Friday, November 9, 2012

Who I Think Is Going to Be in Heaven

It's a bold statement, I know, but bear with me.

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “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.’
14 “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.”

I always read this as:  don’t be prideful yo!  We dug into this passage a little bit at the bible study that Phil and I have been attending.  Our church in our old town is hosting a bible study in our new town for local college students.  It’s totally God’s provision for us.  Even though we didn't know the other members at all before this group, when we’re together for bible study or Sunday night dinners at our place there is so much transparency, laughter, and shared desire to walk more closely with God.  It’s awesome!  

After hearing the verse from a few people’s perspectives something that I’d never thought of occurred to me.  (That’s what I love about studying the bible with friends.  People with different personalities and life experiences can read the same passage so differently.  There is so much to be gleaned).  Jesus was, essentially, sharing the gospel here.  The greatest message known to man is tucked away in this passage!  

Think about it.  The Pharisee was a top notch religious person of the time.  He lived a pretty good, neat and tidy life.  Here he tries to get to God through good works:  tithing, fasting, being holier than schmucks like this tax collector here.  Yet Jesus says he goes away unjustified.  

Then there’s the tax collector.  He would've been marked as one of the worst sinners of his time.  Tax collectors were notorious for ripping people off, behaving greedily, and not getting invited to the cool parties.  This guy comes before God completely broken and asks for forgiveness.  He acknowledges how great God is and how his life pales in comparison to the Creator’s perfection.  Jesus says that this man goes away justified.  

So who does God accept?  Not people who make enough good choices.  Otherwise, the Pharisee would've made the cut.  But people who humbly acknowledge who God is, fess up to the mess they've made, and ask God to take over and give them life and love because they can't possibly make it without him.  I believe that this is who will fill heaven one day.  There is a place for everyone from Hitler to Mother Teresa but those who fall on their knees before God and enter a sacred relationship with him are those that will remain with him forever.  How desperately he wants that for you and I.

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