues of the heart and character. I am convinced that many of you will be greatly rewarded for things that man has not recognized but God alone has seen.

Prayer: Please don’t let me get sidetracked into investing into things of this world; I truly want to build something that is glorifying to you.

Keith Thomas

For You, O God, Tested Us

10For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. 11You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. 12You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance (Psalm 66:10-12).

See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10).

Sometimes our lives are full of burdens and it seems as if God is nowhere to be found. In fact, it seems as if He is letting men ride over our heads and lay burdens on our backs. Why would God allow these things to go on in the lives of His children? I am presuming that you are a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. If not, then maybe today is your day to place your trust in His finished work in full payment of the debt of sin you owe. If you are a Christian, God views our testing as a refining of our character. Just as a metal sword made for combat was put through the fire, refined and hammered on the anvil, in the same way God allows for trials and difficulties to come to our lives so that we may grow spiritually through them. We do not know God’s plans and purposes for our lives. Our life experiences would make more sense if we could only look into the future and know what we are being made into. Often we don’t see God’s plan until twenty years later when we are enjoying the fruits that come from the trial. What are the fruits of trials? I would say that it is a greater presence of the Spirit on your life and a maturing of our character—these are the things that please God. Of course, this can result in other blessings in our lives and in the lives of others too. God has a purpose and a plan for each one of us. How do I know that? The mother of the two disciples, James and John, asked that they would be able to sit in the best positions in the Kingdom of God, on the right hand and on the left hand side of Jesus. Jesus replied saying that those places are for those who will endure the cup of suffering in the same way as Jesus would and did. He said to James and John:

You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father (Matthew 20:23).

What can we infer from this passage and several others? God knows what He is doing. John and James wanted the seats of honor on either side of Jesus, but were they ready to take the same cup of suffering that Jesus was to take? To be great in the sight of God is to be a servant of all, and to put self on the altar in order to serve even through times of suffering. The way up is the way down. Christ must become greater, and we must become less important. God has seen ahead of time those who, in their heart of hearts, want to go all the way with Him. In the preparation of His people, God prepares ahead of time opportunities for His servants to be exercised in their servant hood. He has seen the end from the beginning. He has a picture of the finished product of your life that He is making you to become. You are a product of the choices and responses to different trials that God has prepared in advance for you. When the cup of suffering is handed to you, will you choose to take the way of suffering or will you opt for the easy way out of the trial and compromise your faith?

 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

What does this scripture say? First, it says that God Himself is working on you—that you are His workmanship. Secondly, it says that you were created to do certain works that God Himself, outside of time, before the creation of the world, prepared in advance for you to do. Will you allow Him to shape and mold you to be the person you were created to be? Lay your life down before Him today and sincerely ask Him to have His way in your life—you will never regret that decision!

Keith Thomas

 

Does Jesus Know You?

Many of us have heard the question posed to us, “Do you know Jesus?” It’s a very important question that we all must ultimately answer either yes, or no to. It is very easy to assume that Jesus knows us. “Why of course Jesus knows me. He knows everything and everyone, right?”  In one sense, yes, that is very true. God is omniscient, but what does it really mean to know someone?

Suppose one were to dedicate a large part of their life learning everything there was to possibly know about the President of the United States. You would learn when he gets up, what he does during the day, all his accomplishments, where he was born, how many children he has, his wife’s name, his education, even down to minute details like what foods he may like and the friends he invites over for dinner. You could spend so much time and energy learning absolutely everything there is to know about him that you could almost say, “I know the President”. Now just imagine that someday you were able to find your way uninvited into the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC. The Secret Service grabs hold of you as you inform them, “It’s OK, I know the President!”  By chance if he is there, they are going to ask him if he knows you and should you hear him say: “No, I don’t know this person,” your future would quickly be determined. Unless you would have met him, spoken with him, sat with him, and spent time with him, he could never say he knew you at all. Let alone call you his friend. Knowing all about someone does not constitute a relationship.

21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Matthew 7:21-23).

In the above verses we see that not everyone who claims to know the Lord Jesus will find that He will claim to know them. The word “know” as used in verse 23 is from the Greek word “Ginosko”, meaning “to know absolutely.” What’s even more profound is that the Greek word for never, as used in verse 23, “Oudepote,” means “not even at any time, never at all.” So, can we also spend our entire life learning everything there is to know about this one called Jesus, reading the Bible, going to church, even doing all the works and signs of a follower, and still have Him say, “I never knew you?”

The answer is Yes.  And Jesus Himself also said that MANY will (Matthew 7:21-23).

We would find ourselves in the same predicament as being in the Oval Office again, and not being recognized by the President. Actually infinitely worse off. So how can I be assured that He knows me? A beautiful illustration comes from The Lord Jesus Himself saying to us:

 20Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20, ESV)

When we are invited to dinner at a friend’s house it is still as great an honor now as it has been for thousands of years. You enter into someone’s home that has possibly worked for quite some time preparing a meal for you in hopes that you will greatly enjoy the fruits of their labor prepared for you. Not only that, but you share details about your lives, your jobs, your children, your hopes, your dreams, etc. You certainly at this point have a relationship one with another. How much more so that the Creator of the heavens and the Earth and all that is in them, is knock, knock, knocking at the door of our hearts asking to come in and dine with us! To have a relationship with Him.

In the 3rd chapter of the book of John, a man named Nicodemus; a Pharisee; a Ruler of the Jews, comes to Jesus at night. He says to Jesus: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Jesus gives a most interesting answer in verse 3: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” That is the key: “You must be Born Again.” He knew exactly what Nicodemus, and every person who ever comes to Him needs to know. He then proceeded to explain to him (and us) how to enter into His kingdom and thus enjoy having a personal relationship with Him. A bit further on, in one of the most famous verses in all the Bible we read:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever lives and believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

The word “believes” is from the Greek word “Pisteuo,” meaning “to entrust, commit, put in trust with.” It is far more than just accepting a stated fact as being true. So in conclusion, when a person comes to Jesus and truly “believes” in Him by trusting in Him, committing their hearts and minds and lives to Him, and repenting of their sins, they then become Born Again; thus entering into a personal relationship with Him and receiving all the rights and privileges of a child of the King of Kings. Their names are then written down in “The Lamb’s Book of Life” (Revelation 3:27). Dear ones, if you have never entered into a personal relationship with The Lord Jesus, before it is too late, we urge you with every fiber of our being to come humbly at His feet, admit you are a sinner, and accept the free gift of salvation that was so completely secured by Him alone at a very great price.

Mike Engel