Like Other Men
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
You’ve probably heard the story. A pastor sits down in a restaurant or a hospital waiting room or wherever. Someone sits down near him and, noticing the pastor’s clergy shirt, says to him, “I don’t go to church because you Christians are too judgmental.” This person claims that they condemn no one…but in saying so, they condemn everyone. How did the Pharisee address the Lord? He said, “I thank you that I am not like other men.”
How easy it is to fall into the camp of those to whom our Lord is speaking, those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” We Lutherans easily become smug and superior. And there’s a certain amount of justice to it. If we believed we weren’t teaching and practicing according to the Word of God, then it wouldn’t matter where we went to church. We could happily worship at any church, take communion anywhere, and it wouldn’t matter. However, in our churches, the Gospel is preached purely and the Sacraments are administered rightly. Because this is so, we think we’re better than other churches. Dear Christians, if that is how we treat our straying brothers and sisters in Christ, then we are sinning. It’s important to preach as our Lord taught, and it’s important to practice what we preach. But we must not forget that we are still sinners who need forgiveness for our own errors.
You’re not so judgmental, are you? You’re not so closed-minded as to think that we’re the only ones who have it right. When you visit other churches, you pretend there’s no difference. It doesn’t matter if they have women pastors. It doesn’t matter that they approve of homosexual marriage and ignore heterosexuals living together before marriage. Maybe you even commune! If you have ever wondered why we Lutherans think we’re better than everybody else, you too have fallen into the trap of the Pharisee.
The trap of spiritual smugness and superiority is all around us. We Lutherans do fall into it. I certainly do! I look at other churches and think, “How can they not get it? The Lord makes it so simple. Thank God I’m not like those who do not seem to get the Gospel!” The minute you think like that, even if you are right, you are lost. Have you ever thought, “The Church sure seems to be filled with a lot of hypocrites”? You are lost. Have you ever thought, “Why aren’t more people involved, like I am?” You are lost. Have you ever thought, “Why does Pastor take this doctrine so seriously?” If God should justify you as your hearts deserve, you would be lost. If you stand in condemnation of anyone and think you’re any better, more likely to be saved on your own merit, you’ve fallen into the trap from which Christ wants to rescue you today. Fall to your knees before the Lord. Acknowledge your sin. And then, like the tax collector, pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
And for the sake of Jesus, the Father does have mercy! Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was justified. The other was not. One could see that he was special. The other could only see his sin and beg God for mercy. One hopes that God can see some his sincerity, his devotion, his faith. The other is only sure of this: he is a sinner, and God is full of grace. God does not teach the way we would want to teach. The doctrine Jesus gives the Church is this: You have a God Who came to be like you, even though He had no sin. Even though He was tempted and did not falter, He did not thank the Lord that He was different from the rest. Instead, He was baptized, just like any other sinner. He received the Holy Spirit, just like anyone who needs God’s help. He fasted and prayed. And then, instead of a mere tithe, He gave Himself into death for your salvation. In none of that did He exalt Himself. In fact, the Scriptures say that He Who knew no sin became sin for us on the cross. Jesus died like any other sinner. What saves is not that God is different from the rest of us, but that He’s more at ease with being counted as a sinner than we are admitting our sin.
No one gets saved by not being a sinner—not even little babies. See why Christ’s doctrine is so important? No baby is saved by being different than you. Like anybody else, a child is only saved through faith in Jesus. That’s why we baptize babies. We’re all sinners! That’s why we urge our people toward private confession and absolution. You need confession and absolution to return you to your baptism. You need daily reading in God’s Word. You need daily prayer. You need the body and blood of Jesus. You need these things because you are, indeed, a sinner.
And then, because you are a sinner like everyone else, come. Come and hear His word of forgiveness, spoken to you by the pastor as by Christ Himself. Come and be instructed and confirmed, and continue to study. Partake of Christ’s body and blood in bread and wine for your forgiveness. He is always ready to teach you true repentance, faith, and humility. He is always ready to raise you up with the forgiveness He won for you on the cross, so that you may thank Him—not that you are unlike other men, but that He made Himself to be like you, so that you would in turn be like Him. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.