The Man Justified Before God

PP-PhariseeAndPublican_CZ_00259To 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.”

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.” I picture Jesus looking up to His Father in expectation because of His faith. 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.

Pride is an ugly sin to God. “The devil is content that people should excel in good works, provided he can make them proud of them” (William Law). “Pride is the idolatrous worship of ourselves, and that is the national religion of hell” (Alan Redpath). To be full of self is to be empty of God. Grace and humility bows the knee to a Holy God who alone can sustain and keep us free from the corrupting influence of self. The highway of holiness is a valley trail in the direction of humility. The trail will lead you on a path of death to self. If we can daily see tests that we are going through, that give us opportunity to humble ourselves, we are on the right highway. “The higher a man is in grace, the lower he will be in his own esteem” (C.H. Spurgeon). Learn to welcome the opportunity to die daily to self. What is humility? “Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble. The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all” (Andrew Murray). William Barclay tells a great story about how we should all live as a Christian:

There is a story of a monk in the old days, a very holy man who was sent to take up office as abbot in a monastery. He looked so humble a person that, when he arrived, he was sent to work in the kitchen as a scullion, because no one recognized him. Without a word of protest and with no attempt to take his position, he went and washed the dishes and did the most menial tasks. It was only when the bishop arrived a considerable time later that the mistake was discovered and the humble monk took up his true position. The man who enters upon office for the respect that will be given him has begun in the wrong way, and cannot, unless he changes, ever be in any sense the servant of Christ and of his fellow men.[2]

If we really want to maximize our effectiveness, prayer is vital. God has gone to great lengths to make it possible for us to be a kingdom of priests to our God. The Temple curtain has been torn in two for us to enter into the very presence of God offering spiritual sacrifices of prayer. The graces of humility, persistence and perseverance will bring the power of God through us to a needy world.

Keith Thomas

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

[2] William Barclay, Daily Study Bible, the Gospel of Mark, Page 301.

What is the Great Tribulation?

15“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again (Matthew 24:15-21).

Many of you have heard of the prophecy of the Lord Jesus (written above), that there will be a time called the “great tribulation”(KJV), translated as “great distress” in the New International Version of the Bible. Jesus in the passage above warned us about this time. He said that an event He called the “Abomination of Desolation” would precipitate this time of great tribulation or distress in Israel, and the rest of the world too. So the first big question for us to consider is, what is meant by the term great distress or great tribulation? The time that Jesus spoke about, I believe, is just around the corner from us. What will happen at that time? The Greek word that the term is translated from is Thlipsis. I have a Key Word Study Bible, which enables me to search what this Greek word means and how it was used in other passages. The word literally means, “to crush, press, compress, squeeze, tribulation, trouble and affliction. This Greek word “conveys the picture of something being crushed, pressed or squeezed as from a great weight. It is used to denote grievous physical affliction or mental or spiritual distress.”

How this word was used in context in other passages of the Bible will shed some light on what the church (called out believers in Christ) should expect to happen during that time. In Acts 8:1, the word thlipsis is translated as great persecution after the martyrdom of Stephen:

 1And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1).

In Acts 11:19, the same Greek word, thlipsis, is translated again as persecution:

 19Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews (Acts 11:19).

And lastly, Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church using the same Greek work, thlipsis, to describe the persecution they had been going through:

4Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring (2 Thessalonians 1:4. The word trials is our Greek word thlipsis).

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what am I saying? I’m saying that we need to be focusing and preparing ourselves spiritually to live in close relationship to the Lord. The tribulation, when it comes, is a time of worldwide persecution of those that serve the God of Israel, true Christians and Jews. I believe the persecution is aimed at all those who will not take the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16-17) or worship his image. We should not think that the Lord will rapture us out of here before the tribulation, but we should prepare to endure. The tribulation is never called the wrath of God. The wrath of God is only poured out after the church is taken (raptured) at some point (no man knows the day nor the hour) during the great tribulation that breaks out after the Abomination of Desolation, which happens at the mid-point of the seven-year period (Daniel 9:27). Jesus was very clear in telling us that the rapture, or gathering together of His people in the air, would not happen until some point after the tribulation or distress had started:

29Immediately after the distress of those days

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

30Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other (Matthew 24:29-31 Emphasis mine).

It’s time to prepare our souls for His coming. Let’s grow in our dependence and trust in Him.

Keith Thomas

Are You Fighting Against God?

There is a spirit at work in the world that seeks to destroy the plans of God—as if that were possible! This spirit seeks to influence men by suggesting to them to wipe out the nation of Israel. This is not the first time that Satan has tried to do this. The Book of Esther in the Bible tells the story of a man named Haman, who plotted to wipe out the Jewish people (Esther 3:6), but was hanged on the very gallows that he had built for his Jewish enemy, Mordecai (Esther 7:9). Then there is the attempt by Pharaoh as well (Exodus 1:16). This also failed. Through the last 2000 years the Jewish people have been persecuted, culminating with Hitler’s attempt to systematically murder six million. Since the birth of the Jewish nation in 1948, the enemies of God have influenced men such as the president of Egypt, Abdul Nasser, who said, “We are going to drive the Jews into the sea and wipe them out as a nation.” War broke out in 1956 and Nasser lost. Nasser again declared on 27 May 1967, “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.” President Abdul Nasser was fulfilling prophetic Scripture:

“And they have said, ‘Come and let us wipe them out as a nation. Let the name of Israel be remembered no more‘” (Psalm 83:4) Continue reading

Does the God of the Tenakh (Bible) Have a Son?

This is the big difference between Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The Tenakh is what Christians call the Old Testament. The Tenakh is the sacred writings inspired by God for Jews and Gentiles (Non-Jews). The Jewish people have been faithful in their responsibility to keep these sacred writings free from error. So, what does the Tenakh (the Old Testament) say about God having a Son?

 6“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” 7I will proclaim the LORD’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father. 
8Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 
9You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” 10Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. 
11Serve the LORD with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. 
12Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, 
for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him (Psalm 2:6-12).

There is a King coming to the people of Earth, a mighty warrior King who will put down all evil and rebellion against the Most High God. Verse 11 says that we are to pay homage (kiss) to this King. Everyone who places their trust in this King will be blessed and be able to take refuge in Him (verse 12). The Holy Scriptures, the Tenakh, says that this King will be God Himself

Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him (Isaiah 40:10).

You might be a Jewish person, but perhaps you have never read the Tenakh, for most Jewish people read only the first five books of Moses. Just so that you know that there is more places that one that God says that He has a Son, what about the book of the Tenakh called Proverbs? When talking about some of the attributes of the Creator God, the writer of Proverbs says:

4Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know! (Proverbs 30:4).

This mighty King of Israel is the same suffering servant that we wrote about a few posts previously. His name is Jesus, which means The Lord our Savior. He has come once to deliver us from the guilt and shame of our sin, but He is also coming again as our mighty King and deliverer from the Satanic forces of deception that are at work in the world. Surely there is never a better time than today to kiss the Son and take refuge in Him. Bow the knee to Him and call upon His Name that your sins and guilt be washed away and that when He comes, He will come as your King and Deliverer.

Keith Thomas