March 31st 2019: Chris Benbow

Chris Bembo-March19The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Luke 18:9-14

This is mind-bending! It’s confusing. It’s scandalous. The good guy, the model citizen does good things, goes to the good place, the temple, to pray. He does a good thing by praying. But, in fact, it’s not good. To God, it’s disgusting. It’s wrong. Then, the bad guy, not the guy you’d invite around to dinner, comes to God and it’s good. You see how this would have messed with the heads of the people who first heard this parable?

The issue here is righteousness. Who is righteous? Who is justified? At the end of our lives we will stand before God, the books will be opened, it will be time to find out who’s in and who’s out. Jesus teaches this parable to answer that.

The Pharisee – yeah! The tax collector – boo! Jesus sets up the extreme contrast. We ‘get’ this as we view from a New Testament perspective. However, in Jesus’ time the people didn’t see Pharisees as bad guys. They had unparalleled knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures. They were the pillar of society. They ‘fast twice a week and give a tenth of all’ they have (Luke 18:12). Fasting is going all day without food and devoting the day singularly to prayer, to God. The Pharisees also tithed, giving a tenth of all they had, giving God the first-fruits, the best of their income. From a religious standpoint, this Pharisee is a pretty good deal.

Then there’s the other guy – the tax collector. He would have been the scum of society. The Romans were a pagan empire who had slaughtered many and took taxes. Some of God’s people had joined the opposing team and bullied and intimidated the rest of God’s people, joining the foreign Romans. They would bankrupt people. They were socially and morally disgusting.

So, here they are, two people – the hero and the heathen, the Pharisee and the tax collector. They both came to the temple. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector (Luke 18:12). The tax collector wouldn’t even look up to heaven, ‘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.’ (Luke 18:13). Jesus continues, ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’(Luke 18:14).

Why is the good guy not right with God and the supposed bad guy is?

Here we see displayed righteousness and received righteousness. There is a world of difference! Which one are we most like? Are we like the Pharisee, righteousness displayed? We are right and others are wrong. This could be shown in secular ways – being self-righteous., thinking we are better than others because we recycle, because we care for the environment. It could be we get in a car and think we’re a better driver than others. Maybe it’s a cause we support – we’re an activist, supporting an environmental cause or charity, thinking of ourselves as being better than others. This is self- righteousness displayed.

May be it is even worse, religious self-righteousness. The Lord asks, why should you be in glory? If your answer begins with ‘I’ you’re in big trouble, thinking it’s all to do with you. The Pharisee’s prayer has only one mention of God and four mentions of himself. It is all about him and what he’s done. Now he thinks he is righteous. And God says, ‘No, it’s not good enough.’ God is perfect, just perfect. So compared to Him, our best isn’t good enough, to God it is offensive. The Bible says no-one is righteous, no not one. No matter how good we think we are, our displayed righteousness is no good at all.

Received righteousness is beautiful. This is righteousness received as a gift from God. The tax collector knows what’s he is like, ‘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.’ (Luke 18:13). He is essentially in mourning, grieving his sin. We’re in that boat too, we are all in that situation. The tax collector sees his sin as obvious. He can only utter, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13). He knew he was morally bankrupt. All that was left for him was to throw himself on the mercy of God. Mercy, God’s free gift, given through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

As Jesus tells this parable He knew what was going to happen. His naked, bloody body would be beaten, broken, hanging off a cross. It is only when you realise, this is it, this is the only way, that you realise your best is never good enough. The only thing we can do is hold our empty hands, say we have nothing to give and ask for His mercy. You will have His mercy. The price is paid. It’s done. Finished. This is the gift of righteousness. The only righteousness that is acceptable to God. If you haven’t put your trust in Jesus’ righteousness, come to Jesus and receive His grace. There is no other way. Throw yourself on God’s mercy and you will be saved.

February 18th 2018: Owen Jones

Owen Jones-Feb18Ephesians 5:32 ‘A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’

There is a mystery in the mystical union we have with Christ. There are metaphors that make the mystery a little clearer. In days gone by, when romance was in the air a couple could be referred to as ‘courting.’ Today, ‘being an item’ is often used. We are more than an item. The relationship between the church and the Lord Jesus Christ is an unbreakable union, it is already in being. Every believer becomes part of the bride, the wife. God speaks about us as the bride, the wife. Psalm 45. Every truly born-again believer is ultimately joined in unity with Christ. This presents the loveliest picture of two being one.

How should we look right now and on that future day? We see the bride united as: a faithful wife, a fruitful wife and as a beautiful, breathing-taking wife.

United as a faithful wife:
Paul uses beautiful illustrations – the wife is like the church that gives in, ‘Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.’ (Ephesians 5:22). Marriage teaches us at least one thing – giving. Wives submit to husbands, but the bigger picture is lives in submission to Christ. It is part of the creation ordinance and now part of the new creation. When the local church gives in to community and no longer has the Bible at its centre it ceases to be what it once was. Submit to one another in reverence to Christ. Give in to every word because Jesus tells you. As the church submits to Christ, wives submit to husbands. ‘A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ (Ephesians 5:32). Husbands, measure the giving. Who is giving more – her or him? Christ gave Himself up for the church. Giving up – true love – is demonstrated at Calvary. Like Hosea, the prophet. God told Hosea to love his wife as the Lord loves the Israelites. The husband gives his name to his wife, she happily accepts it. They are legally one. How faithful are we to Him, to each other?

United as a fruitful wife:
The spiritual illustration. Remember the higher principal – your union is with Christ. The church is mysteriously joined to Him as a faithful and fruitful wife. The fruit? Holiness. If you are in Christ that’s the fruit you’re going to bear, ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.’ (Galatians 5:22-23). It’s all on the one tree, always in blossom, always in season. Jesus said, ‘By their fruits you will know them.’ (Matthew 7:20). The fruit of intimacy, close fellowship, produces its own fruit. As we read His word, He comes to us.

Some marriages fail because couples no longer have anything to say to each other. How long has it been since you talked to the Lord? Couples can live separate lives under one roof. Start talking to one another again. When was the last time you heard the Lord Jesus Christ speak to you?

What about the fruit of increase, the great commission, the bride increasing from the nations? The preaching of the gospel works in people’s hearts and lives, something is being conceived. There’s a birth, an increase.

We also need to know and produce the fruit of Christ’s likeness. Do you think in the same way as Christ thinks? When you speak do others hear the voice of their Saviour? You and I begin to look like the ones we love. When God breathed life into us He breathed knowledge, love and righteousness. In regeneration, He renews that which had been erased at the Fall.

United as a beautiful wife:
This is a profound mystery. There’s no need for make-overs. Why? The marriage day is fully realised in the future (Revelation 19:7), but something is happening now. All the wrinkles and the lines are gone. Jesus must be the centre stage – the wedding day of the Lamb. But look at His Bride, ‘It was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure – for the fair linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.’ (Revelation 19:8). All the tears, all the sorrows cease to be. Let us rejoice and give Him the glory. The Bride has prepared for this day. How? She is dressed in fine linen. Everything we do now prepares us for that holy day (Ephesians 5:26). Then we get married, there’s a new home (Revelation 21:1-3). There’s an RSVP, ‘And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”’ (Revelation 19:9). You are the Bride but you’re invited to be there as a guest. It’s a dual picture.

You will never look as good as you will on that day.

The sands of time are sinking;
the dawn of heaven breaks;
the summer morn I’ve sighed for,
the fair sweet morn awakes;
dark, dark, hath been the midnight,
but dayspring is at hand,
and glory, glory dwelleth
in Emmanuel’s land.

The King there in His beauty
without a veil is seen;
it were a well-spent journey,
though trails lay between:
the Lamb with His fair army
on Zion’s mountain stands,
and glory, glory dwelleth
in Emmanuel’s land.

O Christ, He is the Fountain,
the deep sweet Well of love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted;
more deep I’ll drink above:
there to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
and glory, glory dwelleth
in Emmanuel’s land.

The bride eyes not her garment,
but her dear bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory,
but on my King of grace;
not at the crown He giveth,
but on His piercèd hand;
the Lamb is all the glory
of Emmanuel’s land.

Ann Ross Cousin (1857)

There will come a day when every eye will be upon Him, when you will behold Him. Are you preparing yourself in acts of righteousness?