Trinity 11 (2014)
Delivered By
Pr. Mark D. Lovett
Delivered On
August 31, 2014
Central Passage
Luke 18:9-14

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The reason the tax collector went home justified is because he depended only on the mercies of God for forgiveness of his sins. The Pharisee believed that because of who he was – or rather, who he was not: not an extortioner, or unjust, or an adulterer, or even  like the tax  collector – and because of what he did that he considered good – he fasted and tithed – because of these things the Pharisee didn’t even ask forgiveness. He thought there was nothing to forgive.

There was nothing to forgive either because he didn’t sin or because the good he did outweighed the sins he committed. He wanted to prove to God that he had much to give, that he could offer God a good life. Either way, he did not go home justified.

How often we think like this Pharisee. When we do wrong we try to do some right to counterbalance the wrong. Then, we think, we cannot be held accountable for the wrong. But what if a man who gave millions of dollars to feed hungry children and so saved millions of children from death by starvation, what if he murdered a man? Just one man. Would all of his philanthropy outweigh his one act of hatred and murder? Of course not.

But we’re not murderers, right? We’re not like those men. Repent.

Repent and be like Abel who did not have regard for himself or his offering but, as the Scriptures say in Hebrews, offered his sacrifice by faith (Hebrews 11:4). That is what the tax collector did, he offered his sacrifice by faith. Now what sacrifice was it that the tax collector offered? First consider what sacrifice the Pharisee offered. He offered his good works and his godly life. He offered his sacrifice with the intent to show God how much he had to offer and how good his life was. By contrast, the tax collector offered a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

He praised God by asking for mercy. Praising God simply means to ask for the very thing that God promises to give, which is mercy and life for sinners. And in receiving mercy the sinner goes home justified giving thanks for having received what was asked for.

So it was with Abel. He did not offer his sacrifice to appease an angry God or to show God how much he had to offer Him. Cain did. Cain offered God the cream of the crop, the best he had. And it was this in which Cain trusted. But Abel, whose name means “vapor”, he did not trust in what he offered but in what God promised, which was to crush the head of the serpent and so redeem mankind.

Abel was waiting for the promised Messiah and in waiting he asked for mercy and gave thanks for the mercy received through the promises of God. Abel went home justified. Cain, trusting in his own position as the first born and the good offering he gave, became a murderer.

And that’s what we become when we trust in what we give; whether that’s a good life, money, or some combination thereof. When we think God will be pleased with us because of what we do or who we are we become like Cain. We become murderers.

Because then we do what the Pharisee did who murdered the tax collector. After all, does not our Lord say that whoever hates his brother has murdered him? Why didn’t the Pharisee pray for the tax collector? Because he hated him. He hated him because he was not like him, so he thought. He was better than him. He measured his life against the tax collector and judged the tax collector based on his own righteousness. And so he murdered him. He killed him by hating him just like we hate those who are less than us, lower than us, more sinful than us.

Repent and believe the gospel which says that the Lord Jesus died for the sins of all people. Even the people who lie about you and hate you and would cause you harm. They are no worse than you. To them the Lord wants to be merciful, just as He is merciful to you.

The Lord is a merciful Lord. And in His mercy He has marked you as He marked Cain. He put a mark on Cain so that no one could do to Cain as Cain had done to Abel. The Lord marked Cain so that Cain would live. It was the Lord’s mercy that saved Cain. So with you. The Lord has marked you with the mark of Christ in Holy Baptism so that when your accuser – who is the devil – finds you, he can do nothing to you, though you might be as soiled as Cain. Though we have earned death the Lord has marked you with the mark of life you so that you will live. The Lord has shown mercy to sinners.

+ In Nomine Iesu +