The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

“I just want God to think I am good enough.”

This is a statement at the heart of most, if not all, world religions outside of biblical Christianity. Left to ourselves, we seek to establish a measure of righteousness that works for us and then we seek to live up to that measure and conclude that God ultimately will be pleased with that.

Works…they don’t work.

The men we meet in this week’s parable teach us something hugely critical for our relationship with God and the good of our own souls.

The Pharisee teaches us that basing your righteousness before God on your goodness, even your God-produced goodness, does not make you right with God.

The Tax-Collector teaches us that our only hope of being right with God is to freely confess our sin before Him and trust that he will have mercy on us.

The Pharisee’s hope of salvation is based on his own character and ability.

The Tax-Collector’s hope of salvation is based on God’s character and ability.

I hope you agree that to trust in the character and ability of God is infinitely superior to trusting in your own character and ability. After all, Jesus clearly tells us that the Tax-Collector, who trusted in God, went home justified.

 

 

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The Father of Two Lost Sons

What a great title for this week’s lesson!

You might say, “That doesn’t sound real nice to say the guy has two lost sons.” The reality is, though, that the man had two lost sons.

This parable, taught by Jesus, emphasizes the character of the father as he relates to his two sons. These two sons both show contempt for their father’s goodness, albeit in two different ways.

The connection to our lives this week comes in our identification with either of the two sons. We often treasure God’s gifts more than we treasure a relationship with Him. Sometimes we approach God as if we are entitled to more than what we think he has given to us. Both mentalities demonstrate a disregard for the love and goodness of our heavenly father.

What overcomes this contemptuous disregard? It is the character of the father. Our God’s gracious and merciful character leads him to forgive, restore, and bless when we come to him in repentance and faith.

The Good Samaritan

Key points for the lesson:

1. Jesus’ teaching here lines up with his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (and everywhere else for that matter)

As we have been examining the Sermon on the Mount, we have seen that Jesus had a very high view of the law. His goal was not to end the law or eradicate it, but rather to fulfill it. In his teaching, he always shows us that we needed him to fulfill the law because we fall so short of doing so.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus set the standard that our righteousness has to exceed that of the Pharisees or else we can not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In our lesson this week, Jesus says that all we have to do is to love God with all of our heart, mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves, and we will live.

We feel the weight in both of these passages of the reality that we cannot measure up. Who among us has loved God perfectly with all we are? Who has truly loved a neighbor as much as we love ourselves? ┬áSo Jesus’ tactics are the same…show us just how desperate we are for a Savior.

2. The Samaritan in the story helped the broken and beaten Jewish man at great cost and risk to himself.

Think about just how far the Samaritan went to offer help, especially as his help is contrasted with the self-preserving, hands-off approach taken by the priest and the Levite. The Samaritan crossed over to cultural and ethnic barriers to help. He pushed religious differences aside and helped a man who could have caused him to be religiously unclean if touched. He rode into a Jewish town, as a Samaritan, with a beaten Jew on his donkey. This put his own life at risk. And he paid out of his own pocket the cost of caring for the Jewish man. And finally, he promised to return to make sure all costs were paid…to put things in order.

So the question that was raised by the expert in the Law, “who is my neighbor?” was a very narrow one. Jesus doesn’t want us to go around looking for people who deserve to be considered our neighbors. He wants us to go through life seeking to be neighborly to all, regardless of the risk or the cost.

3. The gospel is all over this story.

Do you see how the story applies to our lives? We are the beaten and broken Jew on the side of the road. Jesus is the Samaritan. He crosses all sorts of boundaries to come to us and help and heal us. He gives us care at his own expense. And he put himself in harm’s way to do so. He even makes a promise to return to make all things right.

As you learn this story and teach it, remember that ultimately this is a story about Jesus. He is the best neighbor in the world. And we must see that in order to be a good neighbor to others, we must first welcome the care and love that our Neighbor, Jesus, gives to us.

What does this story tell us about our need for salvation and the part we play in salvation? Did the beaten man merit any assistance by the Samaritan? No. In fact, if anything, maybe the beaten man deserved to be passed over since he probably looked down on Samaritans. But the Good Samaritan took the initiative and helped one who despised him. Praise God that this what Jesus did for us. While we were sinners…when we were enemies of God…he died for us!

The Unmerciful Servant

VBS Week is going great!

Keep praying for these kids and their families.

Here are some key points for the lesson this week:

1. Peter’s question in verse 21 came out of the teaching regarding church discipline in 18:15-20.

The goal of church discipline is not to excommunicate. Excommunication is a means to the intended end. The goal of discipline is always restoration. At some point along the line, we desire that people who undergo church discipline will turn and repent and be brought back into the fellowship of the church. When repentance occurs, often times forgiveness is needed. If you have sinned against me and repented, I must forgive you. So from that discussion, Peter asks Jesus, “how often should I forgive?” Is there a limit to the amount of forgiveness that we should offer? That is the main question being dealt with in this text.

2. The forgiveness we offer to others must be motivated by the forgiveness offered to us.

That is the point of Jesus’ story. He tells of one man who owed 10 billion dollars (in modern currency), yet was forgiven. This same man was owed about $1300 and could not think of forgiving the debt. Jesus makes the point that if you are forgiven much, you ought to forgive others the little they do against you.

Notice that while Jesus is using a financial example for his story, the main application of the lesson has to do with forgiveness when someone has wronged you. That may or may not include financial debt, but it always has to do with heart issues. If you find it difficult to forgive someone, you must look to the cross and consider how much Christ has forgiven you.

3. The inability to forgive others has grave consequences for your soul.

Jesus ends by saying that God will cast us off if we don’t forgive others. This is a normal way that Jesus spoke in order to emphasize his point. What Jesus wants us to know here is that the person who cannot forgive another has no real sense of what type of forgiveness has been offered to him. In other words, if I am an unforgiving person, I have not come to truly understand the gospel. Therefore, I cannot be considered a true follower of Christ. The true Christian has an ever-increasing sense of both his guilt before God, and the relief granted by grace through Christ.