Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What I Didn't Say to the Youth Group Tonight

I preached to our youth group tonight at our church. I normally prepare a manuscript, study what I have written and then ad lib, following my rough outline in my head. Sometimes, however, I follow a totally different track from what I had planned. Tonight, for example, I was discussing with the kids the idea that we are not to grade ourselves on the curve, and I used the Pharisee in Luke 18:10 as a grand example of the person who thinks God grades us in relation to one another. Unfortunately, I left out a fair amount of discussion that I had planned. Determined that the message would not be consigned to the dust-heap of history, I present to you my alternate ending to tonight's sermon. Notice how I tried to sneak in Calvin's duplex gratia deus there at the end, but in plain English that teenagers could understand.

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Notice, too, that everything the tax collector brings to God is external - they are deeds. But he cannot say that he loves God or that his soul delights in the law of God, as the Psalmist frequently says (such in Psalm 119). He does not enjoy the things of God - for him, his religion is a burden rather than a pleasure.

On the other hand, look at the tax collector - the dirt bag - the scum - the man whom Jesus says went home justified that day. Look at his humility. He has been brought down low by his sin. He has been broken and probably endured a very painful experience struggling with his demons. Ultimately, the tax collector could not hide his sin, he could not remove his sin, and he could not overcome his sin, in and of himself. And so we see that empty-handed, with nothing to commend himself, he steps with trepidation forward and in a near whimper he speaks the simple words which mark the difference between salvation and damnation: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"

How often do we say to God that we're sorry, when we have not really felt the stinging weight of our sin? Many times, we will confess our sin out of habit, or because it is the "right" thing to do. We ought to ask God to break us with sorrow for our sin, which is appropriate. Notice that the tax collector, even as he asks for forgiveness, will not lift his head. His sin is still very great, and he knows it. There is repentance here. There is sorrow for sin here. There is a sinner in need of a savior.

He is us. The question is, are we willing to be truthful with ourselves - and with God - about our condition, about our behavior, about our heart's unwillingness to be conformed to Christ's image?

This is where the truth of the Gospel liberates the tax collector. Knowing the full truth of the Gospel of God's free grace and forgiveness, we can come, brokenhearted over our sin and know, confidently, that there is a Savior who will stand in our place, who will adopt us into his family, and clothe us in His goodness, so that all our sin becomes His, and all of His goodness becomes truly and properly ours.

Though you and I are very great sinners, and though you and I are empty-handed with nothing to commend ourselves to God, we can take hold of Christ, and HE will become our forgiveness, and the one who enables us to stand up to sin when it rears its ugly head.

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