February 17, 2021
Pastor Timothy J. Spaude
Text: Luke 18:9-14
Our hands. They are super important. Think of the many, many ways we use our hands each and every day. Brushing your teeth. Using a spoon. Opening a door. Turning a page. Communicating. Actually our hands communicate a lot more than with typing. They can welcome or accuse. They can say victory or surrender. They tell you something about a person. If you shake my hand now you will get the softer hand of a man who does very little manual labor. If you had shaken my hand at the end of the summer I worked construction working with sun heated steel all day they would feel quite different. Because of the way our hands talk, for this year’s Lenten series we look at the Hands of the Passion. We begin with some hands that talk to us about the attitude of the entire Lenten season.
“HANDS OF REPENTANCE”
Luke 18:9-14 (EHV) “Jesus told this parable to certain people who trusted in themselves (that they were righteous) and looked down on others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple courts to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘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. I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 “However the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even lift his eyes up to heaven, but was beating his chest and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 “I tell you, this man went home justified rather than the other, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus told a story. Two men were at the Temple in Jerusalem. They were there to pray. One was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were the religiously elite of Jewish society. They looked to be more reverent, more obedient and more zealous that God’s law be obeyed than their fellow Jewish people. His prayer starts, “God, I thank you!” Ah this is going to be good we think. “Thank you, God,” is a great way to pray. Immediately we feel convicted remembering all the times we began our prayers with a gimme please! “God, I thank you.” If only, if only he had stopped right there. I’m reminded of the proverb “When words are many, sin is not absent” (Proverbs 10:19). His prayer went on. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people, robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Now we are not told exactly what the Pharisees hands were doing at the time. Likely if he followed the cultural custom Paul described in his letter to Timothy he would have been looking up with hands extended up to communicate he was talking to God in prayer. I think we can tell though by his words what his hands were really doing—patting himself on the back. Thank you God that I, by my own power, am better than others. I do not steal. I do not do evil. I do not commit adultery. I do not extort money. The way the Pharisee saw it he had kept all the Commandments.
Actually that’s not totally true. The Pharisee didn’t believe he had just kept the commandments, he blew them out of the water. He was extra. He went over and above and he reminded God of that. “I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of all my income.” The Law of Moses required faithful Jews to fast just one day a year. He was doing twice a week. He didn’t just give 10% of what he earned but 10% of what he received. We are not told why he prayed this way. Was it just following the normal sinful nature inclination to say, “Look at me! It’s all about me!?” Or was he maybe trying to convince himself he was as good as he was saying? We don’t know.
Now our eyes turn to the hands of the other man. “However the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even lift his eyes up to heaven, but was beating his chest and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The tax collectors of Jesus day often used their position of authority to extort money from those who owed taxes. When the people heard Jesus mention a tax collector they would want to boo and hiss. If a Pharisee was considered to be religiously elite, a tax collector would be considered religiously undesirable. We aren’t told if this particular tax collector was one of those who extorted from the people. But we are told what his hands were doing. Beating his chest. No hands upheld in prayer. No eyes up to heaven to indicated talking to God. Eyes downcast. I’m not worthy. Hands saying the same. And a prayer to match. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He knew who he was. A sinner. He did not deserve anything from God. He pleaded for mercy. That God in love would not treat him as his sins deserved.
God be merciful to me a sinner. It’s a short prayer. Just 7 words in our language. But a powerful prayer. It was prayed to the almighty God and it came from a heart of faith, the kind God looks for. A broken and contrite heart he does not despise. Jesus tells us, “I tell you, this man went home justified rather than the other, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Now remember when Jesus tells one of his stories called a parable, it’s important you know why he told it. He tells us why. Jesus wasn’t talking to a specific person or group of people. It was not a parable just for the benefit of tax collectors and Pharisees. “Jesus told this parable to certain people who trusted in themselves (that they were righteous) and looked down on others.” Do you know anyone like that? Parables with people kind of push you to look at yourself and say which one am I? Pharisee or Tax collector. Is the honest answer a little of both? How easy it is when we’ve gotten good at controlling the outward actions to look down on and despise the brothers and sisters who are weak in the outward things like worship or giving. As we advocate for God’s moral high ground how easy to wish people were more like us. Thankfully we have the Holy Spirit and something like the Church Year season of Lent that whispers to us again, “But unless you repent you too shall perish.” How good it is to be reminded that we have all fallen short of the glory of God and the only one who has the right to look down is God and when He does what does He see? He sees me. And all my sins. God have mercy on me, a sinner.
Now let’s shift our eyes to the third person in the parable. Wait. What? There’s no 3rd person. Yes, there is! The teller. Jesus. Look at his hands. His hands worshipped God perfectly all the time. His hands were used in obedience to his parents. His hands were used to keep every commandment perfectly not for his sake but for ours, for you. His hands were stretched out on a cross so he could receive punishment for the sins of the whole world, for you. His hands plead for you and me before our Father in heaven. Because of his hands we know that our prayer, “God have mercy on me a sinner,” is answered with an “Absolutely yes. I have had mercy on you and I want you to know it.” That’s why Jesus commissioned His followers1 to have hands that proclaim forgiveness. That’s why Jesus used His hands to put the power of mercy and forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper so our hands can take and eat and take and drink. And that’s why I can tell you that you will go home justified of your sins. God grant that we continue to humble ourselves before Him as we look forward to the time He will exalt us to heaven. Amen.