Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church

2022 Sermon Trinity 11

Two Kinds of Faith

Luke 18:9-14

August 28, 2022 anno Domini

Last week Jesus wept over Jerusalem. This week the angels in heaven are rejoicing over one sinner, a tax collector, who repents. God’s Word is full of these extremes. Weeping and rejoicing. Cain and Abel. The Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Boasting about your accomplishments or realizing you are a dead man made alive by the death of Jesus.

Cain and Abel are very much like the two men who went to the temple to pray. Cain and Abel were in the Divine Service as were the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in the temple. In each instance God was pleased with one and not pleased with the other. The angels rejoiced over one and Jesus wept over the other.

Moses gives us a hint at what went wrong when Cain came to worship.  He brought an offering of the fruit of the ground.”  Abel on the other hand, “brought of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions.”  The writer of Hebrews shines a clearer light on the difference. Abel offered his gift in faith. He believed in Christ. His offering was of the first of his flock because God would give His first and only begotten Son for salvation. Abel also came with faith, but not faith in God’s love or kindness. He came with faith in himself. He thought he was as good or even better than Abel. He thought what he brought should matter to God. It might not have been the State Fair Blue Ribbon Grand Champion Steer, but it wasn’t an old bull that wouldn’t even make good hamburger.

Cain and Abel both had faith, but their faith is in different things. Cain talked with God and God talked with him. Cain prayed and God answered with His Word, but Cain did not have justifying faith. Not at the time of his offering. Moses makes it clear God was not pleased with Cain’s offering, so Cain’s faith was not good faith or Godly faith. Cain left the Divine Service not justified, not right with God.

The Pharisee also displayed much evidence of faith. His good works exceeded the requirements of the law. He was fare to others, faithful to his wife, and fasted twice a week instead of the required once. He didn’t just give a tithe of some things, but of all that he had. He was in the temple every Sabbath. He prayed to the Lord. He certainly believed in God. He thanked God that for all the good works in his life. But what does Jesus tell us of the Pharisee? He did not go home justified. He was not right with God. His sins were not forgiven. He was not a holy son of the Father. He was not going to rise again to the glorious inheritance won by Christ Jesus.  

So, what do we learn from Cain and the Pharisee?  Praying does not make you a Christian. Believing in God does not mean you are right with God. Being in the Lord’s house every Lord’s day and giving more than 10% will not gain God’s favor. Now, a Christian ought to do all those good works. God expects a Christian to pray, to hear His Word at every opportunity, to give God the first portion, a sacrificial portion of what He has given you, but doing those things even alongside faith in God will not save you.

Wait a minute, Pastor! Faith in God will not save you? Faith in God will not make you righteous on the last day? If going to church, praying, and making my offering doesn’t make God pleased with me what am I doing here?

What was missing from Cain’s offering? What was missing from the Pharisee’s good works? Jesus. Faith in God does not justify you. Faith in Jesus’ death on the cross for your sins sets the scales of God’s justice right. The blood of God for your sins – that’s the price of justice. The death of God’s only Son for you – that’s what pays off your debt of sin. His suffering your hell fills the deep hole which your sins dug. The Lord Jesus is your righteousness. The Father is only pleased with you because of the well-pleasing sacrifice of His Son for you.

The confession of the Tax Collector reveals this faith. He doesn’t use the normal word for “mercy” – the word that we find in the liturgy – Kyrie Eleison – Kyrie (Lord) eleison (have mercy.) Instead, he uses the word for propitiation. It doesn’t sound very good in English – Lord, propitiate me. Propitiate means “sacrifice for me” or better yet, “pay the price for my sins.” That same word is used to describe the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant – where blood was scattered to atone for Israel’s sin.  In the New Testament Saint John says, “[Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 2:2)

The Tax Collector knew bookkeeping. Since he worked from Rome he also knew how to cook the books to his own advantage, but standing in God’s temple, he knew there was no tilting the scales of justice, no playing with the accounts to his advantage. He had stolen from his neighbor to benefit himself and he had no excuse, nothing to offer. He was worthless before the Lord. He owed a debt he could never pay, so he prayed in faith, “Lord, propitiate me, pay the price for me.”

Every one of us can remember being caught in sin – maybe you were a little kid caught stealing money from your mom’s purse. Maybe you were a teenager and the police brought you home one night. Maybe you were arrested for drunk driving. Maybe you were caught having an affair. If so then you know what guilt feels like, and the shame of hurting and disappointing someone whom you want to love you. Hopefully you said, “I’m sorry” and “Please forgive me.” If you did then you were asking that person to pay for what you did – to not treat you as if you had sinned against them. To not give you what you justly deserved. When you ask for forgiveness, you are asking someone to die to his or her right to exact payment from you for your sins. Now it’s one thing to ask for your dad to pay a speeding ticket, but imagine asking your dad to die for you.

That is the love of God and what justifying faith is. Faith that justifies is faith that believes Jesus is the propitiation for your sins, that your debt was so deep it could only be taken off the books by the death of God Himself, that the Father had to hand over His Son to die for you. Justifying faith believes God gladly did exactly that. He died for your debt.

Faith that justifies helps us to learn from both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. From the Pharisee we learn how good our works ought to be. We should be willing to do far more than God asks us in our word, not to show how good we are, but to show how great a price He paid for us. We should desire to be in church twice a week, and to pray continually, and to give more than 10% of our gross income, and to love especially those whom the world scorns – like the unborn. Why? Because that’s nothing compared to the price God the Father paid to justify us to Himself. He gladly paid that price for you. In the name of Jesus. Amen.